Cement has been a critical component of America’s growth for hundreds of years. It is the literal foundation block for most all that surrounds us. For more than 132 of those years, Ash Grove Cement Company has been meeting market demand from its 8 facilities nationwide. The cement plants operating in the Ash Grove system are some of the most efficient and best maintained in the country and have an annual production capacity of nearly 9 million tons of cement. The quality portland and masonry cement produced at these plants are used in the construction of highways, bridges, commercial and industrial complexes, single and multi-family homes, and a myriad of other structures fundamental to America’s economic vitality and quality of life.
Ash Grove Packaging, a subsidiary of Ash Grove Materials Corporation, has helped bring the company’s products to a broader range of loyal customers. From its early days of supplying cement in simple hand-sewn sacks, the company has grown into an organization that today offers a full array of products designed for commercial, residential and industrial use.
As a premier packager of cement products in the United States, Ash Grove Packaging puts as much care into the manufacturing of its products as it does to ensure it arrives to customers in optimal condition. In its largest facility in Utah, a new pallet wrapping system offered Ash Grove Packaging the chance to not only meet customer demand but further improve warehouse efficiencies.
Most all Ash Grove products are packaged in bags and stacked on standard pallet loads. To avoid shifting or tipping during transport, pallets are typically stretch wrapped. However, as cement bags are packaged in paper bags, it’s important for manufacturers to place a top sheet of stretch film on the load to avoid tears from pallets being stacked or moisture seeping from the top and destroying the product. Initially, Ash Grove Packaging incorporated two rotary arm stretch wrappers to do that job. The process involved two men- one driving the forklift while the other tied the film to the load and held in place for the first revolution of film. A separate top sheet was also applied.
In January of 2014, Ash Grove Packaging, looking for ways to improve and optimize its process, turned to its trusted partner Signode. After reviewing the company’s challenges and operations, Signode suggested its Power Flex T1 stretch hood machine. It was the perfect solution as it provides 5-sided protection for outdoor storage and ensures greater load stability. It also removes the need for the top sheet because the stretch hood film creates a tight bag over the load. Furthermore, the Power Flex T1 requires only one layer of the film as opposed to applying multiple layers of film with stretch wrapping. The single-layer offers greater product visibility and stability.
“Before when products would shift it would stretch the film and loosen to load,” says Engel Islas, Plant Manager, Ash Grove Packaging. “The Signode system gives us a clean wrap you can see through with the added advantage that it’s a much more stable load.”
Retailers have also taken notice. With pallets stacked high on the shelves, Ash Grove Packaging reports its customers have been pleased that the loads are arriving more secure and in turn, provide a safer environment for their staff and customers.
Small Package, Big Results
Even though pallet stability was crucial, Ash Grove Packaging still had high demand and a packed facility. Size and speed were also big factors to consider when switching to the Signode. Signode had just the solution in the Power Flex T1 because it enabled Ash Grove Packaging to place the machine in an area where most other solutions could not be placed. With the film carriage on casters, workers can simply unlock the carriage like a door and the forklift driver can go in without needing extra space. It also requires only one person to operate as opposed to the two necessaries with their stretch wrappers.
That cut costs on labor as well as limiting the potential for employee injury.
With regards to speed, Ash Grove Packaging was previously wrapping 22 loads per hour whereas the Signode Power Flex T1 wraps 30 loads per hour. While the Power Flex T1 can wrap up 120+ loads per hour, it is conditional on application and production. At Ash Grove Packaging, the palletizers can only handle roughly 25 bags per minute.
“We are now utilizing an area we never have before and doing so with a solution that offers us much more throughput,” says Engel.”
Set Up and Save
While the benefits are clear, most manufacturers are reluctant to incorporate new machinery because of the time, energy and costs associated. However, the Signode system proved to be no challenge for Ash Grove Packaging and the company had the machine running fairly quickly with little effort.
“From set up to training, it all went really smooth,” says Engel. “We have had it running for several months now and it’s proved to be a very reliable machine and easy to maintain.”
The Power Flex T1 is designed with top-down features. These features enable the safer operation and easier maintenance since the machine can be moved to floor level. Like all Signode stretch hood machines, the Power Flex T1 also comes standard with the company’s patented Unwind System which helps manufacturers optimally protect pallet loads while simultaneously reducing film usage 10-25%. The system gathers the film at the corners and unwinds it as the film placed over the load. This process virtually eliminates thin and fragile film on load corners- a feature that is especially important for loads with sharp edges. Compared to other stretch hood systems, Signode’s Unwind System further keeps film corners roughly 30% thicker. In addition, users can safely incorporate up to 25% lighter film gauges without compromising load integrity.
“In our short time with the Signode system we have already seen considerable film savings compared to other methods we have used,” says Engel. “Coupled with the important fact that we have increased throughout and product stability, I would say it has been a great investment thus far.”