Ishida Europe has designed and installed a complete packing line for a fresh food producer, enabling three to four operators to produce prepared salads at up to 40 trays per minute, whilst automating inspection and making every pack traceable to a stored X-ray image

Gastro Star AG produces 30 tonnes of fresh products every day, ranging from vegetables and salads to fruit, including ready-to-use salad mixes under the Betty Bossi and Weight Watchers brands. The new line is part of a wider series of measures it has taken to increase capacity and efficiency in the face of steady demand for its products.

Designed by Ishida’s Solutions Division and installed in conjunction with Itech, Ishida’s distributor in Italy and Switzerland, the line produces 200g and 250g packs and includes tray denesting, multihead weighing, tray sealing, labelling, seal testing, vision system, X-ray inspection, checkweighing and packing into crates.

The Ishida design enables crates of prepared leaves, which have been cut to size and washed, to be run via an elevator above the multihead weigher, where the salad is tipped into an infeed system. The Ishida QX-1100 tray sealer at the heart of the line handles four trays at a time, flushing them with an atmosphere of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, and delivering a neat, economical seal with no protruding edges.

The new line has ensured previously labour intensive elements to the weighing and packing of products have become more efficient. The stainless steel contact surfaces and vibratory system of the 10-head Ishida RS-series weigher reduce the possibility of clumping or sticking of leaves, and the need to manually rectify potential product-in-seal problems is eliminated by a distribution system that delivers the leaves to the tray in a neat and discrete batch via a feeder tube and dipping funnel, that gently tamps them to below the tray edge.

At the end of the line, the IPS (Ishida Packing System) pick-and-place system, picks individual packs rather than pre-determined lots or layers. The addition of a plastic cup containing product-specific additions, such as salad dressing, cheese or croutons, accounts for the small amount of labour involved.

The line has been designed so the weigher is mounted on wheels for easy movement around the floor.

The Ishida Seal Tester can detect a 0.75mm hole or gap in the seal at high speed. Mounted on it, and capable of using its rejection system, is an Ishida Vision System which verifies that each label is appropriate and positioned correctly, as well as relating overprinted data to the company’s information systems to check dates, weights, prices and barcodes are correct.

Gastro Star decided to incorporate an X-ray inspection system into the line to ensure complete traceability for every pack of packaged salad. The chosen X-ray inspection system is an Ishida IX-GA 2475, which can detect unwanted metal, plastic, glass, stone, rubber and bone and also draw attention to underfilled or damaged packs.

The monitoring system can record the exact gas mixture received by each modified atmosphere pack, and the temperature at which sealing took place. It also provides the company with an X-ray image associated with the pack, which can be used in order to settle any dispute about its contents.

The 30-40 packs per minute achieved with the new line is double that of the former fastest line at Gastro Star. Currently working two shifts per day, Gastro Star calculates that the line will pay for itself within five years.

“The whole project has been very well and very professionally managed,” comments Ueli Forster, managing director of Gastro Star.