Case-Study: Achieving Higher Output Through Sealing Technology

Monday, September 18th, 2017

LOTTE Wedel, a polish confectionery has been making its best-selling ptasie mleczko since 1936. By investing in tray-sealing technology, the company was able to expand to its markets through higher output and better shelf life. By Marcel Veenstra, marketing and communications manager, SEALPAC

Located in a historical building in the centre of Warsaw, around 1,000 employees of the Polish confectionery company Wedel put effort into producing and packaging chocolate products for markets as far as the US.

In 2013, the company decided to make a large investment in a traysealing technology for its best-selling product: Ptasie Mleczko. Working with packaging solution provider Sealpac and its Polish distributor Premac, the company took up the challenge of designing two high-output packaging lines for their chocolate covered marshmallows.

The history of the Wedel company started in 1851 when Karol Ernest Wedel arrived in Poland from Germany. Accompanied by his wife Karolina, he opened a confectionery shop along Miodowa Street in Warsaw where he began selling sweet delicacies and serving chocolate beverages.

The founder’s son, Emil Albert Fryderyk Wedel, apprenticed in candy and chocolate factories in Western Europe before inheriting and expanding his father’s business.

Under his command, the company’s first factory opened in Warsaw. His descendant, Jan Wedel, opened a second factory in the Praga district of Warsaw along the eastern bank of the Wisla River.

The company managed to continue production during the first few years of the Second World War, but its buildings were destroyed during the Warsaw uprising. After the war, the company rebuilt its factory in Praga.

Since June 2010, the company became part of the LOTTE Group, a South Korean-Japanese conglomerate. It was the Asian company’s first investment in Europe although they are the largest chewing gum manufacturer in Asia and the third largest in the world.

Unobtainable Delicacy

These days, Wedel is a globally known confectionery company that produces many varieties of high quality chocolates, cakes and snacks. The brand is often associated with chocolates that have an intense, familiar taste. The recognisable deep flavour is attributable to the cocoa from Ghana and other ingredients that the company has carefully selected in the making of its products.

The company’s best-selling product is the Ptasie Mleczko, a chocolate-covered candy filled with soft milk soufflé. The name literally means ‘bird’s milk’, a substance somewhat resembling milk that is produced by certain birds to feed their young.

The name is also a Polish idiom which means ‘an unobtainable delicacy’. In Poland, the product is one of the most recognised chocolate confectioneries.

First developed by Jan Wedel in 1936, the company now supplies the product in high volumes with different kinds of filling, such as chocolate, vanilla, lemon, coconut and caramel, a recently introduced flavour, but all of them are covered with a signature delicious chocolate layer.

Investment In Tray Sealing Technology

Theo Berends 

In 2007, the company invested in a new production line for the product. At that time, two open trays were stacked on top of each other with a paper insert in between them before they were placed in a cardboard box. Not only did it make chocolate covered marshmallows vulnerable to damage, it also meant the use of a considerable amount of packaging materials.

Several years ago, discussions started between the company and potential suppliers on alternative packaging solutions. The company came in contact with Sealpac through Premac, the company’s distributor in Poland.

Also based in Warsaw, the latter suggested the use of tray-sealing technology to optimise the production process. With the new packaging system, the expensive paper insert used would no longer be required, resulting in a more sustainable pack.

In addition, the chocolate covered marshmallows would be better protected by the top film that is sealed to the tray. Furthermore, shelf life can be extended compared to the previous solution and the fully automated tray-sealing process can increase the overall production efficiency considerably.

In 2013, the confectionery maker decided to purchase two double lane traysealers, an A8 and A10, with the supplier providing the installation of the lines as well as the training of the operators and technicians.

For the first few months, both companies put a lot of effort in increasing the output of the lines by gradually optimising the various steps involved in the production process.

Packaging Process

Theo Berends 

After the chocolate covered marshmallows were made according to the secret recipe from Wedel’s kitchen, they enter the loading zone where they are picked up by robot arms and loaded six pieces at a time onto the automatically denested trays.

The trays are then transported to the buffer zone where they will be stored until they are handed over to the A8 traysealer. Arriving in a single lane, the machine’s lane divider arranges for a smooth double-lane tray in-feed.

Sealing 10 trays at a time, the sealed trays are converged back into a single lane and then loaded by robots into the secondary cardboard packaging.

As for the A10 double lane traysealer, both the infeed and outfeed are double lane. The machine sealed no less than 14 trays during each cycle.

Both traysealers are positioned on the first floor of the company’s historical building. As such, the impact of the equipment on the floor had to be calculated to see whether extra floor support would be necessary.

With both lines using servo technology, the vibration impact on the floor remained with the boundaries. The use of servodriven lifting and gripper systems also allows for gentle handling of the trays and their contents. Furthermore, servo-technology reduces air consumption and maintenance costs.

The two traysealers are currently running at over 12 cycles per minute, achieving outputs of up to 175 trays per minute, which is not an easy task when dealing with such a delicate product. For example, heat-resistant protection plates are applied to the sealing station to avoid the risk of melting chocolate.

High Outputs, Low Downtime

With the factory running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it is crucial that downtime of the lines is reduced to a minimum. Special crash detection inside the traysealers automatically check if any of the chocolate is protruding from the tray just before sealing. If so, the tooling will not close, preventing potential crash and cleaning time.

At such high speeds, the top film needs to be replaced quite often. Therefore, the two traysealers are both equipped with a tandem film arm, allowing for easy film roll replacement when a roll is finished.

The Ptasie Mleczko is primarily packaged with 18 pieces in a tray (380 g). Each tray is reliably sealed with a printed film that remains easily peelable for consumers throughout its entire shelf life. For convenience, the tray is equipped with a large and clearly marked peel tab.

During the sealing process, the company has made use of Sealpac’s InsideCut technology where the film is first cut and then sealed from the inside of the tray. This provides a more attractive presentation than traditional outside cut and reduces film consumption to a minimum.

It also ensures that the trays fit nicely into their secondary cardboard box. Due to the extended shelf life, the company is able to export its products around the globe. The company already sells its products to over 25 countries worldwide, with the US, Canada and UK being its key markets. The company will be looking to expand its global presence in the coming years.

The employees of the company have a slogan of ‘Be like Wedel’, which is their commitment to strive for excellence. For them, it is a way of living just like the brand has significant meaning to the Polish people.

Walking through the city of Warsaw, this can be seen from the many shops that sell delicious handmade chocolates and serve hot drinking chocolate from the company. As a future project, the company is now looking into a new pack format for its bestselling product. It hopes to develop new tooling for its existing equipment so that a line change would not be necessary.