Nippon – the chocolatey puffed rice bites by Hosta – are packaged with the help of robot technology. Packaging machines from Schubert are used.
In order to further expand its production output, the traditional southern German company Hosta turned to the packaging machine manufacturer Schubert. With a combination of three Schubert packaging machines – a pick-and-place machine, the Flowpacker form-fill-seal machine and a case packer – Hosta now benefits from a reliable packaging process with top performance for its Nippon wafers. A redesign of the trays and cartons also opened up significant cost savings in materials and transport for the confectionery manufacturer.
Hosta continues to produce at its headquarters in Stimpfach, Franconia. In the third generation, Laura Opferkuch, granddaughter of company founder Hermann Opferkuch Senior, has been successfully leading Hosta further into the future since 2019. In 70 years of company history, the family business has developed into a professional confectionery manufacturer, whose top product Nippon enjoys a very high level of recognition in Germany. Such growth demands change – in production as well as in packaging. Nippon, the chocolate-covered puffed rice bites, were launched on the market as early as 1956. Since then, they have enjoyed ever-increasing popularity. In its search for a reliable partner who could meet the requirements for a new packaging solution for the square treats, Hosta relied on old connections in the region: just eight kilometers from Stimpfach, packaging expert Schubert also builds TLM lines for the world market.
Precise requirements, high expectations
The specifications that Hosta plant manager Max Schäuble placed on the new packaging line were strict: The entire process must not be stopped for longer than five minutes – any longer would already impair the quality of the puffed rice bites, which are melt-in-your-mouth tender on the outside and crispy on the inside. According to the company, even the production staff’s shift changes are geared to this tight schedule. 2,500 products per minute should be reliably packaged, straight from production to stacking in shipping cartons. To keep the process running reliably, the new packaging line therefore had to offer a high level of redundancy. Due to this, fallback levels were required for each section. It also had to be possible to shut down the various stations individually for maintenance. “Fortunately, Max Schäuble’s team contacted us at an early stage of the project. This enabled us to plan the entire packaging process in partnership with each other right from the start and, among other things, to optimize the packaging materials together,” explains Jonas Müller, Sales Account Manager at Schubert.
Efficient plant engineering in three steps
It was clear from the outset that the complex packaging processes could only be mastered at the required speed with the aid of efficient robot technology. Here, the Schubert experts’ know-how was literally in demand all along the line, because the new line consists of three interconnected Schubert packaging machines: a pick-and-place machine, the Flowpacker machine and a case packer. To ensure that the line provides the required redundancy, the engineers opted, among other things, for two form-fill-seal machine units operated in parallel in the Flowpacker.
The new integrated and very efficient line consists of a total of 18 machine frames and packs 2,500 products per minute, as required. The Nippon squares are conveyed directly from the production line through a cooling tunnel and first fed to the picker line on a 1.8-meter-wide product belt. There, 28 pick-and-place robots operate in a double-pick process. They each group 16 individual products in a plastic tray, standing one behind the other, to form a 200-gram formation. The tolerances of the puffed rice wafers and the sensitive chocolate coating led to the decision to use suction instead of gripper tools for the robots.
After filling the trays, the line moves to the next station, a 2-in-1 Flowpacker: four F4 robots pick up 157 trays per minute. These are then inserted directly into two parallel form-fill-seal module chains, using the counterflow principle. Thanks to complex forming shoulders, the two form-fill-seal units then pack the trays with the puffed rice bites securely into the tightly dimensioned film. A safety level has been integrated in case one form-fill-and-seal unit should ever fail. “Then, the total output of the ante machine is simply reduced to 70 percent and one of the two flow modules (form-fill-and-seal units) continues to pack the corresponding quantity of 110 trays per minute,” Müller explains.
After the trays have been packed in the protective tubular bags, the last step is the case packer. Here, 24 of the trays, each weighing 200 grams, are packed into a shipping carton, which is then sealed with a separate lid. The integrated Transmodul transport robot links the individual process steps and also ensures high efficiency in the final packaging step. As a fallback level, if the case packer stops, the operator can briefly take over packing into the outer cartons by hand.
Saving in the right places
As Schubert was brought in as a partner at an early stage of the project, the Crailsheim-based packaging experts were not only able to supply the system technology that exactly matched the requirements. The pick-and-place robots, which work precisely even with the large tolerances of the puffed rice bites, enabled the developers to shorten the plastic trays by ten millimeters. Thanks to this optimization, the film repeat of the tubular bags was also reduced by another six millimeters. In the long term, this saves packaging material and thus costs. The packaging professionals have even redesigned the carton: it now consists of a single flat blank with lid, rather than three different parts. Taken together, the improved packaging yields so much savings potential that the carton base area has been significantly reduced: there is now room for nine cartons per layer on a shipping pallet instead of the previous eight. “The bottom line for us is an enormous cost saving,” says Schäuble. “Because thanks to Schubert, we now not only save packaging material, but also many truck trips. From our point of view, the investment in the plant has thus paid off all around.”
Schubert also benefits from the close cooperation with Hosta and the physical proximity, as Müller reports: “We are currently working on a joint service project to better understand customer needs and improve our services.” The development department of the packaging machine manufacturer has also already been on site, as the complex production with the various machines is well suited for testing. “Even our international customers are allowed to visit the plant at Hosta,” Müller tells us. “As Sales Account Manager, I’m of course pleased about that, because the project and this partnership are already something special for us.”