Unilever South Africa’s relationship with Gebo Cermex cemented with new investment
When Unilever Durban makes a capacity-building move, it does so decisively, confident that the supplier it selects will provide the most efficient and cost-effective solution. Having awarded its most recent contract to Gebo Cermex, Unilever insisted on machine and engineering improvements based on operational learnings and on Gebo Cermex working on a design solution that fulfilled Unilever’s requirements. A new SF39 bottom-loading vertical case packer was bought and installed at the Unilever Durban Maydon Wharf factory. It was successfully commissioned in May 2016.
With eight other Gebo Cermex case packers operating at the plant, the choice of case packer supplier may have appeared obvious, but it was not that clear cut, explains the plant’s project delivery engineer, Roy Naidoo. ‘Cermex is one of three global machine suppliers to Unilever,’ he says. ‘Since this factory was built in 1996, the business has tried to standardize on Cermex case packers. However, this is not set in stone - after sales support, machine quality and reliability, OEM flexibility and cost are all important deciding factors.’
Thus, the company weighed up the options before deciding on the supplier that would secure its investment. There were slower lines available, even cheaper ones, but the value of an enduring partnership won the day.
‘The SF39 is one of seven machines that make up a new packaging line. It has enabled the plant to increase its specific line capacity by 30%, says Roy, allowing it to respond to market growth both national and into Africa’. The machine boasts a speed of up to 15 cycles/min over three format sizes and is currently running at 65% line efficiency over two shifts, packing Vaseline petroleum jelly (PJ) in 50ml, 100ml and 250ml formats across six fragrances.
The SF39 provides case forming, loading and sealing on a single machine of less cumbersome design than previous models, with operator zones visible and accessible.
It features several other refinements, says Gebo Cermex South Africa’s sales manager for Food, Home and Personal Care markets, Amith Sukhnundan. ‘The collation and packing principle is adapted to flexible and/or complex-shaped products,’ he says. ‘Transfer of cases from station to station is smooth and accurate thanks to a mechanically driven trolley. Product positioning is carefully controlled during collation, forming and loading of the RSC and ergonomic design of the case magazine limits the pressure exerted on the case being extracted.’
On the SF39, blanks are stocked upright in a flat chain magazine, advancing mechanically with a stabilising guide. Each blank is extracted and presented vertically at the forming station by an arm with suction cups. The case is formed and squared while static by a rotating arm and lower support ramp, whereafter a servo-motor shuttle transfers packaging from one station to the next, held between front and rear rotating brackets. Products are guided into the case by four lower moving guides, the case being supported and flaps held vertical during this operation by an upper counter plate. Products are held in the case during folding of the bottom flaps by a combination of actions associated with the folding of the lower flaps and the lateral withdrawal of the loading plate.
The unit’s hot-melt sealing system includes progressive folding of flaps carried out by a set of fixed and moving guides and shuttle speed controlled to ensure application of even hot-melt glue strips. Even pressure is applied to the static case by two pressing plates to guarantee correct gluing and squaring prior to outfeed.
Finally, cases are transferred onto a free roller motorised band conveyor for pneumatically driven descent to the downstream conveyor.
Much has changed technologically since the factory installed its first Gebo Cermex case packer 20 years ago, but that unit is still delivering the goods, albeit with some upgrades. The Unilever Boksburg factory has also come to rely on Gebo Cermex and has 10 of its case packers in service.
This latest project, though, was not all smooth sailing, says Roy. ‘There were teething problems that required a concerted team effort to resolve and also some give and take from both parties,’ he says.
‘Gebo Cermex joined us on site for a week, identifying the causes of stoppages and listening to our issues, concerns, suggestions and expectations. Our team members are not design engineers, but they were able to provide valuable insight into the practical aspects of the machine’s operation and recommend engineering improvements. Our teams shared many learnings and had many discussions during the design and build phase and the installation.’
Adds Amith: ‘A machinery supplier cannot afford to be rigid in its approach. Unilever has become one of our biggest customers for case packers for home-care products and we have developed a sound partnership and a culture of working together to solve problems.’
With more than 37 000 equipment and system installations bearing the Gebo Cermex signature worldwide, it is obviously an approach that works.