Flexible end-of-line packaging system boosts employee safety, morale and productivity levels at a busy B.C. coffee-roasting plant
Nestled in cozy Invermere, B.C., Kicking Horse Coffee is situated between the Purcells and the Rocky Mountains in the beautiful Columbia Valley.
The pristine resort town, which boasts a population of just over 3,000 people, is a popular year-round destination for tourists and a second home for many folks from Calgary and Edmonton in the neighboring province of Alberta.
Invermere is a quiet place where many people ride bicycles, eagerly partake in local cultural events, and enjoy the leisurely overall pace of life.
Many of these same charms are also instilled at Kicking Horse Coffee. From its humble roots of roasting coffee from a garage more than 25 years ago, Kicking Horse today sources its coffee beans from certified organic and fair-trade farming cooperatives around the world.
Organic and fair-trade farming means the coffee beans come from farming cooperatives who are dedicated to improving the biodiversity on their farms. This also means its coffee is shade-grown on small-scale farms, which aids in the biodiversity efforts of the land.
Another thing Kicking Horse Coffee is passionate about is the safety of its employees, recently noticing that some areas of its packaging process required repetitive motions that could lead to injuries.
To minimize those concerns, while also adding more efficiency to its operation, the company turned to Wexxar Bel, a prominent case- and tray-forming and sealing machinery manufacturer based in Richmond, B.C., to automate these tasks at its end-of-line packaging process.
“It was always kind of a scramble,” recalls Jocell Valdez, production manager at Kicking Horse Coffee, describing the previous manual of process of filling the boxes with product.
“Our packing team was always wrestling the boxes to the ground, and then packing six bags in it,” Valdez relates.
“There’s a lot of ergonomic issues with that type of repetitive motion—twisting and bending, and constant rotation—to try and avoid injuries.”
Operating three roasting lines over two daily eight-hour shifts, five-days-a-week, Kicking Horse was introduced to Wexxar Bel, a subsidiary of the ProMach group of packaging machinery manufacturing companies, during a visit to the PACK EXPO Las Vegas packaging technologies exhibition in September of 2019.
Soon after the show, Wexxar Bel recruited the services of Harlund Industries, leading Canadian-based distributor of coding, identification and related packaging equipment, to help design the ideal solution for Kicking Horse’s needs.
Harlund Industries’ packaging and coding specialist Rob Vanstone began the process by auditing Kicking Horse’s packaging procedures as part of their review.
After discussing several options with the Kicking Horse management team, Harlund and Kicking Horse ultimately determined that installing the Wexxar Bel Flex E Pack system on all three lines would provide the best ROI (return on investment) moving forward.
The Flex E Pack system is a modular packing solution that provides end users with the flexibility to integrate the right case former, product delivery conveyor, work-cell and sealer that best meets their applications.
The Flex E Pack system matches the right components to each of these four segments to ultimately design a packing line tailored to customers’ exact needs.
Based on Kicking Horse’s needs, two work cells and product accumulation tables were needed to easily grab and pack the product into cases.
“One of the big advantages the Flex E Pack system brings is packaging on demand,” says Adrian Tomozei, Wexxar Bel’s regional sales manager for Canada and northwestern U.S.
“Each operator now has everything right in front of them,” Tomozei explains. “They don’t have to move, rotate or go grab boxes: it’s very ergonomically sound.
“The system automatically forms the cases,” he continues. “All you have to do is manually put the pack inside and let it go to the fully-automatic sealer.
“It makes everything so much simpler, easier and user-friendlier.”
The first line was installed in summer of 2020 and included extra-long in-feed conveyors to keep employees six feet apart for physical distancing, while the other two lines were installed in spring of 2021.
After each case is packed, operators press a foot button to move the cases to be sealed.
The Flex E Pack allows cases to be packed by one or two operators at any time; if one operator steps away from the machine, the packing can continue seamlessly without interruption.
“The Flex E Pack has definitely changed the way we pack product by bringing more consistency to our operation,” Valdez said.
“The coffee is delivered at a better height,” he notes, “so there’s much less bending and twisting.
“It has been a great improvement for us.”
As Valdez explains, continuous improvement is an ongoing strategic strategy for Kicking Horse Coffee, with the company being a devoted practitioner of the renowned Kaizen approach to continuous improvement based on the five founding elements of teamwork, personal discipline, improved morale, quality circles, and suggestions for improvement.
Developed in Japan and forming the basis for the famed Toyota Production System (TPS) for waste-free manufacturing, Kaizen had been widely adopted by “lean manufacturing” enterprises worldwide over the years to improve their competitiveness and productivity.
Over the past few years, Kicking Horse has actively applied Kaizen principles in upgrading other areas of its coffee manufacturing and packaging processes, automating its case-packing capabilities being just the latest example of this continuous daily improvement process.
“Kaizen is a big component of our success and our endless desire to improve, and Wexxar Bel is spot on with that,” Valdez states.
“All of their changeovers or any adjustments required on the machines are all done through color-coded photos.
“So, they’re really on that ‘5S’ approach with Kaizen that we strive to maintain in place all around our facility,” says Valdez, defining the 5S as “sort, straighten, scrub, standardization and sustain.”
Since the first line was specified and installed during the pandemic, the factory acceptance testing (FAT) was done virtually entirely through video. However, Wexxar Bel was on-site for the installation and commissioning of the line.
Within a year of operation, the Flex E Pack system has allowed Kicking Horse to maintain the current packing rate, while increasing the level of automation in each of their lines, with the potential to install more packaging lines in the future.
“The folks from Wexxar Bel were everything they said they were and more,” Valdez states. “We’ve really had no doubts about their ability to deliver.
“Their solution has been a smart upgrade to our packaging department.”