Let’s get cracking
Canadian case-packing machinery manufacturer keeps rising through industry ranks with exemplary work ethic and relentless continuous improvement
August 28, 2018
Packaging machines are undoubtedly the unsung heroes of the modern packaging business—a critical necessity but far removed from everyday consumer scrutiny, shelf impact and product marketing battles played out in the modern consumer retail marketplace.
For most people making this machinery, though, such behind-the-scenes anonymity does not lessen the professional pride and gratification derived from designing, assembling and launching new-generation technologies to produce an ever-growing array of packaging formats and structures with new levels of speed, efficiency and reliability to help keep the wheels of the global CPG (consumer
packaged goods) industries spinning in full motion.
Such pride and sense of self-fulfillment are rarely in short supply at Nuspark Inc.’s lively 46,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in northern Toronto.
Opened up a little over a year ago as the privately-owned company’s new headquarters and production operations, the airy, high-ceiling factory employs about 60 full-time people—including several fully-accredited professional engineers—to produce a steadily expanding range of automatic, high-performance case- and tray-packers; vertical and horizontal cartoners; case erectors and trayformers; and full turnkey line solutions for high-throughput applications in the food-and-beverage, pharmaceutical and personal-care industries.
Founded in 1999 by a closely-knit three-person team comprising Michael Elent and his younger brother Felix, along with long-time family friend and colleague Valeri Bialler, Nuspark has grown in impressive leaps and bounds during its relatively brief time in the Canadian packaging machinery.
Since starting out with a staff of four people, Nuspark proceeded to grow at a brisk rate of over 20 per cent annually right up until the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, with a downward spiral in the automotive sector temporarily stopping that growth in its tracks.
Since the following economic recovery, Nuspark quickly got back to its earlier fast-growing ways, while impressively boosting its packaging industry portfolio—now accounting for about 70 per cent of the company’s total revenues.
“We have seen about 15-percent annual growth since 2011,” co-founder Felix Elent told Canadian Packaging on a recent visit to the plant during a busy
summer stretch requiring frequent overtime and Saturday shifts to keep up with seasonal work influx.
“Summers tend to be a busy time for us because that’s when a lot of new customer orders are actually finalized and approved for delivery,” explains Nuspark’s general manager Boris Motskin, adding the new plant currently has capacity to produce over 70 machines per year, in a broad array of designs and configurations to suit the end-users’ specific application requirements.
“All the electrical assembly and wiring is done right here at the factory, and all the machine frames are also fabricated in-house,” says Motskin, who joined Nuspark a few years after graduating with a degree in aerospace engineering from Ryerson University in Toronto in 2008.
“Doing a lot of business in the food industry, we often get asked by clients about how they (frames) are welded, if they are fully welded, if they’re washdown-ready and so on,” Motskin relates.
“We have decided to make this function an internal process to give our customers a peace-of-mind about all these issues by welding, cleaning and polishing all the frames ourselves,” says Motskin, noting the vast majority of the frames are constructed of high-grade stainless steel to ensure optimal hygienic standards.
Motskin explains that Nuspark has built up a solid network of manufacturing vendors and service providers in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) region to produce about 80 to 90 per cent of the
custom-designed parts and subassemblies that go into each machine, using advanced CNC machining, 3D printing, laser- and waterjet-cutting, and other advanced manufacturing technologies.
The rest of the machine contents and related equipment accessories comprise an impressive assortment of best-of-breed automation components and systems supplied from elite global industrial
automation manufactures such as Bosch Rexroth (programmable logic controllers and drives); FANUC (robotics); Schneider Electric (electrical components and relays); B&R Industrial Automation (human-machine interface terminals and distributed I/Os), SMC Pneumatics and Festo (pneumatic components and controls); Omron (safety curtains) and other leading automation specialists.
“Being in Toronto puts us within easy reach of the best available technologies in the market,” Motskin says, “and we have established some very good relationship with many reputable technology vendors to make sure we assemble the highest-quality machines we can for our customers.”
Moreover, Motskin notes that virtually every machine shipped by Nuspark these days comes standard with all the required DNP circuitry and wiring to enable remote machine troubleshooting and diagnostics from virtually any place with an Internet connection.
Some of the company’s bestselling equipment brands include:
- Model NTL-50 top-loading case-packer, featuring a delta-style two-axis robot to perform up to 50 repeatable, high-precision picks per minute;
- Model NTF-25 servo-driven tray-former, equipped with an active blank magazine and an on-board Nordson adhesive applicating system to form up to 25 trays per minute, with higher-speed variants available to handle over 60 trays per minute.
- Model NP-15 Polaris palletizer, outfitted with a four-axis robotic arm, single or dual-head dispenser, a powered discharge conveyor and other value-added features enabling it to perform up to 15 pick per minute in continuous operation, enhanced with 10-pallet magazine capacity.
- Model VRC-60 vertical rotary cartoner, featuring an innovative vacuum nest design to ensure delicate carton handling at speeds of up to 60 cartons per minute.
- Model NRCP-5 robotic case-packer, featuring an integrated FANUC six-axis robot with a multipurpose gripper that can both erect and load corrugated cases at up to five various-sized corrugated cases per minute.
As Motskin relates, the company’s familiarity and comfort levels with new generation automation technologies is rooted in the extensive combined engineering knowledge shared by the company’s founding partners—acquired at leading technical institutes and academies of the former Soviet Union—who all moved abroad soon after the country’s 1991 break-up and the outset of a chaotic transition to a market economy.
Adds Michel Elent: “We are rather blessed in having so much engineering know how at our disposal.
“Whereas the industry norm is having about 10 per cent of the workforces as engineers, our 16 engineers account for 25 per cent of our staff.
“Having such a strong engineering team gives us a competitive advantage in respect to speedy product development and further refinement of the high-quality case-packers, cartoners, tray-packers and many types of custom products we produce here,” Motskin proclaims.
With the U.S. market accounting for about half of Nuspark’s annual revenues, Elent says he is hopeful that the existing NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) framework remains largely in place in spite of the recent trade tensions between the U.S. and Canada, but adds that the company is well-prepared to weather whatever comes next.
“There is no sense in worrying about something that we cannot control,” he acknowledges. “What we can control is the quality of the machines we make, and we believe that best-built machines will succeed in any market, even under difficult conditions.”
To date, Motskin relates, Nuspark has performed machine installations in 14 countries around the world, including China, India, England, Germany and Israel, with a new installation in Russia scheduled for startup later this year.
“One of the things our customers everywhere seem to appreciate about our machines is the aesthetics factor,” Motskin relates.
“With most of our customers being smaller or medium- sized businesses, at some point they will have to show the machine in action to their own customers, and that first impression can be very important for their business relationship from that point on.
“With our equipment design, there is literally nothing to hide.
“Also, the fact that our equipment comes standard with stainless-steel frames really resonates with our customers,” Motskin adds.
Beyond the machinery’s clean streamlined appearance, “The simplicity of use is another key selling point,” he states.
“The way we conceptualize and configure all the automation components in the machine is all geared toward optimal operator-friendliness and elimination of manual steps from the process to achieve greater productivity.
“Our equipment is fundamentally very simple,” Motskin states, “because it has to be.
“For about 90 per cent of the machines we build, the operator will use only one screen to monitor the full process, so it’s not even a full-time job for them.”
To use an example, Motskin cites a U.S.-based national cream cheese processor who installed a turnkey case-packing solution form Nuspark, comprising two lines, that is capably overseen by a single operator per shift, compared to the four people required to do the job before.
Always keen to stay on top of industry trends, Nuspark is also enhancing its machines with the requisite data sourcing and mining capabilities needed for successful Industry 4.0 methodology implementation, which is being increasingly adopted in the industrial machinery markets.
“This is one of the reasons we decided to standardize all our machines with the B&R industrial PC-based HMIs (human-machine interfaces,” Motskin explains.
“It gives users the flexibility to install any auxiliary software they need to upgrade their systems management, be it to implement a new diagnostics software, to hook up to a database, or to process and analyze incoming machine information.
“The thing about Industry 4.0 is that it all comes down to the user—whether or not they see value in having access to all that information,” Motskin opines.
“On our end, our job is to enable them to have that access should they choose to go that route, and we are doing just that with our industrial PC standardization.
“Naturally, it costs us money to build in this extra level of intelligence into our equipment,” he says, “so it becomes important for us to make sure that the customer sees the value in this upgrade,
rather than just as another added cost.
“Manufacturers in many industries can achieve good results from obtaining useful real-time machinery data that will maximize their equipment uptime,” says Motskin, “and what we do is facilitate
the effective machine interconnectivity they will need to make it happen.”
This machine interconnectivity becomes an even more important consideration as the company moves to provide more customized turnkey solution incorporating machines and subsystems
from other manufacturers and vendors.
“Our company is built on a tradition tradition of continuous improvement and product innovation,” Motskin sums up, “and with the motivated, highly talented workforce at our disposal, there is really no limit to what we can achieve in coming years.
“We have already achieved a lot in a fairly brief time,” he concludes, “but for all intents and purposes we’re really just getting started.”
Please see Nuspark’s packaging machinery and custom-integrated packaging lines in operation on Canadian Packaging TV at www.canadianpackaging.com