2020 was a transformational and challenging year in many ways, as flexible packaging companies, printers and converters met increased demand due to the pandemic’s push toward grocery and e-commerce channels. However, demand for stand-up pouches has been in the industry for 10-plus years, and Yellowstone Plastics, a flexible packaging company, had been riding this trend and was ready for it in 2020.
Based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Yellowstone has experienced sizable company growth over the last 20-plus years, as the company has added six printing presses, offers lamination, produces rollstock and now has three flexible pouch lines. The company began in 1999 serving the produce market, primarily potatoes, and has been diversifying its converting and printing services since then.
“We strive to provide services and products that will be the total solution to our customers in getting their potato, onions, vegetable crops or anything else from packing facility to market shelf,” says Alan Mueller, founder of Yellowstone Plastics in a recent Flexographic Association article. “We want to be recognized as the preferred flexible packaging partner for any industry sector requiring the best performing and best-looking packaging available.”
The company’s printing and pouching services use a variety of substrates, including mono-layer and co-extruded films/resins — polyethylene-based films, polyesters, polypropylenes and nylons. Solvent-based, fade and weather-resistant inks are utilized in a nod to the agricultural base.
During the last three years, the market for steamable, flexible bags for potatoes and other vegetables have increased. So has demand for stand-up pouches, along with laminated vertical form/fill/seal rollstock, lawn and garden packaging for Yellowstone. “The increase in lawn and garden has seen a switch to centerfold rollstock versus premade bags as our customers continue to automate their processes,” says Travis Aicher, maintenance manager at Yellowstone Plastics.
With continued growth for pouches, Yellowstone added Modern Manufacturing’s Pacer-365 compact stand-up pouch machine with Inteliseal technology to help meet growing volume for the company.
Yellowstone’s Idaho facility is more than 100,000 square feet, and the company’s full-service approach with printing and laminating services creates a demand on plant floor space. “We have a dedicated pouch production area and wanted the pouching lines in the same area,” says Aicher. “This is our third pouch line and we needed a machine with a small footprint.”
As with most contract packaging and converting companies, Yellowstone needed quick changeovers, and the Pacer stand-up pouch machine fits this need and allows for one operator to run this pouch line, if needed.
“The Modern compact machine length is a huge advantage, compared to our larger systems, and it also allows us to direct urgent customer requests — shorter runs — due to minimal setup time,” says Aicher. Yellowstone’s other pouching lines require two operators due to the size of the pouching machines and need constant attention.
This compact pouch machine runs a variety of packaging formats, including K-seal stand-up pouches and three-sided bags, zippered and non-zippered. The setup time at Yellowstone for this pouch line has been reduced by 50% — sizable reductions in film material, according to Yellowstone.
The stand-up pouching machine employs servo Inteliseal technology, which produces precise independent control for seal depth, force, dwell time and cycle for all sealing heads. All adjustments are toolless, reducing setup time. The compact machine also features temperature deviation alarms, auto tuning, thermocouple break sensing and a traverse wound trim with a small footprint. Other features helping reduce changeover time are ease of use dedicated operator interface and the compact pouch machine’s ability to store up to 100 jobs for quick recall.
“Once a job setup is in place and running, the operator has minimal adjustments with the registration and the trim holdings performs really well,” says Aicher.
With a quicker setup time and smaller footprint, Yellowstone has increased volume by 25% compared to its other older machines and has been averaging anywhere from 110 to 135 bags/minute (bpm) on most production runs.
The commissioning in 2020 was uneventful considering the pandemic and operator training was efficient due to the machine’s mechanical similarities to the other pouching equipment. Aicher says the machine arrived at the right time due to the increased demand from clients for stand-up pouches.
Along with overall growth, Yellowstone is realizing workforce process improvements due to the new pouching equipment from Modern Manufacturing, which has created shorter setup times and faster run speeds. Capital acquisitions are always hotly debated among organizations, but new equipment also creates increased efficiencies and a quicker return-on-investment.