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Packaging Equipment Helps a Coal Company Boost Production

November 6, 2007
New dual vibratory scale unit, 2007

Blaschak Coal Corp., Mahanoy City, PA, is an anthracite (hard coal) mining and preparation facility that ships anthracite worldwide for both residential and commercial uses. Anthracite is one of the cleanest burning solid fossil fuels and carbon sources known to humankind. Born in 1937, the company is currently operated by the second generation of Blaschaks. Throughout the company’s history, its anthracite product has been supplied to steel producers and other industrial markets. Twenty years ago, it entered the home-heating market, supplying 40-lb bags of anthracite for use in small coal stoves. The company pioneered the stove and fireplace industry, and its sales network now consists of more than 400 dealers throughout the United States and Canada.

Because of the recent increase in demand for low-cost alternative energy to replace or supplement high-priced energy sources, Blaschak Coal was experiencing difficulty satisfying customer demand for its bagged products. “With the significant market expansion of Blaschak Coal in the past years due to the increase in anthracite demand, we couldn’t keep up with the orders and were experiencing serious delays in shipping,” said Jack Stauffenberg, operation manager at Blaschak Coal. “We needed to improve production rates and the accuracy of the weight of our bags without expanding our facilities.”

An investigation to determine the root cause of the production problems resulted in the decision to seek replacements for the company’s existing scale system and its low-level palletizing system.

Complete Packaging Solution Sought

Poorly palletized bags from the old palletizer (top) versus bags palletized by the Premier Tech robotic cell

The Blaschak Coal team decided to seek a packaging company with the ability to provide a complete solution that would fit its specific needs—a solution tailored to overcome the challenges associated with the demands of the production environment and productivity goals. One of the possible suppliers was Premier Tech Systems, Quebec, Canada, whose integrated systems often include bulk product infeed and storage, weighing, bag filling, palletizing, and load stabilization equipment.

Gary Ritter, Premier Tech Systems Sales Manager, visited Blaschak Coal to observe its operation first hand to gain an understanding of the company’s challenges and productivity goals. ”We initially take a consultant role and try to understand the company’s needs and wants,” says Ritter. “It’s more of an informal consultation since we’re not necessarily looking to fit their foot in our shoe. We’re just trying to figure out what shoe fits their foot.”

Blaschak Coal’s team wanted to purchase robust, state-of-the-art equipment at a competitive price that would provide excellent long-term performance in a demanding environment to minimize downtime. After considering several packaging equipment suppliers, the decision was made to purchase the equipment from Premier Tech Systems. The decision was based upon the belief that Premier Tech Systems had the expertise required to engineer, manufacture, integrate, and commission the complete packaging line. Blaschak Coal had purchased a form-fill-seal bagging system from Premier Tech 10 years earlier. “The great service received over the years, their excellence in parts availability and delivery, the very good relationship, and their expertise in customized solutions were the main factors that influenced us in our decision-making process,” says Stauffenberg.

In February 2007, Blaschak Coal purchased a Premier Tech duplex vibratory-fed scale unit, a robotic palletizing cell, a stretch wrapper, and an upgrade kit for the sealing unit on the existing form-fill-seal bagging system. Still in operation today, the form-fill-seal bagging system was to remain an integral part of the new, fully integrated packaging line. Blaschak Coal didn’t feel it was necessary to replace the bagging system as it continues to perform well.

Space and Time Challenges

New robotic palletizing cell, 2007

The biggest challenge for the project teams at Blaschak Coal and Premier Tech Systems was to overcome the constraints imposed by the existing building structure and process equipment. The major issue was the limited headroom. The scale hopper had to be custom engineered to fit under and integrate with the existing product infeed conveyor. An additional challenge that had to be overcome was the limited floor space available for the equipment. A compact layout was required to maximize the product storage capacity of the facility. Working together, the two companies developed several equipment configurations until they arrived at a solution that required a minimum amount of floor space without compromising the efficiency of the system.

The final challenge was time. The existing equipment had to be removed and the new equipment had to be installed and brought online as quickly as possible. “We had a serious time constraint to deal with during the installation and start-up, and it had to be done quickly,” says Stauffenberg. “Thanks to the synergy between our staff and Premier Tech Systems’ staff, we did it in three weeks!”

Production Has Doubled

This form-fill-seal bagging system, purchased in 1997, remains an integral part of the new integrated packaging line and only needed an upgrade kit for the sealing unit.

The installation has been a complete success. Since the completion of the equipment commissioning, Blaschak Coal is experiencing greatly improved bag weight accuracy and production efficiency. “Now, we can produce over 10,000 bags per shift. The production has doubled,” says Stauffenberg. “Another significant improvement is that our downtime has been tremendously reduced by 95%.”

The new packaging line has also helped Blaschak Coal boost its image with its dealer network. “Customers appreciate our nicer and solid pallets,” says Stauffenberg.

The next step in the company’s expansion will be to add a second production shift, which was scheduled to start last month. The reliability of the equipment supplied by Premier Tech Systems is the major motivating factor for the decision makers at Blaschak Coal. “The results are excellent,” says Stauffen­berg. “We strongly believe that we will be able to smoothly run a second shift without any problems with the equipment. We are convinced that we have made the right decision when we modernized our plant and appreciate our long-time relationship with Premier Tech Systems as our partner, as well as PROBEC, their sales agent in Pennsylvania. They did a good job guiding us through the transition and we definitely recommend Premier Tech Systems to anyone else.”

Premier Tech Systems, Quebec, Canada, is a leading manufacturer of packaging equipment. Integrated systems include bulk product infeed and storage, weighing, bag filling, palletizing, and load-stabilization equipment. For more information call 418-868-8324 or visit www.premiertechsystems.com.