When it comes to meeting demand for bacon, many processors are hindered by slowdowns in some of the steps involved in converting pork bellies to uniform, eye-pleasing, retail packages and efficient foodservice sheets of bacon. In many cases, technology can alleviate some of the more time-consuming processes, especially in the packaging process.

“The bottleneck [in bacon processing] is usually with the interleaving or packaging equipment,” explains Bernell Martin, president of John F. Martin & Sons, a successful processor based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  

“So when the process needs to move faster, it usually means switching out equipment to generate that speed,” says Martin, whose bacon operation includes five packaging lines, three of which are equipped with interleavers for L-boards.

Until recently, the plant’s maximum throughput rate was 38 L-boards per minute, but increasing demand meant increasing that output to at least 54 boards per minute.

Martin says he invested in Packaging Progressions ProLeaver card dispenser to get his production up to speed. For retail packaging of bacon, the unit can reliably feed up to 80 cards per minute without losing time to jams, missed cards or double feeds.

To fill orders for his foodservice customers, Martin relies on paper-feeding interleavers.  Based on a sheet-weight of half-a-pound of raw bacon, the Packaging Progressions equipment can interleave up to 120 sheets per minute for a total of 3,600 lbs. of lay-flat bacon per hour. 

The interleavers can also be programmed to have customized design features or details to speed the process and reduce waste. Packaging Progression interleavers can be programmed for paper or L-boards to only be inserted when bacon is present.

Integrated bar code scanners on the card dispenser ensure the right L-board is being dispensed so regular bacon is not being packaged as “low sodium bacon” inadvertently.  This can prevent costly re-packaging and product recalls.

According to Martin, even a product like bacon requires interleaving and packaging solutions that include minor design customizations to work properly between the slicer and packaging equipment.

“If I buy an off-the-shelf board loader from a company, I have to use it as-is,” said Martin. “The difference with a company like Packaging Progressions is they don’t just sell a piece of equipment, they sell a solution. I can tell them, ‘Here's my slicer and here is my packaging machine. I need you to take the product from here to here.’  And they design it.”

However, manual labor is still needed for part of the process. Martin & Sons still package bacon for retail after the L-board is inserted and folded over. Then, the product must often be manually rotated by a worker so it enters the packaging machine at the proper orientation. 

“Typically, sliced bacon is loaded onto L-boards in only one direction,” said Martin. “With most equipment that means someone has to manually rotate the product 90 degrees, so it loads properly into the packaging machine.”

Packaging Progression’s interleavers provide features such as servo-controlled product and paper synchronization; power-assisted paper unwinds; encoder enabled positioning for precise placement and jam free diverting; bacon debris filtering to prevent false paper feeds and reduce jams; paper saving draft presence sensing; jam detection logic to minimize paper jams; an automatic portion centralizer; and high-speed servo controlled vertical diverters for stacking.