With the proliferation of SKUs and demands for greater flexibility, case packing and wrapping machines are crucial parts to a beverage’s creation. This year, case packer and wrapper suppliers continue to stay on top of beverage industry trends with lower costs in mind.
Graphic Packaging International Inc., Marietta, Ga., provides three machines for case packing and wrapping: The QuikFlex, the Marksman and the AutoFlex. Each machine has specific functions and uses for a variety of beverages packages.
The QuikFlex is a seal-end sleeve type package, which is similar to the fridge vendors available in grocery outlets and convenience stores. This machine can produce tube-style cartons with one seam pre-glued. The ends of the carton are closed up after the product is loaded. QuikFlex can arrange four-packs of bottles, PET or glass up to 24-packs.
“We also make a QuikFlex TS model, which is a twin-stack model,” says Curt Kuhr, senior account executive packaging machinery division for Graphic Packaging. “The twin layer can handle two layers of 24 for a 48-pack.”
The QuikFlex also can handle multi-diameter products for 12- and 16-ounce cans, he says. The four most common diameters for cans are 66 mm., 53 mm., 50 mm. and 57 mm., and the QuikFlex has the ability to pack cans of all different diameters and sizes.
Graphic Packaging also carries the Marksman, an open-end rectangular wrap or neck-through style package. The machine can run 350 to 400 cartons per minute. The neck of the bottle protrudes through the top of the wrap, and the packages can come with or without handles and also can be locked or glued closed, Kuhr says.
The Marksman machines also allow room for advertising and marketing on the packages. “The Marksman can come with various ad panels on the ends for additional billboard space or various types of entertaining features,” Kuhr says.
The AutoFlex produces basket-carrier type packages for four-, eight-, six- and 10-packs. Six-packs are most commonly used for beverage applications, Kuhr adds.
“The AutoFlex will run 225 to 250 cartons on a six-pack configuration,” he says. “We also have an addition, which we refer to as the automatic decaser, which will accept full, open-top cases of the carton supply and actually invert those cases and load them into the magazine. You get a lot of extended running time and very little material handling for ergonomic consideration.”
An integrated lane divider also is included with the AutoFlex. The two lane divider is used to divert the output into two lanes to facilitate palletizing, Kuhr says.
All of the case-packing machines come equipped with Radar, which is the company’s onboard monitoring system on a dedicated PC. The data is translated and loaded into a readable table so the operator can evaluate performance from to day to day, he says.
Regardless of the type of machine, Kuhr says beverage manufacturers continue to ask for greater flexibility, increased speeds and simplicity of changeover.
“We need to cycle at higher speeds in order to [accommodate] their high filler speeds,” he says. “If we’re only running four cans per carton and they have fillers that run upward of 2,500 a minute, you have to be running pretty fast to pull those filler speeds in order to get true efficiencies.
“They are very robust and easily operated machines,” he adds. “It is a push-button operation, and they don’t have to necessarily be electrical engineers or programming geniuses to run our machines. We try to keep them simple.”
Demands for speed
Terry Zarnowski, sales and marketing director Schneider Packaging Equipment Co., Brewerton, N.Y., agrees that manufacturers “want to push and make the machines run faster.”
In addition, multiple formats or sizes are available in primary packaging, especially in cans, and that affects how the machines will operate and produce secondary packaging.
To overcome sizing obstacles, Schneider offers a Horizontal Case Packer (HCP) and a Vertical Case Packer (VCP). The VCP can be either top loaded or bottom loaded with regular slotted cases. The VCP packs 25 cases a minute, a depending on the product and pack-pattern requirement.
“The VCP will bring the product from the filler, convey it into the machine … then the product is collated and accumulated into the correct pack pattern for that case,” Zarnowski says. “In the case of the bottom load machine, it will be lifted and pushed into the bottom of a pre-erected case that is also erected on the same machines.”
Gable-top cartons, such as many juice packages, work well with the VCP, he says. Schneider also makes wraparound case packers and tray packers for those types of products.
“The machine puts the single juice boxes or bundled juice boxes in half-dozen bundles or a dozen bundles, and we load those into a tray or a wrap-around case that wraps the entire product in corrugate … It looks like a case when you’re done with it,” Zarnowski says.
For the HCP, a throughput of 30 cases per minute can be achieved, depending on the specific requirements, the company says. HCP can accommodate top, side and end load regular slotted cases, with options for half-slotted cases and both full and partial overlap style cases.
Manufacturers are always looking at ways to run efficient machines and cut costs at the same time, Zarnowski says. “The trend is trying to go to center-wall corrugate, a lighter corrugate or wraparound style that will save corrugate as well,” he says. “Schneider offers a more economical way of case packing when it comes to the cost of materials in most cases.”
Wrap and pack
Douglas Machine Corp., Alexandria, Minn., offers a range of low- to high-speed solutions for case packers and wrappers. The Axiom is the company’s flagship line for case and tray packers, and the Contour is a shrinkwrapper used in the beverage industry, the company says. Both of the machines can produce similar packages.
“They do cross over a bit,” says Jon Ballou, corporate vice president of sales and marketing for Douglas Machine Corp. “The Axiom is primarily a wraparound type of case, and it can also do trays. The Contour line has a tray packer component that is available within that solution, which may be close coupled with a shrinkwrapper. The Contour has the ability to work with corrugate pads or U-boards or no corrugate substrate at all for a film-only application.”
Both machines start with an in-feed that organizes the flow of products into individual lanes. From there, the lanes will advance products into a metering section that captures and releases a specific grouping of product, and then the grouping is loaded onto a corrugate blank to be formed and glued for containment purposes.
“If we’re talking about film application, that group of product is advanced to what we refer to as a wrapping table,” Ballou says. “A specified length or programmed length of clean, printed film is cut and wrapped around the package and then the package is advanced through a heat tunnel, which shrinks the film around the package.”
With sustainability and lightweight PET bottles on the mind these days, Douglas Machine created SmartTrak, an in-feed system that effectively manages lightweight bottles, Ballou says.
Although speed and flexibility are top priorities when it comes to case packing and wrapping, the appearance of the package is as important. When the products hit stores shelves, consumers are quick to notice and judge the dependability of the package.
“The industry is becoming more concerned about the quality and appearance of their retail packages, particularly where print film wrapped packages are concerned,” Ballou adds. “That’s a pretty significant change for us. We can provide a very excellent package in terms of retail and integrity.” BI