In the past, manual labor was used for the heavy lifting of pallets. But beverage companies now are using automatic palletizers and depalletizers to run fast and efficient operations in their plants. With quicker filling speeds and lighter bottles, depalletizing and palletizing machines offer the technology beverage companies need to meet production demands.
Streamlined depalletizing
Traditional depalletizers take the bottles off the pallet layer by layer and put them into a single filer. Once the bottles are in a single file, they are conveyed to a filler.
With an update on “traditional”  depalletizers, Posimat, Miami, combines its depalletizer with its unscrambler. The company uses the Depemat, a conventional depalletizer that feeds plastic bottles into the filler.

“What we make is a sweep depalletizer,” says Tony Gregory, manager for Posimat’s U.S. office. “It takes a pallet and takes the bottles out of the pallet and sends them in bulk into a hopper. We don’t have to do it gently; we can do it in a sweeping motion.”

Posimat’s Depemat works in an automatic four-step process. First, the full pallet is placed over a conveyor with a motorized roller or chains. Next, when the pallet is inside the depalletizer, it is raised using a lift mechanism to a predetermined level. Suction valves on the tray extractor attach to the cardboard or upper plastic tray surrounding the bottles. The lift moves upward to allow the first layer of bottles to face the tray extractor pusher. The pusher then sweeps the bottles. The bottles fall into a reception belt with a hopper that conveys them to the Posimat Plastic Bottle Unscrambler. The suction valves descend and collect the next tray and the cycle is repeated until the pallet is emptied.

The Depemet works with flat trays or trays with edges folded toward the bottom, and handles up to 200 trays per hour, the company says.
New technology allows for faster filler speeds so the depalletizer, or the front end of the line, must keep up with the filling speeds, Gregory says. “The advantage of this system is we don’t have any problem with unstable bottles and high speeds,” he adds.

With the beverage industry turning to lighter PET bottles in order to cut costs or for environmental reasons, the lighter bottles add the challenge of being more difficult for machines to handle because of the higher possibility of them tipping over. With the Depemet, bottles of any weight can be depalletized because the machine does the tipping itself, Gregory says.
Palletizing diversity

A-B-C Packaging Machine Corp., Tarpon Springs, Fla., offers both bulk depalletizers and case, tray and crate palletizers. All of the operations are completed at floor level, says Bryan Sinicrope, vice president of sales and marketing for A-B-C Packaging Machine Corp.

The company manufacturers two bulk depalletizers: one for low level, Model 108 Low Level Discharge Bulk Depalletizer, and one for high level, Model 108 High Level Discharge Bulk Depalletizer.

Both of the depalletizers feature a sweep carriage that transfers containers from the pallet to the transfer table, which ensures bottle stability with two adjustable side plates, a rear sweep bar and a front support bar, the company says. The depalletizers can discharge containers at low, medium or high speeds.

The mid-speed equipment is best suited for wine, distilled spirits, microbrewers and beverage companies that have depalletizing and palletizing requirements up to four layers per minute, he says.

A-B-C Packaging Machine Corp. also offers five palletizer models: Model 72A Palletizer, Model 72AG High Speed Palletizer, Model 75 High Speed Bag Palletizer, Model 72B Bag Palletizer and Model 72SA Semi Automatic Palletizer.

All of the models except the Model 72SA Semi Automatic Palletizer come with a touchscreen that puts the operator in control of palletizing operations, the company says. The palletizers can accept cases from any height type.

“The palletizers have features to ensure square pallets, including four-side layer squaring devices and roller transfer tables that provide flexibility or shrinkwrapped trays,” Sinicrope says.

An operator slides cases into the correct pallet pattern with the Model 72SA Semi Automatic Palletizer. When the layer is complete, the operator presses the button and the layer automatically is placed squarely on the previous pallet, the company says. Then the table returns to its original position for the next load.

“All styles of palletizers — high-level, low-level, gantry and robotic — are offering more electronic technology and servos to increase machinery flexibility and speed,” Sinicrope says. “Customers want to reduce expenses with efficient machinery that has a conservative cost of operation. Companies are seeking automatic palletizing as a requirement, not a luxury item.”
More in control

Columbia Machine Inc., Vancouver, Wash., offers floor level, high-level and robotic palletizers for the beverage industry, says Ted Yeigh, the company’s sales manager.

Thirteen palletizers comprise the product line, with some of the machines having speed capabilities up to 150 cases per minute and a maximum layer weight capacity of up to 800 pounds.

The Electric Series (E Series) palletizers are the Model FL10, Model FL100, Model FL125 and Model FL150 that convey more than 10, 20, 25 or 30 cases per minute, respectively. All of the E Series palletizers are floor level and fully automated.
Cases travel along a case conveyor and are either turned or conveyed straight in to create the orientation for individual rows, Yeigh says. The row is pushed and gathered to form layers, he says. Layer by layer, a load is built, either on a pallet, slip sheet or unitized with no pallet or slip sheet.

With cases moving at higher speeds on conveyors, safety has become a concern with palletizers, Yeigh says.

“For low-speed applications, hand stacking is not a popular option any longer just because of the potential work injuries — repetitive-motion injuries,” he says.

Yeigh says he is seeing more beverage companies create smaller package sizes to reduce packaging material and use more shrink bundling. One of the methods Columbia Machines uses to keep up with industry demands is touchless turning.

“There are different methods to turning cases, but with reduced packaging and less protection, touchless turning is a real advantage because you can maintain speed but still have the pattern-forming capabilities that are needed,” Yeigh says.

Along with maintaining maximum uptime, flexibility is a big issue, he says. Columbia Machine is addressing it by providing access to the controller for machine setup, which allows the controller to adjust from one pattern to another.

“When I talk about flexibility, the manufacturers produce what they produce today, but what they will produce tomorrow will be completely different,” Yeigh says.

Sidel Inc., Norcross, Ga., also is answering beverage companies’ faster speed demands with a range of Cermex P4 Layer palletizers with different speed ranges. The Layer-by-Layer palletizer completes a product layer and then places it on top of the pallet, says Geoffroy Bretzner, key account manager for Cermex/Sidel. A pallet unstacker and a tear-sheet inserter can be integrated on the layer-by-layer palletizer, he says. A tear-sheet inserter can place one tear sheet at a time between product layers on the pallet or on top of a filled pallet.

Cermex also offers a robotic palletizer that constructs layer rows or even complete layers. The robot then picks up the layers and places them on the pallet, Bretzner says.

“The beauty of the robot is that, again if the speed allows it, it can do everything itself,” he says.

Bretzner also notes the sustainability trend in the beverage industry.

“PET bottles are getting lighter, shrink-film is getting thinner, cardboard trays are replacing u-boards, pads or even nothing in shrink-filmed packs,” he says. “So at the end, the packs are much softer than they used to be, and therefore you may want to have a system that handles your products the most gentle [way] possible.” BI