The industry’s call for sustainability and energy efficiency combined with the sheer number of products produced in today’s plants have increased the demand for case packers and wrappers that are more flexible, reliable and environmentally friendly. As companies continue to produce more products in lighter packaging, manufacturers also have responded with machinery that adapts to the needs of the production line.

“Flexibility has become more critical in recent years due to SKU proliferation and consolidation,” says Scott Smith, director of global market development and emerging businesses for Hartness International, Greenville, S.C. “Several years ago, many of our clients only changed their lines over once or twice a week. In some cases and in certain industries, clients actually had dedicated production lines. Today, many of those clients are changing over their lines once or twice a day.”

Not only must a machine be able to changeover, it must do so quickly to adhere to the production schedule, says Laura Worker, marketing manager for Westfalia Technologies Inc., York. Pa.

“Beverage companies are seeking to increase the speed and flexibility of their case packers to keep up with the processing line,” Worker says. “Higher throughput is needed to handle growth, and flexibility is needed to pack various size cartons, plastic bottles, jugs and even pouches.”

In addition to making more products faster and better, production plants require case packers and wrappers that run in a more environmentally friendly manner, companies say.

Automated technology
Quick changeovers are important to production plants and many case packer and wrapper manufacturers have responded with models that are more flexible. Westfalia Deam offers several models that are designed for flexibility and speed, Worker explains. The company’s Fractional Quart Caser adjusts to various fractions of quart-size cartons, is height adjustable and packs 240 cartons per minute, Worker says. The company also offers its Half-Gallon/2-Liter Carton Caser, Dual-Drop High-Speed Caser, Flexible Bag Caser and Hybrid-Powered Case Stacker.

To help the plant run more efficiently, Westfalia designed its Savanna.Net Warehouse Management Software to help advance communication, Worker says.

“Case packing lines need to talk to filling equipment alerting the filler of a case shortage, a missing code date, an under-filled package, etc.,” she says. “With products being automatically case packed and fed to automated storage and retrieval systems and order picking systems, product identification, code verifications, case count and system status updates are extremely important.”

Case packer and wrapper manufacturers also have incorporated robotic technology into new models to accommodate changing production demands. The automated options provide several advantages, Hartness’ Smith explains.

“Changeovers are quick and repeatable, but perhaps most importantly, can often be done automatically,” Smith says. “In many cases, our robotic solutions actually change themselves over, eliminating human intervention and potential human error.”

Hartness’ robotics also allow for continuous motion operations to handle containers more gently, which is a concern with lightweighted containers, Smith says. Models with robotic advancements also result in less maintenance costs, he says.

In the past year, Hartness introduced a high-speed, continuous motion robotic case packer that is targeted to the packaging of lightweighted bottles that cannot withstand a great deal of pressure, Smith says.

Schneider Equipment has included robotics to maximize return on investment, says Terry Zarnowski, sales and marketing director for the Brewerton, N.Y.-based company.

“Robots offer a high level of flexibility, not only for the application they are designed into,” Zarnowski says. “They are easily adapted for completely different applications thus saving capital cost in the long run.”

Robotic elements also replace traditional hard automation that frequently required extra time and equipment to changeover, Zarnowski says. The technology also requires minimal maintenance. The company’s latest advancements include the HCP-10 Case Packer that handles a wide range of products and pack patterns with quick recovery from machine jams, Schneider says. The model uses solutions from Rockwell Automation to monitor and control the case packer.

Schneider also introduced the VCP-25GT and HCP-40GT for dairy and juice applications. The VCP-25GT is a vertical case packer that can run pint, quart, half-gallon and gallon products up to 25 cases per minute. A horizontal case packer, the HCP-40GT can run 51-, 59- and 64-ounce gabletop cartons at speeds up to 40 cases per minute.

Cermex, a division of Sidel, also has incorporated robotics into its case packer offerings, including the ER52 high-speed robotic pick and place case packer. The use of the robot offers several advantages, explains Geoffroy Bretzner, key account manager at Cermex, Norcross, Ga. Cermex’s robot has automatic picking head changeover options, six-axis movement for smoother operation, added capabilities and increased flexibility to handle various types of products.

In addition to automation, machines must also produce a better looking package, says Jon Ballou, vice president of sales and marketing for Douglas Machine Inc., Alexandria, Minn.

“From a quality perspective, packages are receiving greater scrutiny for their ability to effectively contain individual bottles through distribution and ultimately into the consumer’s home,” Ballou says. “But it’s not all about function. With respect to package appearance, one industry veteran recently remarked that producers are becoming increasingly interested in shrink wrapping for retail packages instead of just distribution packs.”

Douglas launched a patented shrink tunnel that is able to optimize functional performance while minimizing distortion across the package.

The look of the package also is a focus for Standard Knapp, Portland, Conn., which offers its Tritium Multipacker. A continuous motion tray-shrink system, the Tritium has a servo-driven film cutting knife, multi-axis Robo-Wand and intuitive operator interface. The Robo-Wand is programmable to new shapes and sizes with or without trays, which provides an advantage for future flexibility, the company says.

Flexibility also is key for the Meridian XR Machine from R.A. Jones & Co. Inc., Covington, Ky. The Meridian XR is part of the company’s family of multipacking solutions and features the ability to package a range of product types, diameters and heights. The machines can be configured for single-tier four- to 24-packs and can run at speeds up to 300 packs per minute, the company says. The model also has direct, coupled servos and belt drives to provide automatic pitch changes on the transport during size changeovers and smooth pick-off and opening on the three-head rotary carton feed.

R.A. Jones’ parent company, Oystar Packaging, Morganville, N.J., offers a solution that combines sleeving and case packing technology into one operation. The Oystar A+F SetLine Sleeving-Packing System is powered by a two-axis robot, which performs product loading, sleeve forming and closing, and sleeve set packing functions. The machine has the flexibility to run off a multi-lane filler or from a single-lane infeed and can reach speeds up to 300 sleeves per minute and 60 cases or trays per minute.

Lightening up
Industry trends of lighter packaging are having an impact on case packers and wrappers. Not only has the industry moved to lighter bottles, but secondary packaging also has faced eliminations. Douglas has designed automated packaging equipment that has the capability and tolerance to handle lightweighted products, particularly PET bottles and packaging materials.  

Lightweighted containers are more susceptible to pressure on the packaging line, Hartness’ Smith says. To decrease the pressure, Hartness uses dry conveyor lube on the conveyor chains inside the packers to reduce friction between container and chain, he says.

In addition, reduced materials make packages more susceptible to damage and failure in the shipping process, Smith says. Hartness recently helped a company eliminate the corrugated tray and move to a shrink-film-only package. Seeing this transition more frequently, the company has introduced a range of shrink film machines in the past four years, Smith says.

A-B-C Packaging Machine Corp., Tarpon Springs, Fla., introduced its Model 206 packer that allows for reduction of up to 50 percent less corrugated use than standard or wraparound cases, the company says. The Model 206 packs cartons and bottles in single packs and multipacks into full-height, half-height or end-panel display trays at speeds up to 30 trays per minute. The model uses servo operation for precision and flexibility, A-B-C says.

Cermex has seen companies looking for machines that can run various bottle sizes, weights and secondary packaging options, from film only to light paperboard pads to trays with 45-degree corners. Its shrinkwrappers have improved product infeed to optimize run-time for lightweight bottles, shrink film injection system that can accommodate films as low as 25 microns and some models that are flexible between case configurations. Its VersaCombi model is a continuous motion packer that is capable of running wrap-around cases, tray and film, pad and film, and film only packages, Bretzner says.

Recent models also have modified to accommodate paperboard pads, such as the EZ-pad from Graphic Packaging, Bretzner says. The paperboard pads are lighter and thinner than corrugated pads, he explains.

Schneider also has advanced equipment to evolve with the trend, Zarnowski says.

“A simple palletizer that once relied on the product and case strength to build a strong and stable unit load for shipping may now require the addition of external support such as corner boards,” he says. “Case packers have to accommodate the fragility of the lighter packaging while operating at ever increased throughputs.”

An additional trend is the increased use of flexible packaging such as bags and pouches, which require even more evolution, Zarnowski says. Schneider also has incorporated energy efficiency into its new models with a progressive sleep mode that allows sub-systems to power down when product counts are low, he says. The company also has found customers requesting increased use of servo motors to replace pneumatics to reduce plant air consumption and its related costs, Zarnowski explains.

Present demands might call for a host of topics, but manufacturers recognize that the industry changes over time and its machines need to be ready for the next trend.

“Consumer packaged goods companies are using packaging and on-shelf presence to gain market share,” Hartness’ Smith says. “New packages are being introduced at a stunning rate and no one wants to purchase a machine that is not flexible enough to handle future needs.”BI

Related Links:
June 2009 Packaging: Secondary Considerations
Dec. 2009: The Best Packages of 2009