Improving Flexibility
Beverage manufacturers are in search of labeling equipment that is fast and versatile
Container graphics are one of the most important beverage image-definers on the shelf, but labeling a beverage container can be a tricky proposition. Container shapes can be unwieldy, requiring monkey-wrenched placement accuracies, and wet and/or hot processing environments can make a lasting label application difficult, at best.
“Various container shapes, stability and sizes require a unique movement throughout the labeler to ensure proper dressing,” says Mike Scheitinger, product manager of the labeler division at KHS USA Inc., Waukesha, Wis. “Each product labeled can have its own specific settings.”
Scheitinger says recent equipment advancements like the VarioDrive allow KHS to meet and prepare labeling equipment for future products. The VarioDrive is part of KHS’s Innoket SE line of labeling machines. With labeling capacities of 75,000 bottles per hour, the Innoket SE features a simple central labeling carousel design, and each labeling station is equipped with a servo drive.
During the course of production, when labeling stations are changed, the unit’s computer software automatically synchronizes the stations. Mounting and removing stations is achieved via coupling and decoupling at one of the station locations provided on the labeling carousel. The Innoket SE concept orients each labeling station so it can be positioned flush with the top of the processing table. An adjustable foot, which can be positioned automatically or manually, compensates for unevenness in the floor, guaranteeing accurate alignment of the station with the machine.  
Whether mechanically controlled cam rotation or VarioDrive, both types are possible with the Innoket SE. Electronic VarioDrive bottle plate control provides maximum flexibility. In this case, plate, motor and electronic equipment form a single “plug-and-label” unit and communicate directly with one another. Each individually required container rotation can be geared exactly to the container format and style of dressing.
An additional advantage of VarioDrive is the length of the label to be applied is not limited by the machine pitch. Label lengths can extend beyond the machine spacing by programming further rotation for the particular style of container. Cut-and-stack or roll-fed wraparound labeling is also possible.
In conjunction with a camera-based alignment system, VarioDrive achieves precise container alignment together with maximum labeling quality. With the Innoket SE, this also can be added in the form of a module to solve even demanding labeling tasks, such as the accurate application of a label in a special embossed area of the container, or the accurate placement of a clear label with a no-label look outside the glass seam.
Krones Inc., Franklin, Wis., also has addressed flexibility with its Modul System, which is designed with modular, interchangeable labeling stations. Utilizing a plug-and-label principle, the Modul labeler combines multiple labeling techniques, such as cold-glue, pressure-sensitive, hot-melt roll-fed and hot-melt pre-cut wraparound labels, all on a single machine base, making it an ideal system for facilities that label multiple lines, or for contract packagers because a variety of labels can be run simultaneously or exchanged easily. The Modul features a compact, ergonomically friendly bottling table, reducing both setup and handling parts changeover time, resulting in lower service and maintenance costs. Also, the bottle table and the labeling stations each have their own drives, which allows for further flexibility.
If it weren’t difficult enough to accurately apply a label to a rounded beverage can or bottle, newer, non-traditional beverage container shapes are posing unique challenges for manufacturers of labeling equipment, especially when it comes to shrink-labeling. “With more and more beverage companies getting into shrink-labeling, the shrink-label no longer stands out as much as it did in the past when it was on the shelf next to a paper labeled container,” comments Gary Tantimonico, vice president, PDC International Corp., Norwalk, Conn. “Companies now are designing odd-shaped containers that can be difficult to apply a label, and even more difficult to shrink it.”
In addition to the increased shrinksleeve labeling of odd-shaped containers, Tantamonico says beverage manufacturers want faster, more accurate outputs in processing environments that are oftentimes less than ideal.
“Beverage manufacturers are looking to run very high speeds, and at times, sleeve containers that are wet when they come to the labeler because of their internal processes,” he says. “Sleeving a wet container can cause the sleeve to hang up and not position itself all the way down. We work through these applications by adding accessory options to our machine to assist in positioning the sleeve.”
The Marathon U series of roll-fed labelers from B&H Labeling Systems, Ceres, Calif., features a 180-degree U-shaped conveyor and a servo-driven infeed feedscrew, which helps to maximize container stability and production speeds while offering processors another line configuration option with right side infeed and right side discharge.  
The line’s Marathon XLU, the fastest labeler in the B&H family, handles containers from 8 ounces to 3 liters at speeds as fast as 700 containers per minute. Marathon labelers employ an all-electric drive train, called Smartdrive. With five independent servomotors and digital, multi-axis timing control, the Marathon U Series labelers eliminate complex mechanical linkages such as gears, belts and chains. Compared to complex rotary labelers often used to achieve high line speeds, Marathon simplifies operations, maintenance and changeovers using fewer moving parts and digital automation, improving reliability and uptime.
With its U-shaped conveyor, the Marathon U Series increases the dwell time of product in the starwheel, providing greater container stability. B&H guarantees labeling defect rates of less than 0.05 percent with all Marathon roll-fed labelers.
Marathon also boasts changeover times of less than 15 minutes from one full production speed to the next, thanks to container-specific “recipe downloads” that enable automatic machine setting adjustments. Lightweight, color-coded RCO (Rapid Changeover) change parts further ease changeover.  
Built on a modular platform, B&H can configure each Marathon to offer tailored capabilities to meet the specific needs of each packager. The U Series labelers can be equipped with an optional handle orientation feature that applies labels to containers in relation to the container handle in precisely the same position every time, improving package uniformity.