Cause and effect situations are prevalent on product lines in beverage manufacturing plants. Just as a jam upstream can cause proliferation of product downstream, palletizing equipment has been affected by industry trends toward higher line speeds and lighter packages, which has influenced new advancements.

“The demands for flexibility and sustainability continue to expand,” says Ted Yeigh, sales director at Columbia Machine, Vancouver, Wash. “Gentle product handling is still a growing trend with packaging in general. Therefore, product protection is reduced because there’s less material around it, so gentle handling becomes even more important.”

Beverage-makers continue to challenge palletizing suppliers with an increasing array of package sizes, explains Pat O’Connor, product manager for palletizing systems for Intelligrated, Mason, Ohio.

“For some period in time, we saw a trend toward smaller package sizes,” O’Connor says. “But in beverage, we also see a little trend toward larger package sizes because the club stores have recently been interested in going beyond the typical 24-packs, 30-packs and 36-packs. We’re even doing 35-packs that are becoming common now as well as a movement toward smaller pack sizes.”

Loveland, Ohio-based Pro Mach’s Brenton and Currie by Brenton line of depalletizers and palletizers have been affected by changes in packaging, explains Dan Johnson, product line manager for Currie palletizing. In depalletizing equipment, the company has adapted to the trends and Currie now offers models specifically designed to handle non-traditional bottle shapes and sizes.

The new Currie by Brenton depalletizer option is equipped with a vision system to verify that the often non-cylindrical bottles are properly oriented before arriving at the filler, Johnson says. It was designed to handle very light bottles from pallets that are as high as 102 inches and are swept off one row at a time without the use of a scrambler and descrambler, he says.

Lightweighting also has influenced development regarding the palletizing side of Currie’s innovation, he says.

“Because we’re going to less and less stable loads, for example, a six-pack of water bottles that are banded together with a hi-cone neck band [the palletizer] doesn’t have a solid surface to convey the product on,” Johnson says. “So we’ve changed our conveyors to use plastic tabletop chain in-feeds versus the traditional roller in-feeds that you would use with cases. Our layer accumulations are also on plastic mat top chains so that the product is being transported instead of pushed across the surface.”

The company most recently proposed a system that would handle 120 cases a minute on the plastic mat top conveyor platform, Johnson says.

With beverage-makers attempting to save space and capital investment, Johnson also has seen an increase in requests for combination depalletizing/palletizing equipment.

“The concept being is that you’re depalletizing the empty bottles, sending them to the production line and then after they come back you’re re-palletizing, reusing the same pallet or reusing the same slip sheets,” he says. “We’ve had several inquiries for that, but the reality is it’s not terribly practical because from the time you unload one pallet and by the time it gets through the plant and filled, tray loaded, shrink wrapped and back to the palletizer, you have to have done something with the pallets that you loaded.”

Johnson notes the equipment might be more viable if the industry can move away from pallets and into slip-sheet supported loads.

Distribution devices

Columbia Machine’s Yeigh foresees continued demand on suppliers to provide complete solutions that communicate with machines upstream and downstream and adapt to up-and-coming packaging trends.

At Pack Expo 2010, Columbia Machine introduced its model FL1000-SW that combines a heavy-duty small footprint palletizer with the added functionality of a fully integrated stretch wrapper. The machine is able to simultaneously stack and stretch wrap a variety of package types, including trays, film only and display packs, the company says.

The FL1000-SW has a formed and welded steel construction, 80-pitch hoist chain and a Highlight Industries stretch wrapper that performs a wrap cycle after each layer is placed on the pallet.

“With smaller packages, the loads become less stable,” Yeigh says. “However, when you’re able to stretch wrap layer-by-layer, that challenge is virtually eliminated because you have unitized the load before you ever have to move that load, and you have a stable load because it’s stretch wrapped before you have to move.”

The FL1000-SW also uses a fully featured human machine interface (HMI) design, Yeigh says. Its Easy to Operate Controls Package offers a simple way to add or modify patterns; adjust PLC times and VFD speeds; generate production reports; and provide enhanced alarm data with sequential troubleshooting support, the company says.

He also hints at a new innovation to be unveiled at this year’s Pack Expo event.

“More universal product handling solutions are required, especially on the front end of palletizers where you’re handling individual packages before you get to handle rows or layers of product,” Yeigh says. “Columbia Machine will unveil new equipment addressing this at Pack Expo in Las Vegas.”

As packaging designs continue to eliminate excess materials, Columbia Machine’s Yeigh noted the emergence of interlocked shrink-bundled packages, which will affect palletizing equipment, he says.

Intelligrated has adapted its palletizing equipment to keep up with the changes in packaging as well. Reduced packaging has increased the need to secure the load with tie sheets to prevent product damage, Intelligrated’s O’Connor says. The company has seen an increased need for corner board applications to secure stretch wrapped loads of shrink wrapped products, he says.

“Our regular high-speed conventional machines have exceptional package flexibility and we are handling all the different sizes on our current product line of conventional palletizers,” O’Connor says. “We are also using more hybrid technology like our 950 Series palletizers, which use robotics to turn and position the product and then conventional technology to compact and place the layers onto the load.”

The company’s Alvey 950 Series Palletizer combines conventional in-line palletizers with a robotic arm for pattern forming. The model can use one or more robotic arms for pattern forming, which makes the Alvey 950 Series suitable for handling small finished case sizes, multiple product formats and complex patterns, the company says.

One other benefit that you get from that technology is the ability to create new patterns right at the HMI, which offers adaptability, O’Connor says. The HMI allows for fast and easy product reconfiguration and quick line changeover for packaging rates in excess of 100 cases a minute, the company says.

The Alvey 950 Series model provides gentler manipulation of product to keep up with the trend of lightweighted packaging, which has made the machine popular with bottled water manufacturers, O’Connor says.

“Hybrid technology and robot technology will continue to advance into new applications,” he says. “Right now what we’re seeing is, for example, in water handling there has been a move in recent years to somewhat slower water lines because the faster lines prove to not be as economical to operate for the bottlers. As they move to somewhat smaller water lines, then it became pretty popular on the new water lines that are being commissioned for palletizing because the speed came down it made it easy.”

The hybrid options also have been chosen by carbonated soft drink makers and some brewery applications, he says.

Intelligrated also has innovated to provide flexibility for line patterns created by the palletizer, which required more options for the variety in cases, as well as the development of a high-speed sheet dispenser. The sheet dispenser adds stability for film-only bundles, and also is designed to be loaded with full pallet loads of sheets to save on the time spent reloading the machine, O’Connor says.

Dematic, Grand Rapids, Mich., has focused its palletizing innovations on the new options for distributors that are increasingly facing demands for mixed pallet loads, says Benny Rokni, global product manager for Dematic. In response, the company offers the ErgoPall manual ergonomic palletizing station and AMCAP, an automated mixed load palletizer.

With the ErgoPall, the company created a solution for manual pallet building without having to lift cases of product.

“We deliver cases to an operator and we provide visual graphics for that operator about where that case needs to go on a pallet,” Rockni says. “We provide automatic palletizing adjustments to keep the pallet at an ergonomic level. We minimize lifting so they can just slide the cases into position, automatically wrap the pallets, weight check it and label them.”

Dematic also offers a more automatic option with the AMCAP palletizers.

“We also have fully automated robotic palletizers where we pre-plan the position of every case on the pallet and have robots on a pedestal that build the pallet case-by-case, like a jigsaw,” Rockni says. “That’s the end goal, but what enables that is a mechanism that can take 50 to 100 cases that need to go on the pallet and deliver them in a precise sequence out of the warehouse and to the device.”

That mechanism is Dematic’s Multishuttle, which delivers cases to the palletizer in a sequence that allows the manual or automatic equipment to rapidly build a stable mixed pallet load, Rockni says.

Multishuttle is an automated storage and retrieval system designed to increase the speed, accuracy and throughput of picking, order assembly and sequencing, the company says. The system is available in Dematic Multishuttle Captive and Dematic Multishuttle Roaming configurations for high throughput and low to medium throughput, respectively.

“Multishuttle is a unique revolutionary technology that allows us to access a large number of SKUs selectively in the warehouse and bring them out in precise sequence to a manual ergonomic cell or AMCAP,” Rockni says. “Multishuttle is our secret sauce right now. The palletizer is the end goal, but with Multishuttle you have this enabler.” BI