Automation is a key factor in industrial-scale manufacturing for achieving high production volumes. Packaging automation also creates other benefits, and it can therefore, be an interesting alternative for small and medium-sized production companies as well.
Partial or full automation is common in industrial-scale production of consumer products, in which a large proportion of the process stages is taken over and completely controlled by machines and automation components.
However, despite the sophisticated technical possibilities available, there is still a range of simple or very monotonous tasks within the whole packaging procedure, which is still performed manually in many companies. These include, for example, the infeed and loading of products into the pack, the converging of packs or their later loading into boxes as outer packaging.
The efficiency of packaging procedures can be increased significantly through the automation of these part-stages. In contrast to a company’s personnel, machine modules for infeeding, loading, converging and box packing are permanently available. They handle the products with speed and precision which cannot be achieved manually and they are much more flexible than the employees in a company, as well as capable of being used for longer and without interruptions due to sophisticated system intelligence.
Denesters load trays with the correct spacing into the traysealer. Loading systems fill the trays reliably in a matter of seconds and consistently with the same product volume. Even pliable meat products are accurately loaded by handling modules into thermoformed pack cavities, which are formed with mm precision. Robots and box packing systems slide the individual finished packs into outer boxes in a precise and space-saving way.
Higher Output, Fewer Faults
The cycle output of the packaging solutions can be increased through the automation of process stages in upstream and downstream equipment and part-processes in the packaging line. Automation components make these process sequences and part-processes precisely reproducible and therefore significantly more reliable. This enables companies to ensure a consistent standard in packaging and end-of-line handling.
In integrated packaging lines, it is possible to store recipe data in the line control itself, which means that the data no longer has to be entered manually. It can therefore, be called up at any time. A significant time-saving results from this, particularly with the increasing diversity of pack and product versions and with smaller batches.
The data is also consistent at all times. Fewer faults arise when the data transfer from one process stage to the next is automated. Administrative effort overall is reduced.
In addition to this, largely automated procedures can be documented more easily and traced at any time as required by the directives for a particular industry. Automation also ensures that procedures and products can be tracked.
Conversions of the machine or line can also be automated to a certain degree, or they can be supported through the machine control of the packaging machine. The quicker and more efficiently the machine and other equipment can be converted to the next batch, the longer the productive time of the overall line. The running-up time for the equipment is reduced, and the danger of damage to dies and machines is largely eliminated.
Improved Food Hygiene
Robert Couse-Baker, Calfornia, US
The automation of packaging procedures also brings food companies significant benefits with regard to food hygiene. Automation reduces the effort required for the hygiene of personnel.
People are potential germ carriers in every production environment. There are good reasons, why there are far-reaching regulations in the food area concerning protective clothing and hand hygiene. Thanks to the automation of tasks, such as the loading of food into the pack cavities, manufacturers can have a very great influence on food hygiene. This improves the quality and safety of the food.
Reduced Space Requirement
Automation components also contribute to the fact that the length of the loading area of the packaging machine can be significantly shorter and the space required for box packing considerably smaller than if these process stages were being performed manually by a number of people.
This means that several part-processes can be carried out at the same time in the smallest space, without compromising safety standards. The operating range of handling systems can be precisely limited to the cm.
That is to say one can have two robots working immediately next to each other without the two systems getting in each other’s way. The dimensions of the equipment can therefore be designed to be smaller.
Responsibility For Employees
If simple and monotonous tasks are taken over by automation components, this frees up manpower resources for more demanding activities. This means that the motivation of employees can be raised and motivated employees improve the atmosphere within the company, which, as experience has shown, has a positive effect on sickness levels.
A further benefit of the automation of part-processes is that companies can also exercise their social responsibility better towards their employees, since the pressure for output, which often burdens these employees, is reduced by automation.
All modules in automated packaging lines can be controlled centrally via the human-machine interface, and they can be tracked in real time. Since all the line components follow the same logic, their operation is very visible.
The automated part-processes, which are supported by the machine control, can be monitored easily and tracked in real time. This creates space for opportunities with optimisation throughout the entire automated process chain. These optimised sequences also lead to considerably fewer faults along the whole process chain.
Quick Return On Investment
The use of automation components does of course require a certain level of investment. From the economic point of view, this investment is however, sensible, since the automation of procedures contributes to reducing faults, increasing productivity and giving longer productive times.
The investment in automation components can also be justified by the resulting higher level of equipment effectiveness of the packaging machine.
The interface between the infeeding and the upstream manufacturing procedures has to be very exact, so that there are no product jams or empty spaces. In order to ensure a continuous product flow, it is sensible in many cases to create redundant systems as well. This means that procedures continue to run, even if one of the infeed components is briefly out of operation.
Conveyor systems and handling modules can offer an efficient way of converging and box packing the packs after the sealing and cutting process. They connect directly into the packaging machine or labeller and provide a continuous pack flow to downstream line components.
Handling modules undertake the loading into boxes, including all the handling of interleaving layers and separating wall inserts. All types of loading patterns can be defined, so that the volume of the secondary packaging is used to the optimum degree.
The cycle output of the modules can be scaled precisely to the requirements of the upstream and downstream systems. Both equipment versions can also eject faulty packs from the packaging procedure.
As part of the integrated automation concept, there is also tracking of the entire procedure, since the individual modules are integrated in the machine control of the packaging line.
The automation of individual process stages serves to optimise the whole packaging procedure. Today’s solutions provide more flexible automation with intelligent systems, so they can continue to meet changing requirements. Thanks to automation, the productive time and output of packaging equipment can be very positively influenced.