Simplicity Often Is The Missing Ingredient In Packaging Machinery

Advanced automation is critical for high-volume production, but it can work against small and mid-sized food companies.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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“BOSS is a piston activated in the blowing phase to stroke the base,” explains Jose Andre, Sidel’s technical sales manager. “BOSS provides flexible and versatile production with the option to quickly implement mold changeovers and ensure maximum production and higher bottle quality.”

The resulting containers have a larger standing ring at the base, making them more stable to accommodate higher throughput. Blowing pressures are lower, resulting in up to 20 percent less energy use, and containers can be lightweighted to 20g from 22g.

A more visible sign of increased technological sophistication is the incorporation of more robotics in packaging halls. Cartesian and delta-style robots are most commonly used, but Nigel Smith was able to demonstrate to Finland-based Orfer Oy that a four-axis SCARA robot was a better solution for its robotic casepacker machine.

“The beauty of the four-axis SCARA robot is that it accurately placed packages into cases, while the delta threw them into the box,” says Smith, CEO of TM Robotics Inc. (tmrobotics.com), an England-based distributor of Kawasaki robots with offices in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

A minimal footprint was a design criterion for Orfer’s machine, which features an automatic infeed for case flats and a box former. The system is approximately 6 ft. tall and 7x7½ ft. in length and width. Suspended from a beam, the vision-guided SCARA’s 2 ft. 2 in. reach was fast enough to pick and place up to 40 packages per minute.

“That’s about the reach of a human,” Smith points out, “and the smaller the robot, the quicker the cycle time.”

Robotic applications are expected to expand significantly in North America, which lags Europe manufacturing. European industry relies more on automation to reduce labor costs. On the other hand, Tesla Inc. recently replaced many of the robots in its Fremont, Calif., plant with humans after the robots struggled to complete some tasks and only achieved 10 percent of the production goal of Model 3 electric cars in 2017’s fourth quarter.

“There are some jobs you just wouldn’t want a robot to do, such as inspections,” Smith concedes. “The brain is a wonderful machine. Sometimes you look at the application and say, ‘That job is best done by the human workforce.’”

The same is true of packaging machines: Sometimes, simple is better … sometimes not.

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