A Packaging System - Follow the Bottle

A Packaging System - Follow the Bottle

Today we will take a quick trip down a typical packaging line with a bottle to be packaged and prepared for presentation to the consumer.  Let's catch up to the bottle as it sits in the shipping box, ready to be presented to the packaging line.

In most cases, bottles will be loaded on to the packaging line in one of two different ways.  First the bottle may simply be dumped into an unscrambling machine.  If this is the case, our bottle will join a great number of other bottles in the hopper of the unscrambler.  As it reaches the main power conveyor for the packaging line, the bottle will be correctly oriented and stood up for presentation to the other packaging machines.  As an alternative, manual labor may be used to load bottles onto an automatic packaging system.  Operators may place bottles on a loading turntable or an indexing conveyor.  If our bottle is placed on the loading turntable, it will work its way to the outside of the turntable and, eventually, to the power conveyor that will take it downstream.  If our bottle is placed onto the loading deck of the indexing conveyor, it will move through a single lane to eventually join a set of bottles on the main conveyor system.  Either way, on an automatic packaging system, the dumping or loading will normally be the last time the bottle will be handled by a person until at least the packing phase.  So now that our bottle has been introduced to the main conveyor system, let's follow it down the line!

The first packaging machine the bottle will meet on a typical packaging line is a container cleaning machine.  Not all lines will use these packaging machines, but products such as foods, beverages, water and pharmaceuticals will almost always include some type of rinsing machine to help avoid contamination of the product.  As our bottle enters the container cleaning equipment, it may either stay on the conveyor or it may be inverted to complete a rinse.  If the bottle stays on the conveyor, a bottle vacuum will be used to clean our bottle.  The bottle will be first blown out with clean air and the loose debris will then be vacuumed into a waste reservoir.  If the bottle is inverted, rinse nozzles will be used to wash away debris while the bottle is upside down.  The inverted rinser may use air, water or some other cleaning solvent to complete the rinsing process.  Once rinsed, the bottle returns to the main conveyor and continues down the packaging line.

Once rinsed, the bottle will move to the filling machine for the introduction of product.  While there are many different types of filling machines - overflow, gravity, piston, etc. - the bottle will generally take the same path through any given filler.  Using indexing, the bottle will pause or stop under a fill head.  At this time, the fill head may dive into the bottle or it may simply open above the fill head to release product into the bottle.  The bottle will remain in place until the fill is complete, at which time it will be indexed out of the fill area and continue down the packaging line.

Now that our bottle is no longer empty, for most products we will want to create a seal as soon as possible to protect the product against contamination.  Therefore, the bottle will likely move out of the filling machine, down the conveyor and almost immediately into a capping machine.  The type of capping machine used will depend on the type of cap and bottle being used.  However, in most cases the capping machine will either apply torque to tighten the cap or snap down the lid to create a tight seal.  Our bottle may also run under a nitrogen purge system just before being capped as well.  In this case, the bottle will receive a blast of nitrogen gas just before entering the capper.  This blast of nitrogen replaces oxygen in the bottle and can prolong the shelf life of many products while also retaining the color, taste and texture of the product.  In the same general vicinity as the capper, our bottle may also pass through an induction sealer, neck bander or other equipment to provide some tamper evidence for the packaging.  Most of this type of packaging machinery will simply require the bottle to move through the machine while on the power conveyor.

At this point, our bottle has been filled with product and that product is protected by the seal created by the capping machine.  As the bottle continues down the conveyor and out of the capper, it is time to add a label or labels to the bottle.  While labeling machines can apply labels in a number of different manners - front and back, top, bottom, wrap - almost all will simply apply the label as the bottle passes by the labeling machine on the conveyor system.  Our bottle may move through a wheel or disk separator to create space between other bottles on the line.  This is done to ensure that one label is applied reliably and consistently to each bottle that passes by.  As our bottle receives a label, it will normally also receive some coding from a machine near or even on the labeler.  Coding equipment is used to add UPC symbols, lot numbers, expiration dates and other important information to a label or a bottle.  Once this is completed, our bottle - filled, capped and labeled - is pretty much ready for the shelf.  

Automatic packaging equipment may be used to pack the bottle as well.  From shrink wrap bundlers to case packers and even pallet wrappers, the filled, capped and labeled bottle may continue through the automation process.  However, in a number of cases, the bottle may simply be accumulated on a turntable or conveyor for manual packing and shipping. End of the line conveyors may use packing tables to create packing stations right on the packaging system.  Either way, our bottle has now completed a quick trip through a packaging line and is ready to be shipped to the consumer!  Of course, each packaging system will be hand tailored to the product and package for which it is manufactured.  The above is simply an example of a typical packaging line and the equipment most likely to be found on such a line.