Automatic Filler, Automatic Capper or Both?

Automatic Filler, Automatic Capper or Both?

In many instances, a packaging facility may not immediately need, want, or even be able to afford a completely automatic packaging system.  Packaging facilities with low to medium production demands may actually start using semi-automatic packaging equipment or even manual labor - filling and capping bottles by hand.  As production demands increase, these facilities will look to automate certain aspects of the packaging process, eventually achieving a fully automated system.  

While there may be numerous packaging functions on any given system, many packagers will look to begin this process with an automatic filling machine or an automatic capping machine, as these two packaging functions can be labor intensive when packaging equipment is not used.  The question of whether to start with a filler, a capper or both really comes down to a study of the individual packaging process, the production demands and cash flow.

Depending on the product, the package and the tools used by manual laborers, one of the two processes - filling or capping - may simply be more labor intensive than the other.  For instance, filling the product may consist of mixing a product in a bulk tank and manually transferring from the bulk tank to small containers.  This process may take significantly longer than tightening caps for the same product.  Another facility may spend extra time on the capping process to ensure that spills do not occur by testing, for example, the torque on a screw cap after it has been tightened.  

In the first instance, the packaging process will become more efficient by starting with an automatic filling machine, even if manual labor is increased on the capping end to keep up with the filler.  In the second instance, the opposite is true.  Efficiency and productivity can be increased by adding an automatic capping machine that consistently and reliably applies the same torque to the screw cap.  While these are general examples, the key is that the packaging process must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to reach the best solution for each packager.

Whatever packaging process is used, it must be able to keep up with the production demands of the packaging facility.  Automatic fillers and automatic cappers just may not make financial sense until a certain demand for the product is met.  Building off of the evaluation made above, each packager must take into account the current production demands as well as the expected increase in the future.  Some products can sit in a warehouse for extended periods of time, allowing the packaging process to get a head start on the product demand.  Other products - think foods and medicine here - have a limited shelf life.  If production demands are growing, the decision to automate both the filling and the capping process may make the most sense.  

Of course, when discussing automatic packaging, the packager must take into account the additional cost and the available cash flow.  Financing is almost always available for packaging machinery, and business tax benefits extended through 2013, like increased expensing and bonus depreciation, will help cash flow.  In a perfect world, money would be no object when automating a packaging line, but in the real world, it must be taken into account.  

As a final note, packagers should keep in mind that many different pieces of packaging equipment are upgradeable, including filling machines and capping machines.  The leap from manual labor to automatic packaging may not be one single jump, but a series of smaller jumps to achieve the most efficient and reliable solution.  Applying the above to the series of smaller jumps simply means deciding where to land with the next small jump.  LPS Packaging Specialists are always available to help analyze and evaluate packaging processes and assist in such decision-making.