Beginner's Guide: Shopping For A Filling Machine
One of the best ways to make a liquid packaging system more effective is to employ a filling machine. Compared to hand filling jars, bottles and other containers, using filling equipment becomes much more consistent, reliable and efficient. But for start up companies and small businesses that have never used the equipment, how do you know what you need, what to look for and what questions to ask of your manufacturer? Below are a few questions to get you started down the right path!
1. What is the output (or bottles per minute) of the machine?
Most people, new packagers included, ask this question without prompting. Obviously, the machine will need to produce enough product to meet the demand in an efficient manner. More times than not, the performance of the liquid filler will be discussed in terms of bottles per minute and the number will be determined by container size, product being filled, automation level and many other factors. For instance, if a machine can run 50 bottles per minute (3000 per hour, 24000 in an eight hour day) the packager can plan their production day, week, month or year around this number. This very simple question ensures that the machine can handle the necessary production now and in the future (see more about upgrades below).
2. How is the machine operated?
Many packagers will explore filling machinery to reduce labor costs as well as increase efficiency in the production process. With different levels of operation come different requirements for labor. Tabletop and semi-automatic filling machines mean at least one operator will be necessary to load, activate and unload bottles from the equipment. Using labor also puts uncertainty into the machine output discussed above, as the machine can only work as fast as the operator. Understand the level of automation for the machines that you are discussing with your packaging machine manufacturer.
3. Will the machine have an affect on my product?
Matching the filling machine to the product being packaged is a must and this does not simply mean the construction material works for the product being run. In general terms, stainless steel will be used to build a filling machine, but some products simply do not work well with stainless. For acids, bleaches and other corrosive products, HDPE materials will often be used. But even if your product is not corrosive, it is important to share the characteristics with the manufacturer. Make sure the pump will not agitate the product and cause viscosity changes that can lead to inconsistency. Ensure that components won't run hot and do the same to a product. In other words, inform your filler manufacturer of your product characteristics and ask about any possible issues running it through the machine being discussed. At LPS, we often require and other times strongly encourage sending product samples to test on the equipment, thus avoiding unwanted surprises once the machine begins running production at the packager facility.
4. Can the machine be upgraded?
While the filling machine may work for current production needs, it's always a good question to ask if the machine can handle more in the future. While there may be a few that do not, most packagers will share a common goal of increasing their output. Many filling machines can be upgraded by simply adding more heads in the future. Others may include the ability to add indexing systems and control panels to upgrade to automated production in the future. When searching for your first filling machine or a new filling machine, plan for it is possible to plan for the future as well!
For more information on filling machines or for questions not covered in this article, feel free to browse our website or call our offices to speak with a Packaging Specialist.