Considerations for Loading and Unloading a Packaging Line

Considerations For Loading and Unloading a Packaging Line

When setting up a complete packaging line, there are many options available for both loading bottles onto the line and unloading the finished product at the end of the line.  Packagers may use turntables, unscramblers or even bottle hoppers to load bottles on to a power conveyor system.  Turntables, conveyors with packing stations, case packers or other machinery may be used to prepare and unload products at the end of the packaging system.  Finding the most efficient, cost-effective and/or productive option requires analyzing the packaging system as a whole and the individual needs of each unique project.  A few of the more common factors to consider are discussed below.


Different bottles and containers will be delivered to the packager in different ways.  Some plastic bottles may simply arrive in bulk quantities in a box.  Larger containers may be bagged in single tiers, smaller vials and tubes may come in smaller boxes packed tightly to avoid damage.  How the bottles or containers arrive at the facility will have some bearing on how those same bottles should be loaded onto the packaging system.  Some facilities may choose to use loading turntables, allowing operators of the system to simply place bottles onto the turntable top, which will then introduce the bottles to the power conveyor to be taken to the filling machines, capping machines and other packaging equipment.  Others may choose unscrambling machines, which let the operators dump bulk containers into a hopper, to be oriented by the machine and placed on the conveyor system.  Bottle debaggers might be used for single tiered and bagged milk jugs or similar containers.  Indexing conveyors, bottle hoppers and other custom equipment can also be manufactured to assist in loading differently packaged containers on to the packaging line. Considering the manner in which containers are delivered to the facility and attempting to minimize the contact and time in moving the containers to the packaging line will help to keep the process as a whole running efficiently.


In addition to the way that the containers are delivered to the packaging facility, the size and shape of the individual containers must also be taken into consideration.  Some machinery used for loading and unloading products will simply impede the efficiency of the entire packaging line.  For instance, neither loading nor accumulating turntables will usually be a good fit for five gallon containers.  Though both turntables can be manufactured with a large turntable disk, either end of the line is likely to suffer from such a set up.  On the loading end, operators may quickly fill up the turntable and be left waiting for space to open up to load more bottles.  On the accumulating or packing end of the line, container may quickly back up, forcing bottle rinsers, liquid fillers, capping machines and other equipment to cease performing their functions until the downline congestion is cleared.  Similarly, odd shaped bottles may take more time to orient or orientation may be hit or miss when trying to use an unscrambling machine.  When deciding on how to load and unload bottles on a packaging line, ensure that the method used is the best solution for the actual bottles or containers used on that line.


Production rates also relate to the efficiency of a packaging line.  Loading and unloading containers must be done in such a way that the daily demands for the product can be met.  Even if the filler, capper and labeler are all performing automatically, the production rates for the product can be affected by the loading and unloading of containers.  The automatic packaging machinery can only run as fast as containers can be fed to the machines.  Therefore, an automatic line is very unlikely to profit from one operator placing bottles from a hopper on to the conveyor one at a time.  Similarly, filling, capping and labeling one hundred bottles per minute does little good if a single operator is trying to place all of those bottles into boxes as they reach the end of the line.  Ensure that the loading and unloading processes chosen for a particular packaging line will not negatively affect the overall efficiency of the system.


Though this has been touched on above, a packager must consider the packing process at the end of the line when choosing between manual labor and automatic packaging machines for the packing process.  The speed of the packaging system will help point a packager in the general direction.  Low to medium production lines may be able to get by with an accumulating turntable or an accumulating conveyor with pack tables.  Manual labor can be used to remove the bottles or containers from the turntable or conveyor and pack the same into boxes for shipping.  High speed production lines may be more likely to consider automatic machinery for cartoning, case erecting, case packing, case sealing and even palletizing and wrapping.  The automatic packaging machines used at the end of a packaging lines can reduce the manual labor necessary while keeping up with the filling machine, capping machine, labeler and other automated equipment.  Like almost every other point discussed herein, the focus should remain on the efficiency of the line as a whole when choosing the best loading and unloading solutions for a specific packaging line. 


As a company grows, so may their inventory of automated equipment.  What started out as a labor driven packaging line may, one machine at a time, turn into a fully automated system.  A packager should always ensure that the equipment will work with existing machinery or machinery expected to be added in the future.  Most turntables, conveyors and other loading and unloading equipment will easily integrate with other packaging equipment, even if different manufacturers are involved.  But asking this question up front will keep the packager from housing useless machinery if future upgrades are warranted.
While a number of different loading and unloading techniques will likely work on a given packaging line, considering the factors above will help a packager choose the best solution for his or her individual needs.  Our packaging specialists are always happy to answer questions regarding loading and unloading equipment as well as any other packaging related inquiries.