How Fast Will Semi-Automatic Machinery Run?

The question of speed is one that is often brought up early in a discussion about semi-automatic packaging machinery. Of course, this is a legitimate question, as any packager would want to know what kind of performance is to be expected when purchasing packaging machinery. Answering the question of speed for semi-automatic equipment is slightly more difficult than for automatic equipment however, as there is one factor that exists when using semi-automatic machinery that is more or less absent on automated packaging lines.

With any level of automation, the question of speed will depend on a number of factors. For example, a filling machine will produce more filled bottles when working with a sixteen ounce bottle than it will when working with a three gallon container. A free-flowing product may even save some time throughout the production day when compared to a thick, viscous product that requires more energy in the form of a pump or piston to move the liquid. In other words, the bottles, products, caps, labels and other components being used, on either semi-automatic or automatic equipment, must be analyzed to find or estimate the bottles per minute, or speed, of the machinery.

Where these two types of equipment break, however, is in the amount of interaction that is necessary from the operator of the machine. Again, let's look at the filling machine as an example. The operator of an automatic filling machine will set up the machine via a touchscreen operator interface, while also adjusting guiderails on conveyors and maybe re-positioning fill heads. However, once the filling machine is set up and the packaging process begins, the operator will usually simply monitor the process to ensure no issues occur. This makes determining bottles per minute a fairly simple equation. If each cycle on a sixteen head filling machine takes ten seconds, the machine will do six cycles at sixteen bottles per cycle each minute, or 96 bottles per minute.

Now we have to compare that to the semi-automatic filling machine. In this case, an operator will need to place bottles under the fill head, activate the fill cycle by stepping on a foot switch, then remove the filled bottles once the process is complete. Here the operator must be involved with each fill cycle, and it becomes much more difficult to even estimate bottles per minute. The cycle time will not remain consistent, as an operator may pause in between loading, may need to get more bottles, may take a break or even become fatigued by the end of the production day. In the end, the speed of semi-automatic machinery depends in large part on the ability of the manual laborer running the machine. Though a rough estimate can be determined, bottles per minute on semi-automatic equipment cannot be as accurately targeted as it can on automatic machinery. The same is true of semi-automatic rinsers, cappers, labelers and other machinery.

So how fast will semi-automatic machinery run? The answer can be estimated by looking at the components of the packaging project, including rinse or fill times, the size of the containers and more. But the fact that the machines will rely on a human operator and human interaction for each cycle brings an unknown factor into the process that can significantly alter the bottles per minute with each minute that passes.

This is not to say that semi-automatic packaging equipment cannot be valuable to a packager. Such machinery will almost always add efficiency and speed over hand packaging products, along with other benefits such as reliable, repeatable and consistent packaging. For example, hand tightening caps over an eight hour work day will likely lead to some loose, some overtightened and possibly some cross-threaded, caps. Using a handheld or tabletop capping machine can help to ensure each cap is tightened in the same manner in the first and the eighth hour of that workday, without the fear of the capping issues mentioned above.

Semi-automatic packaging machines themselves come in different levels of automation, from simply handheld machines to full frame equipment. To learn more about semi-automatic rinsers, fillers, cappers, labelers and more, browse the Liquid Packaging Solutions website.