Interacting with the Automatic Filling Machine
Interacting with the Automatic Filling Machine
One of the major benefits of automatic packaging machinery is the ability to continuously run production without the necessity of constant human intervention. However, even automated packaging lines will require operators to set up, change over and maintain the line as well as monitor the system during operation. To further explain the role of an operator working with automatic packaging machinery, we will look at each of these tasks as they relate to a filling machine.
SET UP OF THE FILLING MACHINE
The set up of the filling machine will normally be done by seasoned installers or technicians from the manufacturer of the packaging machinery. However, experienced operators of a liquid filler may set the machine up without such assistance. Set up of the bottle filler will always include positioning the machine in the desired position along the power conveyor system as well as leveling the machine. Automatic fillers will normally include leveling legs that allow the operator to adjust the position of the equipment until the machine sits level on the production floor. If the machine is not level, the operator may notice inconsistency in the fills, drips, spills and other issues that take away from the efficiency of the machine.
Once leveled, the filling machine will need to be adjusted for the bottle to be run. This includes not only adjusting conveyor rails and fill heads, but setting the correct parameters on the operator interface. Automatic liquid fillers will include a PLC and touchscreen interface to make such set up as easy as possible. However, even with the help of the interface, finding delay and duration times for indexing, pump speeds, fill times and other parameters can be time consuming. Many times, recipes will be included by the manufacturer for each bottle to be run and saved to the PLC. In these instances, the operator need simply recall the correct recipe to complete setup. It is a good idea, however, for an operator to be trained in setting up these parameters so as to be prepared should a new bottle or bottles be introduced to the packaging line in the future.
CHANGE OVER OF THE FILLING MACHINE
Change over refers to moving from one bottle to another during production runs, usually consisting of changing from one size to another. In these scenarios, the operator will generally have to perform the same tasks as the initial set up - adjust rails, adjust fill heads, adjust parameters - less the leveling of the filling machine itself.
Again, when recipes are saved by the manufacturer of the filler, the operator can simply recall the correct recipe and forego setting all the parameters (rails and fill heads will still need to be adjusted, along with any other physical changes necessary). The ability to set parameters is still a good skill for an operator to acquire for the same reasons noted above.
MAINTENANCE OF THE FILLING MACHINE
Automatic filling equipment includes wear parts, which will differ depending on the type of filling machine being used. An overflow filler, for example, will include nozzle seals that may need to be replaced from time to time. Certain products may wear tubing out over time, leading to the need for replacements. The operator of the automatic filling machine will need to shut down the machine and change these parts out when necessary.
Routine maintenance should also include the regular cleaning of the equipment. Depending on the type of filler, the product being used and the packaging environment, different methods of cleaning may be necessary, from simply spraying down the equipment to wiping it clean or even running a cleaning agent through the machine after each production run. In general, the equipment should be kept free from dust, debris or product buildup that could cause the machine to malfunction or take away from the useful life of the equipment.
Some automatic fillers will also come equipped with Clean In Place (CIP) systems that will run cycles through the product pathway and do much of the cleaning for the operator. In these cases, the operator will once again use the interface to set clean times and cycles, making this portion of maintenance as simple as pushing a button.
MONITORING THE FILLING MACHINE
Finally, an operator will be used to simply monitor the filling machine and other equipment on a packaging line. Monitoring may be coupled with tasks such as replenishing bottles and caps when necessary. In general, the operator is looking for tipped bottles, bottle jams and other issue that can affect the performance of the machinery. Typically, the operator will monitor the entire line, as an issue on one machine will eventually cause problems up and down the entire line. Operators may be assisted in monitoring the line and clearing issues with tools such as stacked alarm lights, interface alarm screens and E-stop buttons. The first two tools help to alert the operator of an issue while E-Stop buttons allow the operator to immediately shut down the line and clear any problems.
Of course, different filling machines, and different packaging lines, will force the operator to perform different functions. The above is a basic and typical overview of what would be required of an operator of a filling machine. Whenever acquiring new packaging equipment, ensure that the necessary tasks of the operator are understood to avoid start up surprises and ensure proper training and safety.