Packaging Systems - Piece by Piece

Packaging Systems - Piece by Piece

The manufacturing and set up of a packaging system can often be frustrating for those breaking into the packaging business.  Very few, if any, companies manufacture packaging machinery from the front of the line to the back of the line.  Instead, one company will build an unscrambling machine, another the liquid filler and capper and still a third the labeling machine.  

But even if you have to go piece by piece to put together your ideal packaging system, there are a number of companies, like ours, that offer integration services, usually allowing the packager to purchase all of the equipment from one company.  Though those offering integration services will not normally manufacture every packaging machine used in a line, they will be familiar with all of the machinery and its operation.  Not only will using an integration service normally make the process an easier one on the packager, but it can often save money!  That's right, it might possibly save money.  Think of it as buying packaging machinery in bulk, rather than purchasing a single, individual machine from ten different companies.

So now that the decision has been made to go it alone or to use the assistance of a company offering integration, you can start picking your machines!  While the packaging machinery can be acquired in any order or manner, let's try to set this up as logically as possible.  First, let's lay out the roads by choosing a conveyor or transfer system for our packaging system.  For our purposes, we are going to assume that we are setting up an automatic packaging system, which will require power conveyors to transfer bottles from one station to another.

Power conveyors can be manufactured using several different construction materials as well as several different structures or types, depending on the product or products being run.  Aluminum, stainless steel or even plastic can be used to ensure the conveyor system is compatible with the environment and unique characteristics of the liquid being used.  Low profile, raised belt, C-Frame or custom designed conveyors can also be manufactured specifically for the application at hand.  Finally, a conveyor system can be built as a straight line system or, depending on the floor space available, can bend and turn using curved conveyor sections or turntables.

Now that the road map has been set, the individual packaging machines can be placed along the packaging line.  The first thing to consider is how the bottles or containers will be loaded onto the packaging line.  Even an automatic packaging system may require someone to manually deliver bottles to the line.  A simple solution could be adding a turntable to the beginning of the system, allowing bottles or containers to be set on the loading turntable, which in turn delivers the containers to the power conveyor system.  Another option is the use of a bottle hopper, where bulk bottles will be stored until pulled out one by one and placed on the conveyor.  Finally, a bottle unscrambling machine might be used to automatically orient and deliver containers to the conveyor line.  The operator of the packaging system would only need to replenish bulk bottles in the unscrambling machine.  Any of the above can work with an automatic packaging system and custom bottle loading machinery can also be designed.

Once separated, the bottles may need to be cleaned.  Container cleaning equipment comes in a variety of different models.  For some industries, cleaning bottles prior to filling, capping and labeling may be a necessity.  These industries include Food and Beverage, Pharmaceutical and Bottled Water - generally any industry that packages a consumable and must consider the possibility of contamination.  Container cleaning can be done using a wet rinsing or air rinsing machine that inverts bottles over a rinse basin before blasting the inside of the bottles with clean air, water, or other cleaning solution.  Other rinsing machines utilize a vacuum after the rinsing process in order to forego the inverting process.  Either type of machine removes dust and debris that may have accumulated during the manufacture of the bottles, the shipping of the bottles or even the storage as they waited to move into production.

From the container cleaning equipment, bottles will normally move down the conveyor system to a filling machine.  Different liquid fillers are available and will normally be chosen based on the type of product being run, with special emphasis on the product viscosity.  Thin, free-flowing products will usually be run on an overflow filler or gravity filler.  Thicker products will require a pump filling machine or a piston filler.  This is a general rule and exceptions will apply, especially where multiple products are being run.  Once the type of filler is chosen, a simple mathematical equation will usually provide the necessary number of fill heads for any given project.  

Of course, once the bottles are full of product, the next step is to seal the containers to avoid spills, drips and splashes.  The type of cap will normally be the first step to determining the type of capping machine that will be used.  Spindle capper and chuck cappers are the two most popular capping machines for the screw cap, which is the most popular cap.  The screw cap can take on a number of different forms, however, from flat caps to sports caps, flip-tops, trigger sprayers and more.  The capping machine will often work in tandem with an induction sealer as well.  Once the cap is applied and tightened, the bottle and cap combination can move through the induction sealer to provide tamper evident closures.  In you are not familiar with induction sealing, imagine a bottle of pills and the foil found under the cap that must be torn open to get to the medication.  The foil seal is the work of the induction sealer!

Now that we have rinsed, filled and capped the product, we must decide how to present and package the same.  Labeling and coding machines help provide not only an introduction for your customer, but any important information that you, as a packager, would like to convey.  Labeling machines can apply a label in any number of different formats, from front, back, top or bottom to combinations of any of those.  Keep in mind that in many cases, the customer sees the label before they see or know the product, so choosing carefully at this step can be crucial!  Coding equipment allows the expiration date, lot number, batch number and various other information to be applied right to the bottle or label.

Once the label and other information has been applied, the product is probably ready for the shelf!  However, how it is presented on the shelf leaves many different options for end of the line machinery.  Some lines may simply use labor to hand pack a number of bottles into a box.  Other systems may use automatic cartoning equipment or case packers.  Shrink wrap bundlers can be used to create six, twelve or twenty-four packs to be sent to the shelves for consumers.  As a final step, automatic packaging equipment is also available to wrap or stack a pallet.

From this point, the only thing left to do is set up the chosen packaging machinery and start producing finished product.  Again, keep in mind that not every piece of machinery mentioned above has been manufactured by the same company.  For example, Liquid Packaging Solutions would normally manufacture the turntables, conveyor system, rinsing machine, liquid filler and capping machines discussed above.  We would turn to industry OEM's (other equipment manufacturers) who specialize in bottle unscramblers, labelers and coders and even packing machinery to provide an efficient, reliable solution for our customers.  Our relationships with the OEM's are long standing, cooperative relationships that allow us to learn their machinery and integrate the machinery into a complete packaging line. This, in turn, allows our customers the ability to obtain a turnkey packaging system from one vendor, while also taking advantage of the knowledge and experience of numerous packaging machinery manufacturers. 

For more information on turnkey packaging systems or any of the equipment mentioned above, feel free to contact our offices to speak with a Packaging Specialist.