Top Questions to Ask when Purchasing a Liquid Filling Machine

Top Questions to Ask When Purchasing a Liquid Filling Machine

For anyone new to the packaging industry, purchasing equipment for a project can be an intimidating process.  Whether looking at a complete line or an individual machine - from power conveyors to liquid fillers, capping machines and labelers - there are a number of questions that should be asked before choosing a packaging machine.  In the next few weeks, we will outline some general questions that can help guide the inexperienced packager in selecting the right packaging equipment for his or her needs, starting with liquid filling machines.

Filling machines are the one piece of packaging equipment that will interact directly with the product being packaged. While more than one filler may work to get any specific product from a tank to the bottles or containers, for any given project there will usually exist one filling machine that will provide the best solution given the details of the packaging project.  That solution can often be identified by asking some or all of the questions below.  

1.  Which filling principle will work best with my product?    

Filling machines can use a variety of principles to move product from a holding tank to the bottles or containers waiting to be filled.  Each principle offers some unique benefit to the packaging process.  This question can begin to be answered by looking at the product itself.  Thin, free-flowing products are usually filled using an overflow filler or gravity filling machine.  Thicker, more viscous products will normally require a piston filler or pump filling machine.  These are general rules and, of course, exceptions do exist.  For example, when a packaging project includes multiple products with a wide range of viscosities, a pump or piston filler may be used with both thick and thin products.

2.  Will the filling machine work with all of my bottles and containers?

The product is not the only consideration when it comes to choosing the correct filling machinery for a given project.  The filling machine must also work with the varying sizes of bottles or containers being used for packaging the product.  Many filling projects will include more than one bottle size.  In fact the bottles may range from a few ounces for travel or sample size products to a gallon or more for bulk containers.  Different packaging machines will require different changeover for the bottle sizes.  While each machine will be able to handle a range of containers, as that range expands, some liquid fillers will work better than others for quick, efficient changeover and less filler downtime.  Changeover time leads to downtime, which in turn can effect total production rates.

3.  What kind of production rates can I expect?

A third consideration when choosing a filling machine is the production rates that can be achieved.  The initial assessment of production rates can be achieved through simple math.  For example, if a liquid filler is manufactured with eight fill heads and can complete 4 fill cycles per minutes, the machine will fill thirty-two bottles per minute, about 1,900 bottle per hour or approximately 15,000 bottles in an eight hour shift.  Adjustments, such as adding fill heads or speeding up pumps, can be made to try to increase the production rates.  In the end, ensuring that the necessary number of bottles will be filled each day is a fairly simple task.  However, most companies that are packaging a product hope for, and expect, growth in the future.  The expected growth can make the analysis a little more difficult.

4.  Will company growth make my machine obsolete?

Figuring production rates for the present is fairly simple, but trying to estimate growth and ensuring that a filling machine can handle increased production in the future is a little more difficult.  Packagers should make sure that the filling machine chosen has the ability to grow with the company.  Many liquid fillers are upgradeable in more than one way.  Some packagers may start with a semi-automatic filler that will allow for the addition of a PLC and indexing system (and therefore automatic production) in the future.  Even automatic filling machines can be upgraded to add additional fill heads in the future.  Furthermore, the packager can plan ahead by purchasing a machine capable of meeting production demands on a single shift.  When growth occurs, additional shifts can be added to meet the demand.  In general, a packaging company should simply ensure that the machine they are purchasing is not set on their production floor already meeting it maximum potential for output of product.  

5.  Can the filling machine be integrated with my existing equipment?

Not all packagers will automate every aspect of a packaging system at one time.  Once the filling machine has been chosen, ensure that the equipment will integrate with existing packaging equipment or with equipment to be purchased in the future.  Many automatic liquid fillers will be manufactured to roll up to any existing power conveyor and begin filling bottles.  However, semi-automatic or custom filling equipment may not be as versatile.  Ensure that the machine chosen from the factors considered above has the ability to work well with other packaging equipment to again avoid leaving the company with obsolete machinery should change occur in the future.

Of course, no two filling projects are the same, and each individual project will bring with it additional questions and concerns.  Some projects may require filling of a hazardous product or even filling within a hazardous environment.  Other projects may have special electrical requirements or the need to do away with electricity completely.  Other products may require sanitary filling machines to guard against product contamination.  Answering the general questions above will help to ensure the most economical and efficient filling machine is chosen for a specific project, but the machine manufacturer should work with the packager to be certain that project specific questions, along with the general questions, are all answered before the filling machine is manufactured.