Understanding the Distinction Between Automatic and Semi-Automatic Packaging Machinery
Looking at just about any packaging machine - liquid fillers, capping machines, container cleaning equipment - visitors to the LPS website will notice options including both automatic and semi-automatic machines. Most people understand that, in general terms, an operator will be more involved in the process when using semi-automatic machines. Below we look a little more specifically at how these two types of machines differ for several categories of packaging equipment.
Rinsing machines are used to remove dust and debris from bottles and other containers prior to the introduction of product. The automatic versions of these machines will either invert bottles over a rinse basin or use special vacuum nozzles combined with an air blast to remove particles. In most cases, the operator of the machine will simply need to ensure the PLC settings are correct for the bottle to be cleaned, which normally consists of pulling up the correct recipe. Some adjustments may be necessary to rinse heads, power conveyor rails, indexing or other stabilizing components when bottle sizes change as well. But in the end, once the automatic machine is running, the operator will only need to monitor the machine with the rest of the packaging line.
Semi-automatic rinsing machines, on the other hand, require operator interaction for every rinse cycle run. Operators will place bottles on or over the nozzles, then use a finger or foot switch to start the rinse cycle. Once the rinse is complete, the operator will also need to remove the containers and transfer them to the next packaging cycle, rather then having the bottles automatically move down the power conveyor system. Therefore, the speed of the semi-automatic rinsing machines will always vary and be, in part, dependant on the speed of the operator.
Filling machines introduce the product to the containers via a bulk source or supply tank on the machine itself. The distinction between automatic and semi-automatic filling machines mostly mirrors the rinsing machines discussed above. Operators of automatic filling machines will need to ensure PLC settings are correct and make adjustments to conveyors, fill heads and other components as necessary. But again, once the automatic filler is running, the operator's main task will be to monitor the machine and the packaging line.
Semi-automatic bottle fillers require the operator to correctly place containers under the fill nozzles and start the fill cycle, which is usually done via foot or finger switch. Once filled, the operator removes the containers and transfers them to the next packaging phase or machine. With filling machines, some semi-automatic processes may also require the operator to replenish product from time to time as well. Also just like the rinsers, the speed of semi-automatic machines will depend on the operator speed as well, whereas automatic machines with power conveyors can consistently, reliably and repeatedly achieve a certain speed.
Capping machines are used to seal a variety of different cap types onto bottles and other containers. Automatic bottle cappers may require some mechanical adjustments to components that stabilize bottles or tighten caps, such as spindle wheels, snap on belts or gripper belts. However, once these adjustments are made, caps will be delivered to the machine through the use of an elevator or vibratory bowl. The sorting device then delivers the cap to a chute, which presents the cap to the bottle. Along with monitoring the automatic capper once production begins, the opertor may need to occasionally replenish bulk caps in the sorting device, be it the hopper of the elevator or the vibratory bowl.
Semi-automatic bottle cappers will require a bit more operator interaction. Operators of semi-automatic capping machines will normally need to first place the cap onto the bottle and then position the bottle and cap combination in place under or in the capping component. Once in place, the operator may also need to begin the cycle via foot or finger switch. After the cycle is complete, the operator will remove the sealed container and transfer it to the next packaging phase.
While these examples are simplified, they provide a good example of the differences between automatic and semi-automatic machinery. However, many different types of packaging machines exist for different applications, with many different levels of automation. For this reason, LPS always works with customers to modify or customize each machine to meet specific needs and to ensure that customer expectations are understood and, ultimately, met.