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Which Packaging Machine Should I Purchase First?

Which Packaging Machine Should I Purchase First?

In an ideal world, a packaging facility would simply move from manual production to semi-automatic production to a fully automated packaging line as their production warranted.  In our less than ideal real world, however, budgets will often preclude such moves.  A number of packagers will slowly become automated over time, as their business and demand for their product grows.  

Replacing components of a packaging line with automated packaging machinery offers added efficiency, but how does a packager know which machines to replace and when?  This question will be answered on a case-by-case basis and will depend on how a product is currently packed.  While there are situations where reasons exist for rinsing machines, capping machines or even labelers to be the first automated machine, as a general rule, the liquid filler may be the best place to start.

In order to explain why the filling machine is normally the best place to start automating machinery, let's quickly examine a typical manual or semi-automatic packaging system.  Without automatic machinery, each station of the packaging line will require an operator or operators.  Manual labor will be used even on semi-automatic packaging machines.  Operators will be used to place unrinsed bottles on rinsing nozzles, position containers under the filling machine, position and possibly tighten bottles and caps on the capping machine and place and remove containers on the labeling equipment.  In some cases, a single operator will move through the semi-automatic system with one or a few bottles at a time, completing the necessary tasks at each station.  For obvious reasons, this is not the most efficient packaging process, but will work where production levels are on the low side.

If we take a packaging line like the one described above and automate the capper or labeler first, we actually limit the ability of these automatic packaging machines.  By leaving our manual labor on the rinser or filler, we allow the operators to dictate the speed of the automatic capping machine and/or automatic labeling machine.  The capper and labeler will only go as fast as the operators can rinse and fill.  So, though these machines may one day reach their potential once the entire line has been automated, the immediate added efficiency may be limited.

As for the container cleaning equipment, not every packaging line will even require such a machine.  But where they are required, using labor to load bottles into the rinser is akin to loading bottles onto a turntable or conveyor on an automated packaging system.  Semi-automatic machines may still be able to deliver cleaned containers to a filling machine via a power conveyor and the semi-automatic rinser can double as a loading apparatus for the line.  Again, an automatic rinsing machine may add efficiency even where the other machinery is not automated, but the efficiency would be limited.

By automating the filling machine, the line is driven by the automatic equipment.  Manual labor at the capping or labeling station will not be held up by the speed of the filling machine.  If anything, the increased speed of the filling machine will keep the operators busy throughout an entire production shift.  The automatic filler might be limited by the loading of bottles on a rinsing machine, if one is used on the line, but even in this situation, the immediate added efficiency to the packaging line far outweighs the immediate efficiency gained by first automating any of the other machinery.

Again, certain packaging projects or unique situations may not fit this general rule.  If capping is difficult and inconsistent, an automatic capping machine can add reliability, with efficiency to follow at a later date.  If labels are being applied wrinkled or uneven, efficiency may take a back set to aesthetics, keeping in mind that a label is an introduction to the product.  Each packaging line should be analyzed to find the best place to start the automation process.  The analysis should focus on the ability of the automated machinery to immediately add efficiency, reliability or any other desired trait to the packaging process.