Why Almost All Packaging Machinery Is Custom Packaging Machinery

Working at a company that manufactures robotic packaging machinery, a person often receives a simple request for a quote on a specific piece of machinery. While it is true that a manufacturer may advertise for an accumulating turntable, overflow filler, a spindle capper, or any other “standard” machine it is also true that almost every machine built will be different in one way or another from every other machine manufactured in the past. For this reason, we often ask for additional information before returning a budgetary quote, as we view every machine we build as a custom packaging machine. Many times the differences between two machines will be subtle and they may appear the same. But simple components can change from project to project to ensure the ideal solution for each is reached. A few of the many subtle changes that may be found on packaging machines of the same type are described below to better understand the LPS definition of custom packaging machinery.

LOADING AND ACCUMULATING TURNTABLES

Even simple packaging machines or the robotic case packing can be custom manufactured to meet the needs of the individual customer. Loading and accumulating turntables are normally used to add bottles and containers at the beginning of a packaging line or to gather finished product at the end, respectively. The tops of these turntables or the disks that actually hold the bottles will obviously be built to handle the bottle size, the weight, and the necessary speed of the packaging line. Different motors may be used on different sized turntables. On loading turntables, the bottle guide that leads the containers to the power conveyor may be designed differently based on the shape, size, and weight of the individual containers. Finally, where the packaging environment or the product can detrimentally effect the “standard” stainless steel used for turntables, another material, such as HDPE may be used to build the machines. So, even one of the simplest machines on a packaging line, a turntable, should be custom built specifically for the project at hand to ensure maximum efficiency, consistency and reliability.

CONVEYOR SYSTEMS

Conveyor systems can be manufactured to assist the manual transfer of containers or to automatically move containers through a packaging system. In other words, as non-powered or powered conveyors. Some systems will contain both types of conveyors. Like turntables, manufacturing conveyors means taking into account speed and weight to ensure the proper motors and reducers are used, but conveyor systems can be include a number of other subtle differences as well. The length and width of a conveyor system can be custom manufactured to accommodate the bottle rinser, filling machine, bottle cappers and any other machines to be used on the line, as well as to accommodate the range of bottles or containers that will be filled, capped, labeled and otherwise packaged. Not only can the construction material be changed to handle harsh chemicals and environments, but the belt material used can protect against static, heat, and other unique characteristics of a packaging project. The space in the packaging facility must also be taken into account, as conveyor systems can run in a straight line, curve, or even take advantage of vertical space to cool or accumulate product.

FILLING MACHINES

The first consideration when manufacturing a filling machine is the filling principle that will best work for the given project. Normally, the product will go a long way toward the selection of a filling principle—specifically the viscosity—but, even if the same filling principle is used, those subtle changes exist on the filler to make each job a custom job as well. A pump filling machine, for example, can use a wide variety of different pumps depending on the bulk tank location, the product itself and the speeds desired, among other things. The number of fill heads will vary from filling machine to filling machine as will the type of nozzle used on the robotic packaging systems. Again, like the turntables and conveyors liquid fillers may require special construction material for acid, bleach and other harsh chemicals, as the filler is the one machine that the product must traverse in the packaging process.

Generally, the same type of custom manufacturing is done on every type of robotic packaging machinery. Capping machines may require different methods of stabilizing a cap and bottle. Container cleaning equipment, like filling machines, may use different types and numbers of nozzles. There are those packaging projects that bring new ideas, new packages, and new challenges to the industry. In the end though, taking the time to customize even the smallest components of a packaging line ensures that each and every customers receives a packaging line that best suits their own needs.

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The Future of Packaging

A recent survey by Packaging World Magazine and Dupont Packaging’s Global Marketing Group gives some interesting insight into the future of packaging machinery like the most used robotic packaging machinery.

The survey asked several questions of packaging professionals, requesting an opinion on the current status in the packaging market as well as the expected status in 2022, ten years from now. The answers from the professionals lead to some expected, some unexpected and some questionable outlooks.

When asked about packaging trends that affect their work today and those that will affect their work ten years from now, packaging professionals all seemed to agree that sustainability will continue to increase in importance through 2022. The most surprising responses to this question show a fairly dramatic decrease in the way cost of packaging components will affect the workplace in the future. While the cost is the most important factor affecting packaging work today, packagers believe it will fall below sustainability and other factors worldwide by 2022. There may be several reasons for this train of thought. First and foremost, many people in general, packaging professionals included, understand that the economy around the world is anything but flourishing. The heightened importance put on cost of packaging components today could be nothing more than an understanding of the current cash flow situations. The expectation of a recovery in the next ten years could also help explain the expectation of a lower importance on cost in the future.

In the alternative, given that we live in a world with limited resource, sustainability may just be seen as that much more important as we move into the future. A slightly higher cost for bottles, pouches, caps, labels or even robotic packaging machinery such as filling machines, capping equipment and the like, may be justified if it produces a sustainable, recyclable product.

As for packaging strategies that are currently being pursued by packaging professionals, efficient package size and shape and down gauging of packaging materials lead the list of current trends. Down gauging, in general, means using less material or getting more packaging from less material. By 2022, industry professionals do not see these two trends as being high on the strategies list. This is, most likely, due to the fact that these are issues that can be reined in and accomplished within the next ten years. By working today toward efficient package size and shape and getting the most out of package material as is possible, the strategy can be followed and the goals achieved.

Instead, the strategies of the future will focus on renewable and recyclable materials, reinforcing the idea that sustainability will become an even more important factor in the future. Smart packaging also gains ground as a strategy in the future. This type of packaging, in general, allows for monitoring certain aspects of a product, for example, temperature. As technology increases, smart packaging may become more easily accessible and allow the packager to pass along important information to the consumer. This will likely, however, have an impact across the packaging industry, affecting not only the package itself but the machinery that is used to package these products like palletizing robot.

Finally, the packaging professionals were asked to name the packaging attributes considered important to consumers today and those that will likely be considered important to consumers ten years from now. Not surprisingly, convenience and ease of use, along with shelf appeal are noted as the most important attributes to consumers today. Somewhat surprisingly, the perceived “greenness” and the recyclable and renewable aspects of products are what the professionals expect the consumers to look for ten years from now. Again, arguably the most logical explanation for the drop in convenience and shelf appeal comes from the fact that limited resources in the future may lead to some compromise from not only packagers, but consumers as well. However, this may simply be wishful thinking as this author believes convenience and shelf appeal will always sway buyers, whether consciously or subconsciously.

As the article points out, the packaging professionals believe that the packaging attribute that will become more important than any other in ten years is recycling. However, when asked about strategies that will be pursued in ten years, the use of recyclable materials actually drop from 2012 to 2022. While at first this may seem like poor planning on the part of the packaging professionals, one has to take into account that using recyclable materials is already strong in the minds of many packagers. Similar to the efficient package size, using recyclable materials may simply be a strategy that will not need as much consideration in the future due to the fact that such use is, and will stay, in place.

In a multi-billion dollar industry such as the packaging industry, it is important to stop at times and consider the future. Given the thought put into the survey, packaging professionals appear to be focusing on strategies that will help to grow the industry while also considering important aspects such as the limited resources available, the footprint left by packaging and the needs of the consumers.