Suppliers are increasing the intelligence of cartoning systems to better handle lighter weight or recycled-content cartons while also easing rapid changeover.

Suppliers are increasing the intelligence of cartoning systems to better handle lighter weight or recycled-content cartons while also easing rapid changeover.

It’s no secret that budgets are tight right now, and food and beverage companies need to find ways to cut costs and increase margins. Here’s one way they’re doing it.

The future is flexibility

Food and beverage companies are expanding their sales volume by introducing new products with shorter runs, meaning that more and more items and sizes must run on the same machine. This requires more flexibility and easier, quicker changeover capability.

“Our customers rarely purchase a cartoner for a single size product pack pattern or case size, so changeover is critical,” says Kim Mulholland, vice president of sales and marketing at Aagard Group.

Bringing a high degree of flexibility to the table, Delkor’s Trayfecta series of tray and carton forming systems can accommodate different types of packaging materials and also perform locking and gluing. They also accommodate different sizes and throughput requirements with 15 model configurations.

Offering quicker changeover capability is only helpful if the operator is skilled enough. This requires size changeover that can be accomplished by people with modest educations and skill levels.

“We’ve got to address this requirement of making size changeovers not only quick, but also easy to accomplish with reasonably skilled people,” says Nick Bishop, vice president of sales and marketing at Bradman Lake.

For companies such as Bradman Lake, this requires equipment that uses more software with easily accessible changeover menus that give step-by-step prompts to ensure that the operator interface or the product logic controllers do almost all guidance work.

“The secret is to use the technology that is available, but present it in such a way that it can be followed by the average operator and the average engineer,” says Bishop.

If changeovers are preprogrammed, then the operator can simply follow prompts and instructions instead of interpreting and making complex decisions. Servos and variable frequency drives do the rest.

“As a result, quick, repeatable adjustments are possible, and sub-assemblies can be designed as modular units which can be added or removed as production requirements change,” says Tom Brooker, cartoning product manager at KHS.

Z Automation, for example, offers a completely servo-driven system in its CH7.5 200C continuous-motion horizontal cartoning system with tool-less changeover in 10 minutes or less with minimal tweaking and maintenance.

Robots are taking over!

While some areas see reduced human interaction, some are seeing none at all. Ten to 15 years ago, a carton would be formed and sent along a conveyor to be manually filled and loaded, and then go through a closer. Now, many companies are looking to replace the manual filling and loading with robotics.

While automation increases a machine’s speed, productivity and reliability, robots increase a machine’s ability to detect different product types and sizes that would otherwise go unnoticed. Thus, robots add a higher level of flexibility than a typical mechanical loading system.

Replacing manual labor with robotics offers two advantages: First, it enables companies to drastically reduce the amount of labor they currently had working in packaging operations, which saves money. Second, it improves efficiency due to higher reliability. Robots don’t fall ill or take lunch breaks or vacations, so they can work longer and maximize production.

“Many of our major customers are really demanding higher percentages of production efficiency,” says Bishop. “Nearly everyone is expecting line efficiencies to be well over 90%.”

According to Bishop, this means that a machinery manufacturer has to address the way machines are built, removing components or methods that keep them from long-term performance efficiency and employing more components and electronics geared toward longer life and higher efficiency.

Less materials, less hassle

But efficiency doesn’t all come down to changes in machinery. This day in age, supermarkets have tremendous pricing power, and food and beverage companies have to either lower or at least not raise prices, which, coupled with rising commodities prices, demands cost cuts in the packaging department. Food and beverage companies are changing packaging by reducing the amount of material and increasing recycled content in packaging, saving costs and increasing profit margins.

“There are significant savings in moving from a 32-point thickness in a carton to 24 or 22 points,” says Bishop. “Most of the cost of a carton is in the board, so the less that you use, the less the carton costs. This yields savings that go straight back to the customer and, maybe ultimately, the consumers themselves.”

Mulholland agrees that there are potential material savings by going to either a lighter weight or recycled carton. She states that many of Aagard’s customers are going in with their return on investments based on a flat blank versus a preglued blank, which leads to the option to switch to a lighter weight or recycled board, saving the customer even more money.

However, recycled chipboard tends to be softer due to longer paper fibers. Thus, both thinner board and board made from recycled content can run differently on a machine. While the material changes can save money, it can lead to increased stoppages and downtime, as well as more waste, which can lead to significant loss of efficiencies and scrap.

Aagard offers a wraparound cartoner that can run that board at speeds up to 210 cartons per minute since it handles carton blanks flat, not preglued.

Other companies have also responded.

“We’ve got to bring improved handling to the carton in the way that it’s pulled from the hopper and the way it’s controlled,” says Bishop. “So that might mean we’ve got to use improved methods of creating vacuum suction that are more consistent, which might mean that we’ve got to use different vacuum creation techniques than we may have done in the past.”

KHS seeks to eliminate the need for packaging on the secondary side altogether.

“Our equipment is designed to run chipboard or corrugate material up to B-flute,” says Brooker. “This allows the company to provide high-speed packaging solutions that do not require an additional outer case for protection.”

But be it a thinner board or a smarter machine, there is no sole responsible party in whatever is being done to improve carton characteristics or machinery; machine and carton manufacturers have to team up to come up with a solution. F&BP


Aagard Group LLC

Bradman Lake Group

Delkor Systems Inc.


Z Automation