Vertical Raceway can continuously fill up to 320 containers per minute, deposit a wide variety of products into two lanes of preformed trays or into existing tray lines.

Industry experts share insights into automation developments as well  as ways to improve your filling operations.

by Rick Lingle, Editor in Chief


Brian Barr, sales manager for packaging systems, Heat and Control

Christine Marchadour, VP int’l. sales/marketing, Multi-Fill Inc. Timothy L. Kent, P.E., research & marketing director, Raque Food Systems

F&BP:What are the biggest drivers affecting the filling of foods and beverages?

Tim Kent: There are three main areas:

• Hygienic concerns are a continuing issue-machinery buyers are demanding machines that are easier to clean.

• Energy costs: Customers are looking for machines that draw fewer amps.

• Training: Customers are increasingly expecting machinery suppliers to train their employees.

Christine Marchadour: The increase of chilled ready meals means that hygiene and sanitation is more important due to the increased sensitivity of the chilled products to microbes. The Quality Dept. is becoming more involved at the time of purchasing any type of equipment, but especially for fillers. All parts in contact with the products must be food grade certified, especially plastic components. The machine frame must be angled, and top surfaces to be sloped to minimize the retention areas.

F&BP:What role does new automation technology play?

Brian Barr: Real-time communication with-and control of-your production line is critical to obtaining high efficiency and consistent product quality.  

Heat and Control has developed systems for both. Information That Matters (ITM) is our real-time line monitoring platform that provides data on equipment control points, key performance indicators, and notification of faults via smart phone or computer.

We also offer an expanded version that merges line information and control functions into a single system called ITM-Plant iT that combines real-time control of plant equipment with Manufacturing Execution System (MES) capabilities to maximize efficiency in both startup and on-going operations.

Marchadour: We have to use more and more sophisticated programmable logic controllers (PLCs) with Ethernet and Internet capabilities. Big food processors want to be able to monitor the complete line from their internal network. This makes machines more expensive and complicated. Communicating via the Ethernet or even Wi-Fi still has some challenges that have not completely been solved. The need for faster speeds and more accurate positioning of the product into the container create the need for faster and higher-level PLCs.

Kent: PLCs and servomotors have become much more reliable and much less expensive. We can now use pneumatic systems that have PLC hardware built into them. Moreover, wireless device communication has become a reality. The end result is that filling systems can be much more versatile.

F&BP:What’s the most common problem packagers have with fillers and what’s a solution?

Marchadour: We need good information from the customer. The filler supplier should be consulted early on in the design of the line, not at the end of the planning as it is often the case. The filler should be sized properly to fit the rest of the production line. Don’t try and specify the filler to do everything-specify it for the products that it will really be used, not what it could be used on in the future.

Kent: Varying weights. The customer must match the weight of product advertised on their package art. Hence, they must either always dispense too much product or have an extremely accurate system. The ubiquitous solution is training. Operators need to understand the variations of their product and how those parameters affect deposit weight.

Barr: Filling uniquely shaped containers at higher speeds. The solution is to work with the filler manufacturer to determine that the right filler and transfer conveyor are used and if any modifications are required.

F&BP: What’s the best piece of advice you have for those considering a new filler?

Kent: There are really several suggestions. Buy the system that best fits your product from a manufacturer that is dedicated to help you. Make certain that the equipment supplier is familiar with your product. Look at the Return-on-investment (ROI) before buying the least expensive system. An expensive machine that lasts is much less expensive than one that wears out quickly.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice: Make certain that the manufacturer is willing to help you integrate the filling system into your production line.

Barr: Pay attention to the container shape and its opening to determine the type of filler that can be used and speeds at which it can operate. Also be sure the filler is compatible with the container conveyor for efficient transfer of the filled containers.

Marchadour: Don’t confuse price with value; think long-term when selecting equipment. That $60k machine really isn’t much of a bargain when you have to replace it in 2-3 years. Buyers should also consider maintenance costs, downtime, and waste. There is also the after-sales customer service aspect: Will parts for the machine still be available in 5, 7, 10 years? How long will it take to get a technician out to fix a serious problem? Are they going to get an experienced technician who has a thorough knowledge of the machine? What about upgrades? These things should all be considered.

For More Information:

Heat and Control 800-227-5980;

Multi-Fill Inc. 801-280-1570;

Raque Food Systems 502-267-9641;

Filling valves can be cleaned-in-place with a touch of a button with this option.

Filler options: A trio of favorites

Ben Fogg, Fogg Filler’s director of sales, notes the company’s most popular options for its line of fillers for liquid products:

Safety & Sanitation Guarding with HEPA filtration is a very popular option.  Fogg guarantees and certifies Class 100 air, or better, in the filling environment.  With this feature the shelf life is often greatly improved. 

Semi-Automatic One-Way Recovery Trough (shown).  By touching a button, the valves can be cleaned-in-place without adding or removing any hardware. This enables customers to decrease the amount of cleaning time and operator contact with the filling environment, which increases sanitation. 

Fogg Rinsers are another hot option right now. They are capable of rinsing or sanitizing with acid, hydrogen peroxide, ozonated water, or HEPA air, to name a few.  Customers have the option of one or two turrets depending on dwell time and chemical combinations required for their project. 

Fogg Filler