Cost-Effective Solutions – Semi-Automatic Packaging Machinery

Automatic packaging lines can be a costly endeavor, especially when a new company is being formed or production demands do not call for non-stop filling, capping and labeling. In these situations, completely automatic packaging equipment may be overkill, until the product or products catch on and production levels increase. In addition, new companies may want to spend capital in other areas such as marketing and sales to grow the company. When these and other issues are of concern, semi-automatic equipment can provide an efficient and cost effective solution for packagers.

1. Container Cleaning Equipment

While container cleaning equipment may not be found on every packaging line, these machines are critical for a number of industries. In general, bottle washers and rinsers will be used in industries where products are ingested, injected or otherwise come in contact with the body. Medicines, foods, beverages and similar products that are concerned with contamination will almost always take advantage of some type of container cleaning machine. Rinsers and washers will normally be placed just before the liquid filling machine to remove dust and debris prior to the introduction of the product into the bottles or other containers. Semi-automatic container cleaning equipment will require the operator to place the bottles to be cleaned on rinse nozzles. These nozzles may use air, water or other cleaning chemical to loosen and remove contaminants, on occasion using a vacuum to pull out the debris as well. Once rinsed, the operator of the machine will remove the cleansed bottles and move them to the bottle filler for the introduction of product.

2. Liquid Filling Machines

Semi-automatic liquid fillers can use the same filling principles as automatic equipment. This means the semi-automatic machinery can handle liquids thick and thin, liquids with particulates, hot fills and sanitary products as well. Like the container cleaning equipment, these machines will require the operator to place the bottles or containers before the filling begins. Once the containers are in place, the operator will activate the fill cycle in some manner, most commonly by stepping on a foot switch or pressing a finger switch. Semi-automatic filling machines can not only speed up the process over hand filling, but can add consistency and reliability to the fill as well. Once the fill cycle completes, the operator will remove the bottles from the machine and move them to the next packaging phase, which will usually be the capping of the containers.

3. Capping Machines

The type of semi-automatic capping machine used for any project will necessarily depend on the type of cap being used. Semi-automatic equipment can be manufactured for screw on caps, snap caps, ROPP caps, corks and more. While some of these machines may speed up the capping process, the real benefit of the semi-automatic machines comes from the consistent tightening of the closures. Hand capping of product can lead to loose caps, cross-threading and other issues simply from the fatigue of the repetitive motion of the task. Capping machinery removes the uncertainty by allowing for a repeatable, reliable motion of the machine. The task of the operator will differ slightly on different types of capping machines, but in general, the cap will be placed on the bottle or container and the combination of the two will be placed into a position nest to allow the machine to tighten the closure in the manner required. Once securely closed, bottles are removed from the machine and moved once again to the next packaging phase.

4. Labeling Equipment

Labeling any bottle by hand is an arduous chore for any packager. Not only will it quickly become a tedious task, but keeping labels straight and unwrinkled can be a challenge, to say the least. Semi-automatic labeling machines allow the operator of the equipment to simply place the bottle or other container into position. The labeler will then take over and apply the sticker where necessary, using either a sensor to see when a bottle is in place or a foot switch that allows the operator to start the labeling process once the container is ready. Semi-automatic labelers provide both additional speed and consistent and reliable application over hand labeling product.

At this point, a simple packaging system has been described to rinse, fill, cap and label products and containers. There are many other semi-automatic machines that can assist in the packaging process. In addition, semi-automatic equipment can often be combined in a small space or on a single frame (often called a uniframe) to allow one or two operators to complete the entire packaging process. Many of the machines can be upgraded to allow for growth as production demands increase as well. These upgrades may include adding rinse heads or fill heads to a machine. But in the alternative, semi-automatic equipment can be manufactured on the same frame as automatic equipment and upgraded to perform automatically in the future. These upgrades would normally include the addition of an indexing system and either the addition of or modification to the PLC and programming.

While automatic machinery can seem daunting from a financial perspective, packagers need to be aware that other solutions do exist. These solutions can be a step toward complete automation, allowing consistent, reliable and often more efficient packaging without choking cash flow for start up or smaller companies.