Shelf ready packing with speed and precision

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When a leading food manufacturer upgraded their condiment production line they needed an end of line solution to take the bottles and pack them into a configuration suitable for supermarket shelves.

When next walking down the supermarket aisle, spare a thought for the process behind how all the bottles, neatly packed with labels facing forward, arrived on the supermarket shelf.

In the past this was a labour intensive task, performed manually usually after hours, but now thanks to advances in technology, bottles can be positioned into cartons, forward facing as a fully automated process.

Hot Melt Packaging Systems (HMPS) is an Australian company that specialises in the design, development and manufacturing of high quality machinery for packaging processes. The company takes pride on being Australian designed and engineered and places great importance on ensuring the innovation of robotics and engineering continues to develop and remain in Australia.

When a global food manufacturer asked HMPS to provide an end of line solution for their high speed, condiment production line, HMPS did what they do best- designed an innovative, reliable packing machine using the latest technologies from Rockwell Automation.

The production line

To meet growing demand, the manufacturer had previously upgraded their main condiment production line to produce twice as much product in half the time. Bottles are sterilised, filled, capped and labels applied. The production line produces different sized and shaped bottles ranging from 500ml to 4 litre. To accommodate this, there is a multiple range of case sizes, pack configurations and bottle shapes.

According to Warren Booker, NSW State manager at HMPS, “In Australia, manufacturers are challenged by having to produce so many different products in the one machine. In countries with larger populations, like the US and Europe, one machine can be dedicated to a specific product which makes the machine design more simplistic. The Australian market has a unique requirement where they need a machine to be flexible to grow with the business and pack a range of different products in different packing arrangements”

HMPS worked closely with the customer to design a fully automated system that meets all the requirements for this application today but also has the flexibility to meet future demands.

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Precise motion control

The challenge ahead was to pack bottles that are coming off the production line at 100 bottles per minute into a six by three pack configuration with labels forward facing. “There were fundamental considerations that required attention in the design phase to achieve this with a key focus on detailed simulation to make sure the advanced level of motion control required could be achieved,” explained Booker.

Given the large range of products which was being produced and the need for shelf ready cartons meant this production line had clear and precise requirements which HMPS had to comply with. Using the latest technology and working closely with the customer specified needs has allowed this project to be a smooth transition into full production speed maintaining high efficiency and reliability.

HMPS works with a variety of component suppliers and integrators. As a local manufacturer, HMPS not only supplies machinery to Australia, but also exports to countries such as South Africa, Asia, the USA, Europe and New Zealand. Hence, they select suppliers who are able to provide service globally and offer high availability on critical spare parts.

Having worked on previous projects with Rockwell Automation, HMPS knew that the Integrated Architecture system would provide the best solution for this application. Allen-Bradley CompactLogix uses a common control engine and integrates safety, motion, discrete and drive capabilities in the case packer system.

Advanced motion control is provided by Allen-Bradley Kinetix 5500 Servo Drives and PowerFlex variable speed drives. Given the high speed packing requirements of the system, safety door switches and guarding was provided by Allen-Bradley industrial components.

In addition, the case packer system has integrated control, drives and safety capabilities via Ethernet using Stratix 5700 Ethernet switches. PanelView Plus 7 provides high quality HMI for the system. “The Rockwell Automation solution provides a completely integrated and reliable system for the case packer and also provides the framework for a smart machine for HMPS to leverage the Connected Enterprise,“ said Michael Vlahos OEM sales manager at Rockwell Automation.

Quick changes, easily accommodated

“To future proof the machine, a degree of adjustment in the machine had to be considered. Due to the need for relative quick changes we have supplied a fully automated system,” comments Booker.

All the SKU’S or product range are listed on the main screen so the operator can go to see the core product and the machine will automatically resize at a touch of a button. In this way, the machine can apply the resize down to just using the one operator. In addition, the machine won’t run until everything is in exactly the right position and all guards and doors are in the safe (closed) position.

Remote trouble shooting

“We have a modem in the machine that looks at running time and reliability factor. In this way we have a track record of parameters as part of the control system, how it’s been running, how long etc. We have the software which allows us to log in remotely,” adds Booker.

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Fully automated shelf ready packing

According to Booker, “Rockwell Automation has been a longstanding collaborator of HMPS and they offer products which are perfectly suited to the efficient and fully automated requirements of our customers. Their product and service availability plays a big role in enabling on time delivery to customers and after sales service.

Machines are often pushing the limit as to how fast they want to go, we’re designing machines that are under a lot of pressure to perform quickly so we’re using a lot more servo drives and pneumatics, we’re fast in the collection but a little bit slow the way we pack the box so it’s a controlled environment.

This is their main line so if the machine breaks down there’s not a lot of diversion in place. The pressure is on us to provide a machine that is working well. When it is offline they are losing money. We need to make sure it’s working properly and reliably.”