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Boost Task Flexibility in Beverage Packaging Machine Builds

OEMs can speed up changeovers for beverage packaging tasks with these equipment strategies

Along with much of the food manufacturing industry, companies manufacturing and packaging beverages also are pressured to increase product offerings when it comes to container and packaging sizes.

Soft drink makers like Coca-Cola Company will readily attest to this trend. In a recent web article on the drink maker’s website, a spokesperson indicates that 12-ounce, 2-liter and 20-ounce sizes represent around 70% of the volume of bottles and cans sold in North America. Meanwhile, retail sales of smaller 7.5-, 8.0- and 8.5-ounce containers have posted double-digit growth in recent years.

The demand for package variations like these certainly affect bottlers and beverage makers which increasingly seek the sort of packaging line flexibility and innovations that allow them to employ different container and pack sizes using the same equipment, by way of fast and easy changeovers.

As companies work to incorporate this flexibility, there are equipment strategies OEMs can use to help their customers increase the amount of flexibility their machinery delivers.

Adjustable Guide Rails
One proven strategy is designing or updating conveyor lines throughout a packaging facility with adjustable guide rails to accommodate various container and pack sizes. Often a pneumatic approach, this control strategy enables manufacturing facilities to harness a plant’s pneumatic control system to make a range of position adjustments throughout the length of the line at once.

Toward this end, one OEM offers a patented system for automatically repositioning multiple guide rails pneumatically on packaging conveyor lines to accommodate changeovers for different bottle, packaging, and case sizes. Not only does the system eliminate the need for numerous manual adjustments when changing over packaging lines, but it also handles the task much more cost efficiently than could be done using electronic linear actuators and stepper motors to reposition guide rails.

Automated changeovers like these can save hours of setup time, allowing adjustments to be made at the push of a button. Pneumatic actuators then automatically adjust to the correct position based on the size of the bottles being filled or the cases being packaged.

In another case, a bottler was able to replace gas shocks with round-body air cylinders in a vertical tower system for moving mixed-size cases. The innovative system, fitted with a dial regulator, flow control, and stainless steel fittings, successfully mimicked the actions of the gas shock and returned a quick ROI.

Actuators and Valve Systems
At the core of this flexibility is the use of pneumatic actuators that can be adjusted for different packaging tasks. For example, pneumatic cylinders with infinitely variable strokes can help OEMs meet the varying needs of their customers when it comes to size and pack changes. Features such as adjustable speed control and braking also can offer flexibility as well as accurate package positioning at high velocities.

The valve systems that control these actuators also should offer built-in design flexibility. Modular-style directional control valves can help here, as can modular builds accommodating larger valve island configurations. Equipment with this modularity gives machine builders maximum flexibility to assemble each automation system to customer requirements. Valve systems that accommodate peripheral or ancillary functions, such as flow control, pressure regulation, P.O. check valves, and vacuum generators also will broaden design possibilities and flexibility.

Condition Monitoring Tools
OEMs also should consider the use of Bluetooth-enabled condition monitoring tools or sensors to help facilitate proper changeovers and equipment setting changes. Wireless sensors that measure air line pressures, for example, are particularly useful when a new packaging task requires changing air pressure or processing speed. This may be the case when packaging different product sizes or needing to apply a different amount of gripping force to move a container. Condition monitoring tools designed to measure and validate these changes did in fact occur can help alert operators that settings were reprogrammed correctly, and help prevent equipment damage in mission-critical applications. Wireless products are particularly beneficial, because they simplify the installation process compared to wired sensors. In addition wireless sensors can serve as convenient and useful diagnostic tools across locations or in areas where wires would hinder a process.

Condition monitoring sensors are especially appropriate for packaging equipment that has been tweaked and upgraded over time to allow for its use in different packaging tasks. These sensors can help pinpoint whether such conditions as air pressure, humidity, or ambient temperatures are affecting system performance.

Design for Success
Ultimately, designing and building beverage packaging machinery to allow maximum flexibility rests upon well-informed designs plus component selection that considers the many variables that can be adjusted.

Selecting equipment with these considerations in mind can lead to greater changeover success.

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