Future-proof Your Cartoning Line With Flexibility

Modular machinery enhanced with Industry 4.0, Augmented Reality (AR) and TPM unlock automation, are time-savers for operator training, changeovers, troubleshooting, and spare parts maintenance. Image courtesy of Cama North America.

How to Select Equipment That Will Grow With Your Business

By Billy Goodman, managing director of Cama North America

They say variety is the spice of life and this is certainly true for consumer goods products today. A walk through the grocery store reveals an array of choices ranging from granola bars — chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and peanut butter — to snack bags, pet food, and more. For consumers who want it all, variety or multi-packs are often the answer.

However, all of this variety means more work for food packagers, as they need to find packaging solutions that can handle multiple products and package formats. In addition, many companies do not have the floor space, nor the budget, to accommodate multiple machines to handle production.

The key to unlocking automation for consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers is flexibility. A flexible secondary packaging solution equates to finding a cartoner that can handle a wide range of products, such as 6- to 72-count cartons of bars, satisfying the needs of both retail and club store use. Ideally, the same machine can be designed and programmed to assemble variety packs, such as 18-count cartons with three different flavors.

Selecting a cartoner

As production and varieties increase, another important consideration is selecting a cartoner that can grow as your business grows. Perhaps your company currently manufactures four SKUs, but by planning for the future you’ll have the ability to run new products, variety packs, and more.  A modular approach to automation alleviates the risk of obsolescence.

In addition to flexibility, other items need to be considered, including machine speed, efficiency, changeover time, maintenance and support. Quick and simple changeovers to switch between various products or package formats reduces downtime. A machine that is easy to maintain and comes with solid technical support from the manufacturer will save time and headaches. Technology such as Industry 4.0 and TPM are machinery enhancements that result in time-savers for operator training, changeovers, troubleshooting, and spare parts maintenance.

Display style cartons, which can include tear-away tops or front panels, are an effective way to display product on store shelves without having to manually unpack it from a case. Image courtesy of Cama North America

Consider future needs

When choosing a cartoner designed for flexibility, it is important to not only evaluate your current package styles, formats, and carton styles, but to also look at alternative types of carton styles available. Maybe you’re only running one style at the moment, but by knowing the options, as well as both the advantages and disadvantages of other carton styles, you’ll be better prepared to meet future production needs.

Finding a consultative machinery manufacturer that can be a true partner – helping to point out package styles that you may not be familiar with, as well as the pros and cons of each style – is very helpful. In some cases, the right partner can even suggest modifications to make your existing packaging more efficient and sustainable, which will help save material costs and increase your return on investment (ROI).

Carton styles

Today’s carton styles include side-loaded cartons, hinged lid cartons (for top loading applications), display style cartons (with tear-away tops or front panels), and trays.

Due to the versatility sought by retailers, diversity of packaging styles is paramount to meeting the needs of CPG’s. This versatility must be provided by machinery, with quick and simple changeovers, to allow retailers to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Cama Group’s Side Load Cartoners offer high-performance and reliable solutions for side loading applications. These horizontal cartoners can be integrated into complete production lines in both food and non-food markets. They are an ideal choice for packing flow-wraps, pouches, bags, thermoformed trays, blister packs, jars and more. Image courtesy of Cama North America

Side loading vs. top loading machines

Most cartoners are either side-loading or top-loading machines. As you may have guessed, side-loading cartoners are designed to load products from the side, propelling or pushing the product into the carton. These are typically used for low-profile products such as blister packs, flow-wrapped bars, cans, or smaller cartons.

Top-loading cartoners, on the other hand, are usually preferred for flexible products such as bags, as well as taller or bulkier products like bottles, cans, or jars. Top-loading cartoners are also usually a better choice for fragile products like confectionery, cookies or glass. Using robotic end effectors, top load cartoners can load products into trays, hinged cartons, or into the article buckets of a side load cartoner. They are also ideal for loading variety packs, as the cartoner can be programmed to pick a specified number of each flavor, live and/or from WIP, and load them into the same carton or tray.

Both side load and top load cartoners provide great versatility, dependent upon the feeding systems used. Product handling by a combination of conveying and/or robotics determines the versatility of the cartoner, combined with the size range the cartoner is equipped to handle.

Top loading cartoners have multiple uses, including robotically loading products into a hinged lid carton as shown.

If speed is a consideration, side-loading cartoners are often faster than top-loading machines, dependent on the size and pitch of the cartons. Most top load operations for a single lane of cartons will top out around 120 cartons per minute, based on the carton forming/transferring/closing limitations associated with today’s carton handling technology.

Side load cartoners range from up to 50 cartons per minute for intermittent motion, 50-100 cartons per minute for intermittent/continuous motion and up to 300 per minute for continuous motion. Both side load and top load options can be customized with robotic loading to achieve the desired speed and flexibility.

Weigh all considerations

While side-loading systems are usually less expensive than their top-loading counterparts, it’s important to weigh all considerations over the long term, such as labor savings, improved efficiency, and increased production.  While it may be tempting to choose a cartoning system based solely on your current needs and available footprint, looking at systems that can grow as your business grows will save time and money in the long run.

A good secondary packaging solutions manufacturer should offer an array of solutions, with options to help you run a variety of SKUs. In addition, the right partner can be a valuable resource to help evaluate package styles and formats, as well as the technology to help improve current and future production.

Using robotic end effectors, top load cartoners can load products into trays, hinged cartons, or into the article buckets of a side load cartoner. They are also ideal for loading variety packs.
Images courtesy of Cama North America

About the Author

Billy Goodman is managing director for Buffalo Grove, Ill. based Cama North America, a subsidiary of the privately-owned Cama Group, Lecco, Italy. Cama designs and manufactures cartoners, robotic loading systems, carton sleevers, case packers and tray packers, as well as integrated systems. Their innovative technology includes Industry 4.0, augmented and virtual reality, and other options to enhance training, maintenance, and operations. Learn more at www.camagroup.com.

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