If you’re in the market for filling equipment, your concerns are above and beyond just purchasing new machinery. Increased capacity, sustainability, footprint, operator safety and many other factors are part of the equation.
“Our machine was working at full capacity, but demand was still rising,” says Lothar Fink, managing director for Gmundner Dairies in Austria, whose products include coffee creamer. “To satisfy the market, we had to invest in new, reliable technology.”
Gmundner Dairies purchased Bosch’s TFA 2520 EU thermoform fill/seal machine for small-volume plastic cups for several reasons. “We were persuaded by the TFA’s high output, as well as its more efficient use of foil, which results in significant savings in packaging material,” explains Fink. He was also impressed with how the installation improved handling and accessibility. “This makes the machine’s operation, cleaning and maintenance easier, as well as safer.”
While there aren’t many new plants being built in this economy, food and beverage processors are looking at updating and replacing old lines, says Pete Johnson, general manager, Carruthers Equipment Company. Johnson says his customers are asking: “How can I reduce labor? How can I improve yield? How can I reduce waste? How can I reduce maintenance costs, make equipment work longer and maintain it more easily?” Another very important issue, of course, is not damaging the product in any way during the filling/packaging process.
Maintenance, sanitation and speed mattered to KAHIKI Foods. According to Henry Liu, production manager, “We needed a filler for our sauce toppings (sweet and sour, teriyaki and orange sauces) filling over a multi-lane thermoform. Of the seven different fillers that were reviewed, we purchased the Carruthers VF Filler. [It] met all of our needs and exceeded our requirements for maintenance and sanitation. Furthermore, five of the other fillers were rated at 40 cycles per minute while Carruthers is [rated] at 60 cycles per minute.”
Richard Szyperski, Evergreen Packaging Equipment’s manager, technical services, describes another processor concern: How will new equipment use the least amount of production floor space? With processors needing to cram more processing equipment into their plants, compact designs that allow placing machines into tight quarters is a key issue.
An important concern for any new and future lines is how to improve on overall safety, says Jan Sundberg, JBT FoodTech technical applications engineering manager. JBT does not supply any equipment without proper safety guarding. All doors are interlocked and stop the machine if opened during operation. In the past, many filling lines were supplied with little protection from rotating parts. Existing lines and used equipment will most likely have to be modified to suit more stringent regulations. With space already a concern for processors, safety issues may affect usable floor space. According to Sundberg, layout of existing lines may have to change as the small footprint of the older fillers cannot accommodate new guarding packages.
Speed without accuracy costsEveryone wants to increase output, but nobody wants to give product away, nor do they want to underfill and risk a regulatory slap in the face. While increasing performance (output) is a key criterion for a filling machine, fill accuracy, according to Hinds-Bock VP Lance Aasness, often cost-justifies its purchase. Today’s generation of Hinds-Bock servo-pump fillers have proven to be more accurate than their piston counterparts. In addition, servo-based fillers are providing increased speed, greater deposit spread and control, lowering utility costs and reducing sanitization time.
According to Sundberg, new lines can be easily justified on accuracy alone. To meet label weight, many processors rely on overfilling the container to ensure the lowest weight cans are still above label weight. If you can tighten up the standard deviation range of the filler, then the target weight can be lowered, resulting in less giveaway and large accumulated product savings, says Sundberg. The JBT Unifiller is one of these highly accurate fillers, currently replacing many older, traditional-style volumetric piston fillers.
Vitaqua’s greenfield mineral water facility in Breuna, Germany has four integrated bottling lines, each rated at 43,200 bottles/hour (bph). Four Krones Modulfill fillers, with Monotec columns and no front tables, are covered by a clean-room roof and meet all hygienic standards. According to Vitaqua, filling accuracy is very important as an error can result in a large financial loss. The plant bottles 60 different products, and an integrated MES and line management system (LMS) software handles orders, reporting, batch tracking, raw materials accounting and master data management. Every facet of production data is available, right down to the individual bottle in a six-pack.
Another example of an integrated line/controller is Tetra Pak’s A3/Speed iLine with an LC30 line controller that handles aseptic carton packaging. An A3/Speed iLine was installed at Refresco Menken Drinks (fruit juices) in Bodegraven, the Netherlands. According to Refresco Senior Product Manager Benelux Ton Tesser, “Tetra Pak A3/Speed iLine enables us to increase the volume of product we produce while ultimately reducing our operational costs. We have been able to increase production from 7,500 packages per hour to 24,000 per hour without needing to increase operational staff.”
“The full Tetra Pak A3 iLine offering provides us with improved efficiency, functionality and line reliability. Integrated solutions also give us a more intelligent way to effectively manage our different packaging lines,” Tesser adds.
Servos vs. hydraulics vs. pneumaticsIt seems the age-old discussion about which drive system is best to use in food-grade filling applications is nearly over. Hydraulics is fine for heavy-lifting applications on the loading dock, but it’s problematic around equipment intended for food and beverage filling-where product might be exposed to hydraulic fluid. Greg Thompson, product manager CFS, Packaging Technologies, says his company hasn’t used hydraulics for 20 years. Today, he says, although pneumatics is being phased out, it still works well for applications where simple, short-stroke movements or vacuum is required.
Aasness suggests machine builders can decrease the use of compressed air by choosing servos instead of pneumatic actuators. Another benefit servos provide is added control over product spread, appearance and filling speed.
“The problem is: Pneumatics does not give the level of performance a servo can provide,” says John Cochrane, Bosch Rexroth electric drives and controls business development manager. “You can’t program the acceleration or deceleration [of pneumatic cylinders].” With product changeovers, pneumatics may require manual adjustments of stops and strokes whereas with servos, it’s built into the program and controlled by an operator on an HMI.
Sundberg, however, isn’t totally sold on servos. “If we look at servo drives, it becomes cost prohibitive to implement washdown-duty stainless steel (SS) components as a ‘standard.’ I think we will continue to see this as an expensive upgrade option for the near future,” he says. “The complexity of these systems also requires highly trained operators and maintenance personnel. Therefore, this is not an attractive option for seasonal plants and many remote regions of the world. Keeping it simple is the way to go most of the time.”
Kjell Lyngstad, Bosch Rexroth global account manager, says pneumatics works well for filling valves-and while low-tech-pneumatic devices such as actuators tend to be easier to clean than electromechanical components. In the end, you have to pick the right technology for the application, says Lyngstad. “It depends on the machine, machine requirements such as cycle and filling rate, bottle size and environmental conditions.”
Clean cyclesWhen possible, most machine builders are adding clean-in-place (CIP) capabilities. This presupposes, according to Georg Setz, Krones product management filling division, that the filler was designed hygienically, that is, the surfaces are easy to clean, smooth and uniform, and are free of gaps, cracks, scratches and recesses. Parts changes should be integrated into the filler’s cleaning process, and automation is important for a stable and safe cleaning process.
To meet hygienic design specifications, Packaging Technologies’ FP machine is manufactured from stainless SS, incorporates laser-cut side plates with sloped surfaces on individual stations, contains a sloped SS bottom skin and has all electrical wire-ways and controls above the machine in a sloped top cabinet that runs along both sides and the end of the machine, says Thompson. Designed for high-pressure caustic washdowns, the machine meets 3-A standards and will pass third-party verification.
According to Szyperski of Evergreen, “All our machines are designed for CIP. Depending on the machine model, self-contained CIP is an option.” The CIP system effectively cleans all parts of the fill system, except screen tips, resulting in automatic and labor-saving sanitation-with no daily hand cleaning of fill bowls required, he adds.
“For a filler to be CIPable, the valve needs to have a self-draining design. Sometimes this is done by altering the valve to set it up for CIP,” says Sundberg. Another important consideration is having a valve where all internals will come into contact with the CIP medium. This is a good reason not to use seals. A seal is typically seated in a groove, and these areas are very hard to clean in a CIP process. Filling with no container contact to the filling head is an important factor in being able to have long runs between CIP cycles, says Sundberg. Having a good, clean cut-off of fill is also important since this will eliminate unnecessary spill of product, which equates to a cleaner machine. Nozzle design is important and should always be customized to the product being filled.
Not every processor is necessarily interested in a CIPable filler, says Johnson. But, there has been a conscious effort to reduce cleaning times and make sure the machine is thoroughly cleaned. The benefit of CIP, he says, is that you don’t have to rely on the staff to make sure the equipment is clean, and there is data that the cleaning cycle took place and was effective.
Line compatibilityIf your plant is a greenfield project like Vitaqua, then it may benefit from a single-vendor solution. In this case, the all-Krones system components perform together. But most machine suppliers have very little difficulty in connecting various suppliers’ equipment.
“Our machines interface easily into a production line allowing for product to be introduced through the use of a valving system,” says Szyperski. “Our equipment can also be integrated with accumulators, casers and palletizers to yield a complete packaging line,” he adds.
When equipment from several suppliers makes up a line, verifying it all works together may create some special issues of its own: Where should factory acceptance tests (FATs) be done? FATs are nearly always conducted at the factory where the equipment is manufactured, says Thompson. A SAT (site acceptance test) is then conducted at the site, or plant, where the machine will run in production. “When we perform integration,” he says, “we conduct FATs for our customers at the third-party vendor sites and ship all equipment to our factory for integration as a line.” This allows the customer to come to one FAT (rather than several) and actually see the machines run as a line. In the case of individual FATs, the customer knows how the machines run independently but has no idea how they perform as an integrated system, he adds.
Controls and weightImprovements in control have been fostered by popular PLC platforms-such as Rockwell in the US and Siemens in Europe, and Ethernet has served as the glue to connect filling machines to other equipment and software systems.
All of Carruthers’ fillers use a PLC, says Johnson, and he is attentive to processors’ needs should they request something other than Rockwell. Although the Carruthers’ machine data isn’t that dense, he finds that customers want to tie all the machine controls into a common Ethernet network. Processors want to monitor stop/start, production (cans/minute), line speeds, recipes and especially weights.
Sundberg says a feedback loop from a downstream checkweigher can be used to get weights under control. This can be done on almost any filler with motorized dosing controls. For example, if the filler is filling by volume, but the label weight is important, the checkweigher will adjust the fill volume on-the-fly using a feedback signal to the filler that the bulk density has changed. In these types of systems, you eliminate the operator intervention and react more quickly to changes in the product density, he says. Taking this a step further, there are feed forward loops. Here, product is checked prior to going into the filler, and any adjustments are made prior to filling the container.
Maintenance and troubleshootingMost filling machine builders provide preventative maintenance schedules for each new piece of equipment, says Sundberg. Most often, JBT will train processors to handle all aspects of maintenance. Occasional audits can also serve as a good tool to make sure the equipment is maintained properly. When processors have large employee turnover, it may be time to think of operator/maintenance training as an ongoing process, he adds.
Carruthers is developing lifecycle costing for its equipment so processors can track maintenance and downtime automatically, says Johnson. It requires plant maintenance personnel to log in and note when they make a change to a gasket, replace a bearing, etc. The software keeps track of the maintenance and informs the crew when certain functions should be performed.
From the OEM-machine builder perspective, it’s beneficial if the OEMs are using global standards-like ISO interfaces, says Lyngstad. This means it will be easier for processors to get spare parts. In addition, the use of standard, high-speed communication systems like SERCOS can be used to let processors know the conditions of critical components within the machine.
Most important, processors need to know the machine builder they choose will work with them on a long term-basis-even in planning expansions, says Thompson. Processors should be able to obtain spare parts within 24 hours, and 24-hour technical support should be available every day of the year. Processors should have a documentation package that is easy to manage as well.
When a machine is down, and the plant staff is having difficulty finding the cause, remote troubleshooting by supplier technicians-either via a modem or Internet-can save the time and expense of sending a technician to the site. Szyperski says his company has a network of technicians that are located close to most customers, but prefers to use a modem for remote troubleshooting. Unplugging the modem at the end of a service session guarantees a pretty high level of security.
Connecting a machine to the Internet for remote troubleshooting does pose security issues, and is often a decision the plant’s IT department has to make, says Thompson. One role the Internet can play in remote troubleshooting is directing a plant maintenance person from a technician or engineer at the supplier’s site. Johnson describes a device his sister company (Marlin) uses to help plants locate machine problems. The device, called Smart-Tech, is a helmet containing a laser pointing device, camera and headset, and it runs off a standard Internet connection. The machine supplier’s technician can guide the plant’s technician to suspected problem areas on the machine, and both people remain in two-way audio/video contact while they fix the problem.
SustainabilityOverall efficiency is a major component of sustainability in a filling machine, says Thompson. This translates to decreasing overall power and air consumption, decreasing packaging material waste, improving sanitation while using less water and fewer chemicals, and improving performance through increasing uptime and decreasing raw material waste.
Krones’ Setz suggests a few additional steps toward sustainability:
• Use motors and pumps with higher efficiency ratings
• Reduce media consumption through line optimization
• Use lightweight bottles for hot-fill applications (will have a major impact on reducing packaging costs)
• Employ new lubrication concepts (e.g., lubrication-free)
• Recondition processing media
• Use alternative energies.
Sustainability may be improved by increasing line speeds. According to Sund-berg, “The consolidation of lines from many low-speed lines to fewer high-speed lines has indirectly improved overall energy usage and sustainability.”
Finally, when energy-saving issues have been solved in the filling equipment, continued exploration of ways to save in the packaging is important, according to Szyperski. “Gable top packaging is under constant review of how much material and energy are used to make a quality container.”
Food and beverage manufacturers face a multitude of decisions when purchasing filling machines. Processors should compare several vendors’ equipment and practice due diligence before making a final decision.
For more information:
Pete Johnson, Carruthers Equipment Co., 503-861-2273, firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Szyperski, Evergreen Packaging Equipment, 319-399-3200, email@example.com
Lance Aasness, Hinds-Bock, 425-885-1183, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan Sundberg, JBT FoodTech, 559-661-3129, email@example.com
Greg Thompson, Packaging Technologies, 800-257-5622, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Cochrane, Bosch Rexroth, 847-645-3755, email@example.com
Kjell Lyngstad, Bosch Rexroth, 859-913-2330, firstname.lastname@example.org
Georg Setz, Krones, +49 9401 70-4346