Flexibility and lean manufacturing are driving the growth of robotics, but mechanical motion still rules high-volume packaging.

High speed and reliability have made the 296T tray packer the standard for AriZona Beverage Co. and its copackers. Source: Standard-Knapp Inc.

Robotic motion is pervasive in contemporary machinery for secondary packaging, but the ABCs of high-speed production suggest continuous motion machines will be part of the landscape for decades to come.

“Unless controlled stopping and starting is a requirement, continuous motion is still the standard,” believes Jim Stanger, a machine designer with Portland, CT-based Standard-Knapp Inc. “It’s more robust than robotics, and continuous flow operates at greater speeds. That’s what has been driving the market since the beginning of time.”

Stanger’s career doesn’t stretch quite that far back, but he has designed Standard-Knapp equipment for 40 years, including the Continuum 296T tray packer. AriZona Beverage Co.’s Vincent M. Lotito is among the satisfied clients. The vice president and his director of operations, Mike Putnam, selected the machine for its tool-less changeover feature, reliability and flexibility five years ago when upgrading a line at their Maplewood, NJ plant. The machine boosted speeds about 20 percent to 68 12-packs a minute for 16- and 20-oz. cans and bottles. The fast-growing beverage bottler since has encouraged its copackers to follow its lead.

“With the older equipment, it was typical to have a half-hour or one-hour period where you were tweaking things to maximize efficiency,” says Lotito. The newer units changeover in half the time, and operators, not mechanics, execute the procedures, allowing a rapid return to optimum operating speed.

Continuous improvement has kept the 296T relevant, with additional servo motors helping push top speeds to about 80 cases a minute. Still, the machine must prove its stripes with every new installation. Qualification tests become more demanding every year: “Years ago, reliability on this type of equipment was 80 percent, and the customers were happy with that,” recalls Stanger. Today, 98 percent is a minimum threshold.

“Robotics is necessary and serves a purpose,” he reflects, “but for mass flow of up to 2,400 cans a minute that have to be collated on the fly, continuous motion is still the way to handle it.” 

For more information:

Jim Stanger, Standard-Knapp Inc., 860-342-1100