One trend in bottle packaging is toward lighter glass and partitionless packaging, done to reduce packaging materials. However, this trend requires versatile equipment to handle different bottle types at high speeds. After experiencing a higher than desirable level of bottle breakage with repurposed packaging equipment, Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, MO, approached Standard-Knapp to create a system to meet its non-traditional packaging demands, which include four different bottle types, multiple packaging sizes, and no carton dividers. The packaging company responded with an innovative system that picks the product from the infeed conveyor and gently places it into the bottom of the empty case.
The brewing company offers seven year-round and five seasonal brews, as well as a rotating line of artisanal beers named for its iconic brick smokestack, packaged in 750 ml bottles, 12-oz four-packs, and kegs.
To keep up with growth, Boulevard director of engineering Mike Utz, opted to go with repurposed and reconditioned equipment from Standard-Knapp, Portland, CT, for the new line, which included a drop packer.
A rebuilt 939S Versatron met the brewer’s need for speed, but it came with a price – a high bottle breakage rate during packaging that was exacerbated by the lighter weight bottles that are becoming the industry norm. The use of light weight glass bottles saves on money and materials, but makes the bottles weaker and less able to stand up to rugged drop packing. Also, Boulevard uses dividerless packaging for a number of package sizes (6, 12, and 20 packs) so the packer had to hit perfectly because there were no separators.
Brian Stearns, mechanical engineer for Standard-Knapp, said, “The used drop packer originally purchased was developed for a different purpose and more for a company at a different stage in its development. It was not well suited for their capacity and their need for different bottle and case types, which is why they experienced breakage.”
Standard-Knapp upgraded the 939S Versatron case packer with a Pic-N-Place module, which picks the product from the infeed conveyor and gently places it into the bottom of the empty case. It gave Boulevard soft container handling and is engineered to grab product in the optimum, most secure position or spot. The module virtually eliminated packaging breakage.
The 2-axis servo controlled Pic-N-Place acts just like a person’s arms, offering smooth operation. The system is easy to program and delivers consistent operation. The PLC configurable placement profiles make it easy to configure gripping action, and the distance that the product travels into the case is easily set from the operator interface.
The module’s heavy duty construction includes mechanical grippers with long life, engineered to run 24/7. It packs every last bottle, and no human assistance is needed to complete the process.
The Pic-N-Place was initially developed for increasing speed in lowering head applications but was later considered an option that would work well for dealing with the trend toward lighter glass and partitionless packaging. Stearns noted that the industry is moving in the direction of reducing packaging materials, so everyone is going towards thinner glass and partitionless cartons. “You need extremely versatile equipment to be able to handle all those different bottle types and do it all at high speeds.”
“We now have just about zero breakage at the packaging step,” said Utz, who notes that they set production records during the second week of operation, increasing throughput by about 10%.
Filed Under: Design World articles, Packaging