Finding the Right Equipment

Flexibly configured cartoners address small batch production.
As SKUs multiply and batch sizes dwindle, packaging line productivity is challenged. In these environments, cartoners and end-of-line solutions matched to the speed and capacity of the line support cost-efficiency and reduced down time.
As production is consolidated in the wake of mergers and acquisitions, companies are often looking to run acquired products on lines that may have been partly idle.
“We are seeing more and more situations where customers need to run multiple products in multiple sizes with multiple set ups and looking for the most efficient way to do it. Speed is not the number one attribute affecting efficiency [in production with multiple changeovers],” says Walter Langosch, director of sales and marketing, ESS Technologies Inc. (
Terry Zarnowski, sales and marketing director, Schneider Packaging Equipment Co. (, concurs.
“Customers are now ranking flexibility as one of if not the most important feature they require for new packaging automation,” Zarnowski says.
Targeting this need, ESS Technologies has launched the SCSeries automatic horizontal cartoners for pharma and medical device markets with capacity of up to 150 cartons per minute.
 “We saw the opportunity in the domestic market for a high-quality, medium range cartoner [supporting] quick and repeatable changeover in a small footprint,” Langosch says.
Reaching 150 cartons per minute with the SC150, the SCSeries are sized for easy integration to existing lines, feature HMI recipe control and digital indicators at adjustment points supporting simple, quick size changeover, and handle a wide range of carton sizes.
The SC60 is designed to handle both narrow and wide pitches (the measurement between the center lines of the cartons) for accommodating different carton sizes with speeds of up to 60 cartons per minute depending on the pitch.
The cartoners are adapted to custom interface with a blister or form-fill-seal machines with the option of an extended infeed for manual loading.
The base system features a servo driven main drive and carton pick up. “If a customer is planning four changeovers a day, it might make sense to further automate the changeover process. [A changeover] can be accomplished in about seven minutes,” Langosch says.
“We have seen the trend of smaller batch sizes coming for some time in blisters as well as other applications. For cartoning with lower output blister machines, our P150 intermittent cartoner is a perfect fit,” says Rich James, director of marketing, Serpa Packaging Solutions (
An intermittent cartoner in a balcony design, the P150 runs at speeds of up to 80 cartons per minute. Serpa typically quotes the P150 or its P100 continuous motion cartoner for blister projects, James says.
As with Serpa’s high capacity cartoners, the small-footprint P150 can include Serpa’s Verified Changeover, or fully automatic servo- and stepper-motor controlled changeover for drastically reducing changeover times. As a less costly middle-step solution, Verified Changeover features electronic sensors embedded in machine parts, with digital dials that display the current value of the changeover point and the target value. The values and sensors are continuously monitored and the machine won’t start if an assembly has been moved.
“The demand for robotics has picked up dramatically in the last year,” James says. A Fanuc authorized integrator, Serpa has developed its own delta-style robot for product handling in cartoning.
Also a certified Fanuc integrator, Schneider has increasingly used robots for their flexibility, as a replacement for hard automation, Zarnowski says.
Robots support very rapid change over, without hard tooling in most applications. End-of arm tooling (EOAT) can be designed as universal for all the products, providing the ability to handle a wide variety of SKUs and easily add new ones. “These robots have amazingly long mean time between failure (MTBF), exceeding 80,000 hours,” Zarnowski says.
In a solution developed for a medical products company with tight space constraints, Schneider paired its mini pack/pal case packing and palletizing system with a Fanuc robot. The machine had to fit in an area of less than 120 sq ft.
“This is significantly smaller than our standard case pack/palletizing solution which occupies close to 300 sq ft. The single biggest challenge was the very limited space the machine could occupy,” Zarnowski says.
The system erects a case from a knocked down flat, collates and loads the cartons of the medical product into it, closes and seals the case with tape, prints and applies a case label, verifies the label, and then palletizes. The robot picks up the case, presents it to the print and apply labeler, then to the label verifier, and then to the palletizer.
“We were able to achieve the extraordinary smaller size through intelligent design to eliminate virtually every area of unused space while at the same time maintaining a user- and maintenance-friendly system,” he adds.
Features that minimize down time to replenish consumables and enable on-the-fly maintenance and easy access for clearing potential jams support high overall operating efficiency.
Tape heads are located on a linear rail carriage that allows the operator to simply pull the assembly out for tape roll replenishment. The assembly is part of the safety guarding system so there are no separate doors to open. Sliding guard doors enable easy access to every part of the machine. Ergonomically designed, the case blank magazine can be loaded while the machine is operating.
Schneider recently shipped to a consumer products company a robotic case packer programmed to case pack 130 skus, an unusually broad range of product and case sizes and configurations. “The design criteria from the customer was deceivingly simple: build a case packer that can handle that broad range with a very fast changeover and have the ability to load the products into the case in any orientation including combination orientations. Robotics was the only practical choice,” says Zarnowski. “Change overtime is literally as fast as making a product selection on the HMI with a few component adjustments.”
As a line integrator, ESS Technologies deploys robots for tasks including device and diagnostic test kit assembly, picking and packing vials from a star wheel, case packaging of tubes, bottles, and bags, and palletizing.
“We will use robotics on the cartoner infeed when it makes sense, such as in higher speed production,” Langosch says. On a high-speed line, multiple robots might be used for picking the blisters, collating, placing them into the cartoner infeed, and adding an insert. “Hard automation is an alternative, but you can’t run [a hard configuration] at a very high speed over time with the same MTBF as robots can achieve. With robots, the accuracy doesn’t fade through equipment wear.”
Robots in addition can be quickly re-deployed when customers make changes to the application or product. “We have seen several circumstances where a custom-made product transfer may not adapt to a new product and has to be replaced. Robots have an afterlife—I call it the Shirley MacLaine factor. If the product or cartoner changes, you modify the end-of-arm-tooling, reprogram the robot, and you’re ready to go,” Langosch says.
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