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Robo-cartoning Packs them in at the UK's Leading Packaging Expo

Automation and robotic technology dominated the agenda at the most recent PPMA event, with smart systems evolving to offer ever more bespoke and high-quality solutions to even the most awkward and oddly-shaped packaging needs.

Photo: Robo-cake: The future of confectionery collation.
Robo-cake: The future of confectionery collation.
Photo: Robo-cake: The future of confectionery collation.
Robo-cake: The future of confectionery collation.

One of the largest processing and packaging machinery exhibitions in Europe, the recent PPMA (Processing and Packaging Machinery Association) event showcased the latest technological innovations from 320 exhibitors in the sector. This saw it attract more than 8,000 visitors over three days to Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre.

Among the highlights of the shows was the launch of Kliklok International's new wraparound cartoning system. Visitors were able to watch demonstrations of the Certiwrap ELITE, designed to handle the more complex meal trays, tubs or pot shapes – individually, in multi-packs or layered – in a wide range of formats.

Neil Fowell, Managing Director of Kliklok, a Bristol-based packaging machinery manufacturer, said: "Certiwrap ELITE joins our portfolio of wraparound cartoning solutions that have now been successfully tried and tested by a number packaging professionals in different sectors.

"It is designed as an evolution of our previous models and functions as a wraparound cartoner that maximises carton and product control, while simplifying the set up process for manufacturers."

Packaging solutions provider Bradman Lake also presented a new cartoning solution – the enhanced SL903 End Load Cartoning Machine – a fully automated, medium-speed, end load cartoner equipped with a three-head, rotary, carton feeder.

Dan Lake, Head of UK Sales at the Suffolk-based company, said: "Our customised robotic handling systems offers a solutions-based approach to clients' needs. Through the use of multi-servo axis technology design, our systems offers high speeds and operational reliability, delivering efficiency and productivity gains for customers, while also delivering high quality finished products."

Confirming that automation was high on the agenda across the show, FANUC, a Japanese robotics specialist, said that the last 12 months had seen a 35% increase in the number of enquiries from food manufacturers looking to automate their food handling and packing operations. Commenting on this upsurge, John Rainer, the Regional Sales Manager at FANUC UK, said: "Food manufacturers face a number of challenges in their production operations. In a manual process, they must deal with ergonomic issues, labour availability and the uncertainty of increasing costs associated with legislation.

"In an automated process, accommodating rapid-fire product and pack changes – driven by sustainability initiatives and shelf impact – as well as understanding and improving key performance measures, such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), are the key elements."

In line with this, FANUC's latest generation of robots are smaller, stronger and faster, incorporating the latest in vision technology in order to improve the robot's 'sight'. Rainer said: "We've strengthened the business case for robot uptake by providing all of the necessary functionality that a food producer needs."

Automation was also on offer from PFM Packaging Machinery, an Italian manufacturer showcasing a system that presents sandwiches and similar food in 'grab-bag' style packaging, an option that is proving increasingly popular in the premium snack market. Based on a PFM Mistral Servo flow-wrapper, it replaces the traditional, pre-made, hand-loaded paper bag with a flow-wrap created from Paper-Like film, all produced and printed by Bemis Europe, a Belgian converter.

Explaining the system's appeal, Chris Bolton, the company's Operations Director, said: "The result is substantially reduced labour and material costs, while preserving the appeal of a hand-packed product. The pack is also much stronger than paper, thanks to the structural properties of the film laminates used."

The Mistral machine is available equipped with a number of product feed options. This enables it to handle sandwiches or the collation of goods, such as cookies, at speeds up to 60 packs a minute.

Photo: CSL’s spiral Super Grip lowerator.
CSL's spiral Super Grip lowerator.
Photo: CSL’s spiral Super Grip lowerator.
CSL's spiral Super Grip lowerator.
Photo: Packing at a pace: The Pacepacker.
Packing at a pace: The Pacepacker.
Photo: Packing at a pace: The Pacepacker.
Packing at a pace: The Pacepacker.

On show over at the Conveyor Systems Limited (CSL) stand was what the company described as a 'pivotal item of sortation equipment', but don't they all? This one featured activated roller belt technology and, according to Jim Farquhar, Sales Manager at the UK-based company, the equipment was designed to be installed as part of an integrated system for an e-commerce company. It is said to provide optimised product flow, as well as the high speed sortation of a range of small to awkward-sized products not suited to conventional conveyor solutions.

Farquhar said: "Compact with the capability to divert/sort single or small numbers in a short footprint, this technology can handle a wide range of products, including CDs, books, mail, polybags, cartons, totes and a number of top heavy items."

The CSL stand also featured a compact, column design, spiral elevator/lowerator with 'Super Grip' slat. This has been designed to provide a smooth, continuous flow and high throughput of product (Up or Down) between different floor levels.

UPM, meanwhile, a Finnish manufacturer, was showing a new orientation, singulation and product handling separation system as well as demonstrating a number of stainless steel and high molecular weight polyethylene (HMWPE) conveyors. The UPM systems include gravity rollers and accumulation tables that also feature static elimination and product cooling facilities.

Photo: All wrapped up: The PPMA 2014.
All wrapped up: The PPMA 2014.
Photo: All wrapped up: The PPMA 2014.
All wrapped up: The PPMA 2014.

UPM Sales Director Roy Fowler said: "We find the PPMA Show particularly fruitful, especially in the sales areas of food processing and packaging. We're expecting to do good business this year."

With similarly high expectations was Adpak Machinery Systems, a Lancashire-based packaging technology business and the UK distributor for SMI, the Italian shrink-wrapping specialists. The company had its latest Italian import on show – the BP600, a compact, fully automatic monoblock sleeve wrapper.

Commenting on the benefits of the new unit, Steve Crane, Adpak's Area Sales Manager, said: "The combined sealer/shrink tunnel system is both versatile and reliable. It is particularly suitable for small to medium sized products that require collating into multiple rows.

"This machine is also perfect for shrink wrapping loose or trayed bottles, cartons, or cans. Overall, it is ideal for any market that requires a very compact machine with the ability to run difficult or unstable products."

Another PPMA debut came from Jenton International, which showcased the ATS Tanner US-2000 SCB banding system with stacker for the first time in the UK. Jenton's Managing Director, Richard Little, said: "Depending on the product size, items are stacked either horizontally or vertically, banded with either paper or film. The machine can also be automatically set up to produce varying pack configurations.

The PPMA Show 2014 took place at the UK's National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham from 30 September to 2 October 2014. The 2015 edition will be staged at the same venue from 29 September to 1 October 2015.

Simon King, Special Correspondent, Birmingham

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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