Finding the ideal filling machine for any packaging project should be a joint effort that includes not only the company doing the packaging but also the manufacturer of the packaging machinery. There is simply no easy answer to the general question of “which filling machine is better?”. Instead, that question must be answered anew with each filling project based on the unique and individual characteristics of that specific project. The two companies must also consider the future of the product and packaging, as the ideal filling machine at the present time may not be ideal in the future. The journey to the perfect machine, therefore, should include several stops.
SPECIFIC NEEDS OF THE PROJECT AT HAND
To find the ideal bottle filler for any packager the specific and unique needs of the project at hand must be analyzed. Is the product being filled a thin, free-flowing product? Or is it a thicker, highly viscous product? Some packaging projects may need to fill both types of product. The product viscosity or viscosities will generally lead to the correct filling principle, be it overflow, gravity, piston or pump, though there will be exceptions to the general rule. However, choosing the correct principle for the detergent filling machine is only the first step in the process.
Another factor to consider is the desired speed of the packaging line. The speed of the filling machine must match or exceed the speeds of other packaging machines that make up the entire system or the desired production will not be met. Will a tabletop machine capable of filling a couple hundred bottles an hour meet current needs? Or will a fully automatic, sixteen head liquid filler be necessary to keep up with an automatic capping machine and labeling equipment? As will be discussed below, this is also a good time to consider the future goals and growth of the product and the company in general.
Finally, the packager and the manufacturer should analyze any additional features that may be necessary on the filling machine. Do any of the products to be filled include particulates, such as tomatoes in spaghetti sauce or seeds in a salad dressing? If so, a special pump may be included to handle the particulates, or a different filling principle may be used. Does the product change in consistency at different temperatures? In some situations such as this, heating the product to fill it may result in a more reliable filling process. There are a multitude of possible adjustments coming from special or unique characteristics that can be made to a filling machine. As this final step of the analysis is completed, the ideal filling machine for any given project should start to take place, but, as noted above, there is still more to consider.
CURRENT AND FUTURE PACKAGING TECHNOLOGY
As anyone with a cell phone or a computer is well aware, technology is changing at a faster pace today than at probably any time in the past. The same is true in the packaging industry, as manufacturers and packaging companies work to find the quickest, easiest, most reliable, safest and most sustainable processes possible. While the considerations taken into account above will lead those involved to the ideal liquid filler at that time, the future will undoubtedly bring improvements. With proper planning, however, the filling machine is unlikely to become obsolete. Newer components and upgrades can normally be added to existing machinery with little downtime. Programs for automatic fillers may be updated from time to time. Nozzles, pumps and motors can be replaced for higher efficiency, more reliable filling. In other words, improvements in technology can lead to improvements in the existing filling machine and in most cases, progress can be made without purchasing brand new packaging equipment.
COMPANY GROWTH AND CHANGING NEEDS
Related to changes in technology are the changing needs of the customers business. A company product that is sold regionally may become popular and expand to a nationwide or even worldwide consumer base. Obviously, such growth would be accompanied by a rise in the demand, requiring more production. Many companies producing product for a regional customer base may be using semi-automatic bottle fillers. When growth is expected, which is the majority of cases, these semi-automatic machines can be manufactured to allow for fairly simple upgrades to automatic machinery with the addition of an indexing system, power conveyor and/or changes to the PLC. In other cases, automatic machinery can be upgraded by adding additional nozzles, taking a four or six head filler up to an eight, ten or even sixteen head filling machine. Like advances in technology, an expanding market for the packager does not necessarily mean purchasing all new packaging equipment.
Spending a little time analyzing current needs and future growth before the first bottle is even filled can have an extremely positive effect when choosing a filling machine. The attention to detail at the beginning of the project can add years of useful life to the machine ultimately used on any given project.