High-speed packaging case study: A radical departure from conventional end-of-line case packing machines, Versapack, has beaten off competition from traditional robots to automate end-of-line packaging at apetito.
Frozen food manufacturers like Trowbridge-based apetito are facing tough economic conditions, especially when considering that the majority of its sales are to public sector organisations such as hospitals, care homes and local authorities.
Versapack readily achieves 70 cycles / minute, putting it far ahead of filling machines or packaging machinery in conventional solutions. Plus, the 1.8m square footprint is compact enough to fit easily into existing hand-packing space.
In the drive to improve competitiveness and efficiency, apetito instigated a project to automate its two desserts hand packing lines. This was the company’s first venture into automated packing: a test-bed for future improvements across the whole menu.
With a packaging head based upon the Quin Rtheta™ technology Versapack readily achieves 70 cycles / minute, putting it far ahead of filling machines or packaging machinery in conventional solutions. Plus, the 1.8m square footprint is compact enough to fit easily into existing hand-packing space.
Moreover, compared with conventional robotic solutions Versapack is simple to operate and set-up for different products and case sizes. Faster, with lower operating costs and maintenance requirements, it promised to deliver outstanding return on investment. So there were ample reasons to pit Quin’s solutions against the alternatives offered.
The project specification dictated product in two types of packaging; PET and Foil. Both are variations of a tray with a lid.
The requirement was to retain the general layout of the existing lines. Cases were erected by hand, packed, and then fed to a top-sealing machine. The nominal production rate for each line was specified as 84 packs per minute.
All products are packed flat in the case, and the hand-packing lines used typically three packing formats. The flexibility of the Versapack will allow apetito to change product, packing format or cases, should this need arise in the future.
The Versapack solution
Quin’s proposal was to supply the Versapack complete with their layer collation system. This infeed system would automatically collate the product into the layer format required, and has the flexibility to vary the number of products in a layer, allowing for changes to be made in the future.
An infeed rate of 84 products per minute is well within the capability of the Versapack. As standard the Versapack is capable of 70 pick and place cycles per minute and packing 15 cases per minute.
As standard the Versapack seals the base of the case with adhesive tape, but apetito’s preference was to use the optional hot melt glue system, which offers superior sealing quality and overall efficiency. Closing and sealing would be completed by a tape machine.
Proving the winning concept
Within a week of the request for quotation Quin had a demonstration project running on the Versapack packaging machine with dummy product and actual cases. A further demonstration at Northern Foods’ Uttoxeter plant was all that was needed to move the project further. Consequently the Versapack system was demonstrated in Trowbridge to apetito’s full board of directors and Quin was awarded the contract.
Commissioning and final acceptance test was carried out at Quin’s headquarters packing real frozen product into actual cases with the required overlap of lids. Each machine ran successfully for one hour without missing a beat.
Two Versapack machines were readily installed into the existing hand-packing area. It proved necessary to knock down some walls down to accommodate the whole package, but this was considerably less structural work than would have been needed with conventional robots.
Success – and the future
Over the last 9 months the new Versapack packing lines have met all expectations, with further improvements in line efficiencies identified for the future.
There are plans to extend automation to the other meal packing lines with more Versapack machines. This next phase will benefit further from experience gained with the desserts. For example, it is likely to include more comprehensive line monitoring, fault and alarm logging, reduced maintenance costs and lower downtime.
About Quin Systems
Quin Systems Ltd. was established in 1983 with the goal of bringing expert engineering skills to the field of machine automation and control solutions for many varied industries on a worldwide basis. Quin’s aim from the outset was to develop machine control systems that gives users a higher degree of control and flexibility
Quin has grown throughout its 25 year history, developing unique methods of control and motion. This has led to many patented machine elements such as the high speed R-Theta Pick & Place head as used in the Versapack
Quin has consistently delivered solutions and pioneered technologies, the essence of which is contained within its vision statement: “To help create the fastest, most flexible and productive machines in the world – putting imagination into motion”.