In the food and beverage industry, the demand for flexible pouch packaging continues to accelerate for products ranging from shredded cheese to microwavable meals. So too does the speed of related packaging equipment.
Today's packagers are challenged to deploy case packing solutions that are both fast enough to keep up with the latest pouch fillers and versatile enough to deliver the range of packing configurations retailers require.
Minnesota-based Delkor Systems is keenly focused on helping packagers meet industry demands with a wide range of automated forming, loading and closing equipment for cases, cartons and trays. The company's latest addition, the Delkor HSP-400, is an innovative high-speed case packaging system for the flexible pouch sector. In development and testing for the past two years, the HSP-400 recently became commercially available and is an attractive option for food, dairy and beverage applications.
“At Delkor, we have built a reputation for machines that run multiple packaging formats on a single line,” said Rick Gessler, director of marketing, Delkor Systems. “With the launch of the HSP-400, we extend this level of flexibility to high-speed pouch packaging.”
Much of the legacy case packing equipment on plant floors today was built to either load pouches flat or upright. Very few machines can pack both lay-flat shippers and stand-up displays, and those that can are mechanically complex – and difficult to changeover from one format to the other. The HSP-400 solves this problem by leveraging linear servo technology and the latest package designs.
In addition, many big-box supermarkets now specify shelf-ready packaging, which can be quickly converted to displays featuring retail-friendly quantities – usually five-, six- or eight-pack trays with pouches displayed standing upright.
“Legacy equipment was typically designed to pack much higher quantities per case,” Gessler explained. “Packing smaller quantities means more cases must be packed per minute to stay in step with the filling equipment.”
Most legacy pouch case packers cannot exceed 20 cases per minute. At 60 cases or 300 pouches per minute, the Delkor HSP-400 is three times faster.
The HSP-400 achieves this industry-leading speed – plus exceptional versatility – beginning on the case-flow side of the equipment. Here, a Delkor Trayfecta® former creates cartons, flange-seal cases or the innovative (patents pending) Delkor Cabrio Case®, which easily converts into a retail-ready display.
On the product infeed, pouches enter the system at a random pitch and pass through a vision system. The vision system scans the pouch to ensure proper orientation and triggers magnetically propelled pockets or “movers” on a linear-servo track. These movers advance the pouch to the primary pick station. Once the specified number of pouches arrive at this station, a gantry robot picks and places multiple pouches onto a pattern conveyor. These pouches advance to a secondary gantry robot station where they are placed directly into the cases.
“While many machines rely on delta robots to pick and place products, our system uses gantry robots with articulating heads,” Gessler said. “Where delta robots lack reach, specifically into deep cases, the long stroke of the gantry robot in the HSP-400 allows precise placement and orientation of the pouches – deep into the cases.”
Before exiting the system, the cases move via conveyor to a case closer, which glues and seals the case flaps.
The machine's control system is based on a Rockwell Automation solution, featuring an Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® controller, which manages all machine and motion functionality. An iTRAK® independent mover system enables the individual control of the multiple magnetically propelled movers in the collation system, while Allen-Bradley Kinetix® 6000 servo drives and MP-Series™ servo motors handle the gantry motion. Allen-Bradley PowerFlex® 525 AC drives control the transport conveyors. Two Allen-Bradley PanelView™ Plus 6 graphic displays allow monitoring from both sides of the machine. The tightly integrated system runs on an EtherNet/IP™ network.
The beauty of the machine is its speed and simplicity – and that's thanks to the iTRAK system.
“When we looked at mechanical collation options, we could not achieve the high-speed motion we required,” Gessler said. “Plus, the mechanical complexity was prohibitive from a design and customer maintenance standpoint.”
The independent control of the product movers also differentiates the Delkor machine.
“The iTRAK system allows us to control movers independently at the random infeed and then rapidly advance the pouches to the pick station in controlled groups,” Gessler continued. “The speed and independent motion of the iTRAK movers enable us to achieve speeds and precision that are unachievable with conventional collation methods.”
Thanks to a recipe-driven, easy-to-use interface and tool-less change parts, the HSP-400 system can be reconfigured to run flat or upright pouches – and different pack patterns and/or cases – in about 10 minutes.
“We are pleased with the performance and versatility of our equipment and appreciate the support the Rockwell Automation Global OEM Technical Consultants (GOTC) provided throughout the development of this machine,” Gessler said. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with Rockwell Automation in the years ahead.”