Today's cartoners are much more compact. In addition, they now offer quick change features and greater flexibility writes Pauline Covell

The carton has to be packaging’s best survivor. Its shelf impact is second to none, offering a four-sided billboard for the brand owner.

In order to stay at the forefront, it has to be cost effective as well as reliable and easy to fill.

Enter the cartoner and its associated current issues of flexibility, footprint and fully integrated servo systems. Gentle handling, robotics and partnerships complete the profile for many cartoning machinery producers.

IWKA company R A Jones, for example, demonstrated at the recent Pack Expo in Chicago the rapid advances in cutting delivery time and operational costs that can be achieved through servo drives.

The fully servo driven third generation Criterion 2000 system is said to show just how reduced mechanical complexity achieves those cost savings. Changeover times and overall downtime from machine stops, cleaning and scheduled maintenance are all reduced.

The family of machines – with both constant and intermittent motion models on 6, 9, 12 and 15in centres – feature fully integrated servo systems using advanced motion control, electronic line shafting and SERCOS fibre optic networks. So the complex mechanical drives are eliminated, yet “provide high reliability”.

Also on display was the Mini-Compact which is “small in footprint, big in space saving, cost savings and application flexibility. It can provide an ideal solution to gaining more output from tight spaces and running a greater mix of products and packages”.

The intermittent motion vertical cartoner features digital position counters that are claimed to allow rapid tool-free changeover and less downtime in flexible packaging operations.

Emballage and Pack Expo stands of Bradman Lake featured demon-strations of partnerships working to produce faster, more efficient cartoning lines.

At the recent French show a Propack LJ vertical race track collator loader with robot ABB FlexPicker was teamed with Bradman Lake’s 2/60 single-head three-flap carton erector and FCC Compact R [right angle] closer to produce a fully automated top load packing line.

Under partnership agreements with Propack Processing and Packaging Systems of Canada and robot manufacturer ABB, Bradman Lake will produce automatic robotic systems for multipacking and top load cartoning at Bristol for European and overseas markets outside USA and Canada.

Linked to high-speed horizontal form, fill seal equipment, packing line speeds up to 750 units/min can be sustained. During the Chicago show, the USA arm of the company announced a further formal alliance with Klockner Tevopharm and showed an integrated top load cartoning line incorporating an LJ series robotic top loader fed by a Tevopharm Pack 200 wrapper.

Chairman and chief executive officer of the Bradman Lake Group Graham Hayes told Packaging Today International: “A huge investment is saved by forming partnerships. Each company can focus on what it is best at. You do have to have a clear understanding from the start on who is going to service the customer and you have to have a clear understanding of what you are all trying to do.”

Last year saw the company introduce two end load cartoners with servo drives and digital controls bringing “new levels of versatility, reliability and repeatability to cartoning lines.”

Electronic motion control, often by touch screens, enables machines to run either intermittently or continuously from the same drive to vary speed smoothly and automate size change-overs in a way that cuts downtime and boosts productivity.

The option of an overhead robotic inserter is offered with the SL904 end loader. What the company describes as “a radical new carton loading concept” not only improves access to the loading area but also reduces that all important machine width.

Bradman Lake’s automatic SL6000 indexing cartoner uses servo drives and computer controls to pack at speeds up to 100 cartons/min subject to carton size [achieved by loading two cartons in each index].

Features include extended motorised carton hopper with ‘slide in/slide out’ gates; no product – no carton feature; 6, 9, 12 and 15in pitch versions; and servo motors powering carton feeder, flap tuckers, product inserter, flight chains, as well as product infeed and transfer conveyors that allow automatic size changing.

The machine continuously erects end load cartons from an inclined magazine. They are extracted from it by means of vacuum cups on the rotary feeder at a signal given by the product as it passes a sensor on the infeed conveyor and then erected into the flight chains.

The product, which has been placed into the pockets of the product infeed conveyor, is then inserted into the open end of the carton by the servo driven product inserter and the carton closed using hot melt adhesive.

On the top loading front IMA claimed a major advance with its Vertima.

The equipment has been specifically designed to provide a flexible, fully automatic means of cartoning high quality cosmetics and toiletries where both the product and the carton must be handled gently to prevent marking or damage.

During development, the company worked closely with a major international cosmetics manufacturer for whom cartoning products at speed without causing damage has always presented a problem. So how was this overcome?

The Vertima employs belts, instead of chains and fingers, to transport the carton blanks. “This system, already proven on our horizontal cartoners, not only eliminates the possibility of packs becoming scratched or scuffed during transport and opening but also enables size changes to be achieved very quickly,” claims IMA.

The first machine was designed for packaging high quality jars containing creams. A pick-and-place system picks the jars up from a conveyor and lowers them into open cartons. The flaps are then folded and the lid tucked in. Once the machine was installed, further development was undertaken to allow leaflets to be loaded into the cartons before they were closed.

Having proven the technology, a second-generation machine was built to handle a wider range of container and carton sizes including fragrance bottles. This machine could accept over 80 different variations of cartons and containers. Operating speed is up to 60 cartons/min and a full size-change could be achieved in less than 30 min adds IMA.

There is now a family of Flexa cartoning models, each developed for a specific application but based on a common chassis featuring stainless steel construction and an easy-clean balcony design.

Size changes can be carried out quickly with manual adjustments achieved without the need for tools. The Flexa also uses electronic cams to carry out all machine movements, enabling operating profiles to be adjusted automatically as the machine is running to maximise output.

Different versions of the cartoner have been introduced covering a wide range of product dimensions and with operating speeds ranging from 100 up to 200 cartons/min. Two recent intermittent motion machines are designed for packing tubes and blisters. The tube cartoner will operate at up to 100 cartons/min and the blister cartoner at speeds up to 170 cartons/min.

This is said to be ideal for many medium-speed blister lines where operating speeds of around 350 blisters/min are common with two blisters being packed per carton.

At the top end of the speed range is a Flexa cartoner specially designed to be integrated into a high-speed vial sterilising, filling, stoppering and packing line. This model operates in continuous motion and features a twin pusher arrangement, resulting in a machine capable of operating at speeds up to 200 vials/min.

IMA has also embarked on its Ergo project, a new high-speed continuous motion cartoner capable of speeds up to 350 cartons/min.

New from Kliklok Woodman is its Certiwrap wraparound cartoner launched at Emballage. Designed to sleeve meal trays, tubs or pots – either individually or in multi-packs – it features the company’s patented rotary carton feeder.

It has been developed to handle a wide range of cartonboard sleeves including full, economy and watch-strap style profiles.

In operation, carton blanks are manually loaded into a horizontal powered hopper and then individually fed using a twin arm rotary feeder. Products arriving are timed by the servo driven in-feed system, passed into the product transfer chain and forwarded beneath the carton and timed into the overhead conveyor.

This controls the carton and product through the carton folding and gluing sections of the equipment. Guides and rollers close the carton with the help of squaring lugs.