Smart Packaging Hub professionals conquer the Japanese market, developing an integrated packaging line for a major Japanese mineral water producer

Published: 03/05/2024

The experience and technical skills gained in each phase of food & beverage packaging that the companies of the Smart Packaging Hub bring together in a partnership logic to provide integrated and customised solutions, convince even end-users in the Japanese market, who are notoriously accustomed to high levels of quality and technology.

A major Japanese mineral water producer has chosen the Italian solution matured from the synergy between Baumer, Clevertech and Tosa, companies of the Smart Packaging Hub, to develop a highly automated and fully integrated customised line for secondary and tertiary packaging.

The joint application of Baumer Clevertech and Tosa for the development of the Japanese mineral water producer’s integrated packaging and palletising line is an example of a successful collaboration born out of the Smart Packaging Hub.

The expressed needs of the Japanese customer for the packaging line

The Japanese customer needed a customised line for secondary and tertiary packaging with a very high level of automation and a strong focus on efficiency and quality, with a reduction in energy consumption and production costs.

A line is required to package 0.5-litre and 2-litre thin plastic bottles of mineral water in cardboard boxes and trays with thermoretracted film in different configurations, which must then be palletised by making pallets wrapped in plastic film to achieve reliable load protection and holding to ensure product quality.

The packaging line must be highly automated because, considering the high cost of labour, it favours a quick return on investment and a reduction in production costs.

In addition, the supporting technical documentation, manuals and the user interface on the machine panels, must be in Japanese language.

The request for a flexible packaging line and for high productivity

A throughput of up to 55 packs per minute is required, which means a high packaging and palletising speed to handle delicate, thin plastic, and therefore easily damaged, mineral water bottles (approx. 30,000 0.5 litre bottles/hour and 19,000 2 litre bottles/hour).

Bottles to be handled are square, cylindrical and rectangular in shape. The package sizes, both in cardboard box and in tray with thermoretracted film, are 6×4 and 6×6 0.5-litre bottles and 3×2 and 3×3 2-litre bottles.

To satisfy these needs, the customer requires a flexible line with fast format changes, equipped with innovative technologies and automation systems, developed in an integrated manner by a single supplier and with customised solutions.

Benefits of the unique and highly integrated solution developed by Baumer-Clevertech-Tosa team of the Smart Packaging Hub

Although Baumer Clevertech and Tosa are companies with specialised expertise in different areas of food & beverage packaging, within the Hub they have developed a synergy characterised by unequivocal quality and technological standards, sharing the same design approaches and construction principles.

In the joint application, the team of the three companies in the Smart Packaging Hub was thus able to present themselves as one supplier, offering an automated and fully integrated line in a single solution.

This approach was positively evaluated by the Japanese customer, who required to deal with only one supplier to satisfy their packaging needs, while exploiting the advantages of a single integrated solution.

In fact, a line with automatic machines that share the same operating principles and user interface systems provides a significant advantage for operators, both in the learning phase of the system’s functionality and later during production, maintenance and troubleshooting, decreasing downtime in favour of production efficiency.

A line designed to gently handle thinned plastic bottles

The line designed by the team of the three companies of the Smart Packaging Hub, receives upstream bottles of mineral water conveyed from the customer’s primary packaging plant, then perfectly filled, sealed and labelled.

In order to minimise the use of plastic, the Japanese manufacturer works with PET bottles that are thin and therefore structurally delicate. The bottles to be packaged are square, cylindrical and rectangular in shape. They are made of lightened plastic with nitrogen-free filling, which makes the whole handling very delicate.

In order to meet the customer’s quality standards, the line’s handling and packaging systems have therefore been developed with technologies suitable for handling delicate and easily damaged bottles at the required speeds, particularly those with a square shape, which are structurally less stable and not as resistant to crushing pressure as models with a round cross-section.

For this reason, adequate attention was also paid to the design of the accumulation conveyor system and the divider at the infeed of the packaging machine, so as to achieve rows that push a controlled number of square bottles into contact with each other, in order to limit crushing pressures.

The design of a flexible line prepared to meet future packaging needs

The line designed by the three companies of the Smart Packaging Hub is strongly oriented towards production efficiency, automation and flexibility.

In particular, the flexibility of this line is designed to realise a twofold advantage.

The first advantage consists in being able to quickly manage, with automation and robotic cells, the secondary and tertiary packaging of the various solutions currently produced with frequent format changes.

The second advantage offered by the flexibility of this line is its predisposition to be updated to enable the customer to handle new configurations and future package types of this product.

A layout spread over three sheds

The packaging line designed by the Baumer-Clevertech-Tosa team has a special layout that is spread across three different sheds, which the Japanese customer is expanding from scratch.

A further challenge successfully faced by the three companies of the Smart Packaging Hub, which are working in synergy with the the building design company for the structural and plant engineering parts of the integrated packaging line.

Advantages of a combination packaging machine for secondary packaging

To package mineral water bottles, conveyed from the customer’s primary packaging plant, in cardboard boxes and in trays wrapped in heat-shrink film, a wrap around case packer and a shrinkwrapper are required.

In the joint application with Clevertech and Tosa, Baumer’s engineers developed a tailor-made solution capable of handling both the packaging of bottles in closed cardboard boxes and shrink-wrapped film trays with a single machine.

Baumer has therefore developed a single automatic machine that combines a wrap-around case packer with a shrinkwrapper, focusing on flexibility and production efficiency.

The main strengths of this combined machine can be summarised in its compactness, hence a reduced footprint, flexibility with fast, automatically operated format changes, and the ability to switch easily from wrap-around carton packaging to the shrink-wrapped film tray solution of the shrinkwrapper.

In addition, the machine’s structure is designed to be able to wrap bottles in shrink film only without a tray, for possible future applications. 

Another strength of this combined machine is its energy efficiency, particularly of the shrink tunnel of the shrinkwrapping machine, which has been designed with insulation that minimises heat loss with significant electricity savings.

A robot cell to automate of the case packer die-cut carton feeding system

In order to meet speed standards of up to 55 packs per minute, the customer required the combination machine to be equipped with an automatic feeding system for die-cut carton sheets.

A robot cell was then developed, with a 4-axis articulated robot, to autonomously take the die-cut cardboard sheets from the storage to be loaded into the machine.

An automatic and versatile palletiser

Downstream of the packaging machine, the palletiser developed by Clevertech for the Japanese customer’s line consists of automatic modules arranged on two levels.

The first level is on the ground and concerns the management of the pallet depot with the handling and storage of empty pallets through automatic stacking and de-stacking modules.

The solution developed at the first level is totally customised for Japanese pallet formats, which are different from those used in the western market. The formats in use by the Japanese manufacturer are in fact 1100×1100 and 1100×900 millimetres.

In the second level developed on the upper floor, the palletiser designed by Clevertech receives and handles batches of square or round bottles, packed in cardboard boxes or trays wrapped in shrink-wrap film.

To support production speeds of up to 55 packs per minute, two 4-axis articulated robots are used to autonomously manage the formation of the layer to be palletised.

As this is a delicate product, the mechanical gripping organs of the robots have been designed with ‘soft touch’ features to handle the water bottle packs gently, without compromising the required rhythms and speeds.

The use of robots to form the layer to be palletised, in addition to maintaining sustained package handling speeds, allows for maximum flexibility in handling different configurations of current production batches and any new future customer solutions.

The exchange of production flow data through interconnection with upstream automatic machines, allows the palletiser to program itself to manage the speed and format types of the pack batches arriving from the packaging machine.

The product layer matrix formed by the robots is then compacted and moved onto the pallet by means of a mechanical pusher. Layer by layer, the pallet is finished and ready to be sent to the wrapping machine.

Only one machine to wrap each palletised load format ad hoc

In the joint application with Baumer and Clevertech, Tosa designed the load wrapping solution at the end of the line, downstream of the palletiser, with a system aimed at flexibility and quality, capable of handling the different formats and sizes of palletised loads with a single machine, while remaining open to upgrades for future configurations.

The customer needs to wrap the pallets sent by the palletiser with a single machine, with a solution that autonomously adapts the wrapping cycle programs to the different load types and sizes, without interruptions for format changes. The required speed is 60 pallets per hour.

To obtain maximum stability and load retention without damaging the bottle packages, the customer needs to be able to vary the tension of the film based on the different heights of the pallet. He also requested the pre-stretch unit to optimize the amount of film used for each wrapping cycle.

To meet these production requirements, Tosa’s engineers developed an automatic rotating ring machine with customised conveyors systems for Japanese pallet formats and a maximum palletised load height of 2 metres. The wrapping machine is also equipped with a pre-stretching unit with two brushless motors for a variable ratio, adjustable from the operating panel, of up to 400%.

A pre-stretchable HDPE polyethylene stretch film is used. The wrapping machine designed by Tosa also has the ‘roping’ function to reduce the film band into a rope, which increases the holding force of the film where needed. In the wrapping cycle, ‘roping’ is in fact very important for fixing the load on the base of the pallet, increasing its retention and stability.

An effective sharing of data for end-of-line automation

The wrapping machine is fully integrated with the packaging line through a continuous exchange of data on production flows, format changes and the status of the automatic machines in the line. In particular, the ‘handshake’ with the palletiser perfects the end-of-line automation processes.

The wrapper’s software interfaces with that of the palletiser, with which it shares the same user interface on the machine’s on-board panels, bringing a significant advantage for operators in the various stages of operation, monitoring and diagnostics.

In this way, even before receiving the pallet to be wrapped, the Tosa machine knows the digital ‘pallet ID’ information transmitted by the palletiser, including data on the type of packages making up the load, the dimensions and format of the pallet.

Having received the information of the incoming palletised load, the wrapper autonomously loads the wrapping cycle programme established for that type of product from the database, sharing with the supply chain all the data relating to the process, including any anomalies.

At the end of wrapping, the pallet is released downstream for subsequent labelling and storage, together with digital ‘pallet ID’ information for its tracking and any automated warehouse operations.

Statistical archiving of data collected during packaging processes and on the status of the automatic machines of the integrated line designed by the Baumer-Clevertech-Tosa team can be shared with customer software that supports and optimises operations and production management, bringing an additional benefit for the Japanese manufacturer.

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