A turnkey packaging system is, quite simply, a packaging system that includes all of the necessary equipment to prepare a product for the shelf. However, the question posed by this article is somewhat misleading, as a fully operational packaging line will vary depending on the product being packaged, the space available, the desires of the packager and many other factors. As an example, we will take a guided tour down a fictional packaging line and discuss the equipment and some of the alternatives available to the machines discussed.
Power Conveyor Systems
We will begin setting up our packaging line by leveling a power conveyor system on the floor. For automatic packaging lines, power conveyor systems are a must to move containers from one machine to another. These systems are the circulatory system for packaging any product. Of course, not every packager will use a completely automatic system, and some may be entirely labor based lines. In these cases, the power conveyors may be replaced by non-powered, roller or skate conveyors. In other cases, stand-alone machinery such as a filler or capper may use a slide track or positioning nest in place of the conveyor. The operator of these semi-automatic machines will slide the bottles in place along the track or into the positioning nest for the packaging process to begin.
At the beginning of our conveyor system, we will use a loading turntable to get bottles onto the packaging line. This will require the operator of our packaging line to load empty bottles onto the turntable, which will then deliver the bottles to the conveyor system for transfer to the various machines discussed below. The loading turntable is one of many ways to begin the packaging process, with other alternatives including unscrambling machines, which would allow an operator to simply dump bulk bottles into a hopper while the machine sets them on the conveyor and even laning conveyors that use a loading table and prepare bottles in lines for delivery to the main conveyor system. Loading turntables may be used for bottles that arrive in smaller cases, such as alcohol bottles or mason jars, while unscramblers are good for higher speed bottles that may arrive in bulk boxes. Laning conveyors work well for non-round bottles that may present difficulties for other loading options.
The first machine that our bottles will encounter on our fictitious packaging line will be an inverting rinsing machine. Container cleaning equipment, including bottle rinsers, are used to remove dust and debris from bottles that may accumulate during the manufacture of the bottle, the transportation of the bottle of even from simple storage as the container awaits its turn on the line. Some packagers may choose to use a bottle vacuum rather than the inverting machine, which blasts the inside of the container with air, seals over the opening and vacuums out the dust and debris. Other packagers may choose to use a bottle washer to clean the outside of the container as well, depending on the container and the need. Not every packaging line will use container cleaning equipment, though those packaging foods, beverages, pharmaceuticals and other edible or ingestible products will often require such machinery. In addition to the automatic models, container cleaning equipment can also be manufactured as labor-driven equipment for those with lower production demands.
Filling machines add consistency and reliability to the amount of product that goes in to each bottle. While some low production packagers may hand fill product, or others may do so out of tradition, filling machines add efficiency to the process when hand filling is simply no longer feasible. For our line, we will use an automatic overflow filler, which fills each and every bottle to the same level, even if the internal volume of the bottles varies slightly. Other filling principles may be used for filling by volume or net weight, as well as different machines for lower and higher viscosity products. Like most of the equipment described in this article, tabletop and semi-automatic machines exist as alternatives to the fully automatic filler.
Nitrogen Purge System
The next machine on our packaging line will be a nitrogen purge system located just before the capping machine. Like container cleaning equipment, not every system will take advantage of the purge. However, for products like foods and beverages, the nitrogen purge system can extend shelf life while also preserving taste, color and texture. The system does this by replacing much of the oxygen in the bottle, or in the headspace of the bottle, with nitrogen, a gas that has a less detrimental effect on many perishable products.
To continue on the journey down our automatic line, the containers will be presented to an automatic capping machine. In our case, we will use a spindle capping machine to apply simple screw-on type caps. The spindle capper includes a cap delivery system that allows it to cap reliably and continuously, leaving the operator of the packaging line to simply replenish bulk caps from time to time. Of course, different caps may require a different type of capping machine, from snap on lids to ROPP caps to corks, the capping machine will match the type of closure used for the container. Some packagers may also use additional or alternative sealing equipment, such as induction seals, neck bands, shrink sleeves and more.
The labeling machine allows packagers the ability to show off their product and connect with the consumer. From photos and logos to information such as ingredients, instructions and expiration dates, this is the machine that allows the product to communicate with the customer custom electronic cigarette For our system, we will use a wrap labeler that, not surprisingly, wraps a single label around our bottle as it moves down the power conveyor system. Other formats can be used for labels, such as front and back, just front, panel and even top and bottom labeling. Most labelers will also include coding equipment that allows information such as lot number and expiration date to be easily changed. Of course, not every packager will use a labeling machine, as some bottles or other containers may be pre-printed, etched or otherwise marked.
At this point on our packaging line, we will use a shrink wrap bundler to create four and six packs of our product, shrink wrapped for convenience. As the containers exit the capping machine, they will slide into place on the bundler to receive the wrap, exiting the machine in groups of four or six, depending on how the machine is set up. There are many other packing options available, including case erectors, case packagers, cartoners and more. Some companies may simply hand pack the finished products as they prepare them for shipping.
Lastly, on our packaging line, we will use an accumulating conveyor to gather product for the packaging process. This may be an extension of the power conveyor system, or it may consist of simple roller conveyors where bundles of product can wait to be packaged. Just as we used labor to load product at the beginning of our line, we will use labor to unload product and prepare it to ship at the end of our line. Other systems may use an accumulating turntable, or may even automate the packing process by adding a palletizer and pallet wrapper to the packaging line.
So to finally answer the question presented by this article, a turnkey packaging system is made up of whatever equipment the specific packager wants and needs to prepare product for the consumer. It may consist of the machinery described above in our own made up system: power conveyors, loading turntable, rinsing machine, filler, purge system, capper, labeler, bundler and accumulating conveyor. However, a turnkey packaging system may also consist of a simple tabletop liquid filler and chuck capping machine, nothing more. And of course there are many alternatives between the bare necessities and the completely automated system. Finding the machinery that works for your product, container, space and production will lead you to the perfect turnkey solution for your own packaging project.