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New fully automatic blank loading system

Published on: 18.09.2017

Elopak has launched a new robotic system for its aseptic filling platform E-PS120A.

Enhanced productivity and competitiveness

Thanks to a fully autonomous robotic system, depalletization and opening of the outer packaging as well as transport into the filling machine are now all automatic. These operations until now had to be carried out manually, mostly by the machine operators.

Just like the filling machine, the so called Blank Loader has been developed and manufactured in Elopak’s own manufacturing plant in Mönchengladbach. The robot unit’s design is highly flexible: on a maximum pallet size of 1,250 x 1,250mm, any palletizing scheme and various packing materials that can be processed by the filling machine can be handled.

With a footprint of only 3,3 x 3,2 m, the space requirements are minimal. With this development, Elopak has followed its philosophy of compact and modular design utilized for the aseptic filling machine E-PS120A.

“Based on our requirements, we decided in favour of robotic technology. With this technology, we have reached the highest level of flexibility so that we can offer suitable solutions for future requirements,” explains Wolfgang Buchkremer, Head of Research & Engineering at Elopak EQS GmbH.

Quality optimization and automation of repetitive manual activities

The packaging material is carried out by a robotic gripping device with vacuum technology. Every box is scanned via a barcode reader. By comparing the EAN number of the box to the programming, the correct assignment of pack material and fill content is ensured. Simultaneously, the minimum shelf-life of the pack material is verified. Damaged or incorrect boxes are automatically rejected and are therefore not forwarded to the filling process, enabling the number of defective fillings and waste to be minimized.

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Besides precision and automatic verification processes, the innovative opening mechanism contributes as well to quality optimization: instead of cutting the box open, as it is usually the case, it is opened by glue reactivation. Therefore, dust and fibers, which could easily end up in the filling machine and might negatively impact quality, are avoided.

The pre-folded and side-sealed carton blanks are automatically extracted from the box, transported to the machine and inserted into the blank feeder.

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Pallet changes are due only every 90 minutes, which enables the operator to be available for other tasks within the up or downstream processes.

Better use of existing employee potential

The modern automation replaces several working steps which until now the operating staff had to carry out manually: removing the box from the pallet, opening with box cutter, loading of the filling machine as well as disposing of the emptied boxes.

“The operator does not have to be present, and is released from routine work. Depending on local conditions, up to 2-3 machines can be simultaneously managed by one operator,” explains Buchkremer. “It also has a hygienic advantage as all human contact is avoided; from the depalletization of the packaging materials through to the loading of the pallets with filled packages.“

Pallet changes are indicated by an adjustable countdown timer, accompanied by an acoustic signal. The countdown timer can be adjusted individually on the HMI operator screen of the filling machine.

The disposal of empty boxes is also carried out fully automatically. Boxes are folded flat for compact storage and are stored in the waste bin until dispatched. Similar to the pallet change, the request to empty the waste bin is also indicated on the monitor. The capacity of the waste bin, which can be conveniently transported on castors, comprises 2 pallets: therefore, the waste bin needs emptying every 3 hours only.

The first prototype of the Blank Loader has been successfully tested at the Arla dairy at their site in Pronsfeld. After the first E-PS120A, Arla is already planning further installations of the robot unit for their aseptic filling lines from Elopak.

Fitted to production conditions – customized parameterization

The module and filling machine are connected to each other but operate independently. Therefore, in the event of malfunctioning or breakdown, the filling machine does not have to be stopped and can be manually loaded and operated, independently from the robot unit and without any efficiency loss.

The advantages at a glance:

  • Maximized flexibility
  • Applicable for any palletizing scheme
  • Reduced blanks loading time
  • Pallet change every 90 minutes
  • Less manpower – more convenience
  • Reduced manual work for the machine operator
  • Improved quality and hygiene
  • Automatic inspection by 2D barcode reader
  • Innovative opening mechanism: less fibers, no dust
  • No physical contact between human and packaging material

Contact person for further info:
Wolfgang Buchkremer
Tel. 0 21 66 / 94 57 -0
wolfgang.buchkremer@elopak.com