United Brands Company (La Mesa, Calif.) recently unveiled its new 3SUM line of fruit-flavored beers in 16 oz. and 8.3 oz. cans. The new product release included a trial pack for retailers. For the bottler, this meant more sizes and shapes, more SKUs, and probably less packing material. It's the same challenge bottlers face every time a beverage company releases a new line of products.

During the past 18 months, there has been an explosion in packaging configurations and material. Millions of dollars are being spent to change canned product configurations from a three-by-four can pack to a two-by-six can refrigeratorfriendly pack. Packaging graphics have become bolder and packaging material is lighter, costs less and is easier to crush. This makes it harder for bottlers to build stable pallet loads without adding extra shrinkwrap and corrugated inserts—and costs—between layers.

"The general trend is toward unique and proprietary packaging that may be focused on one outlet like a club store or Wal-Mart," says Paul McMackin, president, McMackin Corp. (Norwood, Mass.), a project engineering firm that designs, builds, and upgrades systems for beverage manufactures.

Warehouse stores demand large 32 and 48-unit configurations as well as variety packs that hold several flavors. What's more, these retailers want display-type loads on 48 x 48-in. pallets that can be put directly on the store floor. These trends are changing how material handling equipment is designed.

Bottlers need more adaptable and flexible packaging machinery, says Frank Pelligrino, vice president, machinery, FKI Logistex North America (St. Louis). For example, because they are using lighter weight and thinner plastic, glass, and metal to get as much cost out of the packaging as possible, bottlers need case turn-ers that won't damage products.

Highlighted below are new types of more adaptable and flexible beverage handling equipment.

High-Speed Shrink Sleeve Label Applicator

EZ-Seal 600SL high-speed shrink sleeve label applicator has a production rates in excess of 600 containers per minute. It operates in either single or dual-head mode. The system, which includes the applicator and heat tunnel, will integrate with existing conveyors. All-mechanical design has minimal moving parts. The cutting assembly gives high productivity and long blade life. Touch screen operator interface offers ease of operation and system control.
Axon, Corp., www.axoncorp.com

Managing the Flow

The Filamatic Integration System unscrambles, cleans, fills and caps containers. System uses servomotors that can be programmed to smooth the fill/finish process. Operators input the parameters needed for a particular product size and the integrated equipment is ready for production.
National Instrument, LLC, www.filamatic.com



Multiple Labeling Solutions

Clamshell and container labeling systems and "print & apply" labeling systems are easy to set up and operate and have minimal moving or wear parts. The company works with customers to integrate its labelers/inserters into existing or new packaging lines and ensures the equipment keeps production running at desired levels. Company also provides technical support, training and on-going preventative maintenance programs.
EPI, www.epilabelers.com

No Product Damage

Columbia Machine, Inc.'s (Vancouver, Wash.) HL8000 high-speed palletizer features a soft-turning conveyor section that uses variable frequency drives to turn and arrange beverage cases with no product impact. The modular layer accumulation sections reach speeds up to 150 cases per minute while palletizing 12-pack beverage cases in 16-case patterns.
Columbia Machine, Inc., www.palletizing.com

No More Broken Glass

A major U.S. brewer is using FKI's bumpless case turner to handle cases of thin-glass bottles. The brewer thought conventional turners would cause breakage. Bumpless turners turn packages or containers without hitting them. Packages are turned with two conveyors running at different speeds. It has a maximum throughput of 72 cases per minute.
FKI Logistex, www.fkilogistex.com

Palletize More Products in Less Time

The modular adjustable vacuum palletizing (AVP) system is easily expandable and accommodates different product sizes without the need for end effectors. It is simple to configure and features a vacuum grip-per system and suction cup in a single unit. Smaller vacuum unit consumes less air than conventional ejectors while giving three times more vacuum flow. Manual adjustments on the x and y axis allows positioning to be changed quickly, reducing downtime.
Piab, www.piab.com

Palletizing Robots

At the recent PACK EXPO show in Las Vegas 2005, FKI demonstrated how its new articulated-arm robot can palletize and depalletize cases of empty bottles by layer using a four-sided compression tool. The layer was placed onto an unscrambler to separate, orient and feed the cases single-file onto a loop of zero-pressure motorized roller conveyor. The cases were then fed back to the robot for palletization.

"We're looking at combining robots and conventional machines to let the robots do what they do well and that is orientate packages and putting them in the proper place." Says FKI's Frank Pelligrino. But to have the speed of conventional machines, he adds, "We are combining the two together."
FKI Logistex, www.fkilogistex.com

Rapid Changeover, Reliable Servo Drive Technology

The Cartojet C IV automatic packaging machine folds, loads and closes a variety of different sizes and types of trays and cases, including display trays, with and without covers, and wraparound cases. Servo-controlled drives allow unit speeds to 25 cases per minute with rapid changeover for various sizes. The robotic pick-and-place system can place or slide product into position.
Stiles Machinery, www.stilesmachinery.com

Simple, Hand-Held Graphic Interface

The SmartLase 100i Series coder's hand-held device with a graphic user interface (GUI) supports complex graphic characters. The GUI uses simple icons for operation and programming. The interface supports graphic character sets and meets the coding needs of manufacturers who export products to countries requiring printed graphic characters. SmartLase 100i Series laser codes can be used on primary packaging such as cartons, labels, glass and PET bottles used in the food and beverage industry.
Markem, www.markem.us