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Small-footprint bottle accumulation/conveying

Innovative loop conveyor with integrated single-filer requires minimum floor space and eliminates back pressure.
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Private-label bottled water supplier Premium Waters, Inc., Douglas, GA, wanted to install some new high-speed PET bottle handling capacity (700 bpm +) to accommodate 20-oz and 500-mL filled water bottles at its brand new facility.

Typically, a production line for this type of application incorporates slow-down lanes after the filler/capper to mass the bottles. The bottles then accumulate on a mass conveyor or travel onto a bidirectional table to be accumulated. From the accumulation station, the filled/capped bottles then travel through a pressureless combiner that single-files the bottles to a labeler. After labeling, the bottles again are single-filed and massed together for feeding to the case-packing operations.

This type of system has a lot of back pressure associated with it and requires some major controls to operate. In addition, it takes up significant plant floor space and offers increased potential for bottle damage.

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Better accumulator option

With the help of independent consultant Mike Hitchcock, M.H. Consulting, Inc. (847/606-1059), Premium Waters discovered the Infinity accumulator manufactured by Garvey Corp. (www.garvey.com). Hitchcock, who provides engineering and project management services to the food and beverage industries and has been working with Premium Waters since 2001, had seen Garvey’s advertisement on the Infinity accumulator. It described how the system can handle PET bottles at high speeds without any back pressure. And by using an innovative loop conveyor system with an integrated single-filer, the accumulator also helps to create harmony among various machines of different rates and feed configurations on the packaging line.

Hitchcock and Garvey salesman Tom Lauchert worked together on the line layout and set-up for a test run of the Premium Water products at the Garvey plant. The engineering team was able to put together a conveyor footprint in half the floor space previously used by Premium Waters. The new accumulation system creates no back pressure on the bottles, requires only minimal controls, and is easy to change over from one bottle size to another. Thus, downtime is significantly reduced.

Lean, clean start-up

Four Infinity Series accumulators were installed on two bottling lines at Premium’s new plant in early 2008. The accumulators are positioned before and after the labeling equipment on each line. Garvey technicians were on-site for the commissioning and basic training. Hitchcock reports, “We had minimal issues with the equipment, and follow-up visits to make corrections were provided by Garvey at no charge.

“This was a new installation, and it was a departure from the traditional full bottle conveyor layouts in other facilities. Other locations use separate tabletop single-file and mass conveyors, combiners, and slow-down modules—all of which takes up a lot of floor space for each line with more motors/drives and overall maintenance required. With the Garvey systems, all these conveyor operations are combined into one unit, taking up less space and requiring fewer maintenance points.”

Minimizing unneeded accumulator floor space was an integral part of the lean line layout. Also, Premium Waters wanted to keep the lines linear. The engineering team was able to accomplish the desired slow-down, accumulation, and single-filing all in 35 feet of total length per line. The team also was able to achieve the same output efficiencies delivered by other bottling lines in the company, while considerably reducing the conveyor footprints.

The Garvey accumulators are used to connect gravity fillers, cappers, cut-stack labelers, and registered-film shrink-pack systems for trayed bottles. The names of the manufacturers of these connecting packaging systems have been withheld under confidentiality agreements with Premium Waters.

Hitchcock helped develop the interlocks and sequence of operations to coordinate the PLC control systems for all the conveyors. Garvey provided motor/sensor cabinets, which were then wired to the conveyor PLC cabinets. The advance planning of the control strategy was a key to the successful line start-ups and the clean, compact integration of the equipment on the lines. Premium Waters can monitor the amount of product on the loop conveyors and better control upstream and downstream operations through gentle slow-downs, accumulation, and single-filing.

Premium Waters plant manager Tim Coffia comments, “The Garvey accumulators allow us to monitor bottle quality from any location around the perimeter of the machine, and also help us maintain a smooth flow of product through our production lines.”

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