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Auger filling equipment trends and buying tips

What has most affected the design of auger filling equipment in the last year or two? It boils down to these trends:

1. Greater throughput and reliability with servos: For more than a decade, servo-motor technology has increasingly found its way into dry filling lines to become a mainstream technology for all package sizes—from club packs to stick packs, K-Cups, and single-serve packs. This technology allows precise control of acceleration rates and revolutions for greater accuracy and repeatability as well as reduced product giveaway. Along with the accuracy of turning on and off “cleanly” with every fill, servos also can automatically shut down in the event of a line stoppage, eliminating the burnout of old AC motor and clutch-brake designs. Also in contrast to older AC systems, servos use fewer parts for reduced maintenance. These benefits, taken as a whole, have allowed greater management of complex lines and greater confidence to expand, for instance, a K-Cup filling line from two to eight or more lanes.

2. Quicker changeover: Along with greater control and reliability of dry filling lines, machine design enhancements open new opportunities for making incremental gains in capacity, especially in the area of changeover. For example, when reconfiguring the appropriate number of filling heads for a change in package or product, new designs offer easy access to parts, speeding cleaning and changeover. This can be seen in the reduced tools, and in some cases tool-less changeover procedures, that contribute to greater productivity for greater throughput, while at the same time reducing the risks of unnecessary tools and “loose” parts in the production environment.

3. More powerful controls: The wide adoption of programmable controls has led to more powerful management and integration of filling equipment. Current-generation dry filling equipment is typically integrated with upstream infeed systems and downstream baggers, such as horizontal or vertical form/fill/seal systems. Additionally, checkweighers further downstream communicate with that equipment to automatically adjust feed and fill settings and prevent drift in weight and other parameters. The advent and adoption of control and software standards have led to more cost-effective, plug-and-play compatibility for great reductions from software programming to hardware costs that range from wiring and maintenance to spare-parts stores.

4. Increased sanitation: Particularly in the food industry, packagers are looking at sanitation levels more closely than ever before.  New laws such as the Food Safety Modernization Act in the U.S. have prompted the design of machines that are more sanitary and easier to clean, reducing or eliminating cracks or crevices that can capture food particles, and streamlining extraneous machine parts that might inhibit cleaning. Suppliers are also upgrading from 304 stainless steel to 316 stainless steel, for the additional resistance to corrosion and staining the higher grade delivers.

Buying advice
When it comes to purchasing auger filling equipment, it’s critical to make the equipment manufacturer aware of your container or package design as early in the process as possible. A manufacturer may be able to give input into package design that will positively impact line speed. For example, if your container opening is too narrow, increasing it by ¼ of an inch may greatly increase filling speeds, as well as provide benefits to the consumer regarding ease of evacuation of the product.

To select the right equipment for your application, the filler manufacturer will need to know the target weight and the speed requirements in packages per minute. Accuracy requirements should also be known. These three factors—weight, speed, and accuracy—are not always simultaneously achievable. You might need to give up one to get the other.

Of course, this means that the product you will put in your container is just as important as the container itself. Products that are free-flowing like salt or sugar are handled differently from those that are lumpy or prone to bridging. Density is another factor to measure, and if you don’t know it, the machine manufacturer should have the resources and capabilities to account for it.

A holistic consideration of package, product, and machine characteristics can speed machine design, testing, and successful implementation of your dry filling line.

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