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Bottle packer brings speed, reduces breakage

Luxco is enjoying the sweet sounds of silence since upgrading its packaging line to technology that almost eliminates bottle breakage while increasing packer speed.

Soft Catch technology reduces the shock experienced by glass bottles.
Soft Catch technology reduces the shock experienced by glass bottles.

Saint Louis-based Luxco is one of the leading beverage alcohol suppliers in the U.S. The company receives bulk alcohol and then blends, packages, and ships its own lines of bourbon, brandy, vodka, rum, and tequila, as well as a range of flavored cordials and liqueurs.

During the installation of a new bottling line being installed to replace a 17-year old system, Luxco sought a bottle packer that would increase speed and offer better and more consistent control of bottles. The search led to a 939 Versatron “Soft Catch” Case Packer, manufactured by Standard-Knapp ( In addition to increasing speed, the packer significantly reduces bottle breakage. Other benefits include reduced changeover time and easier and more efficient preventive maintenance.

As Luxco plant manager Chris Wieczorek tells it, the need for increased speed was the biggest motivator for replacing the older system. As the firm gradually upgrades its machinery to reflect current market realities that necessitate a faster line, it started shopping around for a packer that would fit in with a complete new line install, from de-palletizer to case packer. “Our old drop packer just didn’t do the job properly,” said Wieczorek. “The bottles had a tendency to drop through the head too hard, which created too high a level of breakage. This has negative effects on our operations, as we have to stop the line and clean up the breakage.”

According to Wieczorek, the company looked at several packer manufacturers and models but opted for the 939 Versatron Case Packer after learning that it had gotten rave reviews from several other distilled spirit manufacturers for handling bottles with minimal impact. The results definitely met their expectations. “The new packer offers better control of bottles and operates extremely consistently,” says Wieczorek. 

Versatron’s Soft Catch technology is specifically designed for high-speed packing of fragile containers. Soft Catch reduces the shock energy by 80 percent over a conventional drop packer. Reducing shock energy enables the use of lighter glass, which is increasingly popular as firms like Luxco seek to achieve their sustainable packaging goals.

Luxco also found that changeovers of the packer, which used to average 20 to 30 min, now take only 8 to 10 min. Change parts are numbered and color-coded, which makes changeovers easier. The time savings is appreciated by the company, which produces and packages hundreds of different products.

Luxco maintenance manager Rick Hallquist found that another benefit of the new packer is that all the maintenance procedures are built into the Human Machine Interface, making preventive maintenance a snap. “Displaying maintenance on the HMI makes this packer more efficient than most of the plant’s other equipment, because it tells us when it needs to be maintained,” says Hallquist.

Great versatility
As the name suggests, the 939 Versatron Case Packer is extremely versatile, which is important for firms like Luxco that pack multiple products. The machine includes a “laner” at the upstream end, which divides incoming product from a single file line into the appropriate number of lanes for the particular carton. For example, a case might be 6 bottles packed in a 2x3 configuration or 12 bottles packaged in a 3x4 pattern.

According to Dave Lau, case packer engineering manager for Standard-Knapp, “The case packer works well for firms like Luxco, where a wide variety of products and sizes are involved. They do 750-mLbottles, 1-L, and 1.75-L bottles, as well as 6 packs and 12 packs. Versatility and quick changeover is key.” While not being used at the moment by Luxco, the drop packer can also handle a mass flow product, in which the 15-inch wide conveyor is filled with product packed and nested like bowling pins in a pyramid.

A two-axis servo system allows the Versatron to actually “catch” the product while it descends into the case. The lift table moves the case to the “up” position and waits for a full grid. When the grid is full, the riding strips shift to the side and initiate the bottle descent. The lift table simultaneously moves the case downward on a velocity curve that ultimately achieves the same speed at the point of contact (the “soft catch”). “It’s like catching an egg,” says Lau.

Versatron change parts are designed for quick, repeatable changeover using an easily understood by-the-numbers changeover system. Riding strips have a unique slide-in design for automatic alignment. Lane guide spacers are lightweight and have chamfered edges for easy drop-in replacement. Grid basket uses a patented snap-in grid technology to easily change from product to product. The system is product specific, so Standard-Knapp sets up the drop packer and runs it with all the products currently packaged and sells change parts to run products that may be packed in the future.

Luxco’s Wieczorek sums it all up this way: “Standard-Knapp offered an extremely user-friendly drop packer that is consistent, simple to use, and straightforward. We installed an entire new line, and this was one of the best pieces of equipment we purchased. It performs exactly the way it was sold to us and is one of the best equipment purchases we’ve made in a long time.” 

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