1. Know thyself. Choose cartoning equipment based on how it works in your specific plant, with your compressed air system, and with your blanks.
2. Consider the nature of the product when choosing either vertical or horizontal equipment. The product will dictate the type of cartoning machine needed. For example, if the product is free flowing (granular in nature like detergent powder or loose pieces like boxes of cough drops), you may be able to focus mainly on vertical-style cartoning equipment. However, for products that can load horizontally or vertically, horizontal equipment is often better. Most cartoning machines are horizontal loaders. Generally, they perform with more flexibility at a lower cost.
3. Determine the most productive speed. First determine if the operation will be on line or off line. For on-line speed, calculate the maximum rate possible to make the product and divide it by the number of products per carton. Then factor in “surge capability”: the potential to increase the rate via new processes or technologies. For off-line speed, consider the daily, weekly, or monthly shipping quotas. Make sure to use realistic numbers for days per week and “true” hours per day to calculate required cartons per minute.
4. Focus on materials. Cartoning equipment is relatively simple machinery; when there is a problem in cartoning, usually it’s a material problem. Always remember that the materials used for cartoning must be harmonized with the machinery. Understand the material. For reliability, make sure it is of good grade or quality. Is it virgin board or recycled material? The answer has a significant impact on how the carton is handled. The design of flaps and glue patterns must be considered. You can use less glue in a stitching pattern. When you’re loading a bag into a carton, the amount of air in the bag has a material impact. You can use a deflator on the filler or a confiner on the cartoner; either way, plan for this ahead of time rather than discovering the need when the equipment is on the floor. Always test your products and materials at the equipment vendor (see separate article on factory acceptance testing).
5. Match the equipment to your company’s technical capabilities. Cartoning equipment should match your company’s technical prowess. Acquiring an overly complex machine could prove problematic. Conduct a reference check during your supplier investigation, and talk to companies comparable to yours to determine if the equipment you want is something that will perform to your specs and be manageable for you. Different cartoning vendors do different things really well; make sure you align their technology with your product, and know the limitations of any piece of equipment you’re thinking of purchasing.
6. Look closely at the picking mechanism. This is often overlooked. Look at the specific technology used to pick carton blanks, and look its compatibility with your particular substrate. If the machine doesn’t pick your blank correctly, nothing else matters.
7. Pay attention to operator ergonomics and safety. How user-friendly are the controls and user interfaces? How ergonomic is the load/unload stations where humans are involved?
8. Don’t forget parts. Have as few change parts as possible when you go from one size to the next. (Obviously, the ability to perform quick changeovers is a key benefit when using many different carton sizes.) Standardizing with components you already have is much more difficult for end users than vendors realize (e.g., if you’re used to having a certain kind of bearing and someone wants to use a different kind of bearing, that can be painful). Keep parts on hand to facilitate repairs.
9. Be aware of future needs. Will you need larger packs or multi-packs in the future? If the machine only goes between size A and size B, you may need different equipment. Retrofitting can be prohibitively costly. Plan for flexibility and change. Eventually you may need machines for multiple geometries.