Here are some tips to keep in mind when purchasing cartoning equipment:
1. Let the product choose either vertical or horizontal cartoning 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 equipment models are horizontal loaders. Generally, they perform with more flexibility at a lower cost.
2. Determine the most productive speed. First determine if your cartoning equipment operation will be online or offline.
For online 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 offline 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.
3. Focus on materials. Cartoning equipment is relatively simple machinery; when there is a problem in cartoning, it is usually a material problem.
Understand the material. For reliability, make sure it is of good grade or quality. Is it Virgin Board (new fibers – more expensive) or recycled (less expensive) 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 deflators on the bagger or add a “Bag Confiner” to the Loading Section of the cartoning equipment; 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 packaging materials at the vendor’s facility. Its wise to run “in spec but just barely” product and cartons to see how the machine reacts. How much air or extra product can be in the bag? How bowed or stiff can the carton be and still be picked from the magazine and loaded into the machine?
4. Leverage their expertise. Ask your cartoning equipment supplier to be part of the Project Team.
Encourage the materials expert and the cartoning equipment expert to work together so you win. Sometimes minor changes in the carton design, material, coatings improve its performance on the cartoner. It’s not unusual that you can optimize the carton design, use a different material thickness and save money if the equipment supplier "designs in" the features needed to run this package.
5. Match the equipment to your company’s technical capabilities. Cartoning equipment should match your company’s technical prowess.
Acquiring a complex machine (i.e. one with lots of servos) could prove to be 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. Make sure you align the vendor’s technology expertise with your product, and know the limitations of any piece of equipment you’re thinking of purchasing.
6. Look closely at the Rotary Feeder.
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. End load or side load?
The use of end-load cartoning equipment is appropriate when you have good control over the contents and can slip them into the smaller end opening. Higher speeds are also achievable this way. Side load cartoning equipment is usually used when you have multiple items going into the carton (example: granola bars) and are “dropping” them into the larger, lengthwise opening.
8. What about change parts?
How can they be minimized to speed-up changeovers when you go from one size to the next? Can you color-coordinate the change parts so a particular size is the same color on all the machines on the Line? Don't forget to request that the size is engraved in the part. Also think about how you will store and inventory these parts so items (large and small) are not misplaced and it's easy to tell that everything is there.
9. Don't forget about spare parts.
Request the vendor provide a Critical Spare Parts List and Recommended Spare Parts List as soon as practical. Strive to have some amount of spare parts arrive with the machine so should something fail during start-up you are covered. Review the list to determine what you already own or items which can purchase from local suppliers.
10. Think about future needs.
Will you need larger packs or multipacks 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.
Browse companies that provide Cartoning Equipment right here on PMMI ProSource.