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Cartoning Equipment

Cartoning Equipment Explained: Your Guide to Packaging Machinery

Jul 5, 2023
1 min read

Welcome to Package This — your guide to packaging machinery and materials, produced by the Emerging Brands Alliance in conjunction with Packaging World and PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

Today, we explore cartoning equipment in its many forms. Some cartoning machines might take flat, die-cut sheets and form them into boxes before filling and closing them, while other models are designed to open, load and seal pre-made folded cartons.

Cartons are often secondary packages, housing a wide range of products—from wine bottles to cans of pet food to bagged candy.

Cartons are formed using a flat piece of paper stock known as a blank, usually made from paperboard or white-lined chipboard. As the blank passes through the machine, a forming head presses down, thereby creating a three-dimensional concave space for the carton loader to place product.

Two of the most prominent carton types are lock-formed cartons that are assembled through interlocking flaps with no glue, and glue-formed cartons, in which flaps are secured with an adhesive.

Carton Formers

Let’s look at four models of carton formers from Syntegon’s Kliklok brand, all of which use lock- or glue-forming style. Lock-style forming was invented by Kliklok in the 1940s and is economical, sustainable, and power- and cost-efficient. When carton sizes need to be changed, the operator can easily switch the forming head assembly without tools. These machines offer great line flexibility as some can run lock- and/or glue-formed cartons on the same machine without altering the glue system. An integrated, former-driven takeaway conveyor comes standard on the Genesis model and is an optional feature for the KF and SR models. Conveyors ensure the carton’s smooth exit from the machine, especially at high forming speeds.

After the carton is created, the next step is—you guessed it—filling the carton with product, known in the industry as carton loading. There are different types of carton loaders, including end-load and top-load machines, but in general, carton loaders are grouped by how the product is loaded: either vertically or horizontally.

In this video, we see an automatic, pick-and-place carton loader from BluePrint Automation. Its machine vision system detects the exact location of the product to be picked. Then, end-of-arm tools on a Delta robot gently grab and place the product into a hinged carton. This system is designed to replace traditional collate and load machines and eliminate potential jam points on the so-called “racetrack,” or product collation infeed. Built using BPA’s standard modular frame, the cartoner features a design that reduces wiring costs and significantly minimizes the footprint on the plant floor by eliminating bulky external electrical cabinets. Shown here packing flow-wrapped bars, this carton loader can pack any product count and configuration and can accept bulk product using BPA feeding technology.

Many products can be loaded vertically, into carton styles such as straight tuck, reverse tuck, and lock-bottom boxes. Depending on the volume and variety of their runs, some brands may opt for machines that combine the functions of erecting, loading, and sealing in a single, integrated operation.

Designed to handle diverse jobs, this model from Massman Automation features an integrated vertical carton erector, loader and sealer. It can be configured as a continuous or intermittent motion solution and reaches rates of 600 cartons per minute as shown here, depending on the application. The machine accommodates a variety of carton sizes and designs such as conventional fold, back panel seal, reverse fold, and gable top. Its base technology includes an all-electronic servo powered motion control system for ease of integration and quick changeovers, as well as a digital recipe control for varying carton sizes.

Top-Load Cartoners

Top load cartoners form and erect cartons that usually feature hinged flaps. This family of related packages – such as lock trays, cake boxes, and one-piece tuck tops – that all feature a wider opening that allows products to be easily loaded vertically over the top of the package, hence the name “top load.” Top load cartoners handle myriad food, healthcare, and household goods products.

Here we see an integrated top load cartoner from Syntegon that is packing wrapped taco shells into a lock-style tri-seal carton. The core of Syntegon’s TTMD consists of a top load cartoner component for forming and closing, combined with one or more seamlessly integrated Delta robot cells for product loading. The robotic solution's camera-based vision system detects the position of the individual products on the infeed belt. Delta robots pick single or multiple products arriving in random order and place them in cartons or trays, according to specifications, over the wide opening. Glue is applied to the cover flaps as the cartons move into position for closing. The closer then presses down the flaps to seal the carton before moving it to the outfeed conveyor.

Horizontal Cartoners

So far, we've explored cartoners that load products vertically, but horizontal cartoners also play an important role in the packaging landscape. These cartoners load products by pushing them through while the box is flat on its side. Boxes of frozen pizza are a typical example of products that use the horizontal load technique.

To understand how horizontal cartoning works, let’s look at this video from Nuspark showing their NHC-40 horizontal linear cartoner. This fully automatic horizontal cartoning machine is packing 100 hot chocolate mix pouches per minute. With the opened carton on its side, the machine’s horizontally-mounted carton buckets work in cooperation with an offset vertical product collation to load product seamlessly. The unique design of this machine helps keep this cartoner compact. This machine also features carton inspection and a reject mechanism for integrated quality control.

Sealing Equipment

Sealing is the final step in the cartoning process. In some cases, a machine dedicated to the sole task of carton sealing is required. These machines create secure seals that ensure that the product inside the carton remains safe and protected until it reaches the consumer.

Here’s an example of a carton sealer from Econocorp. As cartons are conveyed into the sealer, hot melt glue is applied, and carton is vertically elevated into the sealing chamber. Econocorp’s flexible carton sealer can run all types of end-load style cartons. One of the most important features of this machine is that it is engineered to use the correct amount of glue each time—up to one third of the glue a conventional gluer uses. With one of the smallest footprints for a carton sealer in the industry, this unit is designed to cut down labor costs. As we see here, it can be fed automatically or manually.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the machines that box up some of the world’s favorite products.

For more videos on packaging machinery and materials, please subscribe to our full Package This series on YouTube. And for a deeper dive into the cartoning technology we discussed here, explore PMMI ProSource, a searchable directory with 1,000 packaging and processing suppliers. Visit to search suppliers by package type, material, or features. Thanks for watching!