Loading Flexible Products - Challenges, New Requirements and One Great Solution

The flexible packaging industry is booming, quickly replacing many traditional rigid enclosures like metal cans, cartons or plastic bottles. Offering numerous protective properties with a minimum of material, flexible packaging ensures food safety and extends shelf life. Its superb printability and shelf-appeal combined with attractive consumer conveniences such as even heating, flexible re-closure and dispensing options as well as complete product evacuation boosts value and marketability for a broad range of products. Adding cost savings and sustainability advantages through conservation of resources in the creation and transportation of the lighter weight material and it becomes clear why flexible packaging has quickly advanced to becoming the darling of the industry.

Flexible packaging’s rapid success and growth also goes hand-in-hand with retailers’ push for retail ready packaging. The unique characteristics of flexible bags and pouches perfectly align with the objectives of retail ready packing, also called the five easies: easy to identify, open, dispose, shelf and shop.

What appears to be a marketer’s and retailer’s dream, however, poses quite a few challenges for packaging engineers and manufacturing operations asked to automate the secondary packaging process. Traditional rigid packaging such as cans, bottles, and cartons are relatively easy to convey, collate, and load into shipping cases using traditional side load, end load or wrap around case packers. Products in flexible packaging are typically much more difficult to convey and collate due to their often slick surface, frequently have complex, irregular shapes that do not stack easily and can generally not be loaded with traditional automation solutions.  Liquid, semi-liquid and loose products in stand up pouches with long fin seals are particularly difficult to convey and load into the shipping case.

To add further complexity, these products are often shipped in various pack configurations, from stand-up retail-ready to lie-down, interleaved in a traditional RSC case depending on retail-customer preferences. In both instances the product is coming from a Vertical/Form/Fill/Seal (VFFS) machine on the same production line.

To overcome these challenges, specialized product handling and packaging equipment with easily adjustable pack patterns including stand up (vertical) and lying down (horizontal) are needed. Depending on the application, articulated arm or delta robotic solutions can offer important advantages over the more traditional Cartesian-style loading technology. For example, odd-shaped products requiring tilting and complex maneuvering to load it into the case or light-weight and fast product lines particularly benefit from robotic solutions.

To meet these complex needs Pearson Packaging Systems has developed the highly flexible HV Module for vertical and horizontal top loading on a single machine. Its modular design enables us to offer it with gantry, articulated arm or delta robotic loading technology, while changeovers between vertical and horizontal loading as well as between product sizes have been optimized in simplicity and speed. In addition, our patented vertical loading technology using a three-step move/hold/release motion consistently maintains pack patterns during the product transfer as opposed to the industry standard of simply pushing prearranged products into the shipping container, which can cause unstable product stacks such as pouches to shift.

For information on how to support your flexible packaging and retail-ready packaging operations, contact us today at 509.838.6226. We look forward to learning about your application and helping you to optimize your automated packing line.