Are you thinking of getting a folder-gluer packer or automating the end of line process in your folding-gluing department?
For most of you, it’s probably the first time you’re considering automation. And that’s the most exciting part of the journey!
But before you even consider automation, it’s important that you do your research to have an idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
As the leader of packing equipment design in folder-gluer lines, we’ve seen first-hand the most problematic issues with automation solutions.
In this article, we’re going to share with you the 4 most common problems, and their causes, that you need to know before you commit to a machine manufacturer.
Plus, we’ll tell you exactly how to avoid them.
Note: These causes are “solution agnostic,” i.e., they apply no matter what level of automation you implement and which partner you decide to go with.
Let’s face it: The folder-gluer will remain the master of your production no matter which post-gluing solution you go with.
As the adage goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”
Packing personnel collecting boxes on a conveyor behind a folder-gluer.
Your folding and gluing process is the core component of your production. In other words, pushing your gluer to its maximum capacity should be your primary concern when thinking of automating your end of line process.
You probably know that the process of tuning a folder-gluer is more akin to craftsmanship than automation. Increasing the output of your folder-gluer is never as easy as cranking up the speed dial of your gluer.
For example, when setting a complex box on the folder-gluer, it would take time to tune your gluer until you’ve reached a good production and consistency level.
The issue, though, is that when you are tuning the folder-gluer, either by setting a new box or making adjustments to increase the speed, you’re inevitably throwing garbage out:
A half-folded box here, a bunch of badly glued boxes there, boxes glued together, boxes torn apart, etc.
You know the drill!
On the contrary, when you’re running the process by hand without folder-gluer packers or with only a packing help station/table, it doesn’t matter as much. This is because the packing personnel would manage to sort the rejects, put them aside, and pack the good boxes.
But the more you go up the way of automation, the more these folder-gluer inconsistencies will have to be considered in the packing process.
For example, if you do not have automatic inspection or ejection systems, then all the rejects will get through the compression belt and reach the post-gluing equipment. If this equipment is fully automated, then there’s no one to sort the inconsistencies out. So they have to get through or else cause a jam. This jam causes a buildup of boxes in front of the box turner, a jam in the auto case packer, a jam in the stacker pusher, etc. If all the machines are connected together (which we strongly recommend) this eventually triggers a complete folder-gluer stop:
A perfect recipe for a production disaster.
Quite frankly, this is the worst-case scenario that can happen, but it does happen sometimes. Fortunately, we’ve had the experience of going through those challenges over and over again in the last 20 years which made us well-equipped to face those issues head-on before, or when, they ever happen.
Ask for a pre-sale analysis: Find a machine maker/installer that would conduct a pre-sale analysis of your folder-gluer and any complementary equipment before you commit to signing anything.
At IMPACK, we send our team of experts to conduct a free performance analysis of your work methods, finishing department’s performance and production capabilities to assess your level of automation maturity and the suitability of different automation solutions.
Receive sufficient training: One of the most problem-preventative, yet least applied solutions is adequate training. We have seen time and time again situations where the pre-sale analysis went brilliantly, the machine installation went smoothly and everything seems to be going extraordinarily well until a bottleneck shows up out of nowhere.
That is when everyone gets stuck and panics. What should you do next?
Being well trained in operating your equipment, and maintaining a consistent level of operating knowledge across all operators, is necessary to sustain your productivity.
And the only way to achieve this is through getting training from the experts who manufactured and installed the machine itself.
Find a machine maker/installer that is willing to not only provide you training on the week of installation, but also refresher training on a regular basis to help you become the master of your own machines.
Yes, there is no “perfect” machine manufacturer, but there are some that are much better than others.
When evaluating different options of machine manufacturers, ask them about past problems they’ve experienced with their clients and machines.
Their answers will speak volumes about the only thing that matters in those types of relationships: a trusting partnership.
You do not want to reach a point of machine failure and regret every decision you’ve made on that machine.
Here at IMPACK, we provide complete training for our customers during and after a machine installation. This includes refresher training that is flexible and adaptable to your schedule. In addition, we walk our clients through the process of tuning their folder-gluer while taking into account the possibility of integrating a post-gluing solution i.e. packing help/aid or a packer.
Optimize workflow communication: The communication and workflow responsibilities between the folder-gluer operator and the packing personnel at the end of the packing line is fundamental.
You should know that even if you’re thinking about a fully automatic packer like IMPACK’S Virtuo or the other popular packers on the market (CartonPack, DianaPack , OmegaPack, SigPack, J-Pack), there’s still always going to be a person feeding the cases in the end. The only exception is if you integrate an automatic case feeder.
This means that optimizing your workflow communication methodologies is a necessity.
Develop folder-gluer interconnections: The interconnections between your folder-gluer reduce the downtime caused by jams. Reacting instantly to a problem will allow you to avoid a potent bottleneck and reduce the number of boxes thrown away.
An example of interlocking cartons.
Just like the post-gluing solution is strictly dependent on the folder-gluer machine, the same applies to the type of cartons you’re producing.
The prevailing problem related to cartons is interlocks. Interlocks are cartons interlocking together in the post-gluing process. They can take many forms and are sometimes very subtle.
These interlocks either cause jams or damage to the cartons themselves. They can happen in the box turner, batch inverter, packer or in all 3 combined.
The interlocks are caused by protruding flaps, handles and windows.
These little critters are everywhere!
Being hard to identify, yet present everywhere, they are one of the most critical aspects to consider during the box survey.
Identify and manage interlocks: The best way to avoid or tame interlocks is to identify them in the pre-sale analysis.
For the most part, you can manage to tame them in the post-gluing process by fine-tuning the shingle pitch more precisely and adjusting the guides with better care.
But sometimes they are just unavoidable and can become deal breakers in a project. So it’s crucial for you to catch them prior to closing a deal.
Have fall-back solutions: Having a fall-back solution can salvage your productivity when experiencing potent interlocks.
When we assess a persisting interlock hazard in the scope of a project, we’ll often propose a fall-back solution to our customer in order to make this box if not more productive at least more manageable. This can take the form of side-packing stations on an Ergosa or bypass conveyors on automated solutions.
This specific problem needs more context and could only surface as a difficulty once you start automating your post-gluing process.
As long as you are manually hand packing, your packing personnel will remain fully operational with the counter carton kicked on the folder-gluer. This counter carton being offset from the others in the shingle is seen by the packing person(s) so they can immediately grab the batch and process it.
Things get more complicated once you start adding automated processes and(or) box turners.
An example of an offset counter carton in the shingle being spotted by the packing person.
As for the box turners, some of them, such as our INH or the HandyPack, Omega Pack Station, Tünkers and other turners offered by different companies on the market, keep the kicked counter offset so a manual packing process can still be done as before. However, there are also other box turners such as our IN1, IN2 and IN3 that won’t always keep the kicked counter visible after the turn.
This box will often slip back into a homogenous shingle after turning. This means that there is no visual cue of the batch count for the packing person(s) who would now need an additional way to see the count.
As for the fully automatic packers, batch inverters and similar solutions, once you move the packing person from the batch making process to higher-value activities, you absolutely require an automatic counting and batch making device.
There are various ways to address this problem and different companies will propose distinct solutions based on your needs and their capabilities.
At IMPACK, we separate those solutions into two types: Marking devices and automatic counting and separation units.
Marking Devices: Those are the first counting devices we ever developed. By default, they are the simplest and most economical solutions in the semi-automatic category.
The basic principle is to apply a small amount of diluted optical brightener on the edge of the kicked cartons at the folder-gluer trombone. A picture of this procedure from one of our clients is depicted below.
Optical Brightener counter marked with IMPACK’S OBP system.
This optical brightener, used originally to bleach the carton, has the property of an invisible ink under normal light and glow under blacklights. We then add a “blacklight led array” at the operating station to make this mark visible by the packing person(s).
Note: We fully understand that this solution is not for everyone and some customers have doubts and concerns when it comes to adding marks to their cartons.To address all your questions, doubts and concerns related to how marking devices work, we dedicated an entire article just for this subject!
Counting and separating devices: Over the years we have developed our own automatic counting and separation device called the “Intro” unit which is included in all our fully automated packing and stacking solutions along with a standalone version for semi-automatic solutions.
IMPACK’S INTRO: An automated counting and separating device with a laser counter and double-belt system.
This device counts the box edges with a laser counter. Once the count is reached, a first belt section is stopped to block the incoming shingle. A second belt section is accelerated to pull the boxes into the downstream unit. Once the shingle separation is complete, the two sections start back.
Despite being a requirement as part of every fully automated solution, there are many other ways of doing this process.
Be sure to ask your machine manufacturer about the requirements of their counting and separating systems.
Below are 5 vital questions you should ask your machine manufacturer about:
These considerations will signal to you how versatile and fitting a machine manufacturer’s solution is.
No — we aren’t the best machine makers/installers for every person out there, but we’ve integrated all those considerations into our equipment design along with the cost, manufacturing process and footprint to provide you with a solution that would be tailored to your specific needs.
The final problem is an implication of the general principle of automating your post-gluing process.
Although your packing personnel might be able to inspect the cartons thoroughly in a manual process, this is no longer the case when you increase the speed of your gluer significantly. Taking this a step further, when going to a fully automated solution, it is technically impossible to inspect the cartons anymore.
Add to this the fact that increasing the speed will definitely lead to new challenges at the folder-gluer thereby causing a larger amount of rejects.
So, if you produce more rejects with less time for inspection then you could end up shipping rejects to your client which is something you certainly do not want to be doing.
Add inspection and ejection devices: To minimize this risk, you might consider adding inspection and ejection devices to your folder-gluer when possible.
Implement quality control methodologies: An alternative solution would be to explore how you would go from a thorough and systematic inspection to a less frequent inspection. There are various quality control and inspection methodologies like the MIL Standards for sampling or ISO standards for quality control that you may already be familiar with.
As we have seen, problems in machine operation happen and are common.
Every machine will eventually fail, break down or come across some sort of issue.
This is not to discourage you from exploring automation solutions but to hopefully help you become more aware of the potential problems that can happen so that you can avoid them if, and when, they happen.
Before you commit to any manufacturer, there are 3 key points you should consider:
1) Make sure you’ve established a good operation of your folder-gluer(s): Master your gluers before you think of automating your end of line process. This means pushing your folder-gluer to the limit. Failing to do so would lead to inconsistent output with many rejects.
2) Implement standard operating procedures (SOP) for the folder-gluer: Given that there is no overarching SOP, have a way of documenting your internal processes. This will allow you to achieve repetitive, standardized setups and consequently uniformity in your performance levels.
3) Integrate inspection and ejection systems: Depending on the manufacturer and age of your folder-gluer, these systems can either be offered as a standard add-on from the manufacturer, a custom project from a third party or a complex retrofit project.
Ask your folder-gluer manufacturer about their offer on these systems and if they don’t have a satisfying answer for your requirements, you are welcome to contact us so that we can redirect you to the right people to get the answers you need.
You want to automate your end of line process for better operational efficiency and not further operational problems, and it is our goal to create that reality.
Nobody wants to see you succeed as much as you do. And we want to offer a helping hand in guiding you through knowing what folder-gluer packer is right for you.
If you’re thinking of getting a folder-gluer packer but are still on edge, we have an article that might be of interest to you on what is a folder-gluer packer and do you really need one.
Director of Production and Engineering at IMPACK