Today’s cardboard packaging market demands more and more personalization with shorter production runs and boxes with shapes as diverse as they are varied.
This requires not only ever more flexible folder-gluers but also more flexible packers that can be integrated onto those gluers and be adaptable enough to meet the market’s complex needs.
Can a folder-gluer packer actually boost my folder-gluer’s productivity?
Is there an unbiased comparison between the different folder-gluer packers out there?
How do I know which folder-gluer packer is right for me?
As manufacturers and installers of folder-gluer packaging equipment and peripherals, we get asked those questions all the time.
This article is my effort to provide a clear, unbiased and objective comparison between the 4 categories of folder-gluer packers and expose the true differences without holding anything back.
My approach will be straightforward: I will define each category, list the pros and cons of each, compare the 4 categories and then back off so that you make your own decision.
Before I define each category, it’s noteworthy to mention that those are our own definitions and not dictionary definitions. Each category can offer a range of solutions with varying degrees, scopes and levels of automation.
However, those definitions are “informally embraced” as the industry-standard and most solutions on the market squarely fit within one of those 4 categories.
1. Manual: The manual process is the lowest level of automation and is usually the starting point of a folder-gluer operation. It is the traditional packing method where the entire packing process is done manually. No case management is involved.
2. Semi-Auto: The semi-auto process is the first step towards case management. The operator of the folder-gluer packer remains the key factor of the packing process with the help of at least one auto function.
3. Auto: The auto-process is where the machine becomes the key factor of the packing process. The operator now becomes limited to background tasks like feeding the folder-gluer packer with cases or managing full cases.
4. Full-Auto: Of all 4 categories, the full-auto process is the highest possible level of automation. The whole packing process here becomes automatically managed without requiring the presence of an operator (or any other humans) while running. The operator is only involved in make-readies/setups.
If you want a more in-depth explanation of the 4 different levels of automation, our article “What’s the Difference between Manual, Semi-Auto, Auto and Fully-Auto Folder-Gluer Packers?” digs deeper into those 4 automation levels and explicitly describes how they compare to one another!
A Right-Angle Packer (Manual Packing) that we saw during one of our client visits.
IMPACK’S Ergosa: A semi-automatic packer with the performance of an automatic packer. (Note: This specific Ergosa A was custom built as an XL size for one of our clients and is much larger than our standard Ergosa A’s).
Full disclosure: Because there are hardly any known folder-gluer packers on the market that fit within the semi-auto category, we based those “pros” on our semi-automatic packer: The Ergosa series.
IMPACK’s Virtuo: One of the only automatic packers on the market that can handle both carton and corrugated board.
IMPACK’s Fully-automatic packing solution: The Virtuo Packer + IN3 XL Box turner paired with an Automatic Case Feeder (ACF).
To make the comparison of the 4 categories simpler, we’ve rated each category on a scale of 1-5 based on 5 key criteria.
Those 5 criteria were selected as the “key” based on our data which shows that these are the 5 key deciding factors that clients focus on when choosing a folder-gluer packer.
Since each category includes distinct solutions of varying levels (or ranges) of automation, most categories are also ranked in ranges. For example, 1-2, 2-4, 3-4, etc. with 5 being the highest score in each category.
|Price||1-2||2-4||3-4||5||5 means most expensive|
|Ergonomics||1-2||2-4||4-5||N/A||5 means most ergonomic|
|Versatility||3-5||3-5||2||1||5 means most versatile|
|Performance||1||2-4||4-5||4-5||5 means best performance|
|Maintenance||1-2||1-3||3-4||4-5||5 means needs most maintenance|
The price naturally follows the complexity. In other words, the further you go up towards full-automation, the more expensive the solution will be.
It is important for you to know that this comparison table does not reflect the fact that going from an auto process to a fully-auto might sometimes dramatically increase the cost.
Don’t let those impressive fully-auto packer videos obscure your assessment of options when making a decision on a folder-gluer packer. Always keep your ROI as the first and foremost deciding factor when choosing what folder-gluer packer is right for you.
Unless your goal is to have the *shiniest* machine on the floor of course!
Manual processes do not really offer much, if any, ergonomic gains.
All the box lifting and joint stress lead to injuries and is very commonly the primary concern in some of the projects we work on with clients. Going the semi-auto path will significantly increase the ergonomics in your packing process.
What about an auto process?
Well since the work involved is usually not very labor-intensive, it’s usually the most ergonomic solution.
And in the fully-auto process, ergonomics is simply irrelevant! There are no humans involved. The machine does all the groundwork for you.
Manual packing help stations and semi-auto packers are unquestionably the most versatile.
But their level of versatility depends on the specific technicalities of the process.
Some machines, for example, are just incapable of processing an under stacked shingle of 4-corners or crash-lock/auto-bottom boxes. On the other hand, others can process quite-literally anything you throw at them!
When it comes to auto and fully-auto packers, you inevitably sacrifice versatility for the sake of performance. It’s the natural trade-off of automation.
This is because those types of gluer packers require perfect control of your folder-gluer and are not tolerant of quality problems, adjustments, corrections or any modifications in the slightest.
A critical point to recognize is that a well-optimized semi-auto packer can easily reach the performance of an auto packer whilst maintaining the versatility of a semi-auto packer.
In other words, you cannot have the versatility of a semi-auto packer with an auto-packer, but you can reach the performance of an auto-packer with a semi-auto packer.
This explains why we dedicate a lot of time and R&D to the development of our semi-auto packer, the Ergosa.
As far as a full-auto packer is concerned, it won’t always give you more performance and certainly not better speed.
In fact, the ROI is completely focused on labor reduction in a fully-auto process.
The more you go up towards full-automation, the more you have to consider maintenance as a requirement to sustain, and consistently improve, your folder-gluer’s productivity.
All machines can and will eventually fail, breakdown or come across issues. That is common and okay. It is what a company can do to fix them, and maintain that, is what truly matters.
Having a proper maintenance plan in place is crucial to help you achieve the greatest payback out of your machines and reduce production loss caused by breakdowns.
That said, maintenance is also more expensive with auto and fully-auto packers and will require more time and technical/digital expertise.
The IMPACK Team testing the MFA Batch Inverter for crash-lock/auto-bottom boxes.
So, what folder-gluer packer is best for me?
Ultimately, it all depends on what works best for your production, needs and company’s budget.
But I won’t leave you here.
To help you have a better idea of which folder-gluer packer is right for you, ask yourself the following 6 important questions and note down your answers:
Your answers to those 6 important questions will be your stepping stone to choosing the best folder-gluer packer for your production.
The next steps would be:
1. Discover how to improve the productivity of your folder-gluer with $0 investment and only with the equipment you have
2. Next, once you’ve pushed your folder-gluer to its maximum potential, you may want to start exploring the world of folder-gluer packaging equipment and peripherals
Director of Production and Engineering at IMPACK