Liquid Packing Solutions: The Rise Of New-Age Intelligence & Efficiency
Wednesday, July 29th, 2020
From manual operation to fully automatic, liquid filling and packing solutions have greatly evolved in the last few decades. Santhosh Ramakrishnan, Business Development Manager, Precia Molen Asia Pacific takes us down the technology lane for a glimpse into the challenges and development of high speed and high accuracy solutions in the liquid filling industry.
Volumetric and gravimetric are the two types of liquid-filling mechanisms. As the names suggest, volumetric takes the basis of the liquid volume for filling, while gravimetric is based on the weight of the liquid. To give you an example, the juice cans and colas that you see lined on a supermarket rack are filled using volumetric high-speed systems, which accounts for the occasional differences in weights of the cans.
However, today, our focus will be on gravimetric liquid-filling system that is known for its relatively high accuracy and as well for its predominant use in filling critical and expensive industrial liquids.
Of the two types of liquid (foaming and non-foaming), non-foaming products are filled by top-level filling, while foaming products and static charge generating liquids are filled by bottom-level filling. In the latter, the filling lance travels all the way down to the bottom of the container and rises up in multiple steps, which are programmed in the electronic controller.
Here’s a brief history of how liquid filling and packing solutions have evolved over time.
In earlier days, drums were filled manually by the operator and then weighed using a static weighing scale. It was not only tiresome and time-consuming, but also posed the issue of weighing accuracy and safety being largely compromised.
Then evolved the semi-automatic filling system in which the liquid is filled through a set weight target programmed in a programming controller with multiple options of recipe management and batching management. This system is still popular in the Asian economy owing to its high cost vs. benefit ratio even today.
In semi-automatic filling system, the filling lance is moved manually with the help of an operator, but all other operations are made automatic with several interlocks of safety. For instance, when the drum to be filled fails to be in place, the system intelligently recognizes the missing drum and does not proceed with filling. Similarly, when the lance hits the drum without entering the drum hole, the system generates a warning and aborts filling. Like above, there are numerous safety interlocks to ensure operator safety.
Further, an advanced technology of in-flight compensation that could measure the last few drops of liquid on air before reaching the drum was made possible through advancement in programming devices. In addition, multiple filling (up to four drums or IBC) on the same system depending on the size and capacity of the weight scale chosen was developed. Thus, the semi-automatic filling system proved advantageous of never having to deal with operator negligence and over-filling.
Later on, with further development in automation, the movements of the lance were automated through motor-and-remote control for forward/reverse and left /right movements of the lance. This greatly increased the operator efficiency and reduced their physical efforts though did not totally eliminate the need of an operator.
Today, semi-automatic filling systems have evolved to filling of multi-level and multi-layers of drums, which allow the filling of multiple drums/cans using the same machine by stacking them into layers and in multiple levels.
Furthermore, to toss in increased flexibility in filling, mobile filling systems are being introduced where the filling station can be moved on a trolley to various locations in order to fill the liquid.
As a step further to eliminate manual operation, conveyor automations to support the empty drum/pallet movements through traffic control via sensor management are implemented. De-palletisers are widely popular that help to store several empty pallets and automatically release the pallets for filling, based on sensor automations. Additional operations—automatic capping, bunging, and de-bunging—are becoming popular, as well.
As most industrial liquids are highly corrosive and explosive in nature, fully compatible ATEX solutions with closed hood are provided to enhance the safety of operators. ATEX solutions are adapted to the nature of the liquid, surrounding atmosphere and are available for multiple zone (Zone 0, Zone 1, Zone 2) for both gases and dust.
The aforementioned processes apply as well to decanting machines that empty a drum or IBC and pack into smaller drums or process tanks.
As Asia is moving towards fully-automatic machines that are devoid of human intervention, the need to implement advanced systems are on a rise. To mention some, automatic drum movement with traffic management, lance positioning and auto-filling based on sensors, auto-labelling machines, capping machines, induction sealing, an additional checkweigher to double check the weight, and robotic palletisers to remove the filled drums and pack them using wrapper machines.
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