Automation, product safety, data collection and pack safety: these were the primary topics addressed by the GEA Packaging Convention 2017. This event offers customers new ideas on how to organize their day-to-day packaging processes to increase performance and thus also the efficiency of their machine technology without making any sacrifices in terms of safety.

For smaller companies, automation is playing an ever more important role in this. Within the framework of the necessary automation processes, service is also becoming ever more important.

It is our goal to increase added value in the various packaging tasks,” Volker Sassmannshausen, responsible product manager for thermoformers at GEA concluded. “That is what we work on day after day.” 

GEA PowerPak
GEA PowerPak

New innovations for the PowerPak thermoformer were presented that offer tailored solutions from a single source for the packaging of their food products and guarantee efficiency, security of investment and a high level of availability. 

“We are constantly working on the primary packaging concerns,” Volker Sassmannshausen said. “On the one hand, it is about securing product quality, improving system performance, lowering operating costs and minimizing the use of resources. On the other hand, it is about personnel costs, but also about not finding enough workers, which has led to a growing need for automation solutions.” 

Automation: Slicing and packaging for beginners

Semi-automation and automation are moving ever further into the focus of the discussion on how to achieve efficiency in the packaging of food products, confectioneries and baked goods. “We see ourselves as a solution provider for our customers. It is our goal to continually develop further innovations for them to secure productivity and machine availability in the long term,” Sassmannshausen explained. An entry-level thermoformer makes GEA-quality packaging accessible to a larger group of manufacturers. 

Introduced for the first time at the IFFA trade fair, the GEA DeltaPak thermoformer, a packaging machine that was developed for smaller volumes, seasonal goods and for decentralized packaging operations, has now been combined with a GEA UniSlicer to create the GEA EasyLine. This line requires very little space and is both easy to operate and clean. “This solution rests upon tried and tested technology and makes it possible for smaller as well as start-up companies to benefit from the advantages of the respective machine technology,” Sassmannshausen said with conviction. The line offers manufacturers an economical solution for semi-automated slicing and packaging from a single source. 

This flexible design can handle a wide range of applications and uses vacuum or MAP packaging methods. No matter whether the packaging process is for piece goods or cold cuts stacked or in overlapping or zigzag arrangement: the semi-automated machine can be configured according to customer specifications to meet virtually any packaging needs. 

Product safety: product recalls become a thing of the past

The market for modified atmosphere packaging is experiencing continuous growth. Retailers and consumers expect lasting product durability, which in turn has an effect on the hygiene and quality requirements that manufacturers have to meet. “It was our goal to develop a system that can check 100 percent of the packs produced non-destructively and to separate out all packs that do not meet the specifications as they leave the packaging machine,” Sassmannshausen explained.

GEA OxyCheck MAP packaging

The solution is called GEA OxyCheck and is the world’s first in-line oxygen measurement system that checks 100 percent of the modified atmosphere packaging in a production batch. A sensor spot is applied to the inside of the packaging film. A sensor in the packaging machine activates the luminescence of the sensor spot on the film. Then, the amount of light emitted by the sensor spot is translated into the oxygen concentration depending upon the temperature. Each individual pack is thus checked non-invasively for leakage during the packaging process within the thermoformer, without, as was common in the past, being destroyed through invasive testing procedures. 

This makes costly spot checks, the method used up until this point to check approx. one percent of the packs produced, obsolete. The packaging machine does not have to be stopped, but runs continuously. The system works non-destructively, films and seals remain intact, there is no loss of either product or film material. Since only approved packs enter the supply chain, recalls of whole batches tend towards zero. “All target groups benefit from GEA OxyCheck. The system helps make certain that food products reach supermarket shelves and thus consumers in perfect condition,” Sassmannshausen summarized the advantages of the system.

Labelling with no ifs, ands or buts

The PowerPak thermoformer has been equipped with the latest generation of the TiroLabel labeler. This labeler features a patented motor/finger system that ensures that labels are applied securely and precisely to the top and bottom film. It was possible to increase the effective speed by up to 25 percent. This means that only one labeler instead of two is needed for many applications, which reduces investment costs for labelling and thermoforming equipment. In addition, both machines require less space. An integrated control cabinet has made the labeler more compact, while the packaging machine has been shortened by up to two meters. After all: production space is very expensive and should be put to better use. 

In contrast to earlier generations, customers benefit from faster processing and less energy consumption. Furthermore, the product feed area was increased from 40 to 50 mm. In contrast to conventional systems, no compressed air is used since the applicator heads are driven by modern electric motors. And because the system does not rely on pneumatic cylinders, the accuracy of label placement is no longer dependent upon possible fluctuations in compressed air. The 10” touch panel makes it easier to change printing formats and avoid operating errors. 

New end-of-line pick-and-place system

GEA CombiPick combines a lane converger with a pick-and-place system. It separates out defective and empty packs directly after the longitudinal cutting module to ensure that only products free of defects are fed to the machines downstream via a single-lane outfeed. Now available, this compact system promises the greatest level of flexibility and functionality at significantly lower volume of investment as compared with Delta robotics.

Data collection: Service plans for Industry 4.0

GEA’s PerformancePlus service plans help plant operators comply with the Industry 4.0 strategy and include both condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. A range of different services are available to customers that are tailored to meet their specific needs. These go far beyond the classic scope of service and maintenance. For example, based on the data gathered through online condition monitoring and expert knowledge, critical components are monitored and exchanged before they can malfunction. A record is made of any error messages made by the system. These are then analyzed, possible solutions are developed and then compiled into a report that is sent to the customers. System process parameters can be made directly available to the customers’ control systems. 

This is a source of valuable information for the customers to help them decide how to make more economical use of their systems – even should unanticipated requirements arise. The plan provides transparency about the actual state of the equipment, increases its availability, enables maximum productivity and minimizes losses, thereby increasing profitability, uncovering potentials for optimizing efficiency and enabling the sustainable management of the respective packaging line.

We want to make our customers more competitive, while taking the continually changing requirements into account,” Thomas Tesche, Service Product Manager, explained.

However, these are not the only advantages: PerformancePlus can also assess the opportunities and risks of a change in order size, optimize order schedules from an economic standpoint, thereby increasing the productivity of the entire operation.

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