At PPMA 2018, Brillopak presented its groundbreaking innovation, a new affordable ultra-high speed top seal case packer.
Responding to market requests for a versatile, speedy yet affordable top seal punnet packer, the system, which is priced from £87,500, caters specifically to the fresh produce market, where productivity and profit margins are under intense pressure.
Designed to match typical packhouse line speeds of top seal machines widely used in UK fresh produce packing environments, Brillopak’s new BR2 and BR5 Punnet Packer machines reach a top speed of 120 and 180 packs per minute. The concept has impressed several customers so much they have already placed an off-plan order.
Although currently sitting in the top 10 fastest growing food industries, the fresh produce sector ranks 40th for profitability, third from the bottom of the list of all food sectors compiled by business analyst Plimsoll. Since the Brexit referendum, 193 of the UK’s 1225 leading fresh produce companies have reportedly lost more than a quarter of their value in the last 12 months.
Brillopak director David Jahn rationalises: “Fresh produce is an extremely marginal business and profits continue to be squeezed by inflation, surging commodity costs and price-sensitive consumers. The Plimsoll survey reports that last year each fresh produce firm averaged pre-tax margins of just 1.2%.”
Capable of loading up to 180 top seal punnets and top seal trays per minute into full and half-sized crates, as well as lipped boxes, the BR Punnet Packer Series maximises throughput by collating product into a full layer, lifting and lowering in one seamless motion into the crate or box.
David explains. “The most common dilemma in punnet packing is not the movement of products, but managing the container in which they are being placed. For example, with soft fruits, K37 is the most popular punnet size. However, because of the dimensions – 184x118x35mm – this size especially is a tight fit when placing into a tapered crate that is narrow at bottom.”
He continues: “With punnets we are dealing with a pack shape that can vary by three millimetres. This can cause punnet edges to catch, overlap or flip when inserting into retailer containers. This in turn slows the line down while an operator manually resolves the issue and flattens the layer, before the next layer can be stacked on top.
“For many years this has held punnet packers back from investing in a fully automated system,” claims David.
To resolve this longstanding issue, Brillopak’s engineers have utilised traditional mechanical techniques redeploying them in innovative ways to both increase speed and maintain consistency of packing. Layers are collated to the side of the container. A crate-sized vacuum end-effector then gently suctions the entire layer, lifting it just enough for a supporting plate to retract, before lowering and pressing the punnets gently into place in the crate.
Nothing protrudes and as a result no manual intervention is required. The cycle time is literally lift, lower, push, lift, lower, push – next container, emphasises David.
Designed as a versatile, standalone system, David believes that the BR Punnet Packer has cracked another industrial automation drawback. “A lot of case loaders feature bespoke elements and are designed around a specific line. This affects design, build, lead and installation times, plus makes projects higher risk, not to mention costlier.”
The BR Punnet Packer can effectively be interlocked with any top seal machine on the market. Many of the latest tray seal models handle a wide variety of pack sizes and sealing formats and the BR Punnet Packer works in synergy with all these developments automatically adjusting to the different packs sizes and case formats In addition to soft fruit punnets, the system is equally adept for loading tray sealed fruit, vegetables, meats, fish and shellfish into containers.
“Tray sealing is rapidly becoming the most popular method to maintain product freshness, with products coming out of the sealing machines at rocket speeds,” adds David. “Given the additional uncertainty faced with Brexit and uncertainty over export and trade tariffs, the future viability of fresh produce companies rests on boosting productivity, being able to adapt swiftly to new supplier arrangements and packing formats, with minimal investment and the quickest ROI.
“By matching these line speeds we can ensure that loading containers is no longer detrimental to efficiency, productivity and therefore profitability.”
With a price tag of £87,500 for the 120ppm model – almost twice the speed of semi-automated case loading and 20ppm faster than the company’s Unipick automated case loading – Brillopak is making automation affordable and accessible to SMEs. Through labour savings and productivity gains alone, David estimates that the BR Punnet Packer Series can deliver a 12-month return on investment.