Sunday 20th Jun, 2021

Pack to the future

Concetti’s automated packaging lines are making work safer, more effective and leaving operators happier. ABHR speaks to Trevor Mitford, Concetti Sales Manager, to find out how.

Trevor Mitford remembers how busy production halls were in the 1970s. He describes the facilities as busy, with dozens of people working across multiple lines to package material into bags.

Back then, he says, automated machinery was an uncommon sight and most of the work was performed manually.

“With up to three people working on one bagging line, a few people palletising and someone operating a forklift, there’d often be around six or so people per line. If you’ve got a facility with five lines, that’s 30 people in a production hall at the same time,” he says.

Mitford, now a sales manager at the Concetti Group, has worked on almost every aspect on a production line since he was 16 years old. Now, he helps businesses upgrade and automate their infrastructure to substantially increase efficiency.

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Automation in the sector is not a new development. In 1968, Teodoro Concetti laid the foundations for the company when he created and patented one of the first machines for bagging bulk products. Seven years later, the business began offering turnkey solutions that handled weighing, bag feeding, bag closing and palletising.

This technology developed over the decades, incorporating new electronic equipment and digital technology to make it more accurate and easier to operate.

Mitford says that now, many of those production halls are massively automated in developed companies.

“If you were to walk into one of those production halls now, there might be around five to six people on the floor, one person on each line and one to operate the forklifts,” he says.

“In some cases, this can go even further through the use of automated guided vehicles in warehouse environments – effectively creating a fully automated packaging line from hopper to pallet.”

Over the past few years, Concetti has focused on designing machines that can automatically handle product changeover. In many production facilities, a single line can be responsible for packaging multiple products. For example, a pet food manufacturer might change a line from a beef flavoured product to a chicken one or change from a 10-kilogram bag to a 25-kilogram one.

When this happens, the entire line needs to be updated to ensure the product remains uniform and that there is minimal cross contamination. This can take up to 30 minutes, if not longer, when performed manually. Concetti’s automated lines can handle this format change and perform them within 60 to 90 seconds, reducing downtime significantly.

Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things have further augmented Concetti’s offering, allowing the company’s machines to take advantage of greater device connectivity to help monitor and optimise performance.

Mitford says this technology is what enabled companies to react and adapt quickly to COVID-19.

“Social distancing and COVID-19 have drastically changed whole aspect of the working environment” he says.

“Businesses have an obligation to protect their employees and their production. If COVID-19 had come around five years ago, the industry wouldn’t have had the tools to safely separate employees due to the ergonomics of their facilities.

“Concetti has focused on making production less reliant on the workforce and making it easy for a single operator to manage a line, improving safety significantly.”

Traditionally, packaging lines are made up of multiple devices that perform different functions, such as weighing, bagging, printing and palletising. Each of these devices would often have its own control panel and require an operator to move from one panel to another to ensure it was operating effectively.

Concetti found that this was often too difficult for one person to handle, leading to multiple operators working on the same line. Instead, Concetti adds as much automation between each component so that a single operator can comfortably manage the machine.

When the company is undertaking a project, one of its sales team will speak with the current operation team and actively involve them in design discussions.

Mitford says this involved asking them questions about what they are facing the most difficulty with, which material is hardest to work with, or what formats are challenging to implement.

Following this, the company designs and installs the line in its Italian factory, using the customers product to test its effectiveness.

“We invite our customers to Italy to witness the tests and we always encourage they bring along the lead operator – the person that is going to be in charge of the line when it is installed,” Mitford says.

“This keeps them included in the project and means that when the machine arrives on site, they have a sense of ownership. A happy operator is important and finding out what makes their life easier is part of this.”

Concetti’s packaging lines are designed with an easy-to-use human machine interface, along with an intuitive touch screen and graphic interface. Ease of maintenance is also a main factor. Automatic cleaning systems can be installed to reach difficult spots and have proved popular among operators, as it reduces time spent working close to messy and unpleasant material.

“A happy operator means a happy production manager,” Mitford says. “And a happy production manager often means a healthy bottom line.”