Ultimate flexibility for scalable aseptic filling
For more than 30 years, Flexicon has been established as the preferred choice for aseptic liquid filling for GMP regulated industries, such as biotechnology and diagnostics
Flexicon’s products scale with your business. From the intuitive, easy-to-use design of our ergonomic pumpheads, through to the modular design of manual, semi and automatic systems, our products feature a grow-with-me concept to meet your fill/finish needs.
Our experience in engineering accurate and reliable bottle filling machine for sensitive fluids in GMP production and cleanroom environments, means we provide solutions to optimise your fill/finish processes.
As part of the Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group, Flexicon’s engineering is backed by a global network of specialist and technical support engineers, who can help optimise your complete development and filling process, wherever you are in the world.
At the heart of all our filling systems is the gentle pumping action of our peristaltic fillers, which ensure your valuable product is transferred without cross contamination or damage to viability and product quality.
Leveraging our expertise in peristaltic engineering has helped to optimise the performance of companies filling processes worldwide. Whether those companies are developing Advanced Therapy Medical Products (ATMP) or looking to quickly—and safely—scale-up their batch production, we can help develop a system tailored to your needs.
Whether you’re a newcomer to the world of liquid filling equipment or an experienced user looking to upgrade or change your production line, browsing websites and product catalogues in the search to source a suitable machine can be more than a little confusing.
Overflow or gravity machine? Piston or pump? Automatic, semi-automatic or manual? Hot or cold-filling? In-line or rotary filling? Off-the-shelf or turnkey? Fortunately, with so many choices out there you’re likely to find the ideal solution for your particular application – however, finding it requires that you do a bit of homework and adopt a systematic approach.
To simplify the process, you may find this guide to liquid filling equipment useful. It identifies key questions which will help you narrow down your search and focus only on those systems that meet your objectives.
The first question to ask is what product is being filled?
Not all liquids are the same. Some are free-flowing, others are very viscous. Some contain particulates or flammable ingredients, others are foamy whilst the viscosity of some products may change when the temperature changes. The important thing to remember is that type of liquid filling equipment that you choose has to be compatible with the product type. For example, a gravity filler is more suitable for thin products, piston fillers are a better option for thick products than overflow automatic liquid filling machine and bottom-up filling machines are used for foamy products.
Another key question to ask is what type of container is being filled?
In many instances, the type of container or bottle will dictate the type of filling technique and the more you know about the attributes of the container, the better. What material is it made from (e.g. glass, aluminium, plastic) and what are its dimensions and characteristics? This information is important because it will determine the optimum performance of the equipment and the best equipment type. For example, an automatic bottle filler which grabs a container from the side may not actually be the best option if your container is very wide and a top filler may not work if your container has an unusually-shaped cap or lid.
You need to ask how many containers do you want to fill every hour?
Knowing your production rate is also a crucial factor in your equipment selection.
A semi-automatic filling machine would be a cost-effective and reliable solution for smaller production runs like those in a laboratory or in a start-up venture, whilst an automatic filling machine with a sizeable conveyor is ideal for larger-scale operations with much higher production rates. For operations with very low production rates and no expansion plans such as a home brewing venture or small-scale home-made sauce business, a manual machine could fit the bill.
You also need to ask yourself, how do you want the final fill-level in your container or bottles to look?
Appearance does count, and different filling systems have different outcomes. For example, a liquid level machine will fill every container to the same specified level regardless of the volume of the product, making it a preferred product where uniformity is important. On the other hand, a volumetric filler will fill a container with the identical volume of liquid even when the fill levels may appear to be variable. Volumetric fillers generally cost more as they require specialized instruments for calibration, balance and timing.
Some of the types of liquid filling machines include:
gravity fed fillers (a good, cost-effective option for efficient volumetric filling especially for low viscosity and foamy liquids);
piston fillers which use a highly accurate volumetric filling technique, ideal for thick or highly viscous liquids. These are divided into two types, namely check-valve piston fillers and rotary valve piston fillers;
pump fillers which are very versatile and suitable for a wide range of liquids and viscosities
in-line filling machines (a cost-effective choice for filling containers in a line) which are suitable for those operations where different container sizes are involved; and
rotary filling machines (which are often much larger and more specialized) for faster speeds and higher production rates.
Another question is whether your filling equipment can be modified if your needs change?
It’s often not necessary to buy new equipment just because your business has expanded or you want to add new products or packaging to your line. An experienced manufacturer will have the knowledge and skills to advise whether your liquid filling system can be modified and will make recommendations to future-proof your investment.
Choosing the best liquid filling equipment is a complex decision and many factors need to be considered. From product characteristics and container attributes to fill size, production rates, regulatory issues, safety requirements and expansion plans, if you answer the questions highlighted above, you’ll be in a strong position to make an informed choice which factors in all of these issues.
However, your best option is to talk directly to industry professionals, like AccuPak. They are one of Australia’s largest suppliers of all types of packing and filling equipment and they will work with you to identify the most cost-effective and practical solution. They know the critical factors required from all packing, filling, bagging and palletizing machinery and equipment – i.e. versatility, flexibility, reliability, accuracy and affordability – and if you’re interested in finding out how they can help you achieve your objectives, get in touch with them on 03 8804 1529 or visit accupak.com.au.
A walk down the grocery store aisle will exemplify the overwhelming amount of beverage products to choose from these days. Even with the existing wide variety of flavors and concepts within each drink category, consumers seem to want even more. For example, one of the fastest-growing segments in the beverage industry continues to be craft beer. Even after the beginning of its meteoric rise a few years back, the number of specialty beers with unique ingredients and different styles continues to proliferate with other craft alcohol producers, such as cider and spirits, following close behind. To keep up, many facilities are designing and installing additional liquid filling lines.
“As product lines continue to evolve to match expanding consumer demands, manufacturers are seeking flexible equipment that allows for product modifications—without breaking the bank,” says Paul Grainger, technical key account direct or North America for Tetra Pak. “Today’s equipment simply must be designed to accommodate a diverse range of products in order to be viable.”
Additionally, to maximize production efficiency, many are turning to high-capacity and more automated equipment that provides this flexibility. Still top of mind, though, are accuracy, minimizing product waste, reducing changeover times and simplifying sanitation. Liquid filling equipment providers are working to meet all these needs and more.When picking a specific 5 litre liquid filling machine, a good place to start is to know the exact characteristics of the liquid product. Is it a free-flowing liquid? This might work better with a timed-flow fill machine where the same volume of product is delivered each cycle. What if the product is more viscous? For that, a positive displacement liquid filler might be the way to go.
“Product specification is the most important parameter that we, at Bosch Packaging Technology, need in order to identify a suitable piece of filling equipment for our customers,” says Jonathan Viens, manager of North American sales and marketing. “We are talking about product characteristics, such as filling temperature, particulates, tendency of the product to splash or froth, etc.”
He explains that if a company is trying to dispense baby food into containers, Bosch would suggest servo-driven aseptic1 litre filling machine with full-metal pistons. This type of equipment helps address precision in filling a product that is highly viscous and particulate rich, but also avoids weight fluctuations or overfill issues.
For products that need special attention paid to minimizing microorganisms and ensuring food safety, such as juices, hot-fill technology for hygienic bottles will be needed. This was the case when Coca-Cola Canners in South Africa started bottling iced tea, sports drinks and juices with and without fruit chunks. The facility had two existing PET bottling lines, but due to the high-pulp content of the juice, a new line was needed.
The company employed KHS, a manufacturer of filling and packaging equipment, to install a hot-fill line. The content is heated to over 100°C and filled at a temperature of approximately 83°C. The line can fill up to 48,000 bottles per hour, sized between 0.3 and 1.5 liters. To avoid damaging the fruit chunks during the filling, the line was equipped with two precision volumetric fillers where the fruit pieces are first bottled with a small amount of juice before the second filler tops off the bottles with pure juice. This understanding of the filler’s impact on the final product is important, especially for sensitive liquids.
“Some yogurts tend to ‘shear’ when being forced through small openings,” says Jan Sundberg, applications development manager for JBT Corporation. “The filler needs to have gentle handling inside the filler bowl/hopper and also as the product flows through the valve. Larger porting and short, straight paths for the product flow are key to minimizing any damage.” For instance, features like extra elbows, pipes and pumps can change the viscosity of a product, so eliminating them for these applications could offer protection against damage.
“Products like creams or oily dressings can only be dosed with a specific dosing station, for example, positive valve,” says Viens. “Otherwise, the rotary movement in standard dosing stations could damage the product, or the pump design could separate the oil from the base product.”
When bottling a product like beer, which has a tendency to foam, gentle filling is paramount. Breweries want to limit the amount of oxygen picked up by the beer as much as possible during the filling process, but also want to maximize throughput. To help address these issues, Krones has equipped its Modulfill filler with a level probe that includes a swirl.
“The swirl gently guides the liquid to the bottle wall and in the bottle,” says Stefan Kraus, product manager for filling technology. “Additionally, the filling valve is equipped with two different filling speeds. The result is a gentle filling process with low turbulence and less foaming behavior.”
Product and container versatility
Because of the wide variety of products being packaged at plants, more processors are looking for fillers that can handle multiple concepts. Equipment providers understand this, but might not be able to deliver a panacea yet.
“In the world of food, the day of ‘one filler fits all’ still hasn’t arrived due to the wide range of product characteristics,” says Viens with Bosch, which acquired filling and sealing equipment manufacturer Osgood Industries, Inc. in 2015. When Bosch Osgood introduced its tank-style pump, part of the objective was to address this need for fillers to handle many different types of products. Thus, the tank-style pump can handle a range of products, from liquid juice to viscous vat-set yogurt. “With this solution, the pistons that are used to pump the product are located inside the hopper. An even distribution of product above each piston and tight tolerances offer the user excellent lane-to-lane repeatability and eliminate the need for dynamic O-rings on the piston head.”
“Customers are demanding that new filling equipment is more versatile and can handle a full range of varying products,” says Sundberg. As a result, the JBT Unifiller filler can handle products with a thin, watery consistency to thick, chunky products with high solid content and large particulates. “[It] is a unique volumetric piston filler with short product paths and larger porting.” Additionally, the fill nozzles are designed for specific applications and can be easily exchanged.
Krones 6 head liquid filling machine are also designed with flexibility in mind, says Kraus. As an example, he cites some of the company’s filling equipment that can be adjusted automatically via the filling probe, which addresses improved automatization as well.
For most of its filling machines, Serac uses net weight filling technology, which controls the amount of product dispensed into the container to give an accurate measure of what is inside. Alan Bonanno, marketing manager for Serac, says because aeration, temperature and viscosity do not affect the accuracy of a net weight filler, it can handle a variety of products with different characteristics.
Product flexibility isn’t the only filling demand, but the shapes, sizes and materials used in different containers being filled are also highly variable. Knowing the type of container is important for packaging providers to understand, says Viens, as it “will drive the configuration on numerous machine stations and the number of lanes required.”