Automatic Packaging Machinery and Changeovers

While some packaging equipment is manufactured for a single product sold in a single package, this is the exception rather than the norm. In most cases, even a single product will be packaged in several different sized containers, and many packers will produce, prepare and sell a number of different products. Luckily, automated packaging machinery can be manufactured to handle a range of products and containers, so in most cases a single packaging line will work for all of the products and packages. Changeover, in this context, referring to the process of moving a product line from one product or package to another. Although the steps will differ based on the design of the packaging machinery, we will take a look at the typical changeover process.


Changing over a product will be slightly more simple than changing over a bottle or other container, in that the only piece of packaging machinery that will directly handle the product is the filling machine. Packagers will typically run through a filling machine cleaning process before changing products, though this may not always be true. The cleaning process may require some disassembly to clear the product pathway and avoid cross contamination from product to product. However, many automatic liquid fillers will include a CIP, or clean-in-place, system that will allow the cleaning process to be completed with the push of a button.

From here, filler settings may need to be adjusted if the products vary at all in viscosity or other aspects (for example, if one product foams but the other does not). Most automated machines will include an interface and a control panel in one location that will allow the operator to quickly and easily adjust fill times, indexing times, dive times and other settings critical to the performance of the machinery. In addition, many of these machines will include recipe screens, allowing all of the settings for a particular product to be recalled by entering a simple number on the correct screen. Once the setting are complete, the bulk supply for the new product can be hooked to the machine and production can begin to run again.


Changing over the container means adjusting not just the liquid filler, but every other component of the packaging line as well, making the process slightly more complex. First, the conveyors for the packaging system will need to be changed over to accommodate the new bottle sizes, both height and width if necessary. These changes are normally simple hand knob adjustments that will allow guiderails to be slid up and down as well in and out, although some models may require the loosening and tightening of bolts. Once the conveyor is adjusted for the new container, each individual machine will need to be adjusted as well.

Container cleaning equipment will be adjusted in much the same way that the filler was adjusted above, minus the cleaning procedure. Rinser settings for times and indexing will be set for the individual container being run and height may need to be adjusted. Like the filler, the rinsing machine will typically include an operator interface and control panel allowing for centralized set up. Also like the filler, many automatic machines also include recipe screens that allow for quick and simple recording and recall of all necessary settings. When changing over the container, rinse heads may need to be adjusted as well, by loosing and tightening hand knobs so that one rinse head corresponds to one container within the rinse or wash area. To determine the proper location, operators of the packaging system will line bottles up on the conveyor belt after adjusting the indexing based on the type of indexing being used on the individual machine.

The filling machine set up described above will also apply for the changeover of a container, although the cleaning process may not be needed if the same product is being run (of course there are occasions where both product and package will be changed). In addition to adjusting the fill times, indexing times and other settings – or using the recipe screen to do the same – fill heads and filler height will need to be adjusted. While different height adjustments exist, most automatic machines will include a power height adjustment, allowing for the raising or lowering of the machine at the turn of a switch. Fill head adjustments will be made by lining up the containers side by side on the conveyor belt and loosening hand knobs to slide nozzles into place, just as was done for the container cleaning equipment.

Capping machines may require several adjustments for a container changeover, depending on the type of cap and equipment in place. In general terms, capper components such as tightening disks, gripper belts or snap belts will require some adjustment to height and width to ensure a stable bottle and reliable sealing of the container. While recipe screens are less common for capping equipment, rulers and other markings may be used to indicate the different settings for different containers and caps. In addition, automatic capping equipment will normally include cap delivery systems. These systems may also require slight adjustments to correspond to the container and closure being run on the packaging system.

Labeling equipment will need to be adjusted based not only on the container, but also on the type of label being used. A change in label size or application will usually require adjustment to the height, width and speed of the equipment. In addition, the label roll itself will likely need to be changed when the container is changed. Labeling machines will often utilize bottle separating equipment as well, to ensure that containers are not too close when passing through the machine, causing a single label to attach to multiple bottles or containers. These simple packaging machines may also require height, width and speed adjustments for different containers.

While the changeover process may seem complex and time-consuming, machine component designs, such as the recipe screen, ensure that the process can be completed easily and as quickly as possible to reduce down time. Keep in mind that these changeover procedures are very general and specific or custom machinery may require different or additional steps for either product or package changeover.