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Packaging Automation

Test Kitchen helps customers through the development of new packaging concepts

Packaging Automation’s Trial Facility at their factory in Knutsford, Cheshire offers customers the opportunity to carry out tests using different packaging materials with their product incorporating MAP, SkinPAC, Map F to verify the results prior to investment in machinery.

Simon Wilson, Seal Technologist in the Test Kitchen guides customers through the development of new packaging concepts including selecting environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic packaging and can help them access PA’s vast database of packaging suppliers giving them the benefit of our wealth of experience and giving advice and guidance along the way.

“Shelf ready pack concepts can be produced to validate pack integrity and for performance trials such as shelf life and transit trials as well as tests to help customers choose the best option to optimise the seal, reduce processing time and achieve maximum outputs,” explains Simon.

“For customers who are new to heat seal technology or those customers looking for more environmentally friendly packaging options it gives them the ability to try before they buy but also to trial and test different options to understand how the material impacts their product and ultimately to find the best solutions for them. For customers looking to change tray suppliers or introduce new products lines, the PA Test Kitchen gives them the opportunity to check the fit in existing tooling and test the seal, undoubtedly saving them time and money by avoiding wastage and minimising interruption to production.”

The PA Test Kitchen works with some of the major retailers, both directly and via their producers, helping them find, test and trial more environmentally friendly packaging solutions.

“Generally speaking, PA have seen a move towards the use of mono materials and more environmental and recyclable options. In particular in Holland, we have seen a move to reduce plastic packaging," explains Sam Ashton, Commercial Director at PA.

“As a mature market, key concerns from the soft fruit sector include seasonal products changeover, managing the packing line and downtime. The PA Revolution range offers a highly efficient packaging solution. To minimise downtime, these machines also offer quick and easy set up and tool changes reducing lost time during punnet size changeovers.”

PAs high speed, fully electric tray sealers incorporate patented motion control technology which means that the in-feed of the pack is always smooth and stable reducing fruit movement in the trays with a seamless transfer prior to seal.

PAs packaging options include the ability to interchange pulp punnets with plastic punnets on the same sealing tool and reduce cost to run eco packaging on the same machine/line as plastic.

“Through the work Simon has carried out with all the key packaging suppliers, we can now accommodate a variety of punnets from different suppliers in the same tooling, this includes pulp trays in a tool designed to seal plastic punnets.  Obviously, this significantly reduces the cost to the packer if they are changing between plastic and pulp and sourcing packaging from a variety of suppliers from one season to the next.

“We continue to trial lots of different and new emerging materials in the Test Kitchen. Pulp trays, for example, can be sealed 4/5 times unlike plastic trays (in the requirement to repack product on the line) and of course appeal to those looking to reduce plastic use.

“More interesting packaging materials that are being developed and tested in the Trial Facility are: seaweed, organic and pulp. All of these are bio compostable and biodegradable but now need testing for different products.”

Labour shortage
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and with a decline in seasonal workers following Brexit, soft fruit growers are facing an unprecedented shortage of picking and packing employees with many turning to factory automation. At PA they are seeing more demand and interest in the Revolution range of high-speed tray sealers from the soft fruit sector. A reliable high-speed tray sealer reduces the need for labour on the line with users also reporting a decline in downtime from the resulting reduction in unplanned stoppages.

“Put simply, packing quicker reduces the number of hours and therefore labour costs in the pack house – the quicker and more efficient the line the lower the number of hours needed – it is simple really,” said Sam

“These machines are highly efficient and future proofed too. They use proven, patented, motion control technology to maximise output by providing a continuous flow of trays from infeed to outfeed without the need for pausing or buffering. This also means that the in-feed of the pack is always smooth and stable reducing fruit movement in the trays with a seamless transfer prior to seal and causing little or no bruising or damage to the fruit.

“The addition of Mi Weigh intelligent weighing system improves weight compliance and management, giveaway can be reduced below 0.1% against the nominal weight. Maximising yield from the batch. Settling time on the scales can be as low as 100m/s. We log every portion which has been weighed into the system so everything from in-feed to check-weigher, to packers is inline and there is no discrepancy. Speeds of over 40 packs/min can be achieved per person with pre-filled punnets on good quality fruit.”

The Mi Weigh system also incorporates Soft Fruit manager software, specifically designed for the soft fruit industry. This includes a remote live Dashboard to manage and review  productivity runs, it offers a live Smart Screen Adjustment for changes to the weights, tolerances and set points. Functionality between running “nominal weight” and “average weight” can be changed instantly on the Master Control Interface or remotely via the dashboard with this software.

The package includes the SMART automatic weight adjusting calculator packing to average weight legislation continually monitoring line performance reducing giveaway significantly. The screen also has a Production Completion Tracker for the batch run with live visual to the operators and line leaders. This will also be displayed on the RDD (Real-Time Data Display) if that option is chosen.

Service Packages
“At this difficult time many businesses are looking to reduce overheads and cut costs so approval for capital expenditure can be tricky but there are long-term benefits and clear payback from investing in factory automation machinery. For some, however, the need to manage and maintain existing machinery has never been more important and the PA Service Packages have certainly been in demand. Unexpected breakdowns and repairs on packing and filling equipment and machines can result in unplanned downtime and incur heavy financial losses, but regular, preventive maintenance can help,” said Sam.

Packaging Automation future proof all of their machines as much as possible and the inclusion of remote connection tools means that clients simply have to plug in an ethernet cable, and PA can dial in with remote access to check for faults / performance issues. By incorporating their own control software, they have reduced the reliance on external suppliers and negated the impact of software obsolescence.

“We are proud that we were already ahead of the game when the pandemic hit so could continue to deliver excellent service and make a small but non the less vital contribution to keep the nation fed. Both the coronavirus pandemic, and with a decline in seasonal workers following Brexit have certainly had an impact on the soft fruit growers who are facing an unprecedented shortage of picking and packing employees.”

For more information:
Ruth Robinson
Email: ruth@brighter-business.com 
Tel: +44 1706 824229


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