The push button lids, designed for a major blue chip personal care client, have proven to be a feat of functional engineering several years in the making. Yet, the project may not have got off the ground without the cooperation of such forward-thinking machinery and equipment supply partners, claims Rick Ormerod, head of technical, Amaray.
It is highly sophisticated and believed to be Europe’s first ever installation of a 12+12 stack packaging mould. Ormerod credits the dedication of the entire team to delivering such a pioneering project.
Taking centre stage on the line is Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s ultra-high speed 580-tonne El-Exis SP, fitted with a multi-cavity 12+12 stack mould. An integrated high speed IML Waldorf Technik robot places each label into the mould, and then removes and closes each of the 24-hinged lids as soon as they are extracted from the mould. This has to be done swiftly while the polypropylene is still malleable. Each lid is then placed on the conveyor where they are each quality checked by a camera. A robot then stacks 38 lids, passing to a binder, at which point nine stacks are fed into an automated wrapper to create a brick of 342 lids for loading onto a pallet.
Amaray considered its selection of partners for this new production line very carefully, emphasises Ormerod. “We intentionally chose suppliers that could bring fresh thinking and were leaders in their respective fields. This was our first UK Sumitomo (SHI) Demag installation to join our fleet of 38 injection moulding machines. The team proved to be a driving force in scoping out the exact machinery specifications needed in order to create a fully automated, streamlined packaging production line.
“Through an open dialogue we were able to arrive at a cohesive direction together that would enable Amaray to achieve the best design, in the most productive and cost effective way possible,” adds Ormerod.
The wipe lid builds upon Amaray’s media market domination. “It ties in very closely with manufacturing hinged casings to protect DVDs, computer games and videos,” comments Ormerod, who has extensive personal experience in moulding and IML. “All of this expertise melded together very well,” he highlights.
Driven by its underlying principle to make good things better, the company did extensive and ongoing market research with parents and carers to scope out how they could structurally improve upon the rigid pop up lid concept.
Ormerod explains, “Wipes are a classic on-the-go product where convenience and accessibility are paramount. During the design and trial phases, users repeatedly emphasised the dexterity challenges they face when changing or cleaning a wriggling child. Above all else, they desired a secure lid that stopped wipes from drying out to save on waste, yet could be opened and closed with one finger.”
To maximise post-consumer recycling efforts, Amaray made the intentional decision to use polypropylene. “It means that the entire component - lid and label - can be recycled after use,” says Ormerod.
In order to deliver this uncompromising design, the lid needed to be moulded as a single component and decorated and assembled in a seamless process. From an injection moulding perspective, using a 12+12 stack mould although more productive, presented a tooling and processing challenge. Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s UK packaging expert Kevin Heap explains, “To create the flip-like hinge was challenging in itself, as the tooling needed to accommodate varying depths of raw material. Unlike a single face tool, the polymer is injected in the centre between the two plates and has to be evenly distributed in all 24 cavities.”
Additionally, using a two-face 12+12 stack mould in conjunction with the IML system means that 24 cavities are opening at the same time, with a Waldorf Technik side-entry robot placing labels accurately within fractions of a second. “Typically, packaging moulders use a single face mould with a maximum of twelve cavities when integrating an IML system, so Amaray’s installation doubled the complexity. To insert labels on both tool faces required a much larger robotic system,” emphasises Heap.
Given that the El-Exis is the world’s fastest packaging machine, robotic speed was equally important. The Waldorf side-entry robot serves two purposes. As well as inserting the label into each cavity before the plastic is injected into the mould, it has to retract and then re-enter the moulding area to remove all 24 lids, closing them before the plastic hardens.
The robot then manoeuvres around to place the lids on a conveyor where the dimensions and label are fully quality checked. The vision system, cameras and software were supplied by Mevisco, with Ormerod hailing their support and commitment to the project as being excellent. If parts fail to meet the specified criteria they are rejected from the line by air blasts without interrupting the production flow. Utilising the latest Smart Factory innovations to ensure full traceability, the checking system monitors and captures the data of total parts produced, parts rejected and the reasons for those rejections.
Once the full quality check is complete, the lids are stacked and bound in-line, creating a brick of nine stacks which are wrapped and palletised ready for shipment.
“For moulders that are seeking to maximise profitability and productivity - particularly for high quality, decorated yet low margin branded lids - stack moulds provide an increasingly attractive option,” notes Heap. “With a stack system of this scale, moulders can get more production output per square metre, as well as saving on utility and maintenance costs.”
“Commissioning the stack mould was a bold move on our part. However, it massively increases our moulding capacity in each cycle,” adds Ormerod.
While some moulders might be content following the rules, engineering something that has never been attempted before is always exhilarating, claims Ormerod. “It requires dedication and open communication, with engagement across all suppliers. For a mega-project like this there were so many aspects to consider. Yet, our uncompromising attitude was worth the effort as we have engineered a new process and technique for moulding packaging lids in high volumes.”
During some parts of the process, the tooling and machine was being built in tandem with developing the lid design and consumer focus groups, says Ormerod. “Creating something new, especially such a revolutionary production line, requires a different mindset. Development is exponential. If you challenge yourself to think differently, you can be more disruptive. It’s only when you start to put the pieces together, adjusting the requirements as the project evolves and consumer feedback is generated, can you really refine the process. Thanks to everyone’s engagement, this project has been an absolute privilege to work on.”
The entire Amaray team has closely watched the project unfold, with live production commencing towards the end of 2018. “Such was the excitement among colleagues, we were counting down the days to launch,” exclaims Ormerod.
“There are several examples in Europe of moulders using 8+8 stack moulds for producing IML margarine lids in high volumes,” adds Heap. “However, using a 12+12 stack mould, Amaray’s line really has pushed the packaging boundaries.”
“From a functionality and user perspective, the single push button wipes lid is new and innovative. Equally inventive is the process for manufacturing them in such vast volumes,” ends Ormerod.