Demanding honeycomb capsule array packed efficiently, at speed and – above all – delicately
It wasn’t all that long ago that you bought coffee in bags, jars or tins. That was it! There was very little ceremony upon opening the containers (OK, maybe popping the foil lid was fun) but the packaging was almost entirely functional as opposed to aesthetic, with different labels being the only distinguishing feature.
These days, coffee suppliers want to create a story and a sense of occasion, which is why modern packaging is so much more… interesting. There are more formats too, with bags, capsules and pods added to the mix, so not only are consumers spoilt for choice, but so are the coffee suppliers, in terms of what they can achieve with their packaging designs and formats.
One of the most recent developments has been the introduction of aluminium capsules, not only to create an air of greater quality, but also to reduce the amount of single-use plastic. The introduction of aluminium has also led to a rethink regarding secondary packaging.
Traditional cube boxes are fine for more robust plastic pods, which can jostle into to each other during transit, with very little to show for it. Aluminium on the other hand is more susceptible to surface scratches and, as result, has to be packaged differently to maintain the pristine quality look. Cube containers also deliver smaller surface areas for on-shelf branding, so newer designs are being developed, one of which includes the honeycomb layout. And this is where Cama Group is now setting the pace.
“We were approached by a leading coffee company in South America,” explains Renato Dell’Oro, Area Manager, at Cama Group. “They were looking to launch aluminium capsule in a 5 x 2 array, which is not all that common. However, in addition to simply packaging the capsules, they were looking to maintain the all-important visual quality too, which meant delicate positive handling was required. This was coupled with a need for elevated overall machine efficiency, in terms of operation, changeover, spares, etc., so we weren’t looking at anything with a huge technical feature set, just something that would do the job, efficiently, at speed and without damaging the capsules.”
Cama’s solution was one of its highly successful IF318 top loaders. Part of Cama’s Breakthrough Generation (BTG), the IF Series has design and operational features that are setting the standard in secondary packaging. Their modular, scalable and hygienically designed frameworks house contemporary automation solutions – including advanced rotary and linear servo technology – which can be tightly coupled to in-house-developed robotics, to deliver the all-important flexibility and adaptability required by modern packaging operations. The machine range is also based on a digital platform that supports full Industry 4.0 capabilities, including AR, VR and virtual testing, training and operation.
In operation, a robot forms cartons from blanks before another deposits four inverted capsules 2 x 2. A five-holed spacer sheet is then added, in which the central hole accepts the final capsule the right way up to create the honeycomb. This array is then repeated to create the 10 pack. The carton is then closed robotically.
“Honeycomb configurations are in very high demand,” Dell’Oro explains, “as coffee roasters copy the format from the larger suppliers. In terms of secondary packaging, it is certainly more demanding as it requires more steps. This application was our first solution in this format too, but we were able to call upon years of technological expertise, our significant experience of the coffee market and the extensive capabilities of our packaging design team, all of which came together to create the perfect answer.”
Dell’Oro explains that the IF318 is not the fastest machine on the market, but the fastest machine on the market cannot offer the delicate handling required. “It’s a balancing act. Aluminium is a very soft metal and can get scratched easily, so its pointless packaging thousands per minute into a box at speed, if they’re all going to be damaged, ruining the all-important premium look and feel. We were able to give our customer a machine that offered the perfect balance between speed, price and efficiency. We ticked every element of the brief.”
Coffee companies often offer multiple formats and co-packers supply multiple customers, so flexibility is key. “Future iterations of this machine will offer our legendarily fast changeover – often less than 30 mins – from honeycomb to cube packaging,” Dell’Or adds. “There are lots of changes to be made, but we have developed a system that achieves these with minimum possible downtime. And, just as importantly, following changeover, the key is to ramp up production to full speed as soon as possible, which we can also do. What’s the point of rapid changeover with a protracted bedding-in phase?
“We were fortunate that we had an established relationship with this customer, and its previous parent company,” Dell-Oro concludes, “but if we weren’t doing it right, they could have gone elsewhere… but they didn’t! The customer now has plans for future production and packaging ideas and our partnership in this project stands us in a great position, especially considering the way this market is so rapidly expanding.”