Packaging line improvements keep craft brewer focused on the future

Pick-and-place module increases throughput while eliminating packaging breakage.

By ·

Boulevard Brewing Company, the 17th largest brewery in the United States, had been using repurposed packaging equipment until it resulted in unacceptable levels of bottle breakage. By installing a module for gentle handling on its existing drop packer, the company virtually eliminated breakage.

As Boulevard director of engineering Mike Utz explains, Boulevard began working on a high-speed packaging line in 2008, after a 70,000-square-foot facility expansion was completed. “We opted to go with repurposed and reconditioned equipment for the new line, which included a drop packer,” Utz says. While the equipment met Boulevard’s need for speed, it came with a price—a high bottle-breakage rate during packaging that was exacerbated by the lighter weight bottles and divider-less packaging that are becoming the industry norm.

The company sought a solution to meet its non-traditional packaging demands, which include four different bottle types, multiple packaging sizes and no carton dividers. The new pick-and-place module (Standard-Knapp, standard-knapp.com) was installed over a holiday weekend and achieved 100% production two days later. The system uses a two-axis, servo-controlled module to pick the product from the infeed conveyor and gently place it into the bottom of the empty case. The module acts like a human’s arms, offering smooth operation with configurable grippers. The distance that the product travels into the case is easily set from the operator interface.

“The module fits into the existing footprint, which was important since the packaging line is shoe-horned into its current location, and we did not have a lot of extra space,” says Utz. “This solution allowed us to keep our packaging the way it was, which was an important benefit.”

The company now reports almost zero packaging breakage and has increased throughput by about 10% because of increased efficiency and reduced downtime. “We sent more finished cases down to our palletizer than ever before,” says Utz. “The machine is not faster, but the efficiency is much greater and there is less downtime, less disruption to the flow of beer and more packages.” By the second week of operation, the system helped the brewery set a new production record.


About the Author

Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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