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The fact is that you and your buying team know your process better than
anyone. The desire to purchase (or lease) a case packer is typically driven by the
desire to protect your products, more efficiently prepare goods for distribution,
improve ergonomics (eliminate repetitive motion injuries), and/or eliminate
some labor costs. You must analyze your present process as well as your goals to
improve this process.

Don’t be easily swayed with the idea that a project’s goal MUST be to eliminate
all labor on the line. The reality is that you should know the true cost of your
labor on the line and, in most cases, the cost of the special engineering element to
eliminate all labor turns out not to be justifiable, either from a price and/or a
technological point of view. Consider that in many cases, the use of labor on the
line, providing that it is properly planned for ergonomically, can actually
enhance the performance of the line. Vision systems and other methods of
quality control are readily available as add-ons to the packaging line. However,
there are certain products and processes that still make human involvement,
especially on lower volume lines, more practical.

In any event, whether you are seeking a semi-automatic case packer or a totally
automated product handling and case packing system, knowing your present
costs and your objectives for return on investment can easily set the stage for a
“budget range” going into a project that should prove economically feasible.


Before you look at possible suppliers, level of feasible automation, etc., it is
critically fundamental that you consider the nature of the product first. In many
cases, the nature of the product will actually dictate the style of case packing
machine necessary to do the job. Therefore, by employing this step, you could
very well eliminate several critical path choices up front that will keep the task
focused and more efficient. Certain aspects of the product going into a case,
such as rigidity, uniformity, fragility, and required pack pattern can all make a
difference in the style of machine best suited for the application at hand.


As simple as this question may seem, I have seen many customers struggle with
it over the years. One of the most popular answers to this question is, “What
speed can you give me?” When it comes to this critical path choice, the speed in
which product is coming to the case packing operation plus some buffer/surge
capacity is one of the most important considerations. This will affect decisions
regarding semi-automatic versus fully automated solutions as well as
intermittent versus continuous machine choices; all of which will play a large
factor in the ultimate budget required. This critical step is where I have seen
many make the wrong purchase decision by over-killing the project. Answer this
question as accurately as possible as this critical step will work wonders for
immediately eliminating the choices that are not relevant for this project.
I have also witnessed many that have let price rather than volume determine
their final decision and end up with a machine that falls far short of their true
needs. In other words, don’t fool yourself into buying the economy of a KIA if
you really need, expect, and can maintain the performance of a Lamborghini.


A step often overlooked in the process is a self-assessment of your company’s
true capabilities when it comes to technical expertise and ability to maintain a
case packing machine. The type of equipment that you investigate must, in your
best opinion, match your company’s technical prowess. Unless you have, or plan
on making an investment in qualified technical staff, acquiring a machine that
incorporates a high technical content could prove disastrous. Match the
machine to your capabilities. Buying a machine with servo technology and not
having any staff capable of working with it spells trouble. Build a list of factors
that are both important qualifications and match your company’s skill sets.
Perhaps the best way to help you determine if a machine matches your staff’s
skill set is to do a reference check during the supplier investigation phase (step 5)
of the process. If you are a small family business, do not limit your reference to
a visit or phone call to a large multinational. Getting additional feedback from a
large company is fine, but you really need to talk to a company of comparable
size and skill level to determine if this equipment is something that will perform
and be manageable for you. In my opinion, talking to someone in the same
industry is not as important as talking to someone of comparable size and skill

Beyond the basics of budget, machine type and speed, typical factors that can
also play a part in your decision may be specific needs such as delivery time (for
time sensitive market roll out projects), changeover time between sizes
(especially for short run environments), parts availability (if located in a remote
area), and service capabilities (if weak on in-house ability).


Now that you have narrowed your search to a specific style of machine as well as
the speed requirement, it is time to analyze what is available in the market. You
have established a clear enough road map to go out and look at your viable
cartoning machine options. Many ask, “Now that I know what I need, where do
I start?”

Here are just a few suggestions:

  • PMMI trade shows
  • PMMI directory
  • Internet searches (i.e. packexpo.com)
  • Machinery buying guides
  • Advice of machinery representatives that have successfully helped you source other types of equipment in the past
  • Advice of your industry acquaintances and peers