Choosing a Case Erector? Here’s the First of Five Steps.
Published June 1, 2018
In this five-part series, we’ll walk you through the considerations you should make when evaluating or purchasing a case erector.
There are a few fundamental case erecting requirements to consider first. These are the requirements that only you can define. They are dictated by your downstream packaging processes and your company’s preferences.
Because the case erecting segment is made up of dozens of companies producing hundreds of case erector variations, these essential decisions are an important first step because they immediately narrow your scope and reduce the number of case erecting manufacturers you have to consider.
The essentials require you to ask:
Which seal type?
We’ll take these one by one…
Corrugated case materials, styles, and specifications are a sneaky-complicated and sometimes underappreciated part of packaging. That is, until they force you to shut down a line and spend resources you didn’t budget for troubleshooting a problem that could have been avoided with a bit more up-front information.
While we won’t get into the nitty-gritty of corrugated containerboard in this particular post, we will touch on three particular aspects that should impact your evaluation of a particular case erector or case erector manufacturer.
First, what case type are you running on your line? Almost all case erector manufacturers design their equipment to handle Regular Slotted Cases (RSCs). So if you run RSCs, you’ll have plenty of case erector brands to choose from. But if you run an FOL (Full-Overlap Slotted) or an HSC (Half-Slotted Container) or a more exotic case type, you’ll find that your choice of case forming manufacturers will dwindle quite quickly.
Second, what are the dimensions of your case or cases? Similar to case type, you’ll find that most manufacturers will operate in a fairly wide pocket defined by minimum and maximum dimensions for length (direction of travel), width (across machine) and depth (aka height). However, you’ll want to look more carefully at box forming machine models if your case dimensions begin approaching either end of that pocket.
The small end usually comes into focus when any of your three case dimensions dip below 6 or 7 inches. The large end of the pocket usually begins somewhere around 16 or 17 inches. Either way, if your case dimensions begin flirting with one end of the spectrum you’ll want to pay close attention to the case size range of each case erector you review.
Third, what type of corrugated quality are you using? While we could (and probably will) write several articles covering the quality of your case material, we won’t go into too much detail here. Instead, we’ll simply state the following: corrugated quality can, and will, impact your case erector’s performance.
With these facts firmly in mind, it behooves you to look closely at your containerboard’s specs, how well your containerboard manufacturer adheres to those specs, and what happens to those specs when the containerboard is subjected to your regional, local, and factory-driven environmental conditions. Then, after you’ve taken a closer look, you’ll want to line up an erector design that can handle what you’ll be using. Why? As an example, thin, flimsy or often crushed (not the technical terms) corrugated may open fine with an opposing cup design, but struggle to open or erect when using a pin and dome system. There are too many such examples to entertain here. Suffice it to say, you MUST evaluate the quality of your corrugated material and make sure your case former of choice is up to the task of erecting a case that’s made of your chosen corrugated material.
This is pretty straight-forward. Your case erector needs to match or exceed the pace of your downstream packaging operations. While it’s a simple question to ask, the answer to this question automatically rules certain case forming manufacturers in, and others out.
The reason for this can be boiled down into two simple observations:
1 – You can make a fast case erector run slower, but you can’t make a slow case erector run faster.
2 – Machine designs that enable fast case erecting speeds cost much more than case erectors designed to run at slower speeds. As a result, fast case erectors are usually overpriced for low- and mid-speed applications.
In general, the design and technology of a case erector required to run 5 cases per minute is quite different than one tasked with erecting 45 cases per minute. Higher speeds require more precise, robust designs and often utilize advanced design features or technology. So while case erector suppliers with fast machines can easily work down-market with their product portfolio, it is harder for erector manufacturers to take a slow, entry-level erector and ramp it up-market, to higher speeds.
Still, without dramatically changing the design or makeup of their machine, those high-speed erector manufacturers will often find it difficult to be price competitive at lower speeds. In other words, technology enables speed but you usually have to pay for it. (There is a caveat to this that we’ll discuss in the last installment of the series.)
So what does all of this have to do with buying a case erector? Put simply, zeroing in on speed forces you to zero in on a smaller pool of potential case erector vendors.
Seal-type does not narrow your field of erector manufacturers at all. Most case erector manufacturers sell both tape-seal erectors and some version of a glue-seal erector. While it’s true that seal-type is mostly a factory preference, there are some cost and operational considerations to be aware of.
In favor of tape
→ Glue erectors are often 20-30% more expensive than a similar speed tape erector. For a mid-range machine, this can mean ten to 20 thousand dollars.
→ Glue hoses and nozzles get clogged and require regular maintenance.
→ Glue overspray can be problematic. Sealing along the entire length of a flap often means accepting a certain amount of overspray. This can get messy.
In favor of glue
→ Most experts would argue that at least a portion of the premium you pay for a glue erector is offset by operational efficiencies that are not present in a tape-seal system.
→ Tape rolls run out of tape faster than glue tanks get emptied, so there’s an operational cost associated with having to tend to your line more frequently when tape runs out.
→ We’ve found that tape systems are heavily impacted by tape quality. You can buy cheap tape, but you’ll pay for it with extra line stoppages.
→ Tape systems are less reliable at fast speeds. This usually comes down to simple physics and chemistry. The faster you go, the more difficult it becomes for the taping sequence to keep up.
At the end of the day, choosing how your case erector will seal cases is just one more decision for you to make. There’s no clear right or wrong, only preference and what makes sense for your line.
Really, what we’re talking about here is asset life. How long do you want this investment to last in your operation? Much like the speed consideration, duration will weed out some case erector suppliers. However, in this case, it is a little easier to find yourself paying more than you should for a machine that appears to meet your asset life needs.
We’re not saying there’s a right or a wrong answer, here. There are perfectly reasonable arguments to be made for buying and owning an entry-level case erector with a short asset life. But you should be mindful of your preference and clear-headed in your assessment of asset life for each product and each case erector manufacturer.
Coming up next in this series: Step 2 – Think About Your Operators.