While viscosity level will always play a part in the filling principle used for any given packaging project, it is not as important when it comes to choosing the automation level. Overflow fillers, gravity fillers, pump filling machines and piston fillers are all available in different levels of automation. The starting automation level for a packager will most often be based on the production requirements and the available space to perform the packaging.
First and foremost, beginning production levels will play a large part in choosing the correct level of automation for a filling machine. If a company is only looking to supply a local or regional area, tabletop or uniframe packaging systems may be the ideal solution. Tabletop filling machines allow operators to create a filling station on just about any tabletop surface. These machines will usually include a slide track and the operator will move bottles under the fill nozzles - which can range anywhere from one to four nozzles. Once under the nozzles, a footswitch, finger switch or other similar form of activation lets the operator start the fill cycle. Once bottles are filled, they are manually moved from under the fill heads and replaced by empty bottles to start the process again. Tabletop machines are simple to use and are a cost effective tool for short run products or low production needs.
As production rates increase, most companies will start looking toward semi-automatic and automatic filling machines on portable frames. The semi-automatic machines will still require an operator to either place bottles on a conveyor or slide the containers under the fill heads manually. Semi-automatic liquid fillers may use simple indexing, but in most cases will still require some type of activation from the operator of the packaging machine. Semi-automatic filling machinery can be used with other packaging machines on a line or can act as stand alone filling machines.
Automatic filling machines will be manufactured using the same frame as the semi-automatic machines, but will include a PLC with a touchscreen operator interface. This feature allows semi-automatic fillers to be upgraded in the future should production rates grow. These machines can roll up to almost any existing power conveyor system to begin running production. Of course, most automatic liquid filling machines will be a part of an inline packaging system, which will include a conveyor system and other machinery such as container cleaning equipment, capping machines, labelers and any other machinery necessary to automatically prepare a product and package for the consumer. This means, as a general rule, as production rates increase, so does the space required to perform the packaging.
However, there are options to continue to save space. First of all, even automatic machinery can function as a stand alone filling station (or capping, labeling or any other function). This can allow one portion of a packaging process to be automated to increase the overall efficiency of a packaging line while still saving space. The downside, of course, is that other packaging functions will still be performed manually or with tabletop machines, limiting the true efficiency of the automatic filler.