Blow Molding and Automation

blow molding

Blow molding facilities participate in a USD 80 billion marketplace that is expected to continue to achieve 5.3% growth annually for the next 10 years according to Grand View Research.  These blow molders use specialized equipment that is designed to transform raw plastic materials, typically in the form of small pellets or pre-forms, into a wide variety of hollow plastic products.

The blow molding process is commonly used in industries such as packaging, beverage production, automotive, and consumer goods, as it enables the efficient and cost-effective production of lightweight, durable, and customizable plastic containers.

Blow molders look to Ska Fabricating for both equipment and support that enable them to continue to grow and expand.  Below, you’ll find essential insights from our team on the advantages of automating production lines for blow molders, as well as insight into this industry.

What does the Blow Molding Process Entail?

The blow molding process involves several key steps. First, plastic pellets or preforms are fed into the blow molder’s hopper. The machine then heats these materials to a precise temperature, melting them into a viscous liquid. Next, the molten plastic is transferred into a mold cavity, which is typically composed of two halves. One of these halves is stationary, while the other is movable. The mold is designed to have the shape of the desired product.

 

Once the molten plastic is in the mold, compressed air is injected into the material, causing it to expand and take on the shape of the mold cavity. This expansion process creates the hollow interior of the final product, and the plastic conforms to the mold’s contours. After a brief cooling period to solidify the plastic, the mold opens, and the newly formed plastic container or bottle is ejected. Blow molders are capable of producing a wide range of shapes and sizes, making them suitable for various applications.

Automation and Blow Molding Facilities

Blow molding facilities have increasingly embraced automation to enhance efficiency, productivity, and product consistency. Automation in blow molding not only reduces labor costs, but also minimizes human error, improves safety, and enables increased production. Here are a few key ways in which automation is integrated into blow molding facilities:

Material Handling: Automated systems are often used to transport and feed raw plastic materials, such as pellets or pre-forms, into the blow molder’s hopper. These systems can precisely control the amount and timing of material delivery, ensuring a consistent feedstock and reducing the risk of material wastage.

Mold Changing: Changing molds for different product designs used to be a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Automation systems now enable rapid mold changes with minimal human intervention, allowing manufacturers to switch between production runs quickly and efficiently.

Machine Control: Blow molding machines are equipped with advanced control systems that can be programmed to manage various parameters, such as temperature, pressure, and cycle times. These systems ensure precise and consistent manufacturing processes, leading to high-quality products.

Quality Control: Automated inspection systems are employed to monitor the quality of the blow-molded products. These systems can detect defects, such as thin walls or irregularities, and reject subpar items, reducing the need for manual inspection and minimizing product defects.

Packaging and Palletizing: Once the blow-molded products are ready, automated systems can handle packaging, and palletizing. This streamlines the final stages of production, reduces handling damage, and prepares the products for shipment.

Labeling: Blow molded containers are frequently labeled by the manufacturer.  High quality labels define the product that eventually goes inside the container.  Label application typically requires surface treatment to ensure the label will adhere properly, and lubricants or other chemicals are efficiently removed from the container surface.  One of the most popular and effective surface treatments is flame treatment.  The flame oxidizes the plastic surface and creates an ideal surface texture and cleanliness for superior label adhesion.

Maintenance and Diagnostics: Automated systems can monitor the condition of the blow molding equipment and alert maintenance teams to potential issues before they result in costly breakdowns. This proactive approach to maintenance ensures maximum uptime and extends the lifespan of the machinery.

Blow Molding and Palletization

A blow molder may need an automated palletizer for several reasons, depending on the specific manufacturing and packaging processes involved in their operations. 

Here are some common reasons why a blow molder might require an automated palletizer:

  • Labor Savings:  Palletizing by hand can be a labor-intensive and time-consuming process. When higher speeds are needed, an automated palletizer can simplify this task, reducing the need for a large workforce dedicated to stacking products on pallets. Ska Fabricating’s FAR, FHP and BAM bulk palletizers offer different levels of automation and speeds for blow molding companies. This kind of investment in automation can lead to cost savings and improved workplace safety.
  • Customer Specifications and Requirements:  For a blow molder to grow in the market, they must be hyper-focused on how their end customers want to receive the molded parts.  Many CPG and beverage packaging operations prefer the use of pre-palletized containers so that they can jump right into depalletizing the containers for filling. Using  depalletizers (like Ska Fabricating’s FHA 3000) to automate the inbound feeds to their packaging operations increases uptime and throughput for those who fill the containers produced by blow molding operations. Meeting customer requirements for palletized blow molded containers will be critical to maintain a competitive advantage.
  • Increased Efficiency: The plastic containers, bottles, or other hollow objects created by the blow molding facility are usually produced continuously or in large batches. An automated palletizer can significantly increase efficiency by automatically stacking these products onto pallets, reducing the need for manual labor and improving production rates.
  • Consistency and Accuracy: Automated palletizers are precise and consistent in their stacking, ensuring that products are arranged on pallets uniformly and securely. This reduces the risk of product damage during transportation and storage.
  • Improved Safety: Manually stacking heavy or bulky blow-molded products on pallets can pose safety risks for workers, including strain injuries. A palletizer eliminates these risks by handling the stacking process mechanically.
  • Increased Production Capacity: Automated Palletizers can work continuously without the need for breaks, leading to a higher production capacity for the blow molder. This is especially valuable when there is high demand for the blow-molded products.
  • Flexibility: Palletizers can be programmed to handle various product sizes and pallet configurations, providing flexibility to adapt to changing production needs.
  • Reduced Product Handling: Automating the palletizing process minimizes the number of times products are handled, reducing the risk of contamination and damage, especially in industries like food and pharmaceuticals where cleanliness and product integrity are critical.
  • Space Optimization: Palletizers can stack products more efficiently, optimizing the use of storage space in warehouses or shipping containers.

Choosing a Palletizing Solution:

The BAM Bulk Palletizer

BAM Palletizer

When considering a palletizing solution for a blow molding facility, it is important to incorporate the following into that conversation:

  • Customization: Blow molding facilities often produce a variety of container sizes and shapes. A good palletizer should be customizable to handle different product configurations and pallet sizes. 
  • Speed and Throughput: Blow molding facilities can have high production volumes. The palletizer should have the capacity to keep up with the production line’s output and maintain efficient throughput.
  • Integration: Easy integration with your existing blow molding machinery and production line is crucial. The palletizer should work seamlessly within your facility’s workflow.
  • Reliability & Flexibility: Blow molding facilities often run on tight production schedules. The palletizer should be reliable and require minimal maintenance to minimize downtime. The ability to handle various types of blow-molded products, including bottles, containers, or other hollow objects, is essential. It should adapt to changes in product dimensions and stacking patterns.
  • Safety Features & Quality Control: Safety is a top priority in manufacturing. Ensure that the palletizer has safety features to protect workers and prevent accidents, such as emergency stop mechanisms and guarding.  Palletizers should incorporate quality control checks to ensure that only properly molded products are stacked on pallets, helping to maintain product quality.
  • Space Efficiency: Depending on your facility’s layout, space may be limited. Palletizers should be designed to optimize floor space and stacking patterns.
  • Ease of Use: User-friendly controls and interface can simplify operation and reduce the learning curve for your operators.
  • Service and Support: Consider the availability of technical support, spare parts, and servicing for the palletizer. Responsive customer support is essential to address any issues promptly.
  • Cost Efficiency: Evaluate the total cost of ownership, including purchase price, operating costs, and potential energy savings. A palletizer should offer a good return on investment over its lifetime.

The Manual Tilt Palletizer​

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Blow molders seeking top-tier palletization solutions for their facilities need look no further than Ska Fabricating. Our customizable solutions are tailored to accommodate various product configurations, ensuring versatility across a diverse product portfolio. Ska Fabricating’s automated palletizers boast impressive speed, reliability, and quality control features, perfectly aligning with the high demands of blow molding facilities.  The Full Height Palletizer (FHP) and the BAM Bulk Palletizer both are options for automatic palletization for blow molders. Moreover, our dedication to user-friendly interfaces, and responsive customer support make Ska Fab the ideal partner for streamlining your production processes. 

Another option for blow molding facilities is the manual tilt palletizer, which is suitable for lower volume production. The Ska Fab manual tilt palletizer is a flexible, efficient and ergonomically friendly option for blow molders needing a palletizer for a variety of stack dimensions, configurations, and product types.

Flame Treatment Solutions​

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Flame treatment systems are often used by blow molders to burn off any excess material or debris from the sides of the plastic container after being blow molded. Cleaning the sides of the bottle provides a smooth surface and enhances the adhesion of bottle labels and printing prior to application. Ska Fabricating flame treatment systems offer flexible adjustments and ease of operation enabling maximum flame control on a wide range of container shapes and sizes. Units offer many safety features including photo-eyes for monitoring container flow in and out of the flame area and for product jams and line back-ups.

Bagging Solutions

a row of plastic bottles are lined up on a conveyor belt

Baggers are also used by blow molders to provide a sanitary storage solution for transporting clean empty plastic bottles. Stacking the containers in bags also provides an easy and convenient way to load them onto a pallet. Ska Fabricating’s semi-automatic bagging system encloses single layers of bottle rows into easily handled, sanitary sealed plastic bags. Ska Fab offers the Semi-Automatic Bagger in rear load and side load configurations. 

Moving Forward

Blow molding and automation have become inseparable partners in the manufacturing industry, especially for the production of plastic containers and bottles. The blow molding process has revolutionized various sectors – including packaging, beverage production, automotive, and consumer goods – by providing cost-effective, customizable, and durable plastic products. The integration of automation into blow molding facilities has further elevated efficiency, precision, and safety standards. 

For blow molders seeking palletization solutions, Ska Fabricating offers versatile, high-speed, and reliable options tailored to meet the diverse needs of blow molding facilities. Whether opting for automated or manual tilt palletizers, Ska Fabricating ensures efficiency, ergonomics, and top-notch customer support. In this era of manufacturing innovation, the synergy between blow molding and automation continues to shape the industry’s future, promising increased productivity, consistency, and competitiveness.

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