Pacepacker’s simple product swap system strikes gold

30 September 2015

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Pacepacker’s simple product swap system strikes goldAt the PPMA Group Industry Awards 2015 Pacepacker’s new Mixed Tray Loader (MTL) was crowned the Most Innovative Processing/Packaging Machine of the year. At a gala ceremony hosted by comedian and entertainer Bobby Davro at the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham on Tuesday 29th September, the MTL application, which creates mixed retail trays of food and FMCG goods, was praised by the PPMA judges for its simplicity and effectiveness, which they felt: “epitomises an essential element of innovation.”

Answering retailer calls for space-saving mixed-product trays, the offline portable pick and place MTL, was noted by the PPMA judges for being an “outwardly simple system that amply met the demands of the retail sector.” Collecting the accolade, Pacepacker’s Managing Director Dennis Allison commented: “We’re a great believer in automating processes to boost output, but without over-engineering systems. The MTL embodies this perfectly.”

Utilising a simple Cartesian pick-and-place arrangement and incorporating Festo mechatronics, the MTL sits over twin lanes of filled trays. The picking heads remove one line of product from the first tray, placing it into the second, reversing the process to swap items.

Suitable for mixed trays of pots, packs, jars, punnets, etc., the MTL can help manage stock control and reduce the risk of stock going out of date, effecting waste and profits.

Pacepacker’s engineers spotted the gap in the market when visiting a manufacturer of chilled dips, spreads and deli fillings 12 months ago. Upon observing up to five people performing the manual ‘product swap’ operation, they proposed an automation approach. Because most retail orders for mixed-product trays are placed retrospectively once products are processed, packed and in chilled storage, an offline system was proposed. Through labour savings alone, the initial MTL system paid for itself in less than 6 months.

Since the first installation, this customer reports that requests by retailers for mixed-product trays has quadrupled, and Pacepacker recently upgraded their system, doubling the product swap capacity to 60 pots per minute.

A wider range of product types

Pacepacker’s Business Development Manager Paul Wilkinson says: “By stocking mixed trays of product, a larger supermarket can hold a wider range of product types, flavours and variants. Equally, a smaller inner-city store, which may previously have had to drop lines to make way for other products, can continue to offer a good variety.”

The MTL also caters to other grocery trends, including presenting ingredients together to combat shopper fatigue and make the food buying experience more convenient.

Measuring 1.2m in length by 1m wide, as a standalone unit the MTL can easily be transported between the warehouse and production area, whichever makes more sense from a space and product-flow perspective.

Although developed using a Cartesian technology, if handling a larger number of product configurations the MTL can be designed with delta or articulated arm robots or be configured to other formats, including flexible packaging. The system can also be used for new product trials, slower-moving lines, seasonal and limited editions.

According to Dennis, the aim is to unburden and free potential: “Smart leadership in my view is when you can step back and solve a particular challenge or production bottleneck without making it unduly complicated. This newest ‘product swap’ development is a classic example of what can be accomplished when we constantly refresh our view of the wider automation picture.”

Pacepacker, in collaboration with Festo and FANUC, also won the PPMA Partnership of the Year 2015 category for their innovative approach to automation systems. For further information about the Mixed Tray Loader (MTL) please visit

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