Cartoning machines are packaging systems which erect, close and/or erect, fill and close carton blanks or folded and side seam sealed cartons.
Cartons are one of the commonest forms of packaging. But while they almost all end up in a regular six-sided square or rectangular shape there are a number of different styles which are dictated by the filling and closing method. For example, some cartons are filled and closed via the end flaps; others are filled vertically and closed with a fold over 'lid'. Other important differences include the means of securing the carton in its erected form. Some are glued using adhesive; others have pre-cut tabs and slots, or are pre-coated with a heat sensitive material. Some applications use window cartons - a carton with a pre-cut area behind which transparent film has been fixed to allow the contents to be viewed.
Cartoners which erect, fill and seal on one machine are sometimes called Carton Form, Fill, Seal machines.
Some cartoning machines and systems are patented like the Tetra Brik and "Combibloc" for liquids which can only be produced on those companies' machines, while other patented designs like 'crashlock' cartons can be automatically erected on a wide range of machines.
Cartons are made from cartonboard which is a semi-flexible paper material 250µ to 1,000µ in thickness. They should not be confused with Cases which are made from rigid corrugated board and are larger, often containing a number of cartons for transit.
Cartons can come in the form of blanks, which are flat, pre-printed and cut to size and shape, with slots and tabs pre-cut if necessary. These are then folded or 'erected' to form the carton in the machine.
However the majority of cartons are delivered folded and side seam sealed to form what is sometime known as a skillet. On the cartoning machine these skillets are erected and then filled with product before the end flaps are folded and closed.
To add something extra to presentation, cartons come in a wide variety of shapes including hinged lids, triangular, hexagonal, octagonal, double-wall, frame-wall, wave-shaped cartons; and tapered trays.
At their simplest cartoners can be semi-automatic machines which close the flaps of manually erected and filled cartons at low speeds, but at their most sophisticated cartoners are fully automatic machines incorporating pick-and-place product loading or stacking devices, leaflet inserters and coding devices and run at several hundred cartons a minute.
Modern cartoners have benefited from the introduction of servo driven subassemblies, programmable logic controllers and even computers which allow the machines to be size changed automatically and synchronised using software rather than mechanical transmission components. However all these features come at extra cost and often a combination of old and new technology can achieve the desired performance.
Cartoning machines are used in all fast moving consumer goods sectors but especially food, pharmaceutical, toiletry, cosmetic, household products, and DIY and recorded media industries.
Cartoning machines are particularly important in the non-carbonated beverages industry but it is important to recognise that while the Combibloc carton is produced on a variant of a mandrel cartoning machine the apparently similar Tetra Brik cartons are produced on special vertical form fill and seal machines.