A simple space-saving solution to the issue of singulation in packaging

'Singulation' is necessary if you want to minimise manual labour and have an efficient packaging operation. A new system adds a simple innovation to do the job in a nice compact area. Matt McDonald reports.

Conveyor belts are a tried and true means of moving products quickly and efficiently. But they aren’t particularly neat. They tend to deliver items in a random, disorderly fashion.

Manufacturers don’t like this type of disorder because it slows things down and costs money. They want systems that can line-up or ‘singulate’ randomly oriented products into an orderly straight queue for packaging.

The High Speed Singulation System from Machinery Automation and Robotics (MAR) is one such system.

Recently launched at AUSPACK 2013 in Sydney, it is recommended for use with foods and other delicate items that can’t be crushed or pushed around too vigorously.

In fact, it was so well received at that exhibition that it was named ‘Best New Product’ at the APPMA Awards of Excellence.

As such, it was judged to deliver proven efficiency and productivity gains; to be innovative; and to have proven and improved cost of ownership.

Manufacturers Monthly was on hand at AUSPACK where we spoke with MAR General Manager, Troy Krogh about the singulator.

“The system is quite simple, using conveyor technology,” he explained. “That’s really the beauty of the system, its low complexity. It is easy to understand and easy for our clients to use.”

He pointed out that “typically, singulation requires a large footprint and involves multiple conveyors in a line.”

Such systems need space to line up their items. In these cases, singulation occurs at the point where the products move to the next conveyor. And because they need multiple conveyors they need plenty of space.

In contrast, the MAR singulator doesn’t need a lot of space. The system involves a series of 90 degree turns using standard belt type conveyors. Each conveyor in the series is running at a higher travel rate than the previous in order to pull the gap needed for singulation.

“This uses a very small foot print in a circular arrangement to allow users to singulate products out to packaging. That allows robots to pick the products to place into packaging or to feed into a flow wrapper,” Krogh says.

A Simple Innovation

So the innovation is in the 90 degree turns. Rather than travelling in a conventional straight line, the conveyors take your products on a little journey around a square (or rectangular).

At the end of that little journey they are in a nice uniform queue. The whole system has turned back on itself and the job is completed in a compact area.

While the dimensions and foot print vary depending on application, the typical foot print for a single lane system is approximately 1200mm x 1200mm.

In summary, Krogh says, “It is a very low cost….very simple to use system.”

The high speed singulation system was originally designed with food manufacturing in mind. It is suitable for use with doughnuts, muffins, cookies, corndogs, poultry, confectionary, burritos, frozen foods, baked goods, patties, and so forth.

However, it may also be applied to a range of other applications in many different industries.

Designed for long life and high performance regardless of the operating environment, it is available with a choice of aluminium or stainless steel frame construction.

It has a robust, hygienic and easy-to-clean structure and features sealed ball bearings. It can be adapted for multiple product applications and is easily integrated into existing lines and infrastructure.

Single and multiple lane singulation systems are available dependent on rate and product flow. Each lane can handle speeds of up to 500 pieces / minute.

There is a washdown version available and there is a choice between two belt width options.

Retrofitting

And the singulator can be retrofitted. According to Krogh, the small footprint again facilitates any retrofitting.

“We can integrate the singulation of the product and also add the robotics systems to the line either immediately or in phases,” he says.

“Management may decide to replace some manual labour initially…and then ultimately remove all labour from that area.”

The decision comes down to each individual business but, ultimately, the system is intended to make a positive impact on the packaging environment by transforming bulk flow of items into a single sortable stream without the need for manual intervention.

Effective singulation means faster operation, increased efficiency, less downtime and a healthier bottom line.

Now those are some things that manufacturers definitely do like.