Filling machines—the core of most packaging lines—usually set the pace and character of a packaging operation. Modular designs in recent years have added some flexibility, and boosted delivery lead times.
The piece of equipment used on a packaging line to fill product into containers is called a filler. That deceptively simple word covers a range of equipment styles and processing techniques. In the food and beverage industries alone, fillers are available for hot-fill, cold-fill and aseptic filling applications.
Fillers are available for virtually every size container, from pharmaceutical ampoules to standard retail bottles, jars and pouches to 55-gallon drums and bulk multiwall bags. Generally speaking, fillers can be configured for either fully automated or semi-automated operation.
From a design standpoint, the array of filler options is considerable. For filling liquids, packagers have the choice of liquid-level fillers, which fill each container to the same visual level; overflow fillers fall into this category. Or they may choose a volumetric filler, designed to deliver the same volume of product into each container. Blow/Fill/Seal (B/F/S) technologies are suitable for liquids needing sterility. Piston fillers, pump fillers, flow-meter fillers, weight/mass fillers and time-based gravity fillers are different types of volumetric fillers.
Each type of liquid filler is best suited to certain types of products, based on viscosity, particulate content and characteristics like foaming and corrosiveness.
The fillers used for dry products like powders and granules include net-weight systems and volumetric fillers (such as, auger fillers). Filling small, discrete items like tablets, capsules, soft gels and hard candies requires a tablet counting system. This type of filler counts the number of pieces prior to filling them into a package.