How Manufacturers Can Work with Customers to Make Case Packers Safer

Adding automation to your secondary packaging operations will improve efficiency and throughput. Still, manufacturers must also ensure the safety of anyone interacting with an automated case packer on the floor. 


Safety is always a compromise. The safest thing to do is absolutely nothing, but there is no reward if you don’t take any risk. Safety can be calculated by the following formula: 


Risk = severity * likelihood


With automation and safety, you want to reduce the severity and likelihood of injuries caused by hazards that a packaging machine could create. 


Case Packer Operating Hazards 


Safety planning for case packers involves identifying and safeguarding against any potential operating hazards to protect operators and others near the machine on the floor. Some examples of machine operating hazards include the following: 


  • Mechanical hazards: e.g., being cut or hit by a blunt object
  • Electrical hazards: e.g., being electrocuted
  • Thermal hazards: e.g., being burned or scolded
  • Noise hazards: e.g., being exposed to loud noises
  • Vibration hazards: e.g., getting a musculoskeletal disorder from prolonged exposure to vibrations
  • Radiation hazards: e.g., being exposed to harmful nuclear radiation or electromagnetic radiation
  • Material hazards: e.g., being exposed to toxic materials or gasses
  • Ergonomic hazards: e.g., exerting too much effort or a destructive repetitive activity
  • Environmental hazards: e.g., temperature or lack of oxygen


Manufacturers want to reduce risk whenever possible, so they must carefully consider safety precautions when designing and implementing controls for case packers and automated packaging systems. With customer input, they should be able to optimize design and controls to support operators and improve throughput while minimizing risks. 


Let’s explore safety considerations and examples from our experience working with customers to implement safety-conscious automation. 



Adding Safety to Case Packer Design


Optimizing how operators can access control panels and other essential components will minimize risk and reduce the likelihood that an operator needs to reach or enter a hazardous area. Operators will also have enough space and lighting if they need to work inside the machines. 


For example, if something goes wrong, like a product jam, our case packers feature robust machine lighting to ensure operators and maintenance technicians can see clearly inside the case packer. 


To integrate safety features into our design, we carefully consider the routine duties of general floor operators and maintenance technicians, industry standards, and general best practices. We rely on our customers to ensure we have all the information before we design.


Here are a few ways case packer manufacturers, like BPA, consider and integrate safety into design. 




Creating features that enhance operators' interactions with the case packing machines is imperative to improving physical and mental well-being while reducing downtime. Manufacturers must consider operators’ daily routine duties and repetitive movements, like lifting and bending, and work on ways to mitigate strain-related injuries. This could include adding adjustable heights or clearance to work underneath belts to remove a jam. 


One example of considering ergonomics in design is in a case sealer application we developed. Side belts hold the case tight while conveyors are in motion through the secondary packaging process. If there is a case jam, the belts open and raise so an operator can go below safely and push the case through. As we continually test and incorporate customer feedback, we have modified this operation to make it faster while maintaining safety. 


Manufacturers must also consider the hazards that could put operators at risk. Limiting contact with moving components is crucial to safety, so we review door design, locking capabilities, barrier stability, and tampering. Optimal material selection could also reduce slipping and other accidents caused by equipment failure and improper use.


Spacing and Layout


Adding more space between machines, adjusting machine position, and designating hazardous areas and safe zones can all ensure adequate safety on the floor: plant layout and size impact safety considerations and choices. If you have a high-traffic location, you might have to have different zones of safety to balance safety and operations effectively. Columns and physical barriers could impact visibility and literal working space. 


These considerations can be addressed at any design stage but are much easier to resolve earlier. For example, we typically position emergency stops, sensors, actuators, and other safety components within easy reach to avoid injury and ensure fast action in an emergency.


But if a customer needs control panel access in a specific location, a specific device, or more sensors, we can work with them to incorporate their preferred safety features to boost safety and help operators navigate the workplace without fear of injury or impeding their daily routine. 


By understanding your facility and the operators’ needs, you can ensure the machine design is compatible with your space and layout while supporting safety. 


Industry Standards and Compliance 


It is up to the manufacturer to ensure that the solution it provides is inherently safe. This starts with complying with all industry standards and relevant safety laws and regulations. However, some customers have safety demands that are even more stringent than the law requires, and we will try to accommodate their wishes while providing guidance on budget, lead time, throughput, and other factors. 


BPA will always provide machines that obey safety laws and regulations for the machine’s destination country. Some countries have different rules and regulations. Still, some countries share safety laws and regulations, like EU countries, which share the CE standard for safety. Safety laws are subject to change, so we always stay current with new safety laws.


We monitor safety trends in various parts of the world and consider how they may impact future machine design and operations.


Safety is not an afterthought; safety is at the core of every BPA design. Remember that safety and operations always compromise, and there are often multiple solutions to an unsafe situation. BPA will always be flexible in providing the best possible safety solution while complying with all safety standards and regulations. 


Adding Advanced Controls for Safe Operability 



While industry standards and customer feedback significantly impact design, the Controls team is often the gatekeeper who tests and determines some of the more relevant aspects to enhance safety and reduce incidents. Still, more often than not, many different solutions and tools can support safety, depending on the plant layout, machines, products, budget, and people, which is why customer input is always helpful.   


Case Packer Safety Tools and Options


BPA will perform a Dynamic Risk Assessment to analyze a machine's safety and educate customers on correctly using it. If changing the machine’s design to remove the hazard is impossible, we will find ways to reduce exposure to that hazard by using sensors, guarding, or any other safety tool.


We can also review safety information with a new customer to see if any tool makes sense for their facilities and personnel. For example, if they have a high turnover, they may need additional safety, like an area scanner, because their team will be less familiar with the equipment. Regarding safety and tools, it all depends on what you want to do and the budget you must work with. 


Here are many of the tools and options that we have incorporated into our machines to make them safer:


  • Emergency stops
  • Interlocking guards with door locks and sensors
  • Stack light
  • Audible alarms
  • Brakes on electric motors
  • Slow start to gradually reapply pneumatic pressure after a stop
  • Local isolators on motors
  • Main switch
  • Check valves on pneumatic systems
  • Pressure regulators and flow restrictions on pneumatic systems
  • Safety sensors
  • Light curtains
  • Safety training
  • Safety equipment (PPE)
  • Two hand controls
  • Safety signs/warning stickers or symbols
  • Regular maintenance and inspections
  • Lock-out-tag-out procedures
  • Safe work procedures and instructions
  • Risk assessments
  • Protective barriers
  • Fire suppression systems


Alarming Considerations and HMI Best Practices


It’s important to have concise, meaningful alarms so you don’t inundate operators with too much noise or information all at once. The last thing you want is an operator to see a sea of red and panic or become apathetic toward alarms because they happen constantly.


In addition to optimal placement, the HMI of any automated secondary packaging equipment should have meaningful alarms and concise information on the display. Here are some of the ways BPA has optimized HMI design and UX to support operators:


  • We further improved our HMI design by minimizing color usage. 
  • Our HMIs use a gray screen or are dull-colored, so when a bright alert does pop up, it garners attention and focus. 
  • We also incorporated icons to replace text-based instruction when appropriate for improved usability and understanding.


User error and access control are also essential considerations here, too. From a controls perspective, we can implement preventative measures to set upper limits on line speeds or stop users from performing a combination of certain activities without verifying other things. For setting up recipes and automatic running, our software applies many limitations on speed and positioning for the operators that reduce the risk of damaging the equipment just by running it. 


Integrated Safety for Greater Flexibility in Controls 


More producers are moving away from basic safety relays and individual safety controllers as systems become automated and more integrated. So, in Controls, safety functionality comes down to program design and aligning safety concerns with the system's operability and performance. 


Safety-rated devices help control the machine's safety flow, but we can also make non-safety devices perform a safety function when certain conditions are met. With integrated safety, you have a lot of flexibility to implement safety where it makes sense to your objectives. 


Here are some of the technologies in an integrated system that support and enhance safety components. 


  • Automated safety controls, like emergency stop systems and access laser scanners, can ensure machine control in an emergency and prevent accidents if an area is breached. 
  • Safety programmable logic controllers (PLCs) can monitor a machine’s safety functions and initiate shutdown procedures if any anomalies are detected. 
  • Safety interlocks can prevent a machine from operating unless certain conditions are met.


Of course, an integrated system with safety PLCs and other safety components is more costly and complex than other safety options, so it’s essential to consult with a safety partner like BPA before confirming you have the proper safety system for your equipment, personnel, and budget. 


Adding Safety with a Dedicated Equipment Partner


Safety can get complex, but it is critical to have relevant safety measures to keep your personnel safe and minimize downtime that could affect your throughput. You should always partner with a flexible, well-educated company that can assess your needs and offer optimal solutions


BluePrint Automation will work with you to understand your concerns. We have the design capabilities to make your safety vision come to life anywhere in the life cycle. It doesn’t have to be a costly solution, but it can be effective if it increases safety or shuts down a machine before a significant incident occurs.  


We can and will perform a risk assessment, but we also need the help of your plant safety personnel to conduct their own risk assessment, as they know their equipment and hazards better than anyone else. We are flexible and can add and tweak things at later stages, but the process goes much better when that safety information can be accessed sooner rather than later. 


Furthermore, a dedicated partner can ensure your people know your new case packer or automated system and have the training and resources to operate the machinery correctly. While safety and operations involve compromise, finding the right balance between the two is much easier when you have a solid partnership dedicated to both. 


Wrapping Up


Safety is critical for any plant; adding automation should also involve safety considerations. Case packers are becoming more accessible to operate and maintain, but it’s crucial to review safety challenges and opportunities before making decisions about automation. 


Remember to know what your safety people and operators need so there’s no gap in procurement and safety. Understand your ground-level processes and get the proper people involved immediately. Contact us to learn more about our approach to safety and automation. 

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