AUTOpack™: a machine-handleable bag for automated packing

Potatoes, carrots, grapes, radishes, and other agricultural products ... as well as industrial products like washers, candies, pumbling parts, repair kits, bolts, equipment parts, bulk salt, sugar, or fertiliser etc., confectionery, spices ... anything that is bagged is a target for AUTOpack™.

AUTOpack™ can extend the reach of automated packaging because it inherently supports a simple and potentially small and inexpensive system that would be tolerant of workflow variations and interruptions.

AUTOpack™ is a new approach in machine-handleable bags, for fully automated bulk packaging and for smaller applications like agricultural/produce packaging (carrots, potatoes, radishes, apples...) and a range of industrial and commercial packaging (and potentially in-store checkout bagging).

AUTOpack™ will compete with the two main automated bagging technologies: form-fill-seal bags, with 'preopened' asymmetrical bags. (Don't forget that much bagging is still done with the ordinary tedious purely hand-operated bag.) Because of AUTOpack's™ flexibility, economy, and the simplicity of the machinery that will handle it, it has the potential to change the way certain types of industrial and agricultural packaging is done. For example, this technology is inherently less expensive and more portable than existing bagging technologies, so one can imagine individual farms or groups of them owning their own machinery that is portable and goes right to the field if necessary, or adapted onto harvesters, as well as used in the barn. The technology is also inherently tolerant of variations in processing speed, and outright stoppages, without waste. It is thus suitable for "when ready" cycle completion.

Attention engineering and machinery companies: we are seeking partnerships for the bag-handling machinery. We envisage a substantial market, ranging from short-run agricultural packaging, through light commercial (kits, confectionery, parts packaging), potentially all the way to enhanced checkout stations that present an opened bag for ready for filling by checkout staff or customers. There is scope for your engineering expertise to result in patents that build your company, consolidate your strategic position, and expand your markets. Please contact us for discussions.

AUTO-pack diagram

A bag that can be opened reliably by a machine
~ for filling stations that are semi/completely mechanised ~

Until now --- the problem with getting a machine to open a bag is that the machine would have to work like people do, and sense that it had gripped one layer (not two). That would require more perception and precision than is practically available in machines. SNAP™ solves this problem by drastically reducing the requirement for perception and precision. The cutouts in alternate pleats of the bag make it possible for a low-precision machine to grasp each of the four 'corners' of a bag, open it, and hold the bag open.

Suitable for an automated bagging station, AUTOpack™ is a bag that can be handled and fully opened by a machine. The bags would be on a roll fed from the bottom (from top is possible but requires an extra step in handling). The bags shown are 'flat-top', but they could have handles (like T-shirt bags, or as punch-outs).

If bottom-feed, the bag could be filled before or after detaching from succeeding bag; filled bags would be then either left attached (giving strips of filled bags, workable if contents are light and not too bulky) or could of course be detached.
If top-feed, the bag has to be fully separated from the succeeding bag before filling.

Each bag has four easily-accessible grasping points so that they can be fully and positively opened by machines. Each grasping point is immediately accessible without the need for rubber fingers etc. to separate layers.

How would the bagging machinery work?  

The handling machine grips are to be aligned with the bag's grasping points. Even if the film is very clingy the bag will still be openable because the grip and action are so positive. The anticipated application would see these handled on rolls for feed into filling machines. Bag feed could be upward or downward. The fingers grasping the pair of tabs corresponding to the back of the bag would often be rigged to remain stationary, while the 'front' fingers would move in unison, pulling the front away (or first to one side to break the interlayer cling, and then away to fully open the bag mouth, a kind of zigzag motion).    Many forms of actuation are possible, many kinds of fingers, etc., so, as said above, there's plenty of scope for innovation beyond the basic principles laid out here.

Bagging machines could range from semi-automatic to fully automatic.

Semi-automatic: manually activated once per bag. E.g., as the operator has completed filling one bag, s/he can trigger a switch) to close and detach the filled bag while a new bag is advanced, opened, and presented for filling. Operator can pause any time without causing a foulup and waste of empty but sealed bags, etc. That is not the case with form-fill-sea bagging. That means AUTOpack is much more suited to small-scale and short-run packaging than competing form-fill-seal bags.

Fully automatic: the filling operation can be automated and can trigger presentation of a bag and removal and sealing once it is filled. If there is a power failure, there is no need for a warm-up time before restarting as with form-fill-seal baggers, and no waste of material or need to clear out melted film or malformed bags caused by the interruption. With Autopack, the bags are already made.

AUTOpack means that a regular but intermittent user can afford a simple machine and a supply of custom-printed bags that previously would have been impractical for small users.

Applications:

... automated bagging for short-run tasks that require flexibility. E.g. 40 tons of carrots/onions/marbles/washers etc. in bags (4 oz to 40 gallon, etc.), bags to be machine-opened, filled, machine-closed (weld, tie, staple, tape, etc.), & the next bag to be advanced and opened, etc.

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