A powder filler is a machine that fills dry product in bottles, cans or bags. The product can be fine powder or coarse granules. The powder filler category often even includes fillers – usually scales or volumetric fillers – that fill rather large pieces, such as candy or nuts. It can be a free standing unit or it can be mounted atop a form fill seal machine.
The most common type of powder filler is the auger filler. It consists of a hopper, often mounted on a post, with a specially designed auger inside. The hopper is often agitated to keep the powder free flowing. Each turn of the auger releases a certain volume of powder so, if the machine is set to turn a certain number of times over each container, it dispenses a consistent volume in each container. Auger fillers are capable of filling a wide variety of products, both free flowing and non-free flowing powders as well as large granules. It can fill any kind of container. Its performance is entirely independent of the container, unlike some other types of fillers. The only disadvantage of this type of filler is that it is not exactly gentle on the product. If a product is fragile and can be damaged, another type of filler should be chosen but, for most powders and granules, the auger filler works just fine.
A major force in the development of the modern auger powder filling machine was George Diehl Mateer of Pennsylvania who founded the G Diehl Mateer Company (Now part of Barry Wehmiller) in 1948. Mateer, ever since, has been the leading manufacturer of auger fillers. The Mateer 31A is probably the most produced filler of this type. The 31A is a semi-automatic filler but auger fillers are often rigged up to be fully automatic with a conveyor and controls.
In 1969, G Diehl Mateer was sold to new owners and some of the key employees, led by Richard Edington, left and formed their own company, All Fill. All Fill has since become another major producer of auger fillers similar to Mateer machines. The All Fill Model B has become another very popular machine.
In 1974, Per Fil Industries was founded and, in 1986, AMS Filling Systems was founded and both of these companies became major auger filler manufacturers. All four of the companies, including Mateer, are in located in the suburbs of Philadelphia and all are built on Mateer technology in one way or another.
The second most common way of filling dry product is by weight. Weigh fillers are divided into two kinds: Net Weight and Gross Weight. Most weigh fillers are of the net weight variety, ie. the machine weighs the product before it is dispensed as opposed to Gross Weight fillers where the container sits on a scale and the filler shuts off when the filled container reaches a certain weight.
In many scale filling operations, the product travels on a vibratory conveyor and is dribbled into a small hopper that is mounted on a weigh cell. When the product in the hopper reaches a certain weight, the hopper opens up spilling the product into the container. Scale fillers can be used to fill any kind of container but they are most commonly used to fill form/fill/seal pouches. They are often set up in a circular configuration of 10 to 24 scales mounted above the film tube of the form/fill/seal.
Net weight fillers can fill larger and more delicate pieces than auger fillers. They are often used for such products as nuts, candy and coffee beans. One of the leading manufacturers of scales for form/fill/seal machines is Ishida of Japan. Parsons-Eagle Packaging Systems of Wisconsin is a leader floor mounted scale fillers for containers. Weigh Right Automatic Scale of Joliet, IL is another.
Gross Weight fillers are sometimes used to fill large boxes and bags. Typically, a 40 lb bag is clamped to the filler and, when the weight of the bag reaches a certain amount, the filler shuts off and the bag is dropped. Gross Weight fillers are gradually being supplanted by Net Weight fillers because the latter are faster. Taylor Products of Illinois is a leading producer of Gross Weight bagging scales.
Volumetric pocket fillers are perhaps the simplest and inexpensive method of mechanized filling. In a typical design, the filling mechanism is a rotary table with holes cut into it that lead to cylindrical cups below. There is a stationary table below the cylinders that seals them on bottom until they rotate directly above the container to be filled. At that point, there is an opening in the lower table that allows the contents of the cylinder to empty into the container.
This is a gentle method of filling but it cannot be used on powders that are not free flowing or that might clump. Volumetric fillers work well with large pieces such as nuts, candy and popcorn and they do best on containers with large mouths, such as cans. And keep in mind that these are volumetric so that they do not necessarily achieve consistent weight in each container. That has to be considered if the seller of the product guarantees a certain weight.
Volumetric pocket fillers are closely associated with the Speedee Packaging Machinery Co. of Wisconsin which has been producing these fillers since the late 1940’s. Most fillers of this type on the used market are SpeeDee.
Vacuum filling is the gentlest and cleanest method of filling but it can be used only on a fine, free-flowing powder. It also requires a rigid or at least semi-rigid container that can withstand vacuum.
In a vacuum filler, the container is lifted tight against the fill spout to make an airtight seal. A vacuum is drawn on the container and it causes the powder to be sucked into it. When the container is filled, the vacuum in the headspace can be replaced with an inert MAP gas which resists spoilage. For this reason, vacuum fillers are often used in pharmaceutical and medical applications.
The modern vacuum powder filler was invented in 1948 by Perry Industries (now M&O Perry Industries) with its Accofil filler. Its longtime president Joseph Osterhaus was a leading exponent of this type of filler.
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