Highest precision for highly stackable fruit crates
Europlast combines quality with efficiency and sustainability thanks to ENGEL duo machines
Maximum precision and absolute process consistency in the face of massive product variety – these are the characteristics that describe the production of one of the leading producers of fruit crates and recycling containers. At Europlast, calculations are made in kilograms and tons – but the quality of the products is tested in grams and millimeters. duo injection moulding machines by ENGEL empower the company to reconcile these challenges with climate-neutral operations.
50 kilograms of plastic – an injection moulding machine needs many cycles for this volume. But Europlast in Austria works on a different scale. Large containers with individual shot weights of up to 50 kilograms are produced here: fruit crates for agriculture, logistics and recyclable material containers for industry and municipalities, as well as individual large plastic parts built to order – and all this in an impressive variety of shapes and colours, as a tour of the company premises in Dellach im Drautal shows. The days of uniform grey containers are long gone – and even the geometric variety of the containers is impressive. Apples require a different box design from pears or plums, and even apples – depending on the variety and size – do not have uniform requirements.
Europlast is one of the three largest suppliers of injection moulded plastic container solutions in Europe. Depending on the product, HDPE is the main production material, but recycled materials from post-consumer material fractions are also used. Environmental awareness is important to the company. “We have been a climate-neutral company since 2019. We achieved this through many energy-saving campaigns and by switching to 100 percent green electricity,” explains Michael Seifter, Head of Technology and Innovation.
“In harmony with nature” is the processor’s motto, and it plays a role in every decision. Recycling, the CO2 footprint and, above all, the energy efficiency of the company’s own production are important focuses. “We try to produce in a way that conserves resources and has as little impact on the environment as possible. That’s why we impose these requirements on our production machines. And we have found a partner in spirit here, ENGEL.”
Further reductions in energy consumption
The spacious production floor is filled with ENGEL duo injection moulding machines. The large machine series inherently offers low energy consumption compared to other machine types and makes. Contributing factors include the fast clamping unit with its low moving masses, short-stroke cylinders, optimised mould movement and the ecodrive servo-hydraulic system with demand-oriented pump output. If the machine is at a standstill, for example during cooling, the motors are also idle and do not use energy.
Europlast and ENGEL have been working together since 2004; from the very outset ENGEL adapted the injection moulding machines to precisely reflect its customer’s individual requirements. This is true of the injection units, for example, as Europlast requires comparatively low injection pressures due to cascade control. To save even more energy, the latest duo 4000, delivered in 2020, was equipped with an electric plasticising drive. Including auxiliaries and automation, the total energy requirement per cycle is less than 11 kWh. “Thanks to their great energy efficiency, the ENGEL duo machines pay for themselves in less than three years,” says Seifter, who is very satisfied with the investment, not only for reasons of sustainability, but also for economic reasons.
Availability is decisive
From a technical point of view, the duo series has everything that is essential for efficient and repeatable production of large boxes. The consistently high product quality is crucial for the stability of the boxes and thus a decisive safety factor. “During apple harvesting, up to five tons of weight are stacked, 14 boxes on top of each other,” explains Michael Seifter. These towers of apple crates can then reach a height of about ten to twelve meters. Despite the thin-wall design, even the lowest crate has to be stable.
Depending on the apple variety, the crates have a shot weight of between 25 and 40 kg. Uni-form injection and weight consistency are the prerequisites for completely filling the cavities despite the long mould cores, and achieving repeatable wall thickness distribution. This is the only way to ensure that the boxes can bear the load and be safely interlocked during stacking.
The clamping unit is also crucial for performance and efficiency.
“The ENGEL duo machines are some of the fastest machines on the market. The opening, closing and locking times are unproductive. The duo is very fast here, and that is directly reflected in the cycle time,” ex-plains Seifter, emphasising yet another aspect that speaks for ENGEL: high machine availability. “Fruit crates are not pre-produced for stock, but on-demand at harvest time. I have to be able to rely on the machine being available exactly when I need it.”
Process consistency with recycled material
One essential component of resource-saving production is the use of recycled material. At present, recycled materials are not yet permitted for fruit crates in line with food legislation, but the proportion is steadily increasing in the case of recycling containers. And it is doing so worldwide, although more slowly than Seifter would wish. “The containers with a high recycled material content of up to nearly 100 percent are more expensive because we have an upcycling process upstream and far tighter quality control is required. Politically, however, there is definitely the will in some countries to invest more money in containers with recycled content.”
In use, recycling containers have to withstand different stresses than fruit crates, which only require structural stability because climatic conditions do not vary to any great extent at harvest time. Waste bins, on the other hand, are exposed to dynamic loads, from -30 °C in the Scandinavian winter to +45 °C and more in Israel, for example.
The raw materials for the production of the recycling containers with recycled content come from post-consumer fractions in the sense of the circular economy. The injection moulding machine has to compensate for the slightly fluctuating material consistency with its high precision.
The high process stability of the ENGEL machines also proves to be an advantage for Europlast in the field of contract manufacturing. Around 30% of production is contract manufacturing for different industries, different sized parts and with growing numbers of moulds – and this trend is on the increase. The production floor is therefore not only home to the large machines of the duo series. The total of 13 injection moulding machines have clamping forces between 200 and 4000 tons. “ENGEL supports us excellently with tailored solutions to empower our flexible production,” says Seifter. “We can also run smaller shot weights on large machines in between. Great consistency in the injection moulding process helps us here, too.”
In the future, the two “partners in spirit” will continue to collaborate on new projects in order to meet the requirements primarily arising from the CO2 issue.
“We will continue to work on energy efficiency and ramp up the recycled material content,” says Michael Seifter, giving a glimpse of the challenges ahead. Above all, he hopes to soon be able to use recycled mate-rials for fruit crates, too. “Our customers’ wishes and requirements are our motor and fuel,” says Werner Sucharda, Sales Manager Austria East at ENGEL.
“This means that we can always achieve the best possible results for our customers with innovative machine strategies and technologies.”
Apple crates in use during harvesting. The size of the apple drives the box design. The smaller the apple, the higher the fill weight, and the more stable the design mist be.
Waste container production on and ENGEL duo 4000: recycled material from post-consumer sources is processed here.