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Automation Applications

Off-site Integration Guarantees Tote Filling Automation Success

The client’s dilemma; two months to program, ship and install two fully functioning tote filling lines to a building that was only partially built. How do you install and test packaging lines in a construction zone, with half-finished rooms and no electrical hookups?

You don’t. Instead, the client used EPIC’s offsite integration facility and programming expertise to fully assemble, program and test the tote filling equipment – before shipment – during the construction phase.

Tote Filling and Handling

CLIENT: Fortune 500
INDUSTRY: Automotive Chemicals


  • Mirrored, semi-automated tote filling lines for hazardous chemical
    • Tote purge station with nitrogen blanket injection
    • Manual tote filling station with vent line
    • Automated tote conveying system
  • Programming: VFD’s, Allen Bradley PLC, HMI (with E-stop) and Ethernet drives
  • Data logging for previous 99 fills
  • Galvanized steel platforms for line access
  • VAT testing


  • tote-filling-automationNew plant construction: The facility was built from the ground-up while the lines were being assembled and integrated, causing the footprint of the room to change multiple times. Line layout was adjusted during installation by EPIC’s integration specialists to accommodate these changes.
    • Small footprint: There was less than one foot of space between the brick wall of the building and the edge of the conveying lines. The building was designed by the overseeing construction firm (not EPIC) to just barely hold the mirrored line. 
    • Short-timeline: From the first phone call to the client requested start-up date, there was only two months for equipment procurement, programming, testing and start-up.
  • Availability of fill material: the chemical being filled into IBC’s, not the IBC’s themselves, were available for the programming process at EPIC’s facility. This meant specific gravities, viscosities and weights were unknown to the EPIC team until start-up.
  • Communication: EPIC was brought into the project as a subcontractor. The team did not have access to the project manager for the international company, who was building the facility. EPIC initiated contact with various subcontractors, including the civil construction company and the chemical provider, to successfully navigate potential issues. Perseverance and constant communication on the part of EPIC’s project manager was vital to making this project successful.


Front-End Engineering/Design Engineering

Instead of providing a fixed-bid quote, EPIC uses a front-end engineering approach, to guarantee projects are delivered on time and on budget. At the end of the front-end engineering stage, we provide a contract with a fixed price to complete the design, integration, installation and startup of the complete line.  Some of the reasons we believe front-end engineering is necessary:

  • Risk is minimized for both the client and the supplier because unknowns” are turned into “knowns
  • Contingency is drastically reduced in the quotation for the same reason.
  • Issues surrounding technical feasibility are uncovered early
  • The careful, informed development of an accurate project schedule based upon actual equipment lead times results in a high probability that your system will be producing product on the agreed upon date

To guarantee success of the project before signing a binding contract, EPIC completed the following during front-end engineering, in addition to our standard FEE deliverables:

  • packaging-tote-automationMajor tote filling automation and equipment selection with  accurate pricing for:
    • 5 end-feed conveyors
    • 4 Purge stations
    • 2 Double pop-up conveyors
    • 1 Gravity conveyor for end-of-line loading station
    • 1 Filler and related piping/valves
    • 2 galvanized steel and steps for t-shaped design of approximately 6’ tall, 4’ wide and 18’ long platforms
    • 1 Panelview HMI
    • 1 Allen Bradly PLC and Ethernet connections
    • Multiple variable frequency drives (VFD’s)
  • Develop fixed bid quotation for project design / programming / platform fabrication /installation / commissioning including:
    • Detailed design
      • Mechanical engineering
      • Electrical engineering
        • Power
        • Controls
        • Instrumentation
      • Software development
        • Logic programming
        • Operator interface
        • Alarm handling
        • Data collection
    • tote-fillingHardware procurement
      • Major equipment
      • Ancillary equipment
      • Valves
      • Instruments
      • Control systems
      • Operator interface devices
      • Data collection server
    • Off-site integration and fabrication (EPIC Systems, St. Louis, Missouri)
      • Mechanical checkout
      • Electrical checkout
      • Factory acceptance testing
    • Field checkout
    • Startup and commissioning
      • Introduction of chemicals
      • Programming optimization
      • Demonstration of operation at normal production rates
      • Completion of punch list items
    • Training
      • Production supervision
      • Operators
      • Maintenance technicians
    • Base project execution schedule with critical path defined

EPIC’s Proven Tote Filling Automation Solution

Two months, two days and one hour from the day the client first called EPIC, the fully functioning tote filling automation line was checked out and running at production speeds. This was no easy feat, especially with all the cross-communication between sub-contractors essential to getting the line in place.

The dual mirrored line accepts chemical totes from a semi-truck on one of five end-feet conveyors. Totes index two at a time to a purge station, where a nitrogen blanket is applied to purge the totes of any lingering fumes. The purge was semi-automated for speed and safety, with line operators manually hooking up the purge lines.

Totes cycle to a filling station where line operators, standing on the galvanized steel platforms, manually attach filling and vent lines. Operators move to the operations booth and press a “start fill” button. Load-cells and scales track the weight of the totes.

The tote filling equipment is programmed by EPIC to measure the: containers empty weight, weight with lines connected, full weight with lines connected, and full weight without lines connected. The system uses this information to fill the tote to the exact target weight, and prevent totes from leaving the station with the fill lines still attached.

The tote filling automation increased the speed of the process. The PLC uses the totes’ weight to meter filling as the IBC approaches target weight. When a tote gets within five kilograms of target “full”, the valve shuts down to 10%, and shuts off completely at full. Making is on the other side of the conveyor line, and is piped directly to the fill line. The valve is directly above the fill, so pre-act is not a concern.

This combination of automated filling and manual hookups was selected because it had the best ROI for efficiency and money. A fully automated tote fill line was too expensive for the client, and deemed unnecessary by EPIC’s expert engineering team. This IBC fill line was designed to be a low-speed, flexible solution, moving at approximately 10 feet/minute. The filler was the main design concern because it is the rate-limiter for the line.

tote-line-handlingThe chemical product used in the process is not common and shipment was not easy. When EPIC was completing the initial program development, wooden pallets and a water tote were used to simulate the line. Adjustments for actual weights, viscosities and fluid gravities were made on-site during installation. A vendor acceptance test (VAT) was performed at EPIC (with the client present) and a final factory acceptance test performed on-site during start-up.

Limit switches were used to index totes around the system. The facility is designed to have enough conveyor space to hold as many totes as it takes to fill a semi-truck. End-of-line totes are loaded directly off the gravity conveyor onto a waiting truck.

The platforms are designed for good ergonomics and easy access to the top of the IBC containers. Workers wearing PPE connect hoses and vent lines to totes on the two filling lines. The T-design of the platforms helped minimize space requirements, allowing access to the critical parts of both lines from one platform. These platforms were made of galvanized steel, and offered the weather resistant properties of stainless steel, at half the cost.

The layout of the lines within the building was one of the most challenging aspects of the project. These lines were a smaller portion of a bigger civil project that included the manufacturing area and a much larger office building area. The building was a half-completed construction zone when the project began, and underwent several layout changes while the lines were being integrated at EPIC.  On the final day of startup, the building was still not complete. Brick was used as the main material of construction, which meant the physical building could not be changed.

EPIC initially designed the lines off of tote sizes and the proposed room layout. A finalized building plan was not available during design and a short timeline was required by the client. Adjustments were required upon installation. For example, the final building included a floor level change after the fill area station, which was not in the original layout. EPIC integrated the platform steps with this level adjustment during start-up.


  • Packaging line delivered on time and on budget through utilization of EPIC’s offsite facility.  Project team was able to integrate and automate the line simultaneously with civil construction.
  • Safe, efficient and affordable filling process achieved with automated filling and manual hookup combo
  • Quality assurance improved with accurate data logging system, ensuring the client was not shipping excess product. Additionally, it helped the client’s end customer track how much chemical they had received, matching the shipping and receiving records to ensure no product was lost during transport.


A good packaging line integrator works with you to design a line that meets your packaging goals, your budget and prevents problems before they occur through careful line design. EPIC believes we can help you “Do It Better” when it comes to packaging by:

  • Utilizing Front-End Engineering to guarantee that the proper steps are taken during project scope development
  • Applying our plant engineering experience to identify needs, pinpoint objectives and provide the most appropriate manufacturing equipment for the application
  • Maintaining an open door client policy to promote innovation. We invite clients to visit EPIC to experiment with new processes, technologies and techniques that push the limits of traditional engineering
  • Being accountable to responsibly manage our clients’ projects from start-to-finish and beyond
  • Imparting a transfer of knowledge (not just a basic training) for the systems and equipment we provide
  • Providing a single point of direct contact during the entirety of the project

Find a better packaging solutionContact EPIC or learn more about tote filling automation

Get Started

Are you ready to get started with your automation project? Contact an engineer today 314-254-9768 to discuss your application. At EPIC you will be put in direct contact with a project engineer who will help you get started...

EPIC Industrial Automation
4134 Meramec Bottom Rd
St. Louis, MO 63129, US