Bagging and Beyond
by Shane Whitaker
Packaging often can be a bottleneck in a bakery’s operations, but today’s high-speed and highly automated systems should help make that an issue of the past. If a plant’s bread and bun bagging equipment doesn’t allow it to run its lines at the throughput rates at which it would like to operate, then the bakery most likely should invest in this area to make its operations more efficient.
Packaging keeps baked foods fresh, and for retail products, the package can be key for point-of-sale marketing. While traditional baggers are the most popular choice, bakeries have a variety of options when looking at how to package bread and bun products. They may opt to overwrap loaves with a flow wrapper prior to bagging or to double-bag products. Equipment manufacturers also reported that recently they have been working to set up bagging systems to package sandwich thins, which have grown in popularity since they were first introduced a few years back.
Bakeries that sell buns to food service customers often use bulk systems that create larger pillow packs in a variety of configurations, while some frozen dough manufacturers may be looking for vertical packaging systems.
IMPROVED BULK PACKING.
Roland Lomerson Jr., director of automation, AMF Bakery Systems, Richmond, VA, noted that the latest trends in bulk bagging include machines that can produce a variety of packaging sizes and configurations and can skip sealing for multiple small packages. Bakeries also have requested perforated seals and center sealing for small package separation and handling. Mr. Lomerson noted that processors are looking for consistency, not necessarily top-end speeds.
Using its patented independent hold-down system, AMF improved laning and grouping for its bulk bun packers. The equipment manufacturer also implemented a new impulse wire cross-seal technology as standard and simplified designs for easier sanitation and better maintenance access, Mr. Lomerson added. AMF’s bulk packaging equipment also features improved side-seal design, providing more precise hot air delivery and temperature control.
LeMatic, Inc., Jackson, MI, also manufactures bulk bun packaging systems. Its Model LS-132 bulk bun packer features a maintenance-friendly design, allowing heaters to be quickly changed out for limited downtime. Options include center seal and dual center seal with center cut.
Matt Stanford, vice-president, Bettendorf Stanford, Inc., Salem, IL, noted that much of the company’s growth in bagging systems comes from the intermediary producers that are moving up from small-scale equipment to its Utility bagger. In many instances, these bakeries will manually feed the bagging machine, but the bagger allows the bakery to package a variety of products. He explained that many of these mid-size bakeries are baking products for food service customers because more restaurants are purchasing buns from local bakers.
Adding a bagger automates the process and generally permits a bakery to reduce labor in packaging, as well as increase production. If a bakery has four to eight people in packaging, it likely could get that down to two or three and accomplish its packaging in less time with a new bagging machine, Mr. Stanford said.
Bettendorf Stanford builds flexibility into its Utility bagger to package a wide variety of buns and bread products, he noted. The company also offers the Smart Bread Packaging Room, an integrated solution that links all of the bagging machines in a plant so they can communicate to keep high-speed operations running smoothly. For example, Mr. Stanford said, if a line is running 120 loaves per minute and using four baggers and for some reason one of those baggers is taken offline, the advanced controls immediately communicates this to the other three baggers, and they increase their throughput speeds to keep up with production.
According to Mr. Lomerson, AMF bread baggers feature simplified operation and adjustments via improved human-machine interfaces with recipe management. Other features include quick scoop changeover, automatic wicket bag exchanges and enhanced guarding.
In addition, he said, bakers are looking to integrate the slicer and bagger into a combo unit, eliminating the need for conveyor transfers and combining controls. AMF also improved the bagger discharge conveyor for smoother operation.
Formost Fuji Corp., Woodinville, WA, focused on improving the design of its GTS bagger to allow for better sanitation, according to Dennis Gunnell, the company’s vice-president of sales and marketing. The company uses rounded pieces for the frame or welds square pieces at an angle so they will not collect crumbs.
LeMatic offers the SL90 Series roll baggers, flexible systems to meet high-production packaging needs for a wide range of rolls and buns. The equipment manufacturer uses servo motors on its packaging equipment, which D.J. LeCrone, the company’s CEO, said help with the dependability and longevity of the equipment. However, he said, the company only uses technology where it believes it will be beneficial to the processor, and it continually evaluates the cost-benefit ratio to ensure that any new technology is a good fit.
In addition, Mr. LeCrone noted that packaging lines nowadays are able to gather information and use that information to make adjustments on the fly. “Packaging equipment is becoming connected into the overall process,” he added.
The Henry Group, Greenville, TX, offers bread baggers capable of running at speeds ranging from 40 to 75 bags per minute. Its baggers feature low-maintenance timing belt drives with variable speed motors, remote scoop adjusters for on-the-fly adjustments and adjustable length wicket tables. These bread baggers also include as standard a removable lower access door for easy maintenance and indicators for the digital speed/bags per minute and regularly scheduled maintenance.
Using vertical packaging systems for bread and bun products isn’t extremely common. However, Vincent Feix, vice-president and North American sales manager, De La Ballina, Pointe Claire, QC, pointed out a trend of using vertical form/fill/seal (f/f/s) machines for the freezer-to-oven concept.
“Companies that had focused on serving the food service industry with large packages of frozen bread are now entering the retail packaging market,” he said. “Vertical bagging is one of the best solutions to use existing high-speed production lines for smaller packages and at faster packaging rates.”
As more processors enter this market, the quality and functionality of bags become a way that they can market their products and differentiate them from the competition. To this end, Mr. Feix said, they want options such as stand-up bags, zipper closures and improved graphics on the bag.
New bagging solutions allow greater flexibility and more reliability, he noted. As such, De La Ballina offers complete systems that run large cost-effective polypropylene pillow bags for food service as well as multilayered laminated films with attractive printing and/or stand-up bags for retail.
In addition, the packaging can feature a variety of different closures including zippers, clips, ties or sealed bags. And systems can use pre-made, wicketed bags or make bags from a roll of fill using the f/f/s technology.
Processors also desire flexibility in the variety of products they can package, and they need fast changeover times and systems that are easy to operate and maintain, Mr. Feix said.
When bagging bread products, Mr. Feix said, a counting device must be located upstream. “The vision counting technology developed by De La Ballina remains the most powerful and flexible solution when running any kind of product with the option of both bagging in small containers and bulk packing directly in a box with a liner pre-inserted,” he noted.
Vertical bagging also is often used when the final user requires bag in the box for a more convenient management of the stock, Mr. Feix said.
Burford Corp., Maysville, OK, also manufactures a vertical machine that bags powdered donuts instead of bread or buns, according to Mitch Lindsey, technical sales. The company had made advances to this machine by replacing older style parts with new, more efficient components, he said. Also it helps to save companies money by lowering the power consumption using high-efficiency motors and pausing motors when no product is available, Mr. Lindsey noted.
However, Burford’s role in bread bagging is usually in the closure. “I like to think of us as ‘The Closure Company,’” Mr. Lindsey said. “We have three systems available for bag closure. The Twist Tyer has been available for 50 years now and has seen some changes from being less mechanical to more electrical.” It also offers a taper, which is a tamper-evident closure that gives the processor the ability to print on the closure. Also, the company’s heat sealer provides a tamper-evident closure to the end of bread or bun bags that has a perforation for easy removal.
Clips, of course, are another popular closure option for bread and bun bags. Kwik Lok Corp., Yakima, WA, offers a variety of systems for attaching these closures to bread and bun bags, and they can easily be integrated into the packaging lines. The company provides both semiautomatic and fully automatic bag closing equipment.
“Kwik Lok is unique in that we not only build the bag closing equipment, but we also produce the closures that run through the equipment to close the bag,” said Hal Miller, the company’s vice-president, sales. “There is no need for two sources of supply to close the bags.”
Lots of advances have been made in recent years to packaging equipment for bread and buns, and these new bagging systems should help bakeries with consistent operations in their packaging rooms.