Bag closures get an upgrade
June 3, 2016
by Laurie Gorton
Servo drives reduce the complexity of twist tyers while on-machine software reports counts and system status.
It’s important to be reliable. There’s something very reassuring about being told that not much has changed in a particular technology. But that doesn’t mean things stand still. So it is with bakery closures and the machines that apply them to bags.
“Bakers like to see faultless 24/7 operation of closing systems,” said Mitch Lindsey, technical sales, Burford Corp. “Any downtime at the twist tyer means potential loss of all the baker has invested in the product: ingredients, labor, utilities, etc.”
That need has prompted closure suppliers and bag closing equipment manufacturers to look more closely at design and automation features. “Production managers don’t want to worry about the machine,” said Chris Loehman, regional sales, Kwik Lok Corp. “That has forced us to come up with printing solutions that don’t require a lot of maintenance or supervision.”
At Burford Corp., the need for reliability led equipment engineers into servo technology, according to Mr. Lindsey. With on-machine monitoring software already an optional part of the twist tyers, additional advances in controls are on the drawing board.
Closure material suppliers are keeping pace. Bedford Industries, which is celebrating its 50th year in business, has been getting more calls for its all-plastic non-wire twist tie, said Beth Radloff, marketing specialist, Bedford Industries, Inc. And the newest player in the category, T & T Industries, has already introduced a wider and somewhat thicker consumer-friendly twist tie, noted managing director Claudio Gonzalez.
Retro and high-tech
Savings in material costs continue to be an ongoing trend for bakeries trying to control costs, but scrimping on the consumer interface — the tie or clip that seals the bread bag — has its drawbacks. “Trends among bakers have been to look for savings in material costs,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Over the years, the typical twist tie has slimmed down to 1/8 in. wide. That reduces the amount of paper and plastic the tie contains.”
Instead, when T & T introduced the Verso tie line specifically for wholesale bakers, the company went with a 5/32-in.-wide tie. That extra 1/32 in. may not seem like much, but it represents a 25% increase in width. “When the consumer goes to reseal the package at home, the 1/8-in. tie is little more than a wire,” Mr. Gonzalez observed.
“We took the opposite approach,” he continued. “The wider tie stands out esthetically. It is thicker, and because there is more to it, the consumer will be happier when reusing the tie. Yes, it’s sort of retro, and we’re getting positive feedback from customers.”
The newest style from Bedford Industries is an all-plastic, non-wire tie. “It has been gaining more interest as bakeries move metal detection to after packaging operations and because of requests from their customers,” Ms. Radloff said.
The non-wire tie stock comes on a spool and runs through regular twist-tie equipment. The ties look just like the wire closures but without the wire. “You can’t tell the difference unless you look closely,” she said. “And it is still recloseable.”
Another new arrow in Bedford’s quiver is a different style of double-wire tin tie. It is applied vertically instead of horizontally across the top of the bag. The consumer folds the tie down over the closed bag top to reseal the package. “We have some projects in development now with this double-wire tin tie,” Ms. Radloff noted. “It’s not for bread bagging but for stand-up packages like those that hold donuts.”
Kwik Lok continues to make its clip closures from polystyrene and has recently seen an uptick in demand for styles that carry attached coupons or advertising material.
Because clips and twist ties already produce tight seals, the newest bakery trends in extra-long shelf life and larger distribution territories have not put additional pressure on closing materials or equipment design. However, color can play a bigger role. “We’re getting more requests for different colors of closures that visually define the ESL date for the person running the route,” Mr. Loehman said.
Custom colors are getting more interest at Bedford. Ms. Radloff said the company can print messages and brands directly on its twist ties.
Twist, clip and print
Machines that twist, attach and print closures have long been bakery workhorses. Burford and Kwik Lok specialize in systems for large, wholesale bakers. For Kwik Lok, bag closing is an integrated system of closures, applicator and printer; Burford builds twist tyers, while the ties themselves come from vendors such as Bedford and T & T.
For one thing, there’s been a big change in the past decade from mechanical to electronic machine controls. “The tyers have progressed to servo control,” Mr. Lindsey said. “This means less wear and smoother operation. The machines are simpler and more easily maintained than the old mechanical technology. They contain fewer moving components, and the baker needs to stock fewer replacement parts.”
The advent of the wireless tie prompted Burford to develop a simple adaptor kit. “It’s an upgrade that goes on the twisting area of machine to run the all-plastic ties,” Mr. Lindsey explained. This adaptor kit may or may not be required depending on the type of non-wire tie that is used.
Operator safety is another improvement. “The old machines used chains and sprockets, with no covers or protective housings on the tying action,” Mr. Lindsey said. “We have taken extra precautions to ensure the safety of operators and mechanics by adding covers, interlocks and switched to servo drives.”
Printing on clip-style closures improved when Kwik Lok adopted thermal ink jet technology, a method that requires less supervision and maintenance. “The technology is similar to the printers you have at the office or home,” Mr. Loehman explained. “It provides accurate and consistent results.” The printers use cartridges that are easy for operators to change out.
Kwik Lok is also looking at improvements in monitoring if the bag is closed with a closure and if the print is correct, plus connecting to the packaging line via Ethernet and updating printers from a central location.
All-plastic ties run just like wire ties on twist-tie machines equipped with a simple adapter.
Now and future
Looking ahead, Mr. Loehman described efforts to bring laser imprinting to the baking industry. “Printing on closures has to be done in a very constricted space,” he noted. “The best way to do this is by laser, but right now, that method is somewhat price prohibitive.” He confirmed that the company is seeking ways to reduce the cost of laser imprinting.
“Lasers eliminate downtime for changing inks, and they print exceptionally clear messages,” Mr. Loehman said. “They require almost no supervision other than to change the date or codes. Bakers would be surprised by how much money lasers can save them.” He suggested asking about laser systems when visiting the company at the 2016 International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), Oct. 8-11 in Las Vegas.
Integration of Burford’s twist tyers with other plant systems is being actively explored, according to Mr. Lindsey. “We’re looking at ways to record and report data up and downstream,” he said. “This may be sooner than later because many bakeries are now asking for such capability for their new plants where they want to monitor operations from central or remote locations.” It’s something else to seek out at IBIE.
Currently, operators can use software installed on the tyer to inquire about running conditions and counts. “It also provides readouts to assist the mechanics when a problem needs to be fixed,” he said.
Already available is the Model TCS-400 tape closure system, developed by Burford originally for the European market. It gathers up the end of a bag just like any twist tyer, but then it wraps a short piece of tape around the ponytail and applies a paper backing across the two ears of the tape. “This is tamper evident because you have to tear the paper to open the closure,” Mr. Lindsey explained, noting that a few of these systems are already in use in the US.
Although suppliers of closures and the machinery that puts them on bags modestly suggest that the technology has not changed much, improvements continue to be made. Advances in these categories tend to be incremental because reliability is the prime virtue this late in the process.