When consumers walk down the snack aisle at the supermarket, they will most likely notice a wider variety of packaging formats than were available five years ago. Whereas pillow packs dominated snack packaging for many years, today gusseted, block-bottom, quattro and 4-sided seal bags can be found on the shelves. Many of these different packaging styles are made on vertical form/fill/seal (f/f/s) machines, a technology that has been used by snack manufacturers for years but is now being updated eith new capabilities.
“The trend lately has been has been customers asking us to retrofit their existing assets with different formats for the bags,” said Jeff Almond, snack food industry manager, Heat and Control, Hayward, CA. The company helps snack food manufacturers maximize their existing assets by retrofitting their continuous-motion vertical f/f/s systems to create these different packaging formats at an affordable price.“It gives them an opportunity to have more formats for less capital investment,” he added.
Block-bottom bags are not new. “Cookie companies and others have been running them for some time,” Mr. Almond said. “However, these bags have traditionally been run in an intermittent-motion format, and that is very slow. You couldn’t get the speeds that were needed or the efficiency, and there was very high waste.”
Mark Lozano, national sales manager, TNA North America, Coppell, TX, agreed that processors are most interested in versatility for their vertical f/f/s machines. “Flexibility of the bagger to do more formats than just pillow packs or specific bags that the machine might be purchased for is extremely important,” he said.
In addition to versatility, processors desire vertical f/f/s equipment that is easy to use, can help companies to expand their shelf presence and assists with sustainability initiatives.
Last year, TNA introduced its newest bagger, the Robag 3. This high-performance vertical f/f/s machine features kanga jaw technology, which allows it to produce high-quality specialty bag formats as well as long-bag applications for products such as cereals. The kanga jaw is powered by a linear motor and adds an up-and-down motion to its rotating jaws. This additional movement of up to 120 mm allows jaw path control so the jaws approach each other on a horizontal line.
“The kanga jaw gives you all the options for speed that you get with our standard rotary machine, and it gives you the ability to also do all the specialty bags on the same exact format,” Mr. Lozano said. “Literally, you can push a soft button on the touch-screen controls and turn off the kanga function and run 150 or 200 bags per minute, and you activate the kanga to run a quartto or other specialty style bags on the same machine.”
The majority of snack food manufacturers have already updated intermittent-motion machines running 60 bags per minute and replaced them with high-speed vertical f/f/s machines running at twice the speed. Now that they have achieved greater capacity, they are focused on continual operational efficiency, according to Mr. Almond. In other words, “how can we continue to reduce waste and give ourselves more flexibility,” he said.
Heat and Control improved its continuous-style equipment to do some of these various products in a continuous format, he said. “We have increased machine speeds by 20 to 25% in some cases and lowered their waste by having a more efficient machine,” Mr. Almond observed.
While some customers want to maximize their current asset base, others consider new capital investments in vertical f/f/s machines, desiring the ability to run small bags at high speeds, run larger pillow pack bags and then cross over and do some specialty format bags, according to Mr. Almond. Heat and Control’s latest high-speed continuous f/f/s machine is the Ishida Atlas-222, an updated version of the Atlas-202.
The use of a ceramic knife is one of the breakthroughs with this new model. “A ceramic knife provides a long life even to a point we no longer consider this a wear part,” Mr. Almond explained. “This knife blade would be more of a warranty type item.
“We are trying to instill the principles of sustainability and reduce the energy that is consumed with new equipment or the next generation of our current machines,” he continued. “And then we go back to the same principle of trying to get as much efficiency by reducing the waste and increasing the speed and flexibility.”
Regarding sustainability initiatives, some snack food manufacturers are considering new packaging materials made from biodegradable materials or renewable resources, and they are probably interested in knowing how these materials will run with the latest bagging machines. Working with new films can be challenging, according to Mr. Almond. “We work very closely with the film converters to make sure we know what they are thinking of for the future and what their customers are demanding,” he said. “There are some structures that run better than others, but we have not experienced too much trouble (working with biodegradable or renewable films).”
Although control systems for bagging machines are more sophisticated nowadays, they are also easier to use. Ishida baggers from Heat and Control feature “simple and intuitive” controls, according to Mr. Almond. If an operator can surf the Internet or use a Windows-based operating system, he should have no problem with the machines’ controls. “Our basic philosophy is to try to make a machine that most people could operate if they have had some knowledge of using a computer,” Mr. Almond said.
Manufacturers desire baggers that are quicker to learn and easier to operate, according to Mr. Lozano. TNA North America has been able to accomplish this through the use of industrial PCs. “We have a userfriendly interface that requires very little training,” he added. TNA’s baggers feature color touch screens, and when an operator changes the settings on the machine, he literally sees how it is going to affect the bag. “If the bag is going to be shorter and stouter, he sees that,” Mr. Lozano said. “He knows exactly what the setting changes are going to be.”
The new controls eliminate waste and save time because operators know what is going to happen even before the machine begins running the new bags, he explained.
Continued innovation with vertical f/f/s machines makes them not only easier to run, but it also leads to equipment that can produce a greater variety of bags and at higher speeds. Being able to produce different bags than just the traditional pillow pack bags, snack food manufacturers should be able to gain greater shelf space in the snack aisle.