Cookies, crackers, tortillas, donuts, snack cakes, and granola and nutritional bars represent just some of the baked foods and snacks packaged using horizontal form/fill/seal (f/f/s) machines, which are also known as flow wrappers. Some baked foods might require tray boards to support them, others are packed in trays, and some require nothing at all for support. Companies can choose to package their products singly or wrap them in long sleeves of multiple baked goods. Some horizontally wrapped products feature brightly colored and even metalized films, and others will be wrapped in plain cellophane and then packaged in more elaborate cartons or boxes.

Because many baking and snack manufacturers produce a variety of products, they desire a single line capable of packaging different products, and this can present quite a challenge for the equipment manufacturers. Accordingly, horizontal wrappers must be designed with flexibility in mind as well as be reliable and not waste packaging film.

In addition to running multiple products on one f/f/s machine, companies also might want to run various films, and this also requires units that can adjust quickly during changeovers. Bakers and snack manufacturers need to be able to alter their film routing and the way that the film hits the former, as well as quickly and easily fine-tune settings and temperature controls, according to Dennis Gunnell, vice-president of sales and marketing, Formost Fuji Corp., Woodinville, WA.

Building in versatility

Formost Fuji’s horizontal wrappers include built-in features for adjustability so that operators can easily switch from one package to another.

Campbell Wrapper Corp. also manufactures highly flexible horizontal flow wrappers capable of running a wide range of products. “Wrapper features include a sanitary modular design with cantilevered components and a rugged frame construction, which provides smooth operation and machine durability,” said Charles Matuszak, regional sales manager of the De Pere, WI-based supplier. “Machines can be quickly and easily adjusted for product and/or wrapping material changeover, often without the use of tools.”

Jonathan Otto, product manager horizontal f/f/s, robotics and secondary, Bosch Packaging Technology, Inc., New Richmond, WI, also noted the importance of fast changeovers of flexible lines. “Bosch has responded to this demand by simplifying cleaning processes, automating adjustments where possible and making part changes tool-free.”

Large bakeries often put in dedicated machines, so changeover time is less of an issue, according to Bill Chastain, vice-president, Harpak-ULMA Packaging Systems, Inc., Taunton, MA. “But with smaller bakers, they need one machine, and they are going to changeover several times in the course of a day. Certainly, the quickness of the changeover is important,” he said. “We do that with electronic servo motors on the jaw and that type of thing. We have moved away from the mechanical machines to more the multi-motor servo jaw machines for quicker changeovers.”

Harpak-ULMA builds a variety of solutions for the baking industry. For example, Mr. Chastain recommended intermittent cutoff machines for baked foods that vary slightly in length where rotary jaw machines might clip off the end or make the bag too large for some products. “We can do an open bag seal jaw with a fold over to give you more of the traditional bag look, rather than sealing it on each end,” he said. “In Europe, the cellulose and perforated films are very popular for that. It looks more like a traditional super­market bread bag that is done on a flow wrapper.”

Bosch also manufactures a wide range of flow wrappers, Mr. Otto said. The company offers entry-level models such as the Doboy Stratus intended for hand-load applications and high-speed, highly automated models such as its Pack 401 flow wrapper. The Pack 401 achieves maximum output levels of up to 600 products per minute and film speeds greater than 260 ft per minute.

“When you look at the baking and snack industry, you see a wide variety of products including snack cakes, pastries, brownies, cookies and other snacks of different shapes,” he said. “Each of these products has unique characteristics and often requires a different solution that is tailored to feeding and overwrapping. Some bakery products can be run on a traditional product distribution system, which places the bakery products into a feeder that transfers the product to a lug chain where it pushes the product into the forming box of the flow wrapper.”

However, other bakery products run on chicaning systems, which can include series of diverters and speed-up conveyors to align random products for transfer into feeders. Products that have cremes or are sticky in nature may require a solution such as cardstock or flat-top chain that carries it into the forming box. “Bosch has developed and executed these solutions across a wide range of products for many customers in the industry,” he added.

With the various longitudinal sealing systems, cross-seal jaws, and conveying systems and infeed systems Harpak-ULMA has for putting the product into the package, Mr. Chastain pointed out that it can custom design horizontal wrappers for individual customers’ products.

In addition, it builds machines that work with multiple types of films. The machines feature different sets of longitudinal feed rollers and the manufacturer activates the one for the film it is running. “The universal jaw will work across different film families,” he added.

Packaging material advancements have caused equipment manufacturers to be proactive in finding the best types of sealing components. “This means the use of various crimper tooth profiles, choosing the correct metal alloys for good heat transfer and, in some cases, changing traditional methods of ways to create good seals,” Mr. Matuszak said.

Going green with f/f/s

Formost Fuji introduced the Alpha VII high-speed horizontal servo wrapper to the US market at the beginning of the year. Major improvements compared with previous models are that it offers a more user-friendly and detailed human-machine interface (HMI). “Operators have more information at their fingertips, and it is simpler and more configurable,” Mr. Gunnell said.

Also, the newly designed horizontal f/f/s machine is easier to clean and more green. “It uses less energy,” he said. “We are controlling temperatures much more uniformly and also using conduction heating technology, which is new to our industry, in the fin seal area. It increases the stability of the fin seal temperatures, which reduces your energy consumption.

“I think green is going to continue to be important,” he continued. “Everyone is looking at energy consumption within the plant, and using components, motors and temperature controllers that help you save energy will be important.”

Formost Fuji also recently began offering swing arm rotary seals, which puts the rotary end sealer on a pivoting arm that travels with the film for a short distance. “You get the advantages of a rotary, which are higher pressure and point-to-point contact, and you are getting additional dwell time for better sealing capabilities, controlled through the servo motor,” Mr. Gunnell said. “We can still match film speeds and it works very well in high-speed applications that need exceptional seal qualities, and you don’t have to slow down your mechanical speed capabilities.”

The new technology, he noted, has seen the most interest in nutritional bars, where manufacturers want good quality seals that run at high speeds.

Meeting higher sanitation standards

Sanitation and hygiene requirements for all food manufacturers are increasing, and bakery and snack is no exception. Packaging machine manufacturers must respond to this by designing equipment that is more hygienic in nature and also better facilitates cleaning processes. “Bosch’s broad exposure to other industries such as dairy and meat that traditionally have higher sanitation requirements has enabled us to meet these demands with proven designs that are more hygienic and simplify the cleaning process,” Mr. Otto said.

Formost Fuji will continue to make its flow wrappers more sanitary and accessible for cleaning by eliminating as much of the undercarriage directly under the product as possible while maintaining a robust frame, according to Mr. Gunnell.

Because product generally comes directly in contact with equipment at the infeed, that is the area that requires the most attention for sanitation, according to Mr. Chastain. Harpak-ULMA addressed sanitation issues by using more stainless steel and easy breakdown belts on its equipment.

Horizontal flow wrappers can be used for packaging a wide variety of bakery product and snack foods, and therefore, they need to be versatile and reliable for manufacturers. New designs and sanitation standards also make them easier to clean and more user-friendly.