Flowwrappers are not new to bakers or snack food manufacturers, but if you haven’t examined the technology recently, you’re missing important developments in sustainability. After taking a long, hard look at packaging film usage and package sealing consistency, equipment manufacturers are making changes to their horizontal form/fill/seal machines.

Today, bakeries must find sustainable solutions that conserve energy and packaging materials to meet the requirements of retailers such as Wal-Mart. Also, they need packaging systems not only to keep up with their production flow but that are also flexible enough to package many items of varying sizes, often using many different films. The equipment must be reliable, efficient and easy to maintain and sanitize, especially when it comes to allergen cleanout.

Addressing sustainability issues

Sustainability — using the planet’s resources in a ­responsible manner — is the hottest buzzword in packaged foods marketing, and that goes for the films and equipment used to wrap those foods, too.

Flowwrappers must handle thinner films and other environmentally friendly packaging materials now in demand by the market. “It does create challenges,” said Dennis Gunnell, vice-president of sales and marketing, Formost Fuji Corp., Woodinville, WA. “And that is where our heater controls — and not just on induction heating [used for making the fin seal] but for our end seals as well — are important.”

The manufacturer’s horizontal f/f/s machines feature a “learn mode.” The control system identifies the characteristics of different films so it can anticipate energy needs and continually provide optimal seals. “[The control system] learns that graph and remembers it,” Mr. Gunnell said, explaining how the system differentiates various packaging films. “Then, when we turn on the wrapper the next time, it knows it needs to send a lot of temperature to the sealer and hold it in a tight window.”

Because the machine automatically knows the optimum settings for a given film, the operator doesn’t need to run off a wasteful series of sample packages at every changeover. This raises the line’s sustainability quotient. Better control over sealing temperatures reduces packaging waste caused by poor seals, and it uses energy more efficiently — another plus in the sustainability equation. 

Features such as “out of position, no cut” and “no product, no package” offered on f/f/s wrappers from Campbell Wrapper Corp., De Pere, WI, minimize waste generated, according to Mike Jarmuskiewicz, the company’s product manager. Also, a powered film roll nip from Campbell Wrapper provides superior tension control over films as they pass through f/f/s machines.

“Accurate film tension allows the wrapper to use a minimum amount of film to wrap products consistently in a production environment,” Mr. Jarmuskiewicz added.

Sealing system options

The way sealing systems work also influences the sustainability of the packaging operation. Thinner films mean less environmental impact, but they can be difficult to seal. This fact calls for new approaches.

“You can fracture the films if you apply too much pressure or burn them if you apply too much heat,” explained Paul Garms, marketing manager at Bosch Packaging Technology, New Richmond, WI. One option is long-dwell technology, traditionally used for thick films. “But it could have application on very thin films as well,” he noted.

Consistent temperature at the sealing jaws is essential for reliable packaging performance, so Campbell Wrappers added closed-loop temperature control to the sealing mechanism of its rotary cutting head. A patented long-dwell head creates high-quality seals.

Like other equipment vendors, Campbell Wrapper always tests new film materials on its stock machines for customers. “Bakeries can address the challenge of new films by testing prior to introducing it to a production environment,” Mr. Jarmuskiewicz said.

Customizing the capabilities

Flexibility, a long-term trend in packaging machinery design, isn’t far behind sustainability. Bakers often want equipment that helps them expand their product offerings to respond to new marketplace trends without investing in new machines. Also, bakeries and snack plants generally don’t run the same package all day, every day and need to rapidly adjust equipment to accommodate new configurations and films.

Flexibility is more than just quick changeover capability. “The other part of flexibility is the ability to customize the control system to best fit your plant,” Mr. Gunnell said. “And that means making the controls smarter and more user-friendly.”

Customizing is all about meeting customer needs. For example, Mr. Gunnell noted, security systems can lock out operators from different areas of the controls based on their level of training. Because each person has a passcode to access the controls, this feature offers an extra level of accountability by reporting when someone enters the system and makes changes to settings.

Today’s flowwrappers themselves are more adaptable because that’s what small to mid-size food manufacturers need. Typically, they do not run just one product style per flowwrapper. Thus, they desire the flexibility to handle a broad product range. These operators find it critical that packaging equipment changes over quickly, Mr. Garms observed.

Change parts or guides sync up machine settings for different products quickly so that operators need not perform a lot of fine adjustments. These parts and guides simplify changeovers, making this activity more reliable and ensuring better repeatability. Many Bosch systems are designed for toolless changeovers, which Mr. Garms noted reduces the time needed to switch from one product to the next.

Servo motors, along with new quick-change, tool-free designs, have reduced changeover times, Mr. Jarmuskiewicz observed. The manufacturer works to minimize the change parts on machines while maintaining package quality. “Quick-change belts and new simple designs allow easy and quick allergen cleanup of feeders and wrappers,” he said.

Inspecting after cleaning

Then there’s the matter of allergen control. Sanitation represents the other side of changeovers, especially when dealing with allergens. “We design our machines to be hygienic, which means very simple and easy to clean,” Mr. Garms said. “We are looking at belts that can be easily ­removed and at reducing the number of flat surfaces.”

Sanitation issues are addressed by Formost Fuji’s Alpha VII. “It has options for completely wide-open construction and infeeds,” Mr. Gunnell said. “And you can lift the decks very simply making the wrapper much easier to clean.”

Sanitation must also be visually verifiable. “On older wrappers, you couldn’t inspect the machine very well to tell if it had been cleaned,” Mr. Gunnell observed. “But new designs allow supervisors to open up those decks and inspect [those areas].”

In addition to improved sanitation, new horizontal f/f/s machines reduce maintenance requirements. Mr. Gunnell indicated that Formost Fuji increased the longevity of its wrappers by eliminating many wear parts. Servo motors feature direct-drive gear heads, eliminating sprockets, chains and timing belts that previously required regular maintenance as well as replacement. “With smart controls and smart designs, we are able to make the system fit better to the operation,” he said.

Another wear part removed by Formost Fuji were the molded brass heat-sealing mechanisms used for creating fin seals. The company now exclusively offers induction heating for this function. Induction uses less energy and is safer for employees because it does not heat up nearby shafts and bearings, Mr. Gunnell said.

Flowwrapper designs have evolved to package a variety of baked foods efficiently and effectively while eliminating packaging and product waste. New seal technologies and sanitation-friendly designs represent advances that make newer versions of these packaging machines worth investigating.