Variety is the name of the game for bakers today. With specialty breads proliferating and private label/contract manufacturing business accelerating, every bakery now runs more packaging changes than ever before. Equipment flexibility is a must, especially during busy changeover times.

Bakers want reliable bagging and closure systems with automation to eliminate downtime, noted Dennis Gunnell, vice-president of sales and marketing at Formost Fuji Corp., Woodinville, WA. They also need quick and easy changeover capabilities as well as services and parts availability for maintenance.

Bread and bun packaging comes in many formats with polyethylene bags serving as the main packaging material. Options include overwrapped bags, twist tie and plastic clip closures for supermarket customers and bulk packs for foodservice operators. Bagging bread and buns efficiently and effectively remains key for bakers.

Rejects can be a concern in the packaging areas. Bakeries want to eliminate waste from the process, but if products are not made to the correct specs, such items will challenge bagging equipment to properly package them.

Reducing the risk factor

Poor machine setup can damage product, but new operator interfaces with recipe management systems prevent operators from having to make as many mechanical adjustments that were required on earlier models, which is where human mistakes come into play.

AMF Bakery Systems, Richmond, VA, significantly improved bread bagging performance with its patented pendulum-scoop design. “Our scoops are driven by a patented rotary pendulum system, which does not stop and start, greatly reducing maintenance requirements and extending the longevity of the machines,” said Larry Gore, the company’s director of sales and marketing, Richmond, VA. “It also increases the speed at which they can run versus the traditional cam-operated scoop drive.”

In addition, advances to the electronic synchronization between the bagger and the slicer eliminated mechanical connections between those two machines. “This offers big savings on maintenance and downtime,” Mr. Gore said.

In recent years, AMF also focused on wicket table designs and air injection systems to ensure bread bags inflate properly every time before the product is loaded. Packaging converters normally apply a powder to the surface of polyfilm bags to help them release and inflate properly, but sometimes not enough is present, and that could cause a problem.

AMF also eliminated the flusher bar on its bagging machines in favor of a patented flusher discharge conveyor, which moves the bagged product away from the scoops so the next product can be packaged. “At high speeds, the old flusher bar kicked the product harder, causing it to turn over,” Mr. Gore explained. “With our flighted discharge conveyor, we set the product down gently on the conveyor, and then it accelerates. It doesn’t have a tendency to turn the loaf over.”

Formost Fuji recently introduced a flowwrapper for placing a polypropylene inner wrap around premium bread loaves prior to final bagging. Mr. Gunnell said the new inner wrapper uses 14% less material than its previous premium bread bagging systems. The company can install the flowwrapper with its own baggers or other systems.

Formost Fuji’s GTS bagger, its top-of-the-line model, offers gentle product handling and can operate at speeds up to 90 bags per minute, according to Mr. Gunnell. Set up as a bun bagging machine, the GTS groups products according to a pack pattern and stacks them immediately prior to bagging.

Bagging buns in bulk

For bulk packaging, Stewart Systems Baking LLC, Plano, TX, redesigned its Pillo-Pak bulk packer to include an air-cooled impulse seal bar. This change eliminates the need for the flying knife and related mechanical complexity of the previous seal bar, noted Dave Machette, Stewart’s national sales and marketing specialist.

“Eliminating the dwell time required for the knife actuation also increases throughput,” Mr. Machette said. “One of the prime advantages of this technology is that maintenance is reduced and simplified. For example, the heating element only requires seconds to replace and has an auto-calibration feature.”

The company also recently added a Nautilus feature, which was named after the first practical submarine, to its redesigned bulk packer. The conveyor that feeds baskets to the wrapper travels through the machine frame. “It greatly reduces the footprint or space requirements of the packaging line and improves equipment operation and reliability by allowing basket accumulation prior to the Pak-Stak basket loader,” Mr. Machette said.

LeMatic Inc., Jackson, MI, launched an entry-level bulk packer designed for small to mid-size bakeries that process up to 22 packages per minute. The LS3 incorporates proven technology and takes up fewer square feet than the company’s Model LS-132 bulk packer, which outputs more than 30 packages per minute.

To make its bagging equipment more operator friendly, LeMatic systems now require fewer manual adjustments yet are still flexible, according to DJ LeCrone, the company’s CEO. “Our original baggers were extremely adjustable and could run many things, but because they were so adjustable, people had to be able to understand how to operate them,” he said. Because turnover among packaging line operators is quite prevalent in today’s workplace, and since many bakeries now fill positions with temporary staff, the people running the bagging equipment are constantly changing. “We had to make our machines as flexible as possible with as few adjustments as possible,” he said.

The company also incorporates servo drives into its bagging machines for smoother operation than mechanical systems, and in turn, the technology allows longer run times and faster production speeds. LeMatic also builds its equipment so that it can be connected with other information systems in the bakery.

“Information is power,” Mr. LeCrone said. “If you know what is going on with the product and the production process you can use the information to allow the packaging lines to run more efficiently.”

Stewart offers a module that can be installed at the discharge of the Pillo-Pak bulk packer that provides multiple longitudinal seal options with adjustable positioning for bag closure. This permits creation of multiple sealed product chambers within the individual bulk package. “This is particularly useful for restaurants that may have slow-moving products,” Mr. Machette said.

AMF’s HS40 bulk bun packer now includes an impulse sealer that offers a safer sealing assembly by removing the traditional hot seal bars, said John Keane, the company’s executive product manager, packaging and automation.

Bakers need closures

The two main types of closures for retail bread and bun packages are twist ties and plastic clips. When deciding which closure to use on their products, bakers must consider not only the closure type but also the system for applying the closure to the bag.

When bakeries streamline packaging areas to reduce personnel, as many are now doing, they require greater automation. Accordingly, Burford Corp., Maysville, OK, developed the Speed Follow option for its Smart Servo Twist Tyer that automatically syncs the twist tyer’s speed to the bagger, according to Mitch Lindsey, technical sales at the company. The company’s Smart Servo Twist Tyers can apply up to 100 twist ties per minute, based on flight spacing and conveyor speeds, with 100 ft per minute being the maximum. At that rate, Mr. Lindsey said, in a year, one twist tyer could apply more than 12 million ties.

Today, many bakeries also want to reduce bag thickness and length to save money. “Making the bag thinner increases the risk of damage from friction as it transfers from the bagger through the closure machine, especially if [the film] doesn’t have adequate slip agent,” Mr. Lindsey said. “We recommend a minimum bag thickness of 1.25 mil, and to help with thinner bags, we’ve added special coatings to the package contact surfaces of our machines.”

Shorter bags also can cause bad closures and possible machine jams, Mr. Lindsey added, noting that the company recommends bag lengths to ensure proper closure. 

While the Smart Servo machine meets the needs of high-speed, high-volume processors, small to mid-size bakeries have different requirements. At the International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas during October, Burford will introduce a twist tyer for these producers. “Because some bakeries may only be packaging 1,000 bags per day or even per week, we want to assist them when applying twist ties,” he explained.

Because bakers of all sizes desire increased speeds and more automation, Kwik Lok Corp., Yakima, WA, developed its 893 Ultra bag closing system. Its touchscreen controls automatically match the closing equipment’s speed with the delivery rates at which products are supplied to it, according to Hal Miller, the company’s vice-president, sales.

Touch-panel command screens also enable coding for date and time display to correspond with work shifts, and they provide multiple language options. A bag-jam detection system provides alarm settings. Mr. Miller noted that the 893 automatically shuts off when machine covers are removed, an important employee safety feature.

The 893 accommodates different styles of closures and closure-labels to allow easy, quick changeover, according to Mr. Miller. These range from the standard Kwik Lok tab to the company’s multifunctional promotional closure-label. Also, bakers have a choice of printers. “These printers offer the best in traceability in their ability to print on the entire surface of the closure in varying font sizes, in real time with 2D barcode and QR code capability,” he said.

Advances in packaging automation allow quicker changeovers, enabling bakers to introduce even more products and more SKUs.