Nearly all of the bakery processes have been completed, and those fresh breads, buns or rolls are almost ready to leave the facility on their journey to store shelves. All that’s left is to get the items bagged and closed before they hit the road.

The processes and equipment for baggers and closures are fairly tried and true. Bakers know what they want — their products packaged, sealed tightly and kept safe until they reach the hands of consumers.

Choosing a closure

When it comes to closing up the bread bag, two methods are preferred by the majority of North American bakers. While the UK market sometimes prefers a tape closure, it’s twist ties and clips that are most widely sought stateside.

Burford Corp., Maysville, OK, produces lines that close bags with single-wire twist ties. Kwik Lok Corp., Yakima, WA, uses clips to do the job.

“It comes down to consumer preference,” said Beth Radloff, marketing specialist, Bedford Industries, Worthington, MN. “What is it going to cost, and how smoothly will the production run?”

 Bedford produces a range of twist ties, including single, double or multiple wires and a variety of lengths and gauges. They also provide biodegradable ties that are free of heavy metals or salts and break down in landfills.

“We normally recommend plastic/paper combinations or all-plastic materials for bread bags,” Ms. Radloff said. “Those are the two types that customers prefer. They run smoothly through the machines and help guard against downtime. They give a good, tight closure on the bread bags. They keep freshness in and are economical.”

Quick and correct

Whichever method a bakery chooses to bag and close its product, speed and reliability are vital factors in getting the job done efficiently.

AMF Bakery Systems, Richmond, VA, offers its Mark 75 high-speed automatic bread bagger. Its pendulum scoop drive and flusher discharge conveyor help keep a smooth transfer while an advanced drive design handles speeds up to 75 loaves per minute. Formost Fuji, Woodinville, WA, also builds horizontal baggers that boast speeds of more than one bag per second. The company’s line of GTS baggers offers continuous, multi-wicket bag feeds to keep the operation moving.

Closure systems have yet to be tested by those bagger speeds. Kwik Lok’s 893 Ultra can handle 110 bags per minute while Burford’s Model 2000 Twist Tyer also exceeds the century mark.

“We’re still pretty well above what the lines can run,” said Mitch Lindsey, technical sales for Burford. “We can run up to 100 packages per minute, depending on product, flight spacing and bag material. Most plants are running their lines around 55. We’re still ahead of the curve on packages per minute.”

That puts more of the spotlight onto the importance of a reliable machine. If something goes wrong, and products can’t be bagged and closed, money begins slipping away.

Kwik Lok helps combat that in the 893 Ultra with its network connectivity. An Ethernet connection enables monitoring from remote locations and allows service technicians to view error messages. That connectivity helps techs get lines back on their feet in a much quicker fashion.

“The 893 is capable to match any conveyor speed,” said Hal Miller, vice-president of sales for Kwik Lok. “It will close bags faster than bread baggers can deliver the bagged product. It has a proven reliability history with improved safety features.”

Mr. Lindsey agreed with the importance of reliability. “You obviously have to have a well-built machine, but service is key, too,” he said. “We have a service department that is available 24 hours, if needed. Guys will come in in the middle of the night to forward wiring diagrams or programs and come in on weekends to ship parts. It’s that dedication to the customer that we’re there for them. Our customers want stability with their machines.”

Ease of operation

More and more machines and lines are becoming more and more advanced. While that brings with it lots of benefits, there can be too much of a good thing.

“The ability for operators to get trained on a machine and operate it is something that is getting big,” said Dennis Gunnell, vice-president, sales and marketing, for Formost Fuji. “It’s a give and take. People want technology. They want the latest and greatest. But they also want it so that people can understand it. That whole balance of technology with ease of operation is a tightrope.”

When baggers and closures include technological advances, they can sometimes leave an untrained operator behind.

“We can put a lot of things into a system to make everything adjustable with monitors, but can it be supported, and can the operators run it?” Mr. Gunnell said. “That’s a challenge; building a machine with the latest technology that is simple enough that people can operate.”

AMF’s Mark 75 features an Allen-Bradley PanelView Plus keypad and touchscreen operator interface that displays online timing adjustment, status messages, precise alarm messages, loaf counter and speed indicator. It also includes an Allen-Bradley programmable logic controller.

What’s also key in making sure those running the machines don’t get left behind? Training.

“With newer machines and newer technology, it can sometimes be difficult,” Mr. Lindsey said. “But our manuals are designed to make it easy to understand for the operators and the mechanics for troubleshooting and set-up.” He noted that the company’s training videos have been made more available to operators.

Attaching a message

Bags and closures each offer the ability to carry printed messages and codes. Traceability is becoming a critical — and sometimes mandatory — packaging element.

Kwik Lok offers a pair of solutions. Custom labels can be printed and attached to the clip, or codes and messages can be printed directly on the clip. Using inkjet, thermal transfer or cold foil, dates and codes can be transferred to the flat surface of the clip, located on the ponytail end of the package, where consumers know to look for the information. Bakers can even have Quick Response (QR) codes printed onto the clips.

“The information is located at the same place on every package in an easy-to-read format,” Mr. Miller said. “Printing on the bag can present a problem for the consumer as print information is sometimes displayed on the flat end of the package, the side of the package or on the top side.”

One positive to printing on the bag, however, could be that it ensures the information says with the product.

“What’s trending now is printing on the bag so that coding, whether it’s a date code or whatever, stays with the package all the way through until the consumer is done with it,” Mr. Lindsey said.

Keeping it clean

Closing a bag is a relatively clean process. Getting the product into the bag, however, can cause more of a mess. Flour dust, crumbs and other particles can accumulate on and around bagging machinery, causing problems.

“I don’t know if much has changed in the world of baggers, but sanitary design continues to be a hot topic,” Mr. Gunnell said. “It’s talked about a lot, but there isn’t much action on it.”

Baggers can be a metaphorical magnet for waste and debris. “Any flat surface is going to be a place where crumbs and dust can build up,” Mr. Gunnell said. “A machine is harder to clean if you’re working with square tubing and you have pieces behind a cover. It’s harder to get in there and clean it out. If you build with sanitary design, you don’t have harborage points in as many places.”

Sanitary design uses round tubing, which does not provide a flat surface for crumbs. What it does provide, however, is a prime opportunity for the cost of the line to jump.

“Square tubing is very easy to work with. You can weld it and do different things to it very easily and make your frame nice and square,” Mr. Gunnell said. “When you do it with round tubing, it’s much more difficult, and any time you add difficulty or complication, it raises the price some.”

The price increase can be significant, but not monumental, Mr. Gunnell said. Plus, the extra up-front cost can pay off by adding years to the life of the machine. “In my opinion, bakers need to embrace [such improvements] and understand that the cost is up-front and the savings is for years,” he said. “In the long run, our biggest mistake, from a bakery supplier standpoint, is we shouldn’t have made it an option. We should have made a sanitary design and just said, ‘Here it is, and this is what it’s going to cost.’ I think the bakery industry can get on board and make things easier on themselves,” he added.