Do bakery and snack manufacturers have certain priorities when it comes to horizontal form-fill-seal (f/f/s) machines? The answer is yes — more or less.

On the “more” side, companies are producing a greater volume and variety of packaged baked goods and snacks. On the “less” side, market realities mean that manufacturers want the lowest cost of ownership and have less time to spend on changeovers, sanitation and other functions that might slow down production and cost money. Both facets of the packaging process for bakery and snack products are driving improvements and additions to horizontal f/f/s machines, from easier-to-clean designs to sophisticated touchscreen controls among other enhanced features.

Flex time

It’s no secret that American consumers’ appetite for baked goods and snack foods is propelling a spate of new products. Snack foods are set to outperform the overall food market with a projected growth rate of 3% from now through 2022, according to a report from PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. Meanwhile, the annual What’s in Store from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA) reported that single-and smaller-portion bakery products remain a hot growth area within the snacking megatrend.

Providers of horizontal f/f/s machines confirm that snack and baking companies are looking for flexibility in their packaging systems as they make more — and different — products. “The steady growth of 2.3% among the bakery and snack food market over the past five years fuels the demand for unprecedented degree of flexibility. With more than $406 billion worth of revenue, the manufacturers need larger ovens, more flexible production lines and quicker changeover time to keep up with the growing appetite of their consumers,” said Craig Collett, director, sales and marketing, Bosch Packaging Technology. Mr. Collett noted that flexibility is growing regardless of the level of automation and that, in addition to major manufacturers, small and mid-sized companies also serve different areas of the industry and are looking for equipment that can handle various package styles, sizes and configurations.

Angela McDaniel, marketing coordinator for Formost Fuji, agreed that product diversity and volume areimpacting the manner and speed at which items are packaged on horizontal f/f/s machines. “Consumers are buying more products, smaller sizes and healthier products, and with that, bakers are looking to wrap packages smaller and on the same machine,” she reported.

The push for flexibility is spurred by manufacturers’ increasingly diverse product lines and, in some cases, other companies’ product lines, observed Dennis Gunnell, vice-president, sales and marketing, Formost Fuji. “Bakeries are not only making their own products, but they’re manufacturing products for others,” he explained. “They may not always know what’s coming down — a customer may tell the co-packer that they need something in a hurry — and that drives their need to have something that allows them to have the most capability with the least amount of equipment.”

Bill Kehrli, vice-president of sales and marketing for Cavanna Packaging Group USA, concurred that variety is the proverbial order of the day when it comes to the need for versatility in horizontal f/f/s systems used for packaging snack and bakery items, along with greater expectations for such machines. “We’re seeing people who want the ability to do more sizes and be flexible in range, but they also want systems that are adaptable to do things outside the scope of what conventional systems have done in the past,” he observed.

Again, the concept of doing more with less comes into play with demands for these systems. “The key to profitability for the bakeries is uptime on ovens. If they are introducing new products, they want to run more than they normally would have, so packaging systems are being driven to do things that older systems aren’t able to do,” Mr. Kehrli pointed out.

In addition to striving for more variety with less downtime, manufacturers want a reduced — or at least consistent — footprint. “If they are continually running different lines, they may have space issues,” Ms. McDaniel said, noting that a horizontal f/f/s machine that can handle more products and more lines in an optimal footprint is appealing to manufacturers crunched for time and room.

Newer machines reflect the focus on flexibility. Bosch recently launched a Pack 301 LS solution consisting of a Smart measuring loader, Smart slug feeder and a Pack 301 LS horizontal flowwrapper. “Depending on the manufacturer’s requirements, this new technology is capable of gently handling a wide range of products including rectangular, square and round, as well as sandwich cookies,” Mr. Collett said. He also emphasized the demand for modular design, as bakers and snack makers are looking for scalable solutions and flexible layout configurations. “It allows them to grow their lines from manual to fully automated feeding, all at their own speed,” he noted.

Cavanna, too, offers flexibility-driven innovations in horizontal f/f/s equipment, including a new wrapping system that takes up half the space of a conventional wrapping system and half the labor. “We can fit four wrappers in the same space as two previous wrappers,” Mr. Kehrli noted. In addition, he said, Cavanna has met customers’ interest in flexibility with a new Allen-Bradley controlled robot that saves space, is faster in response time and doesn’t use conventional robotic controllers.

Making change

The need for quick changeover is another reflection of the more-and-less mindset of today’s bakers and snack manufacturers and is evident in newer horizontal f/f/s systems. “Changeover goes hand-in-hand with flexibility. They need to be able to change over the film quickly, and saving in labor cost is important,” Ms. McDaniel said.

To meet such demands, Formost Fuji offers a new Alpha 7 sanitary wrapper that allows for quick, tool-free changeover.

The desire for easier changeovers has led to system improvements at Cavanna, as well. “People want center-lined changeovers with dedicated change parts and repeatable, easily identified adjustments,” Mr. Kehrli explained. He noted that the company adheres to high standards for sanitary design and that Cavanna’s full-washdown, stainless horizontal flowwrappers allow for quick changeovers and better uptime.

At Bosch, the addition of more single-serve portions has spurred bakery and snack companies to prepare their production lines for current and future additions that require a quick changeover, according to Mr. Collett. Bosch’s Two-in-One biscuit packaging system is designed to produce high outputs of cookies of all shapes, sizes and pack formats with changeovers in a record time, he reported.

Mr. Collett also said Bosch’s Pack 301 LS system is geared for faster and easier changeovers, in that all components are designed to minimize downtime and enable stable output at high production speeds.  “Also, by handling products gently on the system, Bosch managed to reduce product breakage, which in the end results in fewer crumbs accumulating throughout the equipment. This allows products to flow continuously and maximizes uptime,” he said.

Sanitary design is also a factor in the packaging area, an issue that Formost Fuji has addressed. “The Alpha 7 sanitary machine has been designed from the ground up for sanitary design. One of the big things when you are cleaning a machine is to be able to inspect it and tell that it’s clean,” Mr. Gunnell said. “With the wide-open design of this machine, you can see right in it.”

From more to less, and all the changes in between, as long as consumer demands continue to evolve, horizontal packaging systems will take more steps forward in order to keep moving sideways.