Horizontal wrappers that use customized guides and belts reduce product collision on its way to the wrapper.

Ingredient labels are being shortened and cleaned up, portion sizes are shrinking, and consumer demand continues to surge for healthier snacks and baked foods. New formulations and thinner varieties of cookies, crackers and biscuits can be more delicate to handle at high speeds on a production line, and packaging lines are adjusting.

Product breakage or waste slows down the entire process if it gets caught in a sealer. Packaging machines, whether vertical form/fill/seal (f/f/s), horizontal flowwrappers or secondary packaging operations, now provide several options to safely get products to the consumer in one piece.

In the breakfast biscuit category, Bill Kehrli, vice-president of sales and marketing at Cavanna Packaging, sees an increased demand for higher protein levels and lower calorie counts. While these changes can create a healthier halo, they also present product handling challenges. The added protein often makes a biscuit more brittle and likely to crumble.

“It requires a completely different way of handling biscuits than typically done on conventional biscuit handling lines, and we have to be very careful about how to handle them in a very fragile way,” Mr. Kehrli said. He added many advances for packaging these products focus on how to feed them into packaging machines.

But new formulations are just part of the equation. The packages also are shrinking to meet demand for portability and portion control.

.Continuous motion on vertical form/fill/seal machines limits impact points and protects sensitive products.

“We’re seeing things that would normally be in bigger packages or packaged in slightly different ways that are coming into vertical systems,” said Mark Lozano, national sales manager, TNA North America.

The answer to the challenge of packaging sensitive products in smaller formats involves finding the right vertical f/f/s or wrapper by working with packaging suppliers to create a customized, gentle-handling system.

Synchronizing speeds
Damage typically occurs when fragile product moves from one part of the packaging process to another, such as between a multi-head weigher and a vertical f/f/s machine.

At times, reducing speed prevents breakage from happening, but there are other options. Jason D’Arcy, product manager, Woodman portfolio, Bosch Packaging, suggested lower transfer heights, gentle slopes in transfer chutes and devices that cushion the movement of the product.

Limiting the space in a film tube where product is unprotected reduces the chance for damage in the final stages of packaging.

Continuous motion vertical f/f/s machines from Bosch reduce the impact when bagging the product. The bag moves downward when a snack or baked food is loaded in the same direction that it’s falling. This decreases the impact and reduces breakage as the product fills the bag.

“It is similar to the concept of catching a ball,” Mr. D’Arcy said. “Your hands move with the ball to absorb the impact.”

TNA’s vertical f/f/s systems address speed with the hyper-detect option. This metal detector is positioned close to the multi-head weigher and creates greater control of the product flow through the machine.

“It’s more compact, so we’ve reduced the overall drop, and we’ve increased the incline within the system to allow the product to be handlined in a much gentler way,” Mr. Lozano said.

Instead of being a straight-walled unit, the hyper-detect system is actually at an angle that matches the curve of the flow of the product through the system. It then feeds right into the top of the bag former. TNA’s formers allow for a larger opening area without completely enclosed tubes. As an item flows through, the filmer actually assists product flow. The film is introduced at the bottom of the funnel feeding in the product and just before the bag forming chamber. As the transition is made into the straight vertical former, the product is assisted by the motion of the film.

“Because we have the varying velocity and continuous motion, we have that assist happening all through the drop process,” Mr. Lozano said.

Continuous motion protects products in vertical and horizontal packaging. When a product stops on a line, there is a higher chance for damage when it’s forced to move again. Cavanna uses servo-driven intelligent belts to ensure continuous motion and avoid collisions. Older technologies relied on more intermittent motion technology where the biscuit or cracker fell into a stationary slot and was hit with a pin to make it move. When the product is already moving, the pin’s impact is greatly reduced.

Stronger products, Mr. Kehrli explained, can be sitting stationary, and a pin can hit them at 120 feet per minute. That’s not possible with items like thin breakfast biscuits. Instead, the pin is going the same 120 feet per minute, but the biscuit is moving at 80 feet a minute already in the same direction.

“It’s like riding a bicycle with traffic versus against it,” Mr. Kehrli said. “If you get hit, you’re not going to get as hurt.”

Dennis Gunnell, vice-president of sales and marketing at Formost Fuji, said maximizing the pusher attachment surface area is critical when wrapping crackers or cookies.

“When you spread that surface out, you support the product better because you are pushing on more of it,” Mr. Gunnell said.

Anticipating how a product will withstand packaging is also key. With fragile crackers and cookies, it is important to thoroughly review packaging equipment to identify areas that may cause breakage, crumbs or waste.