Consumers made it clear: They want packaging that fits into their hectic lifestyle. They want smaller, portion-controlled packs and ones that stay fresher longer. And they want all of this in a portable, on-the-go format. These consumer needs translate to a new emphasis on flexibility and adaptability in packaging lines for baked foods and snack products.

But a packaging line can only help bakers meet their flexibility goals if it also meets sanitation needs by reducing cleaning and changeover time. Most of today’s packaging automation incorporates these two major drivers of efficiency so that consumers can purchase safely packaged products in formats that meet their on-the-go demands.

Finding flexibility

Smaller packages have seen growth for several reasons. Bill Kehrli, vice-president of sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging, said price and freshness are key drivers. People don’t want to open a whole slug of cookies and eat them all. Half, or even a third, of the slug is more realistic, and by putting each third of the slug in its own wrap, the rest stays fresher longer.

This requires wrappers to work faster, even though the same amount of product is being fed into them.

“The oven still needs to make so many pounds per hour, meaning packaging equipment must run faster, all while still operating in the same footprint,” Mr. Kehlri said.

Cavanna Packaging introduced its SLIM flowwrappers to effectively double production in the same amount of space. Two SLIM machines can fit into the space of one flowwrapper and work in tandem to meet the demand for smaller pack sizes.

Cavanna also introduced PiCO to better manage portion-controlled packages. If a section of crackers must be reduced to eight or even four pieces per package, the machine can easily switch between the two whether they’re in a pile or on edge. Mr. Kehrli said changeover between the two formats takes less than two minutes on the machine and is controlled electronically.

Formost Fuji offers solutions that increase speed in packaging while reducing downtime for changeovers and cleaning. The Alpha 8 rotary horizontal wrapper is capable of high speeds while still featuring quick and easy changeover, and the high-speed box-motion wrapper offers tight wrapping with low vibration to reduce product damage. The Sanitary Design model features a quick sanitation cycle with an easy disconnection of the infeed conveyor and no need for tools, said Dennis Gunnell, president, Formost Fuji. The HMI was designed for ease of use, like a tablet or smartphone, so changeovers are simple.

“We designed the center seal and end seal units so they can be removed and roll out of the way, opening up the entire wrapper for sanitation, inspection and maintenance,” he said.

AMF Bakery Systems also focused on flexibility when the company redesigned its HS-40 bulk bun packer for more package configurations. It can run up to 40 packages per minute and was designed with quick-change lane adjustments. Bruce Campbell, vice-president of global product technology, said the machine has adjustable multi-lane conveyor guides in the grouper area for reduced changeover time. And a variety of packaging and sealing configurations are available.

“AMF will continue to expand our leadership in sanitary design and ease of operation with efficient changeovers,” Mr. Campbell said.

Flexibility and easy changeovers can increase uptime and capabilities of any packaging line.

Avoiding bottlenecks

Quick changeover is one stopgap to avoid bottlenecks in packaging, but bakers can do more to keep product flowing.

Mr. Kehrli said that if bakers and snack producers have room to add first-in, first-out buffers or accumulations systems, they should.

“We’ve seen a lot more interest in buffer or accumulation systems connected between the oven and the packaging,” he said. “That way the oven can keep running, and the buffer can store baked goods for a certain number of minutes and release them into packaging when the system is ready for them.”

Buffers also help in case of a jam or other problems. Cavanna Packaging provides several types of systems, including vertical gondola, trombone, fan and dynamic buffers. Mr. Kehrli said these systems are alternatives to adding another flowwrapper or cartoner to a line to try to keep up with oven output. Instead of overworking packaging systems, they allow them to run at optimal speeds while reducing risks of jams or damaged products.

Identifying problems as soon as possible is also critical. Burford Corp. digitally integrates all its packaging equipment features to allow machines to recognize a potential problem and make corrective actions to prevent it. Clay Miller, vice-president of sales, Burford, said these automatic systems offer insight into the health and efficiency of the machines and allow bakers to be proactive in maintenance.

“By tracking cycles, monitoring wear items, providing manuals, electrical diagrams and training videos in more user-friendly digital forms, our customers can equip their personnel with the tools required to improve their processes and save money,” he said.

Nothing costs more than a down line.

Visualize the future

Advances in automation in packaging are increasing efficiencies, limiting downtime and adding flexibility. At IBIE, suppliers will showcase the latest advances in technologies like robotics and augmented and virtual reality.

Mr. Kehrli said fully automatic robotic wrapping systems like the G-44 robotic unit are beneficial for delicate or irregular products like croissants. The G-44 is equipped with two delta arms and gently handles products transported on a conveyor at 120 or 150 packages per minute and places them directly on the wrapper’s chainless infeed. Robotic technologies are themselves not cost-prohibitive for many bakeries, but proper training and guarding in a plant environment can be time- and cost-intensive.

IBIE Interactions

During IBIE, companies mentioned in this article can be found at the following show floor locations:
AMF Bakery Systems, No. 5420/5436
Burford Corp., No. 4803
Cavanna Packaging USA, No. 7709
Formost Fuji, No. 6017

“Robots are cheap to build, but implementing and guarding them is where the main costs come into play,” he said.

Fully integrated machines that collect and analyze data to foster constant improvement can offer bakers new solutions in packaging. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the future of packaging.

“Bakers want to take advantage of today’s technology that we all have at our fingertips,” Mr. Miller said. “We are making our machines more connected and more interactive, which will ultimately improve the operator experience as well as the performance of the machines.”

Burford provides real-time information and allows access to traditional offline training materials so the operators can be more informed and better prepared to make the right adjustments to optimize performance.

“IoT will continue to drive change within our industry,” he said. “We must commit to taking advantage of it and work with our customers to merge the old and the new.”

With the help of automation, bakers and snack producers can create a wider range of products, packaged in any size containers, without sacrificing efficiency.