While there are certain process parameters with horizontal form/fill/seal (h/f/f/s) to slow it down or change its direction, acceleration — in its less scientific definition — is still a priority.

“With h/f/f/s, it’s going to be pretty hard to be revolutionary,” said Dennis Gunnell, president, Formost Fuji. “It’s more evolutionary. We can have better sensing and better control with servo, but it will be incremental changes and not large changes.”

Improved functions such as centerlining and additional digitalization, though perhaps not overall revolutionary, make big differences.

For example, on the mechanical side, a new option for repeatability has increased changeover speed and setup consistency.

“A few years ago, we had an adjustable former that had a bunch of slots and scales,” said Kelly Meer, product manager at Bosch Packaging Technology. “An operator had to put it back in the same spot, but if you did it 10 times, you probably wouldn’t get it exactly the same. Now our adjustable former is made up of digital positions horizontally and vertically. This allows the operator to put it in the exact place every time.”

Formost Fuji’s adjustable-forming box also has greater precision than the typical fixed forming box. With a preset point, a simple knob will adjust the parameters in seconds, and employees don’t have to constantly remove a part and put a new one on, said Mr. Gunnell. Through digitalization and specific functional changes, the company’s h/f/f/s equipment also has greater flexibility and gives more control to the customer.

Film splicing is also another technology that has allowed for greater repeatability and less mistakes by operators.

“Traditionally, it was very operator-dependent,” Mr. Meer said. “If they do it consistently in the right way every time, that method can be pretty good. The problem is that they don’t. They lose focus and lose efficiency.”

Bosch has a film splice for its HRM wrapper that is high speed and automates the entire changeover.

In addition to changeovers, digitalization has altered the rate and consistency of machines during production. For example, Ossid decreases production time through picking and placing solutions, which also have helped h/f/f/s equipment become more feasible, said Jason Angel, vice-president of sales and marketing, Ossid, a ProMach brand.

Volpak America’s new continuous unwind and print-to-seal functions on its h/f/f/s machine prevent material from being stretched and, if stretching does occur, ensure the pouch is sealed correctly, said Marty Bechtel, sales director, Volpak America, supported by RA Jones. Walking beam technology also grips two spots on the pouch to mitigate slippage when filled.

Ultrasonic sealing is one cutting-edge technology that suppliers are testing with h/f/f/s equipment.

“High-speed vibrations create friction, which heats and seals the material,” Mr. Gunnell explained. “There are real advantages to what ultrasonic can do, such as sealing through contaminates better than a standard heat seal might.”

This sealing also would save on packaging used, and therefore, cost.

One of the greatest assets to improving efficiency with h/f/f/s equipment is understanding that it’s not about the machine but the entire operation.

Cavanna Packaging engineers, manufactures and installs entire systems for product lines to create a cohesive solution. Several of these lines operate with efficiency levels in the mid-90% range.

“You have to look at it as a holistic approach,” said  Bill Kehrli, vice-president, sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging. “Systems require a thorough understanding of the baking process through packaging. The feeding and product handling are sometimes more important than the packaging, and they have to function together as a system.”

This holistic approach is also based on good communication.

“I say this a lot, and there’s a reason for it: It should be a collaboration of the film supplier, machinery supplier and the customers before everything gets finalized,” Mr. Gunnell said. “Too often everything is in a vacuum. If everyone talks together well in advance, it would make the process easier.”

At Formost Fuji, customers can send products and film in advance for the company to test for the fastest solution.

A broader mindset influences quality and speed.

“This (h/f/f/s) is a component in a solution,” Mr. Meer stated. “It’s more than a flowwrapper. It’s about the solution and how fast it can go by applying the machine in the right way.”

And having the knowledge behind the entire system for optimal application keeps product moving at the proper acceleration.

This article is an excerpt from the November 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on horizontal form/fill/sealclick here.