Consumer demand for different package styles is constantly evolving, and snack producers need the flexibility to react to the market. From on-the-go 100-calorie packs to portable sleeves and large resealable family packs, more is being asked of packaging lines than ever.
Packaging formats are often dictated by retail outlets, and the ability to change counts or orientation is essential for snack makers, said Peter Fox, vice president of sales for Somic America. What a consumer looks for at a club store vs. a c-store is very different.
“Making these changes quickly is a challenge manufacturers must be able to overcome,” Mr. Fox said. “Machine uptime is essential to maximize overall productivity.”
The evolution of snack packaging has diversified pack sizes and the variety of presentations. New film types, new printing techniques for smaller bags and other innovations create operational challenges.
“On a potato chip line, for instance, pack sizes can range from 11-gram snack packs to jumbo and multi-pack options,” said Anurag Mitra, product marketing manager, TNA Solutions. “It is therefore imperative that packaging equipment offers the flexibility to handle the different film sizes required, as well as switch between different formats quickly and easily to keep up with increasing demand.”
And demand is rising. People are eating snacks more often and at different points in the day. Snacks must be packaged differently to reach a morning on-the-go consumer vs. late-night snackers at home binge-watching their favorite show. According to 2019 IRI data, US consumers are eating 2.6 snacks a day, with 42% reporting they consume more than three per day. And 44% of consumers said they often ate snacks instead of meals at home and at work.
“Today’s retail and club store requirements, as well as our customers’ expanding product diversity, necessitate the need for maximum flexibility with quick, seamless changeovers between production runs,” said Joel Wiskochil, Great Lakes regional sales manager, BluePrint Automation (BPA).
Shrinking changeover time
Quicker changeovers can minimize downtime, maximize productivity and simplify packaging operations.
When switching between bag sizes, snack producers must change the former, film rolls and jaw system. Once a time-consuming task requiring a lot of manual effort, changeovers on today’s baggers are made simpler with easy access to all parts and a reduced manual burden.
TNA’s robag 3ci can switch bag films and sizes easily, said Mr. Mitra, and its bag former unloading system features a pivot arm assembly to replace the former faster.
“The arm swings out from a running position on the support assembly to a 90-degree angle, which means operators can place both hands on the former to lift it without leaning in or twisting the torso,” he said. “The ability to change out formers using side access, rather than the traditional front access, not only improves product changeover times but also requires minimal manual effort and reduces the risk of injury.”
To run different formats such as block bottom or hem seal on the same machine, snack makers must coordinate schedules and manage downtime for changeovers appropriately, said Jeff Almond, snack food packaging industry manager, Heat and Control.
“Heat and Control ensures that the changeover needed is either toolless and automatic or ergonomic for quick and safe changeovers,” Mr. Almond said.
Recipes can help changeover speed as well. Somic America’s HMI recipes guide operators through the process.
“These adjustments have a digital readout as well as a red or green light indicating the adjustment is in the correct format position selected,” Mr. Fox said. “After the mechanical adaptations are completed, the operator runs through one complete safety cycle to ensure that the machine has been set up properly for the next format run.”
Matrix designed its machines to limit changeover time and film waste by shrinking their footprint. It engineered shorter distances between the film roll and the former, so less film is wasted when changed out and the rolls are easily removed and installed based on preprogrammed recipes. Changeover times for bag film sizes on Matrix’s machines are less than five minutes, said Christine Duncan, marketing manager, Matrix.
“It used to be you would have to pull off all that material and adjust in new film,” Ms. Duncan said. “You’d waste a ton of new film adjusting to new recipes. Now, with the ability to save them all in the HMI, you’re saving a lot of film and time.”
Changing bag sizes not only affects the upstream processes, but they also impact secondary packaging. Planning how to pack these varieties of bag sizes is critical to maintaining desired throughput and avoiding bottlenecks.
Last but not least
Case packing single-serve bags vs. family-size requires flexibility and consistency. Smaller bags exit the bagger at a higher rate and therefore require faster case packers to keep up.
By using delta robots, high-speed servo drives, gentle gripping technology and optimized machine movements, BPA’s Spider 200i case packer can reach speeds of up to 140 bags per minute for smaller packages and up to 60 bags per minute for 16-ounce bags.
“BPA understands the industry’s need for maximum flexibility and has designed our case packers to provide a wide range of dimensional and payload capacities,”
Mr. Wiskochil said. “This allows our customers to switch from small to large products quickly and efficiently, all in one compact machine.”
The ability to switch speeds on the go benefits snack manufacturers making constant changes throughout a run. Somic’s case packing systems can be adjusted based on infeed speeds, which allows producers to ramp up when needed.
“The Somic 424 machine can be converted to handle large formats in the same way we handle the smaller formats,” Mr. Fox said. “Typically, this is done by removing the quick-change lamella chain on our vertical collator. The large bag formats can be collated standing upright on the short or long edge or lying flat.”
New formats of secondary packaging are gaining market share for their versatility. Variety packs are often packed into larger bags to give consumers more variety and reduce packaging materials.
Matrix’s Bag in Bag system creates a smaller snack bag like a 100-calorie pack, then it places it into a larger master pouch machine without the need to convey the small pack to a case packer. It can run 100 per minute, depending on the snack application.
Snack producers can improve the variety of package sizes they offer by picking a system that’s easy to operate and quick to changeover. This provides opportunity to keep up with the constant changes in packaging formats.
This article is an excerpt from the June 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on snack packaging, click here.