Achieving optimal efficiency for snack lines feeding multipack operations requires consistent machinery performance and output.

“To build flexibility into conveyors and feed multiple packaging lines, producers should consider installing a combination of horizontal and vibratory motion conveyors,” said Sagar Khandre, product marketing manager, packaging, TNA Solutions. “Vibratory motion conveyors use a smooth, natural frequency to deliver superior speed and control. This allows producers to increase in-line storage capacity and achieve optimal production continuity by keeping products circulating within the production line.”

He added that intelligent communication between various production components can improve overall efficiency and return on investment. 

Software system controls and highly effective and efficient lines are key, said Michael Graf, director consulting, Schubert.

“The lines need to be designed using the process philosophy before adapting machines in the process flow,” he said. “This means that you need to focus on a proper process line design when planning a packaging system.”

Bill Kehrli, vice president of sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging USA, said building flexibility into packaging lines requires flow regulation.

“Balancing the packaging lines requires accumulation systems and consistent dosing of products,” he said. “This is a solution of product specific accumulators that take into account the products’ primary pack type and the fragility of the baked goods.”

Robotic equipment that handles unpackaged product must be gentle to ensure the snacks aren’t damaged.

“If you have a variety pack of cookies in a clamshell with four types of cookies, and the cookies are all pretty much the same shape, robotic packaging will not experience much of a challenge,” said Jamie Bobyk, marketing manager, Apex Motion Control. “Where the challenge begins is when different sizes, shapes and weights are introduced.” 

He cited an example of Christmas cookies in the shape of trees and Santas. Asking equipment to pick up varied shapes would be very difficult, he added.

Managing changeovers can be tough as snack makers make adjustments to accommodate customers’ preferences, said Matthias Thor, consultant at Schubert-Consulting, a unit of Schubert Packaging Systems. Snack makers may need more changeover time to accommodate smaller batch sizes.

Joe Curcio, Northeast regional sales manager, BluePrint Automation, said he doesn’t see many snack producers asking for partial automation in their packaging operations. Going fully automated can be pricey but a piece of automated equipment placed strategically can make manually packing variety packs easier.

“You could just start with the feeders to lay out the bags single file and get them in front of packers so they can do their job better or erect the case automatically and seal it automatically and have people standing along to put them in,” he said. “You don’t always have to go fully automatic. You could do it in phases.”

The type of cases can affect the way snacks are packaged. Product orientation, for example, may or may not be a primary concern depending on whether a case is shelf-ready or one that will be unpacked in the store.

“Are they packing into a simple RSC case that’s only being used for transportation from that product and then you’ve got an employee in the store placing the bags on the shelves?” said Jason D’Arcy, product group sales manager, vertical, Syntegon. “Or are they shelf-ready cases where you might have a tear-off hood that you will pull off the case, and the stock person puts that whole case on the shelf, which really reduces the labor on the whole retail side of it?”

Jeffrey Almond, industry manager, snack food packaging, Heat and Control, said that for variety packs, he’s seeing some snack manufacturers go from plastic or poly bags to rigid cardboard cases. Square cases have advantages.

“Looking at a bag that is maybe on the bottom row and it’s all crinkled up versus a nice square case that’s got a good advertising billboard on the outside with good graphics is more appealing to the consumer,” Mr. Almond explained.

Snack makers have a lot to consider when assembling variety packs. There are rarely easy solutions, but those who run an efficient operation and consider all the options to find the best practices that work best for them can achieve success. 

This article is an excerpt from the May 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Snack Packaging, click here.