In the bag

Paul Wilkinson, business development manager at Pacepacker, advises bulk manufacturers on the best way to introduce a new bagging system.

Suppliers of bakery ingredients, such as flour, baking powder and sugar, are increasingly automating their packing facilities as they strive to enhance their competitive edge. Turnkey packaging equipment is especially valuable for high volume production lines, such as those that provide branded bread mixes and pastry dough for supermarket shelves, as well as for distributors of wholesale bakery ingredients used by artisan caterers and purchased by thrifty consumers.
However, as any bulk packers will know, making the switch to automation can raise a number of vital questions, from legislative issues to those relating to bag stability and presentation.

The ability to withstand often harsh environments, produce a consistent pack presentation, accommodate differing pack sizes and overcome wastage when bagging large quantities are just some of the issues that bulk manufacturers may need help to address. Constricting health and safety regulations and the need to relieve employees of onerous, laborious tasks is the driving force behind automation in the bulk sector.

The process

The application of automation is an essential ingredient in the sustainability of manufacturing businesses, according to Mike Wilson, chairman of the British Automation & Robot Association (BARA). “Automating manufacturing processes not only drives costs down, it improves quality, reduces waste and optimises energy use,” says Wilson. “In a relatively high cost economy, such as the UK, automation will consequently increase a manufacturer’s competitive edge,” he adds.
Today’s systems are designed to tolerate the most abrasive of environments. Robust equipment can even be built inside a portable container, providing bulk manufacturers that use multiple packing locations with a single turnkey solution that can be transported easily around an estate where numerous products are being packed.

For many bakery wholesalers, one of the highest margin activities is buying in bulk sacks of anything from confectionery products to pulses, flour and sugar, and repacking them into smaller bags for resale to retail customers and caterers.
With a growing number of these wholesalers also opting to automate the repacking process, a key factor that must be addressed in this process is product wastage. Either due to spillage or contamination, wastage is not uncommon in the industry, especially when dealing with loose ingredients such as flour, and efficiencies gained through automation may be cancelled out if product wastage occurs.

Many systems installed at wholesale operations fill bags on a sack clamp before dropping them onto a moving conveyor and transporting them to a stitcher. For all this time, the mouth of the bag is wide open and the bag is completely unsupported. This can not only result in sacks falling over and spilling, but also means that anything from a nut or bolt to an insect could fall in and contaminate the product.


When selecting and implementing a new bagging system, there are three critical factors to consider up front and various ways in which issues regarding contamination may be overcome:
Presentation and contamination

Bulk products are by their very nature difficult to handle. The stabilisation of bulk bags during the filling and sealing process can be a particular problem. Inconsistent sealing can result in product wastage through spillage, while unaided open bags moving from the filler to the sealer risks product contamination.
Having a secure grip on the bag at all times during the filling and sealing process is paramount and a system that incorporates motorised grip arms can overcome this risk. The arms move around the bag the moment it is released from the clamp, holding it in its formed state and clamping it shut throughout the sealing process so that at no point can anything miscellaneous drop into the sack. The closing system must be able to handle the multitude of different variants in bakery ingredients packaging – including paper, plastic, woven polypropylene, hessian and even nets – and support and guide them throughout the filling and closing process with precision and accuracy on even the most difficult to handle, heavy sacks. This results in the delivery of a consistent pack with a premium appearance.
Equipment compatibility

Check that any equipment feeding the new packing system, and any other equipment integrated or affected by it, is suitably compatible. The overall line speed is determined by the slowest element; concerns should not be limited to the weigher alone. For example, a weigher and sack placer may be able to operate at a speed of 10 sacks per minute, but if the exit conveyor can only transport eight bags per minute, it will hinder the entire system.
Adherence to regulations

Sacks and bags destined for resale are subject to weights and measures legislation. Whichever way you look at it, inaccurate bag weight is detrimental to business; aside from underweight bags being illegal, overweight bags will directly hit your bottom line. The impact on revenue can quickly mount up. Imagine a weighing system that averages 10 bags per minute that operates for eight hours a day, 250 days a year, overfilling bags by an average of 15g. This equates to 18,000 kilograms giveaway a year. An approved weighing system or check weigher can be incorporated to verify the weight of products before they are palletised or made ready for distribution. The check weigher must have a suitable reject system to remove bags that are ‘out of tolerance’. In some instances, a simple operator alert is sufficient.

Reducing costs

With all of these advancements, there has never been a better time for bulk manufacturers to consider investing in automating their bagging and palletising lines to boost productivity and reduce costs. As with any investment, confidence in your automation partner is paramount. When exploring your options, ask plenty of questions, request demonstrations and check the level of technical support that is available. Whether you are installing a new system or a second user system, the most experienced providers should be able to quantify the return on investment.

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