Focus: Delivering automated industry solutions for the Form, fill and seal sector

Devising efficient automated systems for form, fill and seal packaging markets is a key manufacturing priority for the global sector, reports Neill Barston

While the impact of coronavirus has clearly affected delivery times of equipment and systems around the world, sales of confectionery, bakery and snacks ranges are reportedly buoyant in 2021. So there is little surprise that demand for packaging machinery, including vertical and horizontal production lines has been notably strong during the past year in particular.

As previously noted by Confectionery Production, research from MarketsandMarkets had placed systems sales growth in the segment at a healthy annual rate of 4.9 per cent. Clearly, demands upon manufacturers remain high, with sustainability topping the agenda of many sector players, including Volpak, of the Coesia group. The business is developing solutions complying with upcoming worldwide regulations targeting reduce the waste and the carbon footprint of packaging processes.

As the company notes, this has been enabled by the group’s creation of a dedicated sustainability centre to centralise data gathering, support green strategy setting and accelerate existing initiatives across its global activities. This includes the creation of its PouchLab two years ago, which it noted has proved to be a key asset in partnering with key customers and suppliers to co-develop new packaging solutions.

Equipment flexibility

As Anurag Mitra, Product Marketing Manager (packaging), at Australian headquartered tna solutions asserts, flexibility remains an important feature of packaging lines. According to the specialist, he explains that building in dynamic features to equipment ranges allows manufacturers to cater to increasingly diverse consumer needs. Demand for smaller pack sizes, for example, is growing in line with rising health and wellness concerns.

Although brands have typically focused on ingredient formulation in the development of ‘better-for-you’ products, smaller pack sizes are an alternative way to control calorie intake without impacting the taste or texture that consumers have come to love. But how can packaging equipment suppliers help food manufacturers process multiple pack sizes on a single packaging line? “The key is flexible equipment design.

Packaging equipment that can accommodate a range of jaw types, for example, means confectioners can produce various bag sizes using a single system. “Enhanced ergonomic features are equally sought after, since they can play a crucial role in reducing labour time and increasing system uptime. Switching between pack sizes, for instance, can pose significant challenges for processors when it comes to former changeovers.

Typically located inside the packaging cabinet of a VFFS system, the operator must manually reach in and replace the former between production runs – this can be a time-consuming process,” explains Mitra, who adds that is why tna has moved to develop its former unload assist–an innovative pivot arm assembly – for its tna robag series.

The range operates an arm that swings out from a running position on the support assembly to a 90-degree angle, facilitating the quick and easy unloading and replacing of the former. In addition, the ergonomic design helps operators place both hands on the former and lift directly without leaning and twisting the torso, thereby reducing the risk of injury.

Mitra adds: “Although high-performance bagging equipment can give manufacturers that all-important competitive edge, the events of the past year have meant they are starting to look at packaging lines more holistically. Many brands have found that making smaller, incremental improvements to increase efficiencies can make a huge difference to a company’s bottom line.

Vertical systems

Meanwhile, GEA has just unveiled its new vertical SmartPacker CX400 D-Zip for pre-packaged food products for retail and food service. It combines fast, high-quality operation with maximum flexibility and uptime.

Apart from producing premium quality D-ZIP bags, this easy-to-use machine can produce more than 10 different bag styles for a wide variety of applications such as candy, nuts, frozen fruits and grated cheese.

The new machine integrates a newly developed corner seal unit, designed to reduce complexity and improve quality, flexibility and serviceability, thereby meeting the demands of today’s processors. It has been designed for high performance with an output of up to 100 D-Zip bags/minute; as well as reportedly delivering 98 per cent uptime and highly accurate operation from a machine with the smallest footprint of any other comparable machine in the industry.

It has also been designed in response to a greater requirement for flexibility in bag-styles, as seen in the increasing demand for stand-up pouches, as well as delivering reduced maintenance costs and downtime. The series has been designed to combine the high-quality of pouches made on conventional horizontal machines with the advantages of a SmartPacker; as well as the need for increased sustainability in manufacturing.

The SmartPacker CX400 D-Zip can creates all existing bag styles; has a changeover time of under 45 minutes – without the use of special tools – and features front discharge. The premium quality D-Zip bag delivers smooth and sharp cross seals, housed within and slim design, wrinkle-free seals with high density and air/gas-tight sealing. In addition, the machine features GEA’s new corner seal unit, which simplifies set-up and improves overall quality.

Industry partnership

For its part, Bühler has placed a high value on delivering flexible, efficient and rapid operating systems, which it further showcased in a partnership with Canadian packaging specialist Premier Tech.

The pair have combined to deliver a new automated packaging system for granular product ranges, including confectionery series. Known as the CHRONOS OML-1060, the system has been created as the first of many joint solutions between the two companies, after they initially formed a joint strategy two years ago. It has been developed to meet a common market demand for a flexible, high quality, accurate and yet cost-effective automatic bagging solutions for the Asian market, among others.

As the first open-mouth bagger from the Premier Tech- Bühler alliance, the OML-1060 can easily handle a wide range of free-flowing granular material. It is highly efficient and can handle 20 to 50 kg bags at a speed of up to 600 bags per hour. Johannes Wick, CEO of Bühler’s Grains & Food business, said: “As OML-1060 can handle all kinds of free-flowing granular material, this packaging solution could also be used for the confectionery industry.” With such developments emerging in recent months, it appears the machinery segment continues to prosper despite challenging condition.

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