In these challenging times, “sustainability” takes on multiple meanings. For some, it’s all about different shades of green, as in the environment and saving money.

Bakers search for new ways to make their packaging departments operate more efficiently to meet their customers’ environmental concerns and fashion a favorable public image while saving money at the same time.

In these recessionary times, “sustainability” takes on multiple meanings. For some businesses, it can be synonymous with survivability. For others, it can be translated into reducing waste and operating more efficiently, especially in the packaging department.

“The economy is factoring into every aspect of every business,” notes Hal Miller, vice president of sales for Kwik Lok Corp., Yakima, Wash. “It’s important to watch all costs, as well as eliminate as much waste as possible.”

In addition to reducing waste and lowering overhead, bakers are exploring new avenues to control labor costs as retailers press bakers to slash prices to attract more value-conscious consumers.

“Reduced workforce and higher wages are areas impacting bakers in their production departments,” explains Dennis Gunnell, vice president of sales and marketing for Formost-Fuji, Woodinville, Wash.
“Most automation solutions can increase production volume and lower labor [costs].”

Going green has blossomed in popularity because many of its practical solutions have bakers seeing “green” in more ways than one. In addition to saving money, sustainability efforts address the increasing awareness of consumers about how companies, their packaging and their carbon footprint impact the environment. Additionally, packaging companies are addressing the pressure that the snack and baking industries are getting from retailers who want to be seen as good corporate citizens that just happen to be selling quality products at lower prices.

AMF Bakery Systems, for instance, is addressing the issue in a number of ways, says Larry Gore, director of product marketing for the Richmond, Va.-based company.

“First, we are incorporating energy-saving features in our equipment that include high-efficiency motors and efficient mechanical designs that reduce required horsepower for operation,” Gore says. “We also are designing additional flexibility in our equipment to allow use over a wide variety of applications. This will reduce the number of lines required to produce the same output, in many cases. The result is reduced equipment count and the associated reduced power usage and reduced plant space that must be lighted, heated and cooled.”

For bag closure producers, going green means developing biodegradable closures, among other options, to minimize the volume of material that is going into landfills.

In some cases, companies are going multimedia to get the message out.

“Kwik Lok has produced a video presentation for our industry explaining and showing Kwik Lok’s effort to lower carbon emissions and to provide and maintain our closure as a truly environmentally friendly, degradable and recyclable product,” Miller says.

The latest generation of twist ties also degrades in landfills, adds Mark Hotze, operations manager for Burford Corp., Maysville, Okla. In separate efforts to address sustainability, Burford can close bags with a slightly shorter tier than in the past. Instead of a 4.25-in. tie, the Model 2200 can do the job with only 3.75-in. ties, resulting in savings of more than 10% in tying material.

Moreover, Hotze says, Burford’s latest energy-efficient, twist tyer systems use 15% to 20% less electricity than previous models. Internationally, he adds, Burford is seeing a big increase in bag selling to provide a tamper-evident closure system throughout Europe. The feature is not only being driven by bakers, but also by retailers looking for enhanced food safety applications.

In addition to biodegradability, Kwik Lok’s machines such as its 893 Ultra with the 894 Squid Ink Turbo Printer offer simplified maintenance and incorporate the latest in stepper motor advancement and electronic controls to complement other automatic systems built into the packaging line.

“Kwik Lok is an ‘all-in-one’ concept providing bag closing technology advancement while also providing the consumer with a convenient, environmentally ‘green’ closure with all of the traceability information printed on the closure where it is easy to find and easy to read,” Miller says.

Up to the Challenge

While many bread producers and snack manufacturers are pushing the envelope to use more environmentally friendly packaging material, some of the latest paperboard that contains recycled material or green films require advanced technology to work as seamlessly as their not-so-green predecessors did.

“Special sealing jaws for new ‘green’ film have been created and the development of new seal technology to reduce seal width, film usage and improved appearance are in the works,” Gunnell says. “We are always looking for ways to help our customers improve their bottom line and maintain their marketing goals.”

Other packaging films such as Bemis’ bMET brown, metalized sealing films use 20% less material. By creating two-ply laminations with the performance of three-ply ones, the Oshkosh, Wis.-based company notes that bakers can save 10% in costs as well.

Resealable packaging, Gunnell adds, is another area that provides a challenge for bakers. Formost-Fuji offers its Reseal-It System with a recently improved “Kiss Cut” that provides a cleaner opening cut that helps maintain the re-sealable package’s integrity, Gunnell says.

Kwik Lok’s managers, Miller notes, are seeing a gamut of trends toward smaller portion packages as well as efforts to provide traceability and show value.

“Bakers are faced with consumer trends to eat local, support local charities, show community awareness and show when the product was produced,” he explains. “Consumers are more price and quality conscious as they are looking for coupons, cents off and cross promotions with other products.”
Kwik Lok’s 893 Ultra with its 894 Squid Ink Turbo Printer provides a closure along with a coupon, cross-promotion material or a host of other information about the product, he adds.

Laboring Becomes Automatic

In the packaging department, labor has historically been an issue from a number of perspectives. To solve this challenge in bread and bun operations, AMF’s Gore is seeing increased interest in automated basket and case loading. Bakers also are looking for automated order make-up systems to reduce operating costs and improve product distribution accuracy and efficiency as well as reduce product damage associated with manual product handling.

“Our customers are looking at every area of their operations to leverage technology for incremental performance improvements that will enhance their competitive position, customer satisfaction and profitability,” Gore says.

To accomplish this, AMF is working with bread, bun and roll producers to eliminate many manual functions with secondary packaging systems, which include automated dolly unloading, basket stacking, basket washing, robotic basket loading and more. Specifically, AMF has developed a patented vacuum head end-of-arm tool for its articulating arm robotic product loader used for handling poly-bagged products in a way that has no negative impact on the bag.

Over time, robotics have gained increasing acceptance among bread producers as the systems evolved and became more adept at handling delicate products without damaging them.

“Robotics offer a labor reduction, flexibility, as well as adaptability to multiple products further reducing changeover downtime,” Millers says.

Kwik Lok’s 893 “Ultra lok” management system combined with an “out-of-lok” sensor and alarm box can complement existing vision and robotic systems to help eliminate cost and increase product line efficiency, he adds.

The increased emphasis on automation, Hotze notes, has created different labor issues, specifically, one being lack of skilled labor to maintain increasingly sophisticated equipment with a wide variety of advanced electronics and software controls. Training has emerged as a greater issue, especially with the high turnover of maintenance personnel in some operations.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult for [the baking industry] to keep up to date with equipment,” he says.
In some cases with new systems, bakers have to completely retrain their staffs from the chief engineer on down.

Despite the constant new challenges that have emerged, the bottom line in the end isn’t red or black when it comes to packaging technology.

It’s all about different shades of green.

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** Photo courtesy of Burford Corp.