Bakers and snack food producers are seeking form/fill/seal (FFS) packaging equipment that can complete both long and short production runs, can handle a variety of packaging styles and is easy to clean—all important factors in today’s quick-changing marketplace. Manufacturers are upgrading equipment to meet these needs and offering new capabilities, such as ultrasonic sealing, and are building ease-of-use into the latest systems.

Like many food packagers, bakers and snack food producers are looking for equipment that offers versatility and flexibility. With FFS equipment, they want the ability to run multiple package styles—such as pillow bags, stand-up flat-bottom bags and zippered bags—on the same machine.

While attention is focused on increasing speed capabilities, the market will likely see even greater end-user demand for bag-format and size-range flexibility within a single machine to accommodate fast-changing market demands. “Flat-bottom bags and the ability to quickly change over to standard pillow bags is increasingly important,” says Ross Long, executive vice president, Kliklok-Woodman, Decatur, GA. “Looking further ahead, we believe that ultrasonic sealing will gain interest as a means to further reduce package material use and waste.”

In the past few years, there has been a lot of development in vertical FFS baggers in the areas of flexibility, speed and new technology such as ultrasonic welding, according to Kim Magon, marketing manager, Triangle Package Machinery Co., Chicago. “For many products in the bakery and snack foods markets, flexible packaging is becoming a popular choice for replacing rigid containers,” she says. “Much of this growth has been with stand-up bags and pouches, which offer improved visibility on store shelves.”

Mike McCaan, packaging specialist, Reiser, Canton, MA, sees a move within the bakery and snack food industries to FFS packaging because of the better product protection and longer shelf life provided by this type of process. He says many food processors are starting to look at FFS packaging because of the superior, hermetic seals and security it offers.

Three significant trends are shaping many FFS manufacturing footprints today: continued SKU proliferation, grab-and-go category expansion and sustainability, according to Sean Prena, global account manager, Roberts Packaging Equipment, Des Plaines, IL. “SKU proliferation drives equipment flexibility, changeover speed and configurability,” he explains. “Grab-and-go growth means that more foods, including many baked goods, are being packaged more frequently in form/fill/seal formats.”

Consumers and retailers are demanding a wider variety of products. As a result, food processors are looking for flexibility and a high level of automation from their FFS equipment, according to Paul Garms, marketing manager, Bosch Packaging Technology, New Richmond, WI. “Many bakery and snack plants want equipment that can package products in different pack styles, sizes and configurations,” he notes. “To meet these needs, our vertical machines are designed to produce a broad range of bag styles such as pillow, block-bottom, gusseted, full corner and doy-style.”

New equipment

Bosch Packaging Technology recently expanded its Pack Series of horizontal flow wrappers, which range from entry-level models to fully automated technologies. This includes the launch of the Pack 101 horizontal flow wrapper, an entry-level solution for small and midsized producers. “The Pack 101’s fully adjustable former and multiple cutting head sizes permit a wide range of products to be packaged on a single machine, reducing the need for future investment and giving manufacturers the ability to quickly adapt to changing market demands,” says Garms. “Designed for packaging bakery and snack foods, the machine is suitable for businesses that require a flexible solution that accommodates multiple products.”

Triangle Package Machinery introduced a redesigned Model XYS08 bagger that offers ultrasonic sealing, updated controls, adjustable human machine interface (HMI), increased corrosion protection and other sanitation features. “In recent years, our customers in the produce industry have had success with ultrasonic sealing,” says Magon. “We are now introducing the technology to companies in the snack food and bakery markets. The benefits of this cold-seal technology include eliminated or significantly reduced leakers, as well as film, labor, product and energy savings.”

Kliklok-Woodman recently unveiled the Frontier bag maker. “It is a simple to operate and maintain machine for developing markets where an economical, but reliable, investment is paramount,” says Long. “The Frontier is available with snack-specific features, such as product stripping, or without these features for bakery, cereal and other applications.”

Heat and Control Inc., Hayward, CA, developed the Ishida Atlas 203 USS Ultrasonic Snack Bagmaker, which uses ultrasonic energy to seal end and back seals at 140 bags per minute. It can produce a wide range of bag widths up to 11 inches. “Compared to conventional heat sealing, the Ultrasonic creates a stronger, smaller seal that reduces the amount of film and energy used,” says Jeff Almond, snack food industry manager. “Ultrasonic requires no jaw warm-up time. In fact, it is only activated when the seal is made, which results in energy savings.”

Tna North America Inc., Coppell, TX, recently enhanced its tna robag series of vertical FFS baggers with the launch of the tna robag auto-splice. The system automatically splices film during the packaging process, completing a cycle in less than 15 seconds. “The tna robag dual-spindle film system holds the packaging film so that one film is already loaded and can be rejoined as soon as the film runs out,” says Lawrence Roos, group product development manager. “Paired with our tna robag FX 3ci, the tna robag auto-splice can reduce downtime and operational costs.”

The Repak FFS packaging machine from Reiser, available in four models, uses a rapid air-forming system to produce packages. This maintains the structure and maximizes the distribution of film into critical areas, such as corners, which allows package engineers to choose thinner forming films with potential cost savings of up to 20%. In addition, a four-point lifting system on the forming and sealing dies assures increased seal integrity.

IMH Series packaging machines from Roberts Packaging Equipment continue to evolve to meet the needs of packagers, according to Prena. “For contract packagers, they offer the low-cost benefits of packaging from rollstock, while allowing the flexibility to fill premade bags,” he notes. “Some complex bag designs are difficult to make from rollstock; some short-run jobs are more economical using premade bags. Having both options in a hybrid machine gives the contract packager more bang for the buck.”

Hayssen Flexible Systems, Duncan, SC, has developed a new range of horizontalwrappers, including the Merlin Blu, a high-spec, low-cost solution supplied on a short lead time basis; the Minerva, a higher-speed system suitable for more-complex applications; and the Integra, a long-dwell machine suitable for hermetic seal applications with or without modified-atmosphere packaging.

Meeting challenges

One of the biggest challenges in designing FFS equipment for bakeries and snack food plants is the gap between optimum machinery performance and operator capabilities, according to Long. “The changing workforce has led to fewer ‘expert’ operators and mechanics with the knowledge to sustain consistent performance,” he says. “Kliklok-Woodman addresses this challenge by offering ‘smart’ controls and software that automatically establish and trend machine settings to achieve peak performance with minimal operator input.”

Manufacturers are designing new equipment to accommodate new food safety regulations and sustainability initiatives, as well. As a result, machine parts are easy to access and clean, and less material and energy is used during processing, which helps achieve green initiatives.

For example, Bosch recently launched the SVC 2620, which is ideal for free-flowing dry, wet and frozen food products packaged in a variety of pack styles, according to Garms. “The SVC 2620 is among the latest advancements to enhance cleanability and hygiene,” he says. “It allows for easy access to all product-contact parts, enabling quick and thorough cleaning. This significantly reduces the risk of cross-contamination.”

Roberts Packaging Equipment’s focus on customizing each machine allows the company to keep up with changing government regulations and customer requirements. “We design the machinery to fit the market, the market segment and the customer,” says Prena. “Our work with offering machinery that creates a stand-up bag from rollstock is probably the biggest advance for sustainability. When a single bag replaces a bag inside a box, it’s a more environmentally friendly package. The rollstock ships more efficiently than other alternatives. It requires less space and less packaging material, and it’s lighter.”

 As FFS evolves across the industry, the increased sophistication this technology can bring to plant operations will continue to reveal itself.