High demands are placed on today’s vertical form-fill-seal machinery that must be fast, efficient, and capable of rapid changeovers throughout a range of bag styles using ever-thinning webs. Shown is a made-from-rollstock flat-bottom bag, one of several variations on the popular stand-up pouch.
Photo courtesy of Heat and Control.

Want to know what’s up with vertical form-fill-seal machinery? Ask those who know the industry and equipment inside out: machinery makers. That’s what we did at Pack Expo, soliciting more than a half-dozen vendors for their insights.

According to Ray Kondracki, marketing manager at Triangle Package Machinery, packagers are looking for ease of operation, quick changeover, ease of maintenance, and training programs.

And a whole lot more.

Assume that speed is king? Not so fast. While there continues to be a need for speed, pure speed appears to be taking a back seat to the real driver: performance.

“We’ve come through a period over the last 10 years where it has been a race for speed,” says Ross Long, vice president at Kliklok-Woodman. “More recently, it has been recognized that speed in and of itself is not a goal, but that overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is really the goal. Customers ask for repeatable, consistent performance from one product to another and from one operator to another so that high OEE is maintained shift to shift and week to week.”

“This market is all about increasing performance and cost of ownership, and also keeping waste to a minimum,” observes Shayne De la Force, group marketing manager for tna Solutions in Australia.

Waste minimization follows source reduction as a sustainable strategy. Source reduction via downgauging has been in vogue for at least 10 years, notes Michael Green, vice president at tna Americas. “Thinner films are preferred because those materials can be sealed at faster rates, though we’re approaching about as thin and fast as you can go,” he says.

Companies mining materials savings have drilled down to pare the width of the seals. It is here that tiny reductions, times millions of bags for high-volume applications, sheds tons of packaging.

“The standard seal width in this market used to be a 12-millimeter seal, then it was nine, and more recently it is down to seven, though now we’re seeing six millimeters,” reports Green. That’s less than 1/4 inch-and there is already talk of 1/8-inch-wide seals.

As webs thin and seals narrow, more scrutiny is paid to sealing, including for one technology that kept coming up in discussions: ultrasonic sealing as an alternative to the industry standard of heat sealing.  (See “Ultrasonic sealing offers good vibrations” below.)

Film selection, including renewable materials and biofilms, factor into machinery performance and options.

“Customers are trending toward more environmentally friendly films, trying to balance the film’s barrier characteristics and reducing the [carbon] footprint,” says Randy Blair, product development manager of snack food packaging at Heat and Control. “These new and developing structures require the bag maker to have the ability to quickly and easily change seal time, pressure and temperature.”

However, with infrequent exceptions, sustainable materials remain largely in the wings in this market.

“We are seeing little movement into ‘green’ materials at this stage,” observes John Spears, national sales manager, VFFS, for the HayssenSandiacre div. of Barry Wehmiller.

Paul Garms, marketing manager, for packaging machines at Bosch Packaging Technology, concurs: “There’s a lot of interest in biomaterials for F-F-S, but currently there’s not much need.”

Garms opines that packagers continue to give priority to functional improvements. These include all-servo controls, open construction for ease of access and maintenance, and washdown design. Compactness is also desirable; reduced machine heights increase packaging speeds, he points out.       
Improved controls and communications go hand-in-hand with machinery functionality and interoperability related to Ethernet connectivity, standardized ISEE communication protocols, and enhanced electronics.

“Customers are requiring detailed information from their packaging systems, including monitoring of control points and prompt notification of faults,” says Blair. “When detailed information on performance and problems are delivered quickly, prompt adjustments can be made to prevent waste and downtime.”

Also paramount are product differentiation options via versatility in the machinery that forms those attention-getting packages. “High-velocity manufacturers can give their package development teams fits because of the demand to change shelf displays with different formats,” opines Spears.

Fortunately, machinery builders have made great stride to make equipment that’s adaptable to a range of formats. For example, one builder’s bagger produces pillow, gusseted, block-bottom, corner seal, and doy-style stand-up pouches with optional zippers; another’s yields 10 different bag styles. A larger initial expenditure upfront pays dividends down the road when the market-or marketing-changes course.

Flexibility for flexible packaging? You’ll find it in the vertical form-fill-seal systems from machinery builders that meet consumers’ growing hunger for bagged and pouched foods. 


For More Information

Bosch Packaging Technology, Inc., Packaging Machines Div.
715-246-6511; www.boschpackaging.com

HayssenSandiacre div. of Barry-Wehmiller
864-486-4000; www.hayssensandiacre.com

Heat and Control
510-259-0500; www.heatandcontrol.com

Kliklok-Woodman
770-981-5200; www.klikwood.com

tna Solutions
972-462-6500; www.tnasolutions.com

Triangle Package Machinery Co.
800-621-4170; www.trianglepackage.com

Ultrasonic assembly on a vertical form-fill-seal machine.
Photo courtesy of Herrmann Ultrasonics.

Ultrasonic Sealing Offers Good Vibrations

In answer to our open-ended question regarding trends for V-F-S-S baggers, “the biggest trend we’re seeing is for ultrasonic welding,” responded Triangle’s Ray Kondracki. He was not alone in singling out this underutilized technology as one that’s gaining traction in a market dominated for decades by heat sealing. Five V-F-F-S vendors at Pack Expo demonstrated the technology.

During ultrasonic sealing, high-frequency sound waves (in the range of 20,000 to 40,000 per second) focused on a substrate are converted into frictional heat to create a molecular bond between polymer layers. Essentially, the substrate heats from the inside-out, rather than outside-in as with heat sealing.

Bosch Packaging Technology, which has offered ultrasonic sealing as optional on its baggers for several years, notes the following benefits:

• Ideal for heat-sensitive products

• Reduced sealing time increases machine output

• Narrow sealing width saves packaging material

• Sealing through product-including liquids-reduces product and package waste

CapriSun drink pouches are sealed ultrasonically, notes David Considine, sales manager for packaging at Hermann Ultrasonics, which supplies sealing assemblies used for packaging applications.

Although the cost of ultrasonic sealing is around six times that of a heat-seal assembly, Considine says that ultrasonics use only 20% to 25% of the energy of heat sealers.             

More importantly, there is also the potential to use less complex-and less costly-structures and reduce web thickness, Considine notes.

A drawback to the technology is that packaging materials have been long been designed for heat sealing, not ultrasonic. However, says Kondracki, “as the use of ultrasonic sealing becomes more desirable, films will be optimized for this technology. This means that films can become thinner or they can lose sealant layers that will also make them more sustainable.” 

Herrmann Ultrasonics
630-626-1626; www.herrmannultrasonics.com