New machines and refreshed options and features are increasing the functionality and performance of FFS systems to meet customer requirements current and future.

By Rick Lingle, Editor in Chief

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As in most packaging machinery segments, machinery builders of form-fill-seal systems take their cues from customers. We surveyed a number of vendors in this market to see what trends their latest equipment developments were tapping. What we found was a comprehensive attention to detail that ranges from the knives that cut the film to more efficient zipper reseal application.

What its customers want most are performance and efficiency, notes Shayne De la Force, group marketing manager, tna (www.tnasolutions.com). “We’ve seen those attributes heightened as a result of a tough global trading environment and with that a move towards increasing productivity from existing equipment.”

According to De la Force, standout vertical FFS equipment must deliver the highest levels of performance, flexibility and simplicity. “Some machines boast high levels of one or other of these attributes, but it is a combination of all three that is essential to exceeding customer demands,” he explains. Lastly, simple but sophisticated design is crucial for operational ease, service/maintenance and everything in-between.”

“Manufacturers are balancing consumer demand for increased product safety and quality and the internal need for cost control and efficiency improvements through the use of features like hermetic sealing,” offers Jon Otto, product marketing manager, Bosch Packaging Technology (www.boschpackaging.com). Otto points to the Bosch Pack 301 LD flow wrapper, essentially a horizontal FFS system that combines a longer sealing time and high productivity levels to meet needs for efficiency, quality and a faster return on investment. It does this by borrowing from Bosch’s vertical FFS technology, explains Bosch marketing manager Paul Garms:  “The jaw motion profile on long-dwell heads is critical to creating hermetic seals while maintaining high efficiencies.”

Reseal and pouch proliferation

Bob Williams, VP of sales & marketing, Triangle Packaging Machinery Co. (www.trianglepackage.com), says the machinery builder continues to respond to consumer interest in resealable packs.  The company’s most recent enhancement is an integrated transverse zipper applicator. “This is the only bagger on the market that features a zipper applicator fully integrated into the film cage,” Williams says. “The design allows the zipper applicator to move with the film during web tracking, resulting in more accurate placement of the zipper and less rejects.”

Efficiency and versatility are essential qualities, according to Jeff Almond, snack food industry manager for packaging systems at Heat and Control (www.heatandcontrol.com). “Our latest machines reflect a trend among snack packagers that want bagmakers that multitask, deliver high output efficiency for each application, keep the cost-per-bag-per-minute and lifecycle costs to an absolute minimum, and have the ability to collect and analyze data,” he says. The Ishida Atlas 202 ties into a major trend in this market: One bagger that’s flexible enough to produce many different bag formats including flat bottom, hem seal, gusseted and pillow bags.

A new option on the Bosch SVI intermittent-motion vertical FFS baggers is the production of doy-style bags with a zipper reclose feature, according to Garms.  The customer can purchase the machine initially without this option to minimize costs, and later to add this capability with an in-field retrofit, he notes.  The machine also has an option for four-corner seal bags.  “All bag styles can be accommodated on a single machine with easy changeovers between bag styles,” Garms points out. “Manufacturers need this flexibility in order to cost effectively manage shorter product life cycles and respond to changing consumer trends that may require changes in product packaging.” He also sees an increased focus on hygienic design related to a growing focus on food safety across all food categories.

There are those who would maintain that cutting knives are one of the most overlooked, but crucial aspects of a FFS machine.  One of Heat and Control’s latest innovations for its Ishida Atlas baggers is the addition of durable ceramic anvil knives and a warranty covering the knives for three years. Ishida’s knives are made from a proprietary ceramic-metal alloy that offers high resistance to abrasion, high temperatures, and corrosion. “Ordinary bagger knives wear out frequently,” Almond claims, “often within a few months but in some cases several weeks. These ceramic anvil knives stay sharp longer and perform better than anything else in the industry.”

Matrix Packing Machinery (www.matrixpm.com) powered by Pro Mach (www.promachinc.com) has introduced what’s billed as the world’s first SmartGate. Chip Simenz VP, sales, explains that the SmartGate enables the system to provide a consistent, tight and compact charge.  The feature is said to minimize or eliminate “string-out,” especially with challenging tube-style or small-bag applications.  “The SmartGate will permit our packaging systems to increase speeds by 25 percent with small bag applications by providing compact charges for vertical FFS [baggers],” he says. “The tight charges help to ensure high running efficiency, increased speeds and minimized down time, which translates into increased profits.”

Film, resin suppliers address FFS

There have also been companies moving into the FFS market. One of those is Curwood (www.curwood.com ), a Bemis Co., which entered the market from the films side. In early 2010, it introduced the Liquiflex® FFS system, an equipment complement to the company’s recently developed next-generation 13-layer film, marketed as Liquiflex®Advance™ for the foodservice pouch category. 

For the FFS development, it partnered with Australian machine builder Propac (www.propac.com.au).

The machine takes its cues from a standard equipment platform commonly used for dry products including simple operations, ease of service, quick changeovers, and intuitive controls. A key benefit: Customers can be assured that the film-and- equipment system have been optimized for performance in their applications, says Jon Pietsch, market manager for liquids. The Liquiflex Advance 13-layer film is also a drop-in replacement performance-wise on competitive equipment. 

Curwood isn’t the only vendor that provides both FFS machines and film. Taisei Lamick USA  Inc. (www.taiseilamick.com) recently formalized its entry into North America by establishing a centrally located facility in Elk Grove Village, IL, near Chicago. The company boasts that its Dangan III FFS machines can handle pumpable liquids such as soy sauce at the industry’s fastest rate of 500 packs per minute, a result of a continuous fill without interruption of the liquid flow between each seal. This permits packets made on its machines to hold more liquid than any other pouch on the market, according to the company. 

And it’s not just film suppliers. Polymer producer Dow Chemical Co. (www.dow.com)  enables customers to test form-fill-seal packaging at its Film Application Development Center in Freeport, TX, where it recently installed a HayssenSandiacre (www.hayssensandiacre.com) Ultima ST 12-16 HP bagger along with other equipment. Dow customers can conduct real-world tests of new packaging films and testing in such applications as cold temperature abuse, drop tests, and checking the seal integrity of completed packages, according to Dow’s Greg Bunker, manager, flexible food and specialty packaging. This capability also gives Dow a testing ground to assess the performance of sealant resins for flexible food packaging.

What’s ahead for FFS in 2012?

We asked our industry experts what they see ahead in 2012 in the form-fill-seal market. tna’s De la Force sees a continued proliferation in bag and pouch formats. “Choice will be the biggest factor impacting the future of FFS; if we compare the degree of choice on the supermarket shelves that we have today to that of, say, ten years ago, it is clear that food manufacturers will need to pack more products in more pack formats in more pack sizes,” he says. “In order to keep up with this trend, FFS systems require rapid product changeovers and reduced downtime. Digitization of packaging lines is therefore crucial to allow food manufacturers to keep up with demand of their customers.”

Triangle’s Williams looks for continued activity surrounding ultrasonic sealing. “Ultrasonic welding technology is another way for companies to realize improved Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) through film and labor savings, increased machine throughput, less product waste and significantly less rejects. As we get more involved in this technology, we’re engaging more film companies.”

One supplier of films for FFS applications is Ampac (www.ampaconline.com).  Ampac director of innovation Sal Pellingra feels that the highest promise for growth in FFS is with improved efficiencies at higher speeds using films optimized for better seals at those speeds, specifically as improved hot tack and a broader seal range. “New machines that can incorporate shapes or fitments into the process seem to be a growth trend as well,” he says. Pellingra recommends packagers always involve material suppliers early in the purchase decision of new machines to ensure the right laminate is developed to not only run efficiently, but can survive conditions throughout the product life cycle. Materials that have run well on older equipment must often be reformulated to run at the higher speeds of modern systems, he adds.

For packagers to remain flexible in their growing use of bags and pouches, they will continue to demand more of their FFS systems and of their vendors.


Case study: ‘Caffeinated’ FFS speeds coffee packeting

Based in Canada, the Tim Hortons Inc. restaurant chain operates a high-speed Cloud Packaging Solutions (www.cloudps.com) ServOriginal form-fil-seal system at its Maidstone Coffee Co.  plant in Rochester, NY. The horizontal FFS system produces 2- to 2.5-ounce packets of coffee at a rate of 900 packs per minute and can reach 1,100 packs per minute, according to Garrett Dobesh, Maidstone’s general manager, U.S. The facility produces premium blend coffee that is boxed and shipped to the company’s U.S. restaurants for brewing.

Operating round-the-clock for five days weekly, the system was installed in 2009 to replace vertical FFS machinery. 

“The Cloud FFS machine improves quality, efficiency, and provides an overall better packet design,” says Dobesh. The Maidstone machine has optional features including nitrogen flushing for freshness and date coding for traceability, he adds.

Changeovers are few and far between, but when they are made, they are done in less than five minutes.

“The Cloud machine is one of the best industrial packaging machines I have had the pleasure of purchasing and installing,” concludes Dobesh. “The machine is exactly what was needed to help us deliver the freshest and best quality coffee to our restaurant owners and their guests.”


Case study: FFS system is a Deli Star performer

Deli Star, Fayetteville, IL, which packs deli salads, shredded meats, dressings, and sauces, switched to the Liquiflex® platform from Curwood (www.curwood.com), a Bemis Co., in 2010.

Deli Star doubled its productivity and reduced the cost of labor in its packaging operations. Previously, Deli Star packed products in 45-pound bags placed inside five gallon buckets. Output was 4,000 pounds of product hourly.  With the Liquiflex system, Deli Star packs most everything in 20-pound bags at line speeds that generally produce 8,400 pounds an hour. The machine requires only one operator, allowing Deli Star to reduce labor versus the previous arrangement.

According to Deli Star, “Most machines in this category take about six months for the operator to master. With this machine, it took less than a month.” 

Deli Star is impressed by the ability of the machine to changeover quickly for multiple product types and package sizes.  It was also impressed by the film strength: Deli Star has had a zero-loss record since switching to the system, even though it stacks the bags in bulk in large 40x48-inch bins. Deli Star delivers a 180-day shelf life with the Liquiflex Advance films, resulting in efficiencies and savings in every aspect.