Whether its packaging up branded bread mixes and pastry dough destined for supermarket shelves, or bulk bags of ingredients, like specialty flours, sugar, baking powder and sifted cocoa stocked by wholesalers and used by artisan caterers and restaurateurs, the rising costs of raw materials, coupled with higher energy prices, means the automation landscape for suppliers of bakery ingredients is rapidly changing. Paul Wilkinson, Business Development Manager at Pacepacker Services discusses the benefits of turnkey packaging equipment and why automation is especially valuable for high-volume production lines as they strive to enhance their competitive edge.

As any bulk packers will know, making the switch to automation can raise a number of vital questions, from legislative to bag stability and presentation. As a packing system specialist, Pacepacker deals with a range of automated packing application enquiries for the food industry and is no stranger to advising bulk manufacturers on the best way to introduce a new bagging system.

“The ability to withstand often harsh environments, produce a consistent pack presentation, accommodate differing pack sizes and overcome wastage when bagging high quantities, are just some of the issues we help bulk manufacturers to address,” explains Paul. “Constricting health and safety regulations and the need to relieve employees of onerous, laborious tasks is the driving force behind automation in the bulk sector.” 

The application of automation is an essential ingredient in the sustainability of manufacturing businesses, reinforces Mike Wilson, Chairman of the British Automation & Robot Association (BARA). “Automating manufacturing processes not only drives costs down; it improves quality, reduces waste and optimises energy use,” highlights Mike. “In a relatively high cost economy, such as the UK, automation will consequently increase a manufacturer’s competitive edge.”

As with many forms of dry bulk food, the handling of loose grains, sugar and flour can generate a large volume of dust.  Today’s systems are designed to tolerate the most abrasive of environments. Pacepacker’s TBC (Total Bag Control) systemminimises the amount of dust that can escape during packing by a number of means:

  1. By using dust reduction pads that seal the bag in place on the sack filling clamp.
  2. Secondly by utilizing a vented discharge hopper from the weigher to enable a good flow of product into the bag and displaced air and dust.
  3. Thirdly by the dust extraction spigots that can be fitted around the sack filling point.
  4. The sack transfer grip arms that transfer the filled sack, holding it shut as it is transported  from the filling point to the sealer.

Portability also an option

For increased flexibility, equipment can even be built within a portable container, providing bulk manufacturers operating at multiple packing sites with a single turnkey solution that can be easily transported across a factory floor, around an estate or even into another county. This enables customerswho may have previously ruled out automation due to cost concerns or inflexibility, to boost production in their plants, often with a 12 to 18 month ROI.

For many bakery wholesalers, one of the highest margin activities is buying in bulk sacks of anything from confectionery products to pulses, ?our and sugar, and repacking them into smaller bags for resale to retail customers and caterers. With a growing number of these wholesalers also opting to automate the re-packing process, a key factor that must be addressed in this process is product wastage. Spillages or contamination wastage is not uncommon in the industry, especially when dealing with loose ingredients, and efficiencies gained through automation may be cancelled out if product if wastage occurs.

“On many systems installed at wholesale operations, bags are ?lled whilst on a sack clamp, then dropped onto a moving conveyor and transported to a stitcher,” comments Paul. “During this part of the process, the mouth of the bag is wide open and the bag is completely unsupported. This can result in sacks falling over and spilling. In addition, while the bag is open anything from a nut or bolt to an insect could fall in and contaminate the product.”

Case study: Pacepacker showcases powder packing prowess

One of the UK’s leading bakery ingredients businesses, supplying dough conditioners, cake and donut mixes, icings and soya to both plant and artisan bakeries, integrated Pacepacker’s TBC sack closing system into its turnkey mixing, weighing and packing line.

“Essentially, our aim was to increase our production capacity for our baking mixes, but some quite stringent yield figures were quoted within our specification which could have been difficult to achieve due to the nature of the products, which range from very light, powdered mixes to heavy cake mixes with a high fat content. Reliability was also key, as we are a 24/7/365 operation,” explains a representative for the bakery ingredients company.

Working alongside G Webb Automation, a respected provider of powder filling and weighing equipment, Pacepacker designed and supplied the bagging element of the line. At the UK plant, the TBC packs a variety of powdered products into paper and polythene bags ranging from 10 to 25kg in size.  The throughput of the semi-automated line is six tonnes per hour, which equates to about four 25kg sacks per minute, although the TBC itself is capable of a much higher output in certain situations.

“The TBC system offers far better control of the bag than we have on our other plants and has been a significant step forward for us in terms of bag presentation,” explains the bakery ingredients company representative.  “This line has become a blueprint for powder weighing, filling and packing within our company. It demonstrates that with the right equipment, loss can be virtually eliminated.”

Paul’s tips for automation rookies

When selecting and implementing a new bagging system, Paul flags three critical factors to consider upfront and how to overcome issues regarding contamination:

1. Pack presentation and contamination

Bakery bulk products are by their very nature tough to handle. Stabilisation of bulk bags during the filling and sealing process has plagued manufacturers and packers of flour, grains and sugar for some time. Inconsistent sealing can result in product wastage through spillage, while unaided open bags moving from the filler to the sealer can be at risk from product contamination. 

Having a secure grip on the bag at all times during the filling and sealing process is paramount and a system which incorporates motorized grip arms can overcome this.  The arms move around the bag the moment it is released from the clamp holding it in its formed state and clamping it shut through the sealing process. So, at no point can anything miscellaneous drop into the sack, thereby eliminating the contamination risk. 

The closing system must also be capable of handling a multitude of different variants in bakery ingredients packaging - including paper, plastic, woven polypropylene, hessian and even nets – and support and guide them throughout the filling and closing process with precision, and accuracy on even the most difficult-to-handle, heavy sacks. Resulting in the delivery of a consistent pack, with a premium appearance.

2. Equipment compatibility

Check that any equipment feeding the new packing system, and any other equipment integrated or affected by it, is suitably compatible. The overall line speed is determined by the slowest element; concerns should not be limited to the weigher alone. For example a weigher and sack placer may be able to operate at 10 sacks per minute, but if the exit conveyor can only transport 8 bags per minute, it will hinder the entire system.

3. Adherence to regulations

Sacks and bags destined for resale are subject to Weights and Measures Legislation.  Whichever way you look at it, inaccurate bag weight is detrimental to business; aside from underweight bags being illegal, overweight bags will directly hit your bottom line. The impact on revenue can quickly mount up. Imagine a weighing system that averages 10 bags a minute, operating eight-hours a day, 250 days a year, overfilling bags by an average of 15 grams. This equates to 18,000 kilograms giveaway a year! An approved weighing system or check weigher can be incorporated to verify the weight of products prior to them being palletised or made ready for distribution. The check weigher must have a suitable reject system to remove bags that are ‘out of tolerance’. In some instances, a simple operator alert is sufficient.

With all of these advancements, Paul highlights that there has never been a better time for bulk manufacturers to consider investing in automating their bagging and palletising lines to boost productivity and reduce costs. “As with any investment, confidence in your automation partner is paramount.  When exploring your options, ask plenty of questions, request demonstrations and check the level of technical support that’s available. Whether you are installing a new system or a second-user system, the most experienced providers should be able to quantify the return on investment.” 

For more details on Pacepacker Services visit www.pacepacker.com.