Today’s supermarket shelves attest to the ongoing need for an ever-greater variety of snack and bakery products, as stores are stocked with more single-serve, multipacks and family-sized bags. It’s a variety show on the foodservice side of the baking and snack business, too, as operators diversify their menus and embrace packaging that meets their needs for storage, preparation and serving.

Vertical form/fill/seal (v/f/f/s) machines are working hard and often overtime to keep pace with demand and to keep up with manufacturers’ expectations for speed and efficiency. Automated v/f/f/s machines are used for a range of packaged bakery and snack products, from big bags of cookies to pillow pouches of chips, as consumers continue to snack more and eat differently.

Kelly Meer, product manager, Bosch Packaging Technology, agreed that food manufacturers want to get the most out of their v/f/f/s systems as they produce packaged goods in different sizes, weights and shapes. “In today’s production environment, flexibility within the smallest footprint available is driving the baking and snack customers,” Mr. Meer said.

Mark Lozano, sales manager, TNA North America, echoed that trend and the resulting impact on the use of v/f/f/s systems. “The move to on-the-go snacking and smaller portion sizes has had a considerable impact on packaging processes as manufacturers need to package the same amount of product in more bags to retain similar levels of production volumes,” he said.

As they provide a greater variety of package sizes and formats, manufacturers also want to maximize their operations with v/f/f/s machines. “One of the main things our customers look for is greater line ­efficiency to help them increase production volumes and profitability,” Mr. Lozano added. “Food manufacturers today require packaging equipment that can get their products from factory to shelf as quickly as possible to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for snack products.”

Let's begin our tour through the world of v/f/f/s machinery.

New vertical horizons

Reflecting the push for flexibility and efficiency, v/f/f/s baggers are designed with manufacturers’ needs in mind.

Mr. Lozano underscored the importance of recognizing the increasingly broad spectrum of products and packages that baking and snack companies are making. “By adapting the packaging design and look of their product, manufacturers can easily update their portfolio to ensure they maintain visibility and relevance in the marketplace without having to reformulate the actual product,” he said.

While this opens opportunities for food manufacturers to stand out on the shelf and explore new avenues of growth, it also affects their production processes. “For us as an OEM, this means all of our equipment needs to be designed to offer the highest level of flexibility when it comes to handling new materials, package sizes and varying line speeds,” Mr. Lozano said. “The more flexible the packaging system, the less time is required to change production runs to accommodate different pack sizes or formats, resulting in minimum interruption to the production flow.”

To support that demand for flexibility, Mr. Lozano noted that TNA’s machines include no mechanical adjustments when changing product or film, quick format changes and a wide variety of jaw size configurations that enable full flexibility of bag size and format, film type and application on a single packaging system. “That way, food manufacturers can be sure they are able to respond to consumer trends quickly and efficiently without having to make costly and time-consuming changes to their production setup,” he said.

TNA’s flexibility-driven Robag packaging system includes a fully integrated inserter and/or labeler. “For the first time, our engineers were able to achieve a full hardware and software integration of this type of equipment into a high-speed v/f/f/s packaging system,” Mr. Lozano explained, citing the addition of promotional items such as coupons, game pieces or small collectibles into packaging or the insertion of small sachets of complementary sauces or extra seasoning.

Continue reading to learn how companies continue to innovate in the vertical packaging arena.

Versatile style

Other new and improved v/f/f/s systems reflect the demand for packaging versatility.

For example, the Matrix Packaging Machinery division of ProMach offers a Morpheus continuous motion v/f/f/s machine designed with versatility-oriented features. “A lot of continuous motion machines are optimized for small or large bags. We’ve worked hard to create a system that runs both really well, giving solutions to customers who run narrow and wide bags on the same system,” said Marc Willden, general manager, Matrix, and vice-president of ProMach.

Matrix also offers a changeover solution that eliminates manual adjustments like hand cranks and thumb screws.

Meanwhile, by adding Kliklok-Woodman Corp. to its business family, Bosch Packaging now offers v/f/f/s machines, including the Woodman P3c that can produce up to 120 bags per minute. “However, its main advantage lies in the smart engineering for efficient packaging of non-homogenous products that vary in size and shapes,” Mr. Meer said.

In addition, said Mr. Meer, the company’s continuous motion v/f/f/s machine (the SVE 2520 DZ) allows for faster production of more high-quality bags per minute with a small footprint, resulting in lower cost-per-bag and a higher ROI. “The machine produces eight of the most popular bag styles: pillow, gusseted, block bottom, corner seal, full-corner seal, three-sided seal as well as doy and doy zip resealable bags. As a result, the premium quality, attractive shape and size of the bags help to drive greater visibility and consumer preference for food products at the point-of-sale,” Mr. Meer noted.

A need for speed

In addition to versatility, v/f/f/s machines are designed for user efficiency and speed.

“Vertical f/f/s is great for pillow packs at high speeds,” Mr. Willden said. “And when you’re talking about efficiencies, one of the biggest things we’re doing now is building in remote monitoring of overall equipment effectiveness on our systems. Now you can monitor everything else upstream and downstream — it gives you the ability to understand not only what’s going on with one machine but also up and down the line.” Bosch has also honed in on efficiency at its v/f/f/s test facility in New Richmond, WI, where it can accommodate two full v/f/f/s lines that include secondary packaging such as case erecting, loading and closing. According to Mr. Meer, “Manufacturers across multiple industries utilizing the expanded vertical f/f/s test facility can be assured that their line is fully functional prior to installation at their production site.”

Finally, these machines also allow for the production of packages with built-in functionality, another interest of many manufacturers in baking and snack businesses. “Bags produced on vertical f/f/s equipment can offer a number of added functionalities,” Mr. Lozano said. “Depending on the film structure, they preserve the content by providing a barrier to oxygen, light, moisture or aromas. In particular, snack foods like potato chips, which contain fat, are often prone to oxidative rancidity in the presence of air, so controlling the level of oxygen within the package is vital.”

He added that gas flushing also protects delicate foods like potato chips from damage during packaging and transport. Vertical f/f/s systems work with that process because bag formers can be easily fitted with gas tubing and technology that accurately controls the gas flow into the bag, according to Mr. Lozano. TNA recently launched a continuous gas sampler that can be integrated into the Robag packaging system.

At Bosch, Mr. Meer reported that the functionality aspects of v/f/f/s systems are evident in the growing popularity of stand-up pouches for snacks. Bosch offers those bags with doy zip functionality that provide content protection, along with easy opening and reclosing features. “Based on our experience, the premium quality, attractive shape and glossy finish of these bags successfully drive greater visibility and consumer preference for food products at the point-of-sale,” Mr. Meer said.

Today’s v/f/f/s machines are meeting the market’s demands for versatility in packaging options and are taking food companies to new heights.