Packaging companies making containers for the retail foodservice industry are constantly innovating to come up with new solutions in an ever-changing marketplace.

And behind the scenes, the manufacturers of the machines that make those packages are working closely with their clients to help keep those solutions coming.

Most of the thermoformers made by Thermoforming Systems LLC can produce clear PET and PP clamshells and other packaging for retail foodservice products, says James Naughton, the company’s president.

Thermoforming Systems machines are used to make packaging for products ranging from chicken roasters to deli trays and tubs, from yogurt cups to meat trays. One thermoformer in particular, Naughton says, leads the pack. “The industry leader is our LF5.0 model, which includes a former and trim press for the two-stage process,” Naughton says.

For more precise applications — polypropylene tubs, cups or pods that involve filling and sealing processes, to name one example — Thermoforming Systems’ FT8K Trim-in-Place model, which utilizes a single-stage process, is a good fit, he says.

Both the LF5.0 and the FT8K are large-bed, high-volume machines boasting typical cycle rates of 20 to 30 cycles per minute. Depending on the finished products, Naughton says, both machines can process up to 5,000 pounds of polymer per hour.

Despite its solid position in the industry, Thermoforming Systems isn’t resting on its laurels. The company has incrementally improved the design of its machines to process  a wider range of polymers, and it has made gains in both performance and reliability, Naughton says. As servo technology has improved, for instance, Thermoforming Systems has increased the speed of machines’ tooling movements, resulting in more product produced within the same footprint.

A variety of factors have enabled Thermoforming Systems to thrive in a competitive industry, Naughton says. “It’s the combination of collaborative innovation, backed up with quality engineering and support services, that assures our customers the ability to meet the needs of their foodservice customers in a timely manner.”

The key to helping those customers satisfy their own customers is to have a close working relationship with the packaging companies themselves, Naughton says. “Our job is to collaborate with our customers and their tooling groups to support new packaging innovations, such that the machine design and performance meets their expectations.”

As far as industry trends go, Thermoforming Systems has adapted to the increased use of recycled materials — mainly PET, but also polypropylene, Naughton says. “We’ve focused on certain designs that allow all of our thermoformers and trim presses to process these materials with the highest efficiency possible.”

Recently, the company participated in a new product launch for poultry trays made from PET instead of PS Foam — a move driven by regional recycling requirements.

Fast, versatile, eco-friendly

Several other suppliers create packaging machinery used to pack foodservice items, says Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute. Other FPI machinery supplier members include Paper Machinery Corp., Peerless Machine & Tool Corp., Polytype America Corp. and TPM-USA LLC.

Paper Machinery’s product lineup includes paper cup and container forming machines, plastic cup and container forming machines, overwrap and double-wall machines and several custom machines, including a paperboard and application machine, a counter stacker and a tube forming machine that forms single-wrap, paperboard tubes.

In June, Paper Machinery launched its latest innovation: the PMC 2500S, a servo-driven cup and container forming machine that can produce containers ranging from 4 to 46 ounces in both round and non-round configurations.

By using a servo control platform at all forming stages, the PMC 2500S provides tremendous flexibility and changeovers in less than a single shift. Independent servo motors control 17 different axes, which are synchronized with a central motion control. The servo platform also improves customer service by remotely monitoring more machine conditions and offering additional improvements through software updates.

“Every PMC machine implements a proprietary control package critical to its safety and operation,” says Jeremiah Moll, PMC electrical engineering manager.

The PMC 2500S forms containers at speeds of up to 170 CPM and forms paperboard and polypropylene cups and packages in tapered and straight wall and round and non-round shapes, says Mike Hansen, PMC’s vice president for packaging. “The PMC 2500S is perfect for flexible production environments that require a wide variety of container sizes and shapes,” he says. “It provides converters, co-packers and end-user companies with a reliable, cost-effective cup and container forming solution.”

Products offered by Peerless Machine & Tool Corp. include blank-fed (crown) and roll-fed forming machines (wide and narrow), afterpress machinery, roll-to-roll paperboard moistening machinery, roll stands and tooling products.

At this fall’s Pack Expo show in Chicago, Peerless will showcase its latest roll-fed forming machine, the M27E, which features servo-driven linear actuators for smooth and reliable cut/score and forming head motion. Adjustable forming section dwell and stroke capacity allows machine settings to be tailored to each specific product resulting in optimum quality and production speeds.

Polytype America, a division of Switzerland-based Wifag-Polytype Group, offers a full range of machines that make printed cups and other containers. The company’s BDM 482 can produce up to 450 printed cups per minute of varying height, width, diameter and taper dimensions and in up to eight different colors. High-powered UV ink curing on mandrels allows for instantaneous VOC-free drying.

TPM-USA LLC, a division of Taiwan Pulp Molding Co., offers a wide range of pulp-molding machines utilizing direct-hot-press molding technology. Molded-pulp products are made from either virgin pulp or recycled paper and cardboard waste and provide an environmentally-friendly alternative to expanded polystyrene and corrugated die-cut packaging.

Molded-pulp technology can be used to make trays, clamshells, bowls, boxes, cups and other packaging utilized in the foodservice industry. Containers made by TPM-USA machines are waterproof, oil-resistant and microwaveable.