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"Vertical, form, fill and seal packaging machine speeds throughput"

1st April 2013


Eric Russell looks at the latest developments and product releases in the packaging and labelling arena.

Swiss company Ilapak's new electronic flow-wrapper, the Vegatronic 3000 vertical, form, fill and seal (VFFS) packaging machine offers high throughputs with delicate product handling.

A recent installation at UK company Kettle Produce packs prepared carrots at speeds of 120 bags a minute while difficult to handle leafy vegetables can be packed at up to 55 bags a minute. The Vegatronic machines are also capable of producing modified atmosphere packs when required.

Douglas Bathgate, operations manager at Kettle Produce, says the new machines have given a 15percent increase in productivity.

The Vegatronic 3000 range achieves its high speeds using a continuous film motion to form a bag from a single reel of wrapping material, unwound at a constant speed while filling and sealing the bag at the same time. Its box motion jaws travel with the film, dramatically increasing seal dwell and improving film tracking capabilities, mechanically cycling at exceptionally high speeds, while also improving efficiency and making film savings.

Ilapak Group comprises four manufacturing units each with its own team of experts dedicated to a specific machine type.

Deep food trays

Aluminium foil container manufacturer Nicholl Food Packaging has won an industry prize for the innovative design of a product for oven-ready roasting joints.

The container, produced for UK supermarket giant Safeway, won the Foil Pack of the Year trophy awarded annually by the European Aluminium Foil Association. Its revolutionary product was described as technically advanced.

The judges noted that although the idea of pre-packed and hermetically sealed oven-ready joints was introduced about two years ago, Nicholl Food Packaging had taken the concept much further by using a technical advance to form deeper, 70mm, alufoil containers. This enables the packing of larger pieces of meat bringing advantages both to the retailer and the shopper.

For the retailer, the container is strong and convenient to handle. It is also hygienic, eliminates spillage, needs no in-store preparation and has a shelf life more than a third longer.

Branding, product details and cooking instructions are carried on a paper sleeve. The consumer is able to view the product through the clear lid, cooking is easier and the heatproof container eliminates the need for the joint to be touched at all.

Nicholl Food Packaging says the new product is lower cost than coated foil versions. Its smooth sealing flange allows for modified atmosphere packaging, giving extended chilled shelf life. The 70mm deep aluminium tray gives a total UV, moisture and gas barrier to approximately 70percent of the pack surface area.

The company says the narrow 70mm deep tray has been the most technically challenging to design and manufacture. Aluminium foil, unlike plastic materials has limited plasticity, or stretch. A comparatively new alloy and casting process was chosen and refined to provide the mechanical properties required. The tooling had to be specially designed to allow for the combination of stretching the foil and allowing controlled slip to prevent the foil tearing while still maintaining the smooth, hermetically sealable, flange.

New cartoner

The FlexCell Bag-in-box cartoner from Ultrapac inserts in ones, twos and threes through a completely new method for inserting bags into cartons.

Bags are propelled rather than pushed into cartons, eliminating the mechanical drive train plus product tray, pusher arm and container assemblies and the considerable space, change over time and service they require.

The new technique also eliminates jams caused by bags that bunch up or burst during pushed insertions. The simplification gives FlexCell a footprint less than half of a conventional machine.

It offers speeds in excess of 100 cartons per minute and features advanced technologies such as servo drives, an Allen-Bradley ControlLogix processor and Ethernet and DeviceNet communications.

Low temperature packaging

SIG Pack Systems has provided an automatic packaging system for Semper AB, one of Europe's leading dairy companies, which efficiently packages crêpes in temperatures of -20oC.

In order to guarantee high levels of hygiene, consistency and reliability, Semper AB previously used a manual system to pack crêpes into dispatch cartons. However, to ensure the highest levels of hygiene, this manual packaging process had to be carried out at sub zero temperatures, which created a very unpleasant work environment.

The new automated system maintains the high processing standards but has removed the prospect of workers having to face Arctic conditions on a daily basis. The automatic packaging system consists of three SIGDelta robot lines, which work in a four-shift operation. The crêpes are directly supplied to the robots from freezers, via a conveyor belt. 17 different sized products can be handled by the robots at speeds of up to 270 pieces per minute. The system also prevents overlapping, or build up of the product on the conveyor belt, which ensures less product wastage.

To achieve the desired packaging density, the products have to be placed into the cartons in a specific pattern. SIG vision technology detects the orientation of the crêpes on the belt and then picks up the crêpes and places them correctly into the cartons, which can be up to 200mm in height.

Any damaged products are automatically rejected and, through the use of an in-built checkweigher, the robots ensure that each box contains the correct number of products.

The robots use the same grippers for all product types which ensures that the product changeover process is very quick and simple, usually taking less than 10 minutes. Between products, the system is easy to wash down to guarantee high levels of hygiene.

Delicate touch

The latest packaging handling system from Bizerba avoids product damage. The end of line Packaging Handling System is specially designed for loading fresh food products in sealed packs directly into trays or cartons for onward transportation to retail outlets.

Michael Harris, managing director, says this is because the system is based on a pneumatic arm rather than the robot arm of conventional systems. The arm can be fitted with different suction heads to suit the product and each product unit is handled individually.

The product is accurately placed on the tray by a unique design of side supports that offers a placing accuracy within about a millimetre. Although the new Packaging Handling System provides food processors and packers with significantly improved handling characteristics, it offers a higher rate of throughput than a single arm robot.

Packs can be stacked both horizontally and vertically with full in-flight rotation to achieve optimal loading. Designed to further enhance line integration and production efficiency, the system features a range of programs for different pack sizes and can be linked to Bizerba's Weigh Price Labelling machine so the system can change its configuration to suit the requirements of the package.

The new Packaging Handling System can also be supplied with an Optical Inspection System, which is designed to monitor and automatically reject damaged packs including those without labels or where labels are unreadable.

Bizerba is a leading manufacturer and supplier of weighing, packaging and labelling systems for the food industry.

Beer bottles

German handling specialist Meypack used Festo pneumatic components at the heart of a unique packaging solution designed to protect beer bottles during transit in Korea.

Korean brewery Hite uses corrugated cardboard boxes to pack beer bottles for transportation, which offer weight and cost advantages over the European norm of plastic crates.

But these do not protect the bottles from knocking together, which causes breakage and spillage. To prevent the waste, Hite brewery had been using corrugated cardboard separator panels inserted by hand into each box, but turned to handling system specialist Meypack Verpackungssystemtechnik of Germany for an automated solution.

Meypack developed a packaging system to insert the separators into the wrap-around boxes by adapting one of its standard machines to handle longitudinal and transverse panels. Festo suction grippers mounted on a double-acting cylinder with twin piston rods pick up the separators, transport them to the insertion shafts and eject them into the shafts at a rate of 300 buffers per minute. The Meypack system can process up to 45 boxes per minute.

Co-operation between two industry experts: Advanced Labelling Systems (ALS) and Field First Label Access, has resulted in the development of an innovative new labelling solution for the food industry, called Tray-fix.

This is a combined label and machinery based solution and presents a robust alternative to traditional carton board sleeves that are commonly used to provide product information on chilled and ready meals, but at a much reduced start-up cost.

The high quality label, produced at Field First Label Access, is made from lightweight carton board and is UV flexo printed in a range of colours. This provides the advantage of improved shelf impact in highly competitive chilled display cabinets. The Tray-fix label is automatically applied directly to the container's film lid, which prevents any movement and the possibility of the sleeve being switched or falling off in transit.

As the edges of the label are perforated, the film lid can be peeled away during cooking, while the ingredients and instructions remain on the pack. In addition, recipe cards, coupons or other promotional items can be incorporated within the label.

ALS has developed an automatic labelling system that has the ability to handle 60 trays per minute. The machine system can handle the standard D2 thermo-formed tray and can be quickly modified to accommodate all other sizes.





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