Demand for stand-up pouches in Europe is forecast to leap by at least 50% to 28bn units by 2014, according to PCI Films Consulting. Producers are increasingly electing to replace rigid packs, such as cans and bottles, with pouches as they offer a smaller environmental footprint through lighter weight and reduced material use, as well as lower transport and storage costs. It follows, therefore, that pouch producing machines are one of the most dynamic areas of the packaging equipment sector.
There have seen several breakthroughs over the years, including the first horizontal form fill seal (HFFS) machine for producing aseptic doypack type pouches, giving producers of beverages and dairy products a flexible alternative to the carton and bottle.
The machine in question – the SMA-260 from Spanish equipment manufacturer Volpak – was launched in 2007. Five years on, Volpak is still the only company to offer aseptic FFS and has installed and validated a handful of aseptic lines, the most recent for a contract packer to package a still, fruit-based drink.
Mike Lindsay, sales director at Integrapak, which represents Volpak in the UK, believes the reason uptake is slow is that aseptic pouch production is only really viable for companies who already have aseptic capabilities, due to the level of investment.
“That means it’s always being compared to bottling lines, which are capable of much higher speeds – 600 bottles per minute compared to 100 pouches per minute,” he says.
The decision as to whether the cost of investment can be justified clearly comes down to the individual company. But Volpak is hoping to strengthen the case for aseptic with the launch later this year of a pouch maker capable of 400 pouches per minute.
Other pouch making equipment suppliers are also engineering faster machines in a bid to close the speed gap with bottling lines.
“The focus on innovation in pouch making equipment has increased changeover speeds and faster stand-up pouch machines to replace bottles, particularly with the ever increasing cost of PET,” explains Karen Cobbett, managing director of Springvale Equipment, which distributes Mespack’s HFFS machines in the UK.
Indeed, Mespack has just launched what it claims is the fastest HFFS machine ever. The HCM 320 features apatented continuous motion filling system allowing twice as much filling time as a conventional HFFS machine. It also incorporates a patented pouch transfer system, which enables changeover to a new pouch size in under five minutes via a touchscreen. The machine is capable of producing 140 one-litre stand-up pouches per minute – 60% more than a conventional HFFS machine, according to Mespack.
Another Spanish equipment designer, Effytec, claims its continuous motion machine can achieve up to 180ppm (packs per minute) for flat sachets with a zipper closure, while its GPIC model, which forms intermittently and fills and top seals continuously, can produce 150 1.5-litre spouted pouches per minute.
Volpak might be the only pouch equipment manufacturer to offer aseptic machines, but there are more clean-fill and ultra clean-fill machines on the market than there used to be, enabling a wider variety of liquid food and beverage products to be filled into flexible pouches. For example, Effytec can now supply any of its pouch makers to ultra clean standards.
“Effytec has designed an ultra clean machine to get up to Log5 reduction of bacillus subtilis,” explains Ben Menhadji, director of the company’s UK representative, PAP Services. “Thanks to its biocontamination technology, a new sector of the market has now opened its doors to this type of packaging.” While some companies are looking to ensure the microbiological safety of products through clean, ultra clean and aseptic production, others want pouches that can withstand the retort process.
According to André Schaap, director of Dutch company Quadropack, for retort applications, customers will normally opt for a pre-made pouch, because camshaft machines cannot apply enough pressure to ensure seal integrity throughout the retort process. This is just one issue that Quadropack is aiming to address with a servo driven machine it plans to launch at the ProPak exhibition in China, later this year.
“With the new machine we’ve moved from a camshaft to a servo driven machine. This should enable the machine to exert enough pressure to run a retortable pouch,” he says. Schaap adds that another advantage of the new machine will be its ability to handle thinner films at faster speeds. “We’re aiming for 120 pouches per minute,” he says.
There is a drive to reduce material usage – either through thinner films or less film – throughout the packaging industry, and pouch making is no exception. It’s a challenge that has been taken up by Volpak, which has developed Brickpouch – a patented pack for liquids that is claimed to use 13% less film than a standard doypack or stand-up pouch, as well as less plastic for spout cap assembly.
However, according to Mike Lindsay, the principle benefit of the Brickpouch is improved packing density compared to a standard doypack. “Space savings in secondary packaging, storage and transport are greater than 50%, giving massive cost savings and reduced carbon emissions compared to a stand-up pouch,” he says.
Potential applications include beverages, liquid foods, personal care and household products, and petrochemicals such as lubricants, anti-freeze and screen wash.
Stand-up pouches tend to be produced on horizontal machines, whereby film is fed from a reel on one end and processed through sealing jaws to create either flat three- and four-seal sachets or stand-up pouches. However, pouches can also be made vertically, as Bosch demonstrated at Anuga FoodTec last month, when it previewed its SurePouch vertical form fill seal (VFFS) system.
SurePouch allows users to produce four pouch formats – EZPouch, EZGable, EZSquare and standard pillow pouches – onthe same machine. Key applications will include non-carbonated drinks, dairy- and juice-based beverages, waters, sports drinks, nutraceuticals and liquid foods such as soups, s a u c e s , d r e s s i n g s , condiments and fruit purees, according to the company.
Blair Vance, product manager Bosch Liquid Food, explains: “Key differences are that SurePouch pack styles provide a robust stand-up design that is very stable compared to other pouches, especially when empty.
Product is filled directly into the pouch and not through the spout as with existing pouches, avoiding potential contamination issues.” Initially the system will be designed to meet clean-fill and ultra clean-fill standards, but Bosch says it is working on an aseptic version to be launched in the near future.
Although not strictly a pouch, another noteworthy development on the VFFS front is the Flexidity, a format which combines the flexible pouch with the rigid carton sleeve. Developed jointly by packaging giant Amcor and equipment designer Ilapak, Flexidity is produced on Ilapak’s Vegatronic bagging machine at speeds of up to 45ppm.
According to Ilapak, the reason for combining the two materials is that the pouch ensures the product is protected and the contents stay fresh, while the cardboard delivers the stand-up and rigidity functions. It says Flexidity is suited to a range of dry food applications, including confectionery, dried fruit, biscuits, chocolate, savoury snacks, pasta, tea and coffee.
There are still limits to the flexibility of FFS pouch design – whereas with pre-made pouches there are infinite shape options. But all the innovation taking place means producing your own rather than buying in pre-made pouches is becoming an increasingly attractive option.
Star Product: PV 200 Inox
Italian equipment manufacturer PFM is hoping to cash in on the growing popularity of bagged milk with the launch of an entry-level milk bagging machine onto the UK market. “With major UK supermarkets looking to encourage consumers to buy more milk in bags, there are growing opportunities for dairies to compete for this work, even at relatively small volumes,” explains PFM sales and operations director Chris Bolton. “The PFM PV200 Inox has been designed as an entry level milk bagging machine that is simple to operate and maintain and offers a particularly favourable cost/performance ratio,” he says.
Constructed in stainless steel to the dairy industry’s exacting hygiene standards, and capable of producing up to 60 one-litre polyethylene bags of milk a minute, the machine employs a low maintenance dosing system based on electronically timed flow.
The machine is also equipped for connection to a clean-in-place washing system, allowing automatic cleansing of the liquid tank, the milk dosing unit and the dosing tube. It is available with the option of ultrasonic sealing.
Earlier versions of the Inox series have been installed across the world, including in the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Spain, Finland and North Africa.
Star Product: Integrity Seal
International Food Partners (IFP) is marketing an innovative sealing technology for flexible packaging that is designed to reduce film usage while also providing greater seal integrity.
Integrity Seal is a retro fit system for vertical form fill seal and horizontal flow wrap machines. It uses new generation weld technology to produce very narrow bead seals that are 1mm wide compared with conventional crimp seals which are typically 15mm wide. This narrow seal typically saves 10% in the length of the pack, delivering substantial film savings, and IFP director Graham Clough says the savings can be even greater on smaller bags.
Integrity Seal is said to be superior to conventional seals in strength and quality, improve product quality and give longer shelf life.
One of the first companies to embrace the technology is frozen food giant McCain Foods, which has installed Integrity Seal on all its FFS machines in its three main factories in the UK.
“The technology has saved them quite a bit of money; six figure savings in the UK and that’s just on film alone,” says Clough.
He adds IFP is now in advanced talks with other frozen food companies and says that there is the potential to expand this technology to many other categories including bagged salads, cereals, crisps, snacks, bakery products and confectionery.
Case study: Infoods
With demand for so called ‘superfoods’ soaring, in 2011, health food supplier Infoods spotted an opportunity to bring to market a range of omega-three rich chia seed products.
Attracted by Gainsborough’s modular, ‘back to basics’ approach to machine design, Infoods approached the Lincolnshire-based company for advice on what equipment and films it should use.
“We differ to other equipment suppliers in that they supply machines that incorporate a load of features regardless of whether customers need them. We start off with a basic machine and build in features that customers actually want. It is a far more cost effective way of building machines,” explains Adrian Shenton, sales director at Gainsborough.
At this stage, Infoods hadn’t finalised pack sizes and types, so Gainsborough had to make sure the solution it proposed was flexible enough to accommodate a range of formats and sizes.
“When I first met with Infoods it was a totally blank canvas. We were aware of the product but not the pack sizes or types required,” recalls Shenton. “After further conversations, the involvement of film supplier National Flexible and various bagging and dispensing trials, we finally settled on an equipment specification that would give Infoods the flexibility it needed.” Gainsborough supplied its GV2K3 vertical form fill and seal machine, which is capable of producing bag widths of 80mm-320mm. An add-on static eliminator prevents the seal from becoming contaminated. This was an important feature for Infoods, as the tiny chia seeds could easily get caught in the seal.
The range has since evolved under the MyChia and InChia brands, and the bagmaker’s flexibility is being put to the test, as it is required to produce both 30g sachets and 1kg block bottom bags.
Form, fill and seal: new equipment round-up
Redpack has launched a version of its P375DSP Snack Packer that can work with an 800mm-wide film stock. The new multipack machine can wrap collations of between two and 12 primary bags ranging in size from 22g-225g. Collations can be up to 160mm wide, 330mm long and 130mm high.
PFM claims the output of its new Solaris VFFS is 50%-100% higher than that of existing machines for producing stand-up bags. The new lightweight, long dwell box motion sealing jaw is able to reciprocate at elevated speeds without risk of vibration.
Represented in the UK by Integrapak, Spanish firm Inever has developed a version of its PH600 and PH800 sachet (pictured) and stickpack making machines for the pharmaceutical industry.
They feature laminar airflow, sterilisation of the film material and CIP and SIP options.
Winpak used last year’s PPMA Show as the launch-pad for its W-12 VFFS pouch packaging machine. Available in the UK through Integrapak, the machine can package a variety of pumpable products at rates of up to 650 packs per minute.
Interpack 2011 saw the launch of Ilapak’s Vegatronic 5000 LD, a long-dwell vertical bagging machine capable of producing seals and speeds of up to 160 packs per minutes and even 200 packs per minute with certain options.