Vertical form fill seal (VFFS) machines can mean different things to different people. The criteria used in evaluating, and ultimately determining, which bagging machine to buy is likely different if you are a small startup manufacturer versus operating for a global Fortune 500 brand.
Regardless of where you and your company fall on the spectrum, there are factors to consider when completing your due diligence that will help guide you to making the right purchase that best satisfies both your immediate and longer-term VFFS needs.
While the budget for capital expenditures is a consideration for all companies, it tends to be more closely scrutinized for smaller startups. Smart choices must be made as budgets are generally tighter. What this means is that those smaller companies need to ensure the machine they select hits the mark in terms of performance and will not lead to any unplanned future costs. A VFFS machine is a sizable investment, and it needs to operate as advertised.
Some companies may only be able to afford the cheapest machine on the market; others may make their selection solely on price. One area of caution that comes from choosing on price alone is the after-sale support. Where is the manufacturer located? If they are overseas, what is their level of stateside customer support? Do they offer any preventive maintenance training? How soon can you get service and parts if your machine is down for maintenance?
I had a coffee manufacturing customer last year purchase VFFS machines from a lower-priced competitor, and they ended up sending them back to the OEM just a week after installation due to poor customer service. If they were already feeling neglected so soon after the sale, what is that supplier’s customer service going to look like six months or a year from now? They chose not to stick around and find out. I have found that some buyers who purchase almost exclusively on price eventually find out why their machine was so inexpensive…and they don’t make that mistake again.
Contract packagers look for flexibility and easy operation in their packaging equipment, including VFFS. Running multiple products and SKUs throughout the day requires machinery that is easy to changeover and intuitive to use. In the last several years there has been a growing skills gap affecting many sectors of manufacturing, including packaging. This is resulting in a more transient, less skilled workforce to operate production and packaging lines.
To accommodate this trend, packaging OEMs are simplifying machine operations for a more diverse workforce. Changeovers used to be a time-consuming endeavor, but not anymore. Well-designed VFFS machines have taken much of the guesswork out of changeovers, and most can be accomplished in less than 10 minutes. Servo-drive technology dramatically increases changeover accuracy by automatically making the necessary adjustments. All an operator needs to do is replace the forming tube with the new one and load the correct film. This saves not only changeover time, but also money with reduced film waste.
Fortune 500 Brands
In general, larger brands look for robust machinery that can operate on an almost 24/7 schedule. Whereas flexibility is more of a requirement for small to mid-size companies, larger manufacturers tend to devote specific lines to produce high quantities of one item. They’re inclined to get the packaging line set up and turn it loose.
For these types of high-volume applications, it’s common to customize sections of the packaging line, including the VFFS, to maximize output. This is where having the expertise to design and integrate a full packaging line—which may include conveyance, filling, weigh price labeling, case forming and sealing, palletizing and stretch wrapping—can greatly benefit customers.
Larger brands spread their production across several manufacturing facilities, and when the decision is made to upgrade machinery, they tend to replace older equipment at a much faster rate than smaller companies. This is because they have larger budgets and want to implement new processes right away. Partnering with an OEM supplier with short lead times, a strong national support network and a proven track record goes a long way toward keeping those brands successful.
Regardless of where you fall on the continuum—a small startup, a large global brand or somewhere in the middle, selecting the right VFFS can augment your packaging operations. Cost is an important consideration, but you should also evaluate other factors such as how it fits in with your long-term goals, ease of operation, customer service, parts, peer recommendations and others. When added together, these elements will help guide you to the VFFS system that best meets your needs now and in the future.