Tech update: Meeting great expectations
As consumers want a bigger variety of healthier choices that come in a plethora of sizes, manufacturers are offering fillers that are flexible while producing optimal output.
Blame social media, changing tastes and needs or just the “Have it your way” attitude inspired by Burger King’s decades-long slogan, but modern consumers are demanding. In fact, a recent GNT Group study reports two-thirds of shoppers are checking the labels of food and beverage packages before purchasing the products, and the majority of these consumers are ensuring the products have no artificial additives or preservatives.
- Improved product flexibility
- Improved packaging flexibility
- Continuing need for speed and efficiency
- Sanitary design and automation
According to Innova Market Insights, the number one trend of 2015 is “From Clean to Clear Label,” which underscores the growing demand for more naturally based food and beverage products. Food processors are responding; companies like General Mills and Kraft continue to announce they are ridding their products of artificial flavors.
“Food and beverage companies are certainly looking for ways to tap into the clean eating trend,” says Roberto Mastri, technical support and quality director of North, Central and South America for Tetra Pak. “And, that’s impacting how manufacturers are looking at processing and packaging technologies.”
Moreover, today’s consumers are looking for a wider variety of foods and beverages in an assortment of flavors and a number of different sizes. With all of these rapid changes in consumers’ preferences, food and beverage producers must be able to respond to trends quickly. Thus, the flexibility of filling machines has become a crucial part of the production line—equipment that can handle different products filled into various types of containers without sacrificing accuracy or speed.
Some processors looking to offer more natural foods and beverages are increasingly turning to aseptic processing. In fact, the aseptic market has grown 9 percent annually and is estimated to be worth over $35 billion, according to research by The Freedonia Group.
“As consumers continue to analyze ingredient panels, we see a growing demand for products that don’t contain added chemicals or preservatives,” says Mastri. “Aseptic processing and packaging meet this demand by protecting food and beverages without the need for these additives.”
According to Mastri, processors should take into consideration the types of foods and beverages they process and consider their impact on the final product. For example, tea is a naturally alkaline product that can be processed using high-acid hot fill, but aseptic is a much better match.
“Rather than adding acid and masking that bitterness with sweeteners as you would with a hot fill process, aseptic processing enables the cleanest possible label for packaged shelf-stable tea: tea plus water,” Mastri explains.
SIG Combibloc offers aseptic food filling machines that accommodate a wide variety of foods, such as liquids or foods with a pasty or chunky consistency that can be packaged with long shelf lives. The machines can aseptically fill into carton packs food products containing particulates up to 25mm in length and with up to 50 percent particulate content.
These types of filling machines are important since one of the changes in product formulations spurred by a focus on healthier foods, as well as manufacturers’ efforts to differentiate brands, is the call for larger, better defined particulates in products. “These types of [more natural] products are typically much thicker in viscosity,” observes Rod Gregg, vice president of sales for Hinds-Bock. “Without the right options on the machines, these products can be troublesome for a filler.”
Food products with a very high particulate content have difficulty flowing freely and passing through a pumping system and an aseptic process. For these kinds of products, SIG Combibloc offers the heat-resistant, retortable combisafe carton pack. This system uses three modular filling units with a high-precision multi-head weigher. The three-stage filling technology allows varying sizes and quantities of an ingredient to be added according to user specifications.
Precision and accuracy are still top of mind for processors. “Particulate product damage and drain weight inconsistencies are not tolerated anymore,” says Jan Sundberg, application development manager for JBT Food Technology. “This has led to requests for new types of fillers to obtain previously unreachable goals.”
With this in mind, JBT created the Unifiller unit, which has large porting and short product paths to handle much larger particulates without damaging them. Additionally, the cutoff points have been reduced to ensure the product is dosed accurately into containers. The combination of features allows the unit to handle 50 to 60 percent solid content of very large particulates without any issues.
Additionally, due to the demand for wider ranges, fillers need to be able to handle an entire variety of high-viscosity, large-particulate products, as well as water-like products, without making modifications to the equipment.
“The JBT Unifiller design is well suited for this type of large product range and can fill cold and hot, all on the same filling machine,” Sundberg says. “There is no more need to use two different types of fillers and filling concepts.”
Processors looking to differentiate their products on an increasingly cluttered retail shelf are using more creative packaging. However, different types of containers can affect line operation.
“As a filling company, you need to get the product into the container,” states Timm Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing for Spee-Dee Packaging Machinery. “Odd-shaped containers, small openings, small pouch sizes and handles can all affect the way products are filled.”
He notes that, in particular, smaller openings of containers can be difficult to work with since they limit the speed at which a product can be filled.
“Different package shapes or packages with smaller overall dimensions need very special features on the filling machines and specifically the filling nozzles,” explains Hinds-Bock’s Gregg.
He says Hinds-Bock fillers with adjustable nozzles connected to their traveling or diving spout bridges work with several different packaging center lines.
“Filling lines are now designed with considerations for future unique packaging flexibility,” says JBT’s Sundberg. “A single filler has to be able to handle all sorts of containers, such as glass, plastic, cans and bottles. Optional ‘quick container change parts’ are becoming standard in these kinds of applications.”
These easily adjustable parts are important for reducing changeover time to less than 10 minutes and involve just one person. Additionally, automation is playing a role in handling different package sizes.
“With the latest PLC [programmable logic controller], fillers can store multiple package recipes and, through servo motors, can automatically adjust to the correct full weight or number of times the filler needs to cycle in each respective package,” Gregg says.
To help food and beverage manufacturers keep production nimble and cost effective, SIG Combibloc has focused on the flexibility of its filling lines, says Heike Thevis, communications officer. Processors can use one filling machine to fill carton packs with different formats, if they have the same base dimensions.
“This can be done in a range of different volumes and with any required design,” adds Thevis, “enabling a processor to position products optimally, in exactly the right way to suit the market and the target group in each case.”
For example, soup in a one-liter family carton pack and a smaller volume size geared toward a single-person household can be processed by one Combibloc filling machine; up to seven different volumes can be filled.
At this year’s Anuga FoodTec Show, Bosch Packaging Technology presented its Ampack AF 8/8 inline cup filling machine, which features a pulsed light decontamination system for ultra-clean applications. Jonathon Titterton, director of sales and marketing for Bosch, says the equipment offers more format flexibility for different cup shapes and sizes by using preassembled cell plates for two different diameters. It also reduces changeover time to 15 minutes.
More than a decade ago, servo-driven fillers began replacing older, pneumatically driven machines. “Servo-driven fillers are much faster than conventional pneumatic fillers as they have no suction stroke. They are always primed ready to cycle and fill the package,” explains Hinds-Bock’s Gregg. “The pneumatically driven fillers have a suction stroke to prime the product cylinder prior to the discharge stroke, taking much more time to fill a package.”
However, as important as the filling line speed is, output and efficiency are the criteria more companies are focusing on. “Globally, improving plant performance to make production as efficient as possible and ensure long-term presence in the market is of paramount concern for filling companies,” Thevis says. With servo drives and a total of six tracks, SIG Combibloc’s new aseptic filling machine can fill 24,000 carton packs per hour, making it the fastest for 125 to 350ml packages.
Also important to efficiency is avoiding product giveaway by ensuring each valve and component works to identically fill every container. “Continued operation at a high accuracy level is often something processors do not consider when buying a filler, but it is probably one of the most important factors to look at,” offers Sundberg. He explains a simple, seal-less design with fewer moving parts that can wear down is needed for reliably accurate volumetric fillers. “For example, an accuracy of less than 0.1 to 0.4g per standard deviation is becoming the new sustained norm.”
Another way some filling equipment manufacturers are speeding up the line is through innovations in package sterilization. For instance, Tetra Pak recently launched a new filling machine that uses electron beams, not hydrogen peroxide, to sterilize packaging material.
“The Tetra Pak E3 eBeam filler removes a long-time physical limitation to carton packaging speed: the hydrogen peroxide sterilization process,” says Mastri. “With the machine, speeds of up to 40,000 portion packs per hour, or 11 packs every second, can be achieved.”
Market tests conducted by Tetra Pak showed this increased capacity can save beverage manufacturers 20 percent in operational costs and improve environmental performance by making water recycling easier, lowering energy consumption and cutting waste.
Facing more pressure and further regulations concerning food safety and contamination prevention, food and beverage processors need more hygienic designs of filling machines. A number of manufacturers are answering the call by offering equipment that is easier to clean and break down.
For example, Hinds-Bock recently introduced the 8P-06 Ultra-Hygienic filler, which has stainless steel enclosures and minimizes flat surfaces by using slope-top covers. The tubular frame allows easier cleaning of all the filler’s parts, while the tilt hopper provides access to the product ports. Wire looms separate all wiring and air lines, which can be quickly disconnected for faster setups and teardowns.
Some filler manufacturers are employing automated cleaning processes such as clean-in-place (CIP). Recent improvements are aimed at reducing overall cleaning time, as well as water, chemical and energy usage.
“New two-stage CIP cleaning with complementing dual chemicals is the latest trend to reduce cleaning time and overall energy usage,” says Sundberg. “Performing CIP at lower temperatures decreases overall cleaning time by reducing ramp-up and ramp-down times.”
Automating the cleaning process also ensures the final sanitary condition of the machine and minimizes the use of chemicals by recirculating and reusing them in the process.
“A higher level of hygienic design allows extended runs between cleanings and is very important in 24/7 operations,” continues Sundberg. “Performing CIP only once a week, instead of daily, is becoming more and more prevalent.”
Advancements in automated technology are improving operation in other areas as well. For instance, SIG Combibloc offers the R-CAM robotic magazine that automatically opens and removes carton sleeve shipping boxes and loads a filling machine without employee involvement.
The robotic magazine basically consists of two modules: a pallet magazine and an unpacking station. The pallet magazine offers space for a Euro pallet, industrial pallet or Australian pallet. Once a pallet is inside the magazine, a scanner records the arrangement of the shipping boxes on the pallet, and the gripper arm moves a shipping box to the unpacking station. An internal buffer provides continuous, smooth operation, even while a new pallet is being loaded into the pallet magazine. The buffer can accommodate up to 20 shipping boxes of carton sleeves. The magazine can operate for up to 2.5 hours without the need for a new pallet. Inside the unpacking station, the shipping boxes are opened, and the sleeves are removed from the box. The sleeves are automatically filled into the appropriate track of the filling machine, and the shipping boxes are folded flat and collected in a specially provided container for subsequent disposal.
“The robotic magazine is a key component in building the fully automated filling line of the future, in which automatic guided vehicles [AGVs] transport pallets of packaging material automatically from a central store to the R-CAM unit,” says Jan Gansow, global product manager at SIG Combibloc. “It’s a major step toward the ‘smart factories’ of tomorrow.”
Currently, the robotic magazine is available for the CFA 724 high-speed filling machine for products in the small-size combibloc carton format. The first R-CAM 724 prototype is in operation at Arla Foods Germany in its Pronsfeld factory.
|Vertical form/fill/seal offerings|
Jonathon Titterton, director of sales and marketing for Bosch Packaging Technology, says the company saw the need to provide processors with tools to create more shelf differentiation and enhanced consumer convenience. To fill this need, Bosch now offers a continuous motion bagger that produces up to 100 high-quality doy-style bags per minute with a zipper reclosure. The SVE 2520 DZ machine helps snack and confectionery manufacturers boost shelf appeal and offer reclosable features while increasing production efficiency.
At six square meters—one-third the required space for an equivalent horizontal pouch machine—the Bosch bagger offers up to 50 percent higher output per square meter. It can also produce other common bag styles such as pillow, gusseted, block bottom, corner seal, full corner and three-side sealed. The SVE technology is designed for easy operation and maintenance; changeover from pillow to the Bosch Doy Zip bag takes less than an hour, according to Titterton.
Bosch offers its SVC platform for fresh and frozen food producers. The hygienic design is especially suitable for manufacturers that must comply with more stringent food handling regulations. It offers quicker setup and tool-less changeovers and can handle pillow, gusseted and corner seal pack bags.
Engineered for brand marketers utilizing stand-up pack styles, the new corner seal option will be launched at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2015. The option can be integrated into the existing SVC machine and enables frozen foods manufacturers to use film material other than the standard polyethylene traditionally applied for pillow bags.
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