Single-serve packaging is a rising industry. While once people only occasionally ran into a convenience store for an indulgent snack, nowadays the products available to buy include more variety, classier fare, healthier snacks and so on. This expansion has led to many changes behind the scenes, and challenges for the seemingly simple task of putting said foods into their individual packaging.
“Bakers and snack food producers are asking for packaging equipment that is simple to operate, flexible and easy to clean and allows easy changeover from one product to another,” said Mark Evangelista, brand manager for the packaging company SleekWrapper. “Gone are machines that can only handle one type of product. Customers demand flexibility.”
Take, for example, the Formost Fuji Alpha 7, used by another packaging company, Formost Fuji. Designed for products to be easily delivered from servo-drive in-feed conveyor to the film tube, it also works so that various products with different sizes, shapes and ingredients can all be wrapped more easily.
“We have parts that are specifically designed to be changeable, not fixed,” said the company’s vice-president of sales and marketing, Dennis Gunnell. “Our adjustable former is designed to modify package width and height to match the product without taking the part off and changing it.”
Another issue is keeping the product intact. The rise of single-serve packaging means that companies need to make smaller products, but more of them. Obviously this means that they need to speed up the production, but that increases the chances of errors or damage to the food—a danger that is already increased when the items in question are smaller.
“Speed must be managed, whether you’re driving a car or packaging a cracker,” said Kelly Meer, the product manager of flow-wrapping and robotics for Bosch. “You need to focus on reducing impacts and gentle handling.”
Aside from the threat of the product getting damaged during production, a large number of smaller products also increases the difficulties of packaging itself, Meer explained. They need higher tolerances yet more uniformity. Say, for example, that you are packaging six crackers in one piece of flow-wrapping. If each cracker is only a small bit thicker than usual, that will add up among the six and make it so that the packaging is unable to hold them.
So while the popularity of single-serving products opens the doors for more companies to market more foods, challenges exist on the manufacturing and packaging fronts. New technology, however, is working to make the automation efficient in these changing conditions.
“Often customers think about the end product coming out of a flow-wrapper,” said Meer, “but it’s about how we can be flexible and automate getting it into that package.”