Flexible Packaging - Part 1 (VFFS machines history, current market and future direction)
During the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C, mulberry tree barks were being used in China to wrap food and pack products. However as the Industrial Revolution gained momentum, paper quickly became one of the most suitable disposable packaging materials. Paper costs began to come down in the 19th century and in 1911, Germany produced the first fully automatic form fill and seal machine. The first Vertical Form-Fill and Seal (VFFS) machine was patented in 1936 by Walter Zwoyer. VFFS machines are purposed to produce plastic bags / pouches out of rolls of film or laminate. In a production facility, the VFFS is almost always integrated with a Filling machine (Weighing machine / Volumetric / Counting / Dosing machine). The VFFS machine makes bags, fills those bags with product, and then seals them. Both solids and liquids can be packed in bags using this type of packaging system. When Walter Zwoyer patented VFFS, he was working at the Henry Heide Candy Company. Soon after, Zwoyer & Heide formed the Transparent Wrap Machine Co. to build and sell VFFS machines. At that time, modified cellophane was the main flexible packaging material and Zwoyer named his machines “Transwrap” to reflect that. As they say, ‘success has many fathers’, Zwoyer wasn’t left alone and was embroiled in many court cases throughout the later years of his life. His patent on VFFS expired in 1954 and the Package Machinery Company purchased the Transparent Wrap Machine Company. In the late 1950s, Hayssen Manufacturing also started building similar machines. During the same time, the Woodman Company started venturing into the VFFS machines market. Kawashima (Japan) also built their first machine in 1961. The second half of the 50s up until the 70s was a time of rapid proliferation of VFFS machines worldwide with the advent of new materials and technologies and high market demand. Rovema (Germany), Ricciarelli (Italy), Hayssen, Hassia Redatron, Bosch and many other current leaders of the packaging industry started manufacturing VFFS at that time. Ishida came into the mix in the 1970’s, quickly advancing to the forefront because of their advanced technology on VFFS machines and their leadership position in the multi-head weighing machines category. TNA started in 1982 and soon made their presence known in the VFFS machines category. Walter Zwoyer’s ‘Transwrap’ brand for the VFFS machines remained in the packaging industry for about 50 years and eventually became the part of Bosch. In 2019, CVC Capital Partners (CVC) purchased Bosch Packaging division and in early 2020 started rebranding it as Syntegon Technology. Now, it may seem that the market for VFFS machines has become saturated and it is difficult to discern and differentiate the solutions from various suppliers. For some of the VFFS machines manufacturers, the current situation is challenging, as they are struggling to successfully differentiate and market their products and solutions. Well, I believe that challenges usually provide opportunity for future direction and who-so-ever can provide the best solutions in this scenario will eventually fare better than the rest.. 1. In the recent past, the push by governments and the public has resulted in advances towards sustainability and circular economy. Use of recyclable and biodegradable products is high on everyone’s agenda. However, there are some barriers to implement these changes, high costs of these materials, low product shelf life, lack of reliable supply chain and fear of unknown are some of the concerns… 2. Most of the VFFS machines from various suppliers have become very reliable now. If high speed (>100BPM) is not required and the bag requirement is for simple pillow or gusseted bags, then any machine from any reliable company should be OK. Although, with uncertain markets and changing customers’ perceptions and retail environment, stand up pouches, bags with zippers/resealable options, block bottom and side gusseted bags for better shelf appeal are penetrating the market. The costs for some of the above options are still prohibitive and few companies can provide solutions to offer these options on their machines. There is a lot that can be done in this domain. 3. Technology advances implementation that can benefit all involved is now required more than any time before. For improving productivity, reliability and visibility, we have multiple tools and technologies and one must seriously consider benefits of Industry 4.0, reliable connectivity with upstream and downstream machines, integration with SCADA, ERP and CMMS system etc. The current innovation stage of the VFFS machines’ life cycle may be debatable, but we would all like it to be in the rapid improvement stage. The leadership position in this industry sector is changing, the products are becoming similar and the cost & service deliverables are becoming the distinguishing factors. We think one can remain attuned to the industry developments by becoming more involved, so we are doing our bit. Some tips for selecting VFFS machines: • Simpler is better! • Reliability and performance metrics; speed, wastage, up-time, quality of final packs, change over time, available options, capability to handle different materials, labour savings, skill availability and capability requirement to run and maintain the machine, ease of cleaning, flexibility to handle different sizes, types of packs. • Quality and sanitary requirements; clean room, aseptic filling • Total cost of ownership; initial cost, after sales service and support costs, repair and downtime costs, utility and consumable costs, spare parts and response time from manufacturer / supplier • Integration with upstream and downstream equipment • Know your product and pack sizes and make sure that the machine is able to cater for all your products. • Type of final bag; pillow, gusseted, stand up pouches, zipper / re-sealable bags, flat bottom / block bottom, side gusseted pouches, available options and integration of additional options at a later time. • Multiple function machines, technology trends like ultrasonic sealing, better sealing technologies, advance servo technology, PackML compatibility, industry 4.0 integration, better diagnostic features. • Design requirements basis country or company / industry standards requirement • References, brand name, inter-personal rapport. • Space constraints, lead time, costs and other limitations Let us stay connected and learn from each other. 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