Q&A: An expert’s insight into snack food vertical form fill seal (VFFS) bagmaking.
The VFFS process produces pillow bags in extremely accurate weights at a high-capacity rate. The main advantage is that flexible pouches can be produced efficiently at high speeds to maximize processing capacity. Pouches are easily distributed to respond quickly to the supply chain. Also, this process is the most cost-effective method to meet consumer demand for snacks, such as chips, nuts, and dried fruit.
By elevating the product and distributing to multiple packaging lines, the process enables a cost-effective plant footprint and excellent product quality with effective on machine seasoning. Other packaging methods are typically slower and require more space for production. VFFS allows for the best cost per square foot and a quicker ROI.
Determining the optimal material depends on several factors: the product, the shelf life required, and the distribution channel. Overall, the best material extends the flavor and freshness of the product by providing a barrier to light and to oxygen.
Good seals start with a material that has an appropriate sealing layer. When used correctly, the elements of time, temperature, and pressure ensure both a good end and back seal. Good resealability is a direct reflection of repeatability, whether the method is a zipper or reclose tab.
Testing equipment for air leakage is important because it:
Product quality is the most important factor for success. Air leaking can reduce the shelf life of the package and may lead to customer dissatisfaction. Some products require nitrogen flushing to enhance quality and to extend the life of the product; if bags leak, this enhancement is lost.
Finally, a deflated bag on the store shelf probably will not be purchased and will most likely contain damaged product. Leakage testing equipment also determines the elevation at which a bag can remain intact during transportation.
The bags usually are packed tight in a case suitable for distribution; some cases are taped and others are simply locked for reuse. The most important aspect of good transportation is having bags with the correct air fill. Bags which are too loose in the case risk product breakage, and bags which are too tight may lead to inefficient packing. Also, machinery should be flexible enough to adapt to the production needs either to maximize the cube or to protect cases being distributed through various elevations.
An ongoing and critical challenge is balancing legacy technology with new innovations, computerization, and automation.
The current process requires product cases dropping from twelve feet to the floor. At some point, speed will be a key limiting factor. Also, as the need for small bag capacity increases, new methods of packaging snacks will need to be considered.
Snacks have been vertically packaged for a long time, but the technical improvements in product distribution and on machine seasoning have solidified VFFS as the primary packaging method for snacks. Continued development of online integration, ease of operation, and predictive maintenance continues to make this method the desirable and efficient option.
Industry Manager—Snack Food Packaging