The Snack Food industry benefited from increased demand over the past five years. As the world economy has continued to strengthen, discretionary income levels have climbed. In turn, renewed consumer spending has boosted sales of potato and tortilla chips, along with nuts and seeds. Shifting consumer trends have affected the strategies of snack food producers during the period. Specifically, growing health concerns about eating foods high in sodium, fat and sugar have made some consumers wary of consuming traditional snacks. The industry's future looks promising, with improving economic conditions expected to further lift demand for snacks and snack food innovations ( such as snacks for children and teenagers, vegetable snacks, popping snacks and baked snacks) will further boost demand for snack foods.

As of today, in the snacks packaging industry, every potential buyer of snack food packing equipment has a wide range of weighers and bag makers at their disposal, to compare, choose and finally purchase or finance the very best, depending on the product, pack design / specification, and required capacity.

Unfortunately, investing in a new multihead weigher or bag maker is not as simple as buying a new car.

The wrong choice of a weigher or  bag maker can prove to be extremely detrimental to the new or existing factory set up.

With over 33 years of expertise in the packaging industry, I have realized that most investors do not have a proper guide and understanding before they make that final choice and decision, whenever they invest in new machines for snack food packaging.

In this article, I have documented a thorough Check list and Guide to follow, before any potential investor decides to make that final purchase decision on weighers and bag makers.

Important factors and Data required to decide on the most suitable weigher and bag maker  ( including total number of machines required )  .

1)   Type of product
Such as potato and corn chips, tortilla chips, pretzels, roasted and salted nuts,  popcorn and other extruded snacks, etc.

2)  Product output and Capacity utilization 
Product output (packs per hour with pack weights requirement.)
Total production output (hours per day / week.)

3) Pack/ bag weight / size and design
Product weight in pack
Pack dimensions ( bag width and bag length )
Type of Pack ( shape and design )

pillow bags

The pillow bag or flat bag is the simplest bag shape. To prevent pleats in the cross seams, there are bag spreaders at the bottom of the forming tube.

The gusseted bag, a variation on the pillow bag, is generally used for products that are then packaged in a cardboard box, such as breakfast cereal. In this type of bag, extra packaging material is folded inwards on both sides. This side fold makes the bag less wide, but gives it extra depth during filling, so that the space in the cardboard box can be better utilized.

The bag with a block bottom or stand up bag, in which coffee, biscuits or cookies, for example, are packaged, is yet another variation of the gusseted bag. At the bottom of the forming tube, a mouthpiece is attached that extends from the round shape of the forming tube to the rectangular form of the bottom of the bag with a block bottom.

Some manufacturers use a rectangular forming tube instead of a round one.

Other bag shapes
All other bag shapes that can be made on these machines are derived from the above basic shapes. Some examples:

• Corner seal- or quad seal bags, known from such products as coffee pods;

• Pyramid bags, in which for example jelly sweets are packed.

• Doy bags sealed on three sides with a block bottom (doypacks)

4) Pack material specification and  Film thickness in microns.

Types of Packaging Materials

Polyethylene                                                                             PE
Low Density Polyethylene                                                        LDPE
Linear Low Density Polyethylene                                             LLDPE
Medium Density Polyethylene                                                  MDPE
High Density Polyethylene                                                        HDPE
Polypropylene                                                                           PP
Cast Polypropylene                                                                  CPP
Oriented Polypropylene                                                            OPP
Metalized Polyester                                                                  METPET
Metalized Oriented Polypropylene                                           METOPP
Polyester                                                                                  PET
Nylon                                                                                        NYL
Paper Poly Foil Poly                                                                 PPFP
Film Foil Laminations                                                                FFL


Film material requirements
Nearly every product influences the selection of packaging material.
Combined with the ever increasing demands that consumers, organizations and governments place, there are now countless different packaging materials. Some film materials consist of a single layer (monofilm); but usually materials consisting of multiple layers (laminates) are used.

Monofilm
Polyethylene is often used as a sealing medium. In addition, this stretchable material is also used as a monofilm. It is not air-tight but it is moisture proof, rendering it suitable for packaging products, such as frozen food or cereals, that do not emit any odor and that cannot spoil due to oxygen exposure.

A second type of monofilm is polypropylene, a material that can be sealed reasonably well. It is very clear and easy to tear open, which explains why it is used for transparent packs of confectionery, among other things.

Only after all of the above factors and data have been confirmed, the correct choice of weigher and bag maker models can be narrowed down from various machine manufacturers.

A good return on Investment is only possible, when the desired weigher and bag maker have the following optimum qualities.

1) High Machine Efficiency¬ with minimum waste and down time.
2) User friendly machine operation and controls, with total safety.
3)  Accurate  and consistent weights of product in every pack
4) High quality seal packs
5) Machine warranty and reliable customer support.
6) Low Operating cost  ( low cost  consumables and low spares consumption )
7) Quick, easy and efficient, product and pack size change overs. 

A successful Investment on weighing and packaging machines is justified if all of the above criteria are directly proportional to the overall cost of the machines.

Conclusion
It’s very important to buy the best machine only after it’s made certain that it is most suitable as per product, pack and production output requirement.

In my past experience, I have realized that most investors wrongly invest in very expensive high speed weighers  and bag makers although their product type, pack size and packaging film thickness / material, is not suitable for running at higher speeds.

In such a scenario, it would be more prudent to invest and buy more number of good quality machines which are not high speed machines, but rather machines with optimum utilization benefits, at lower cost and higher value for money.

It is important not to select and invest in weighing and packaging machines only because it’s from a well known machine manufacturer.

It is a reality that even  well known and top of the range machine manufacturers sell some economic machine models specially on bag makers, with very poor sealing technology and produce bags that leak due to poor seal integrity.

To avoid being incorrectly advised on buying economy or low machines at a cheaper price, it is most important for all investors to request from the machine supplier adequate performance guarantees and highlight them in the purchase contract with machine manufacturers, especially for weighers and bag makers. This should include, specifying speeds, efficiency and seal integrity tests for leaks on a random 1000 bags check, produced by the bag maker,. These leak tests should be requested before signing the purchase contract.

Before that final decision is made, to select and buy weighing and packaging machines, it’s important to cross check and verify with a genuine trustworthy Consultant or Engineer with enough experience to judge and select the very best.

It’s always safe and sensible to narrow down your requirement of machines with at least a choice of 2 or 3 manufacturers whose machines would be most suitable for optimum utilization.

Investors should understand the fact that the selection of the top two choices of machines, gives the added advantage to improve the final deal by allowing two different competitive machine manufacturers to bid for the project eventually to the advantage of the investor.

Any machine supplier will be forced to improve the final offer if a competitor is also known to be quoting for the project.

The machine supplier would in such a scenario quote the lowest possible price, if it’s understood that the investor has a similar suitable option with a competitive machine manufacturer.

The other critical factors such as delivery time and the best service / support package should seal the deal on the final machine and manufacturer selected for the overall investment.

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About the author

Peter D'sa

Senior Consultant / Engineer
Food & Packaging Industry.

Peter D’sa is an independent senior consultant/engineer with over 33 years of specialized expertise in the packaging industry; having installed, commissioned and serviced a wide range top quality weighers and bag makers in the food and packaging industry worldwide.

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