The upcoming May edition of the Flexible Packaging Roundtable on “Bag/Pouch Making” features several critical enhancements to currently available pouch manufacturing machines. These enhancements address present market trends and demands such as short production runs, quick changeovers, film alternatives to polyester and recyclability.
Film converters and OEMs of pouch-making machinery must respond in a timely manner to these market demands to ensure a competitive advantage. To address these demands, equipment suppliers face a design and improvement process that must be precise and carefully orchestrated to meet customer cost, quality and time requirements.
The ever-increasing need for shorter and shorter production runs demand that today’s pouch machines are more versatile while keeping downtime to a minimum. Production runs have evolved from long dedicated runs to throughputs now of 10,000 or 5,000 to runs as low as 500 unit orders, as being requested by the end user. As customer’s printing needs change and as the digital printing niche continues to grow, the converter must carefully consider a variety of implementation strategies to convert current equipment platforms to essentially new and improved packaging machines. Top level consideration must be given to equipment performance production efficiency and yields minimizing waste and time.
However, versatile do-all pouch machines currently on the market may now be the enemy of short runs, quick changeovers and low scrap desired by the converter. These machines are constrained by their overall length, designed for maximum pouch width, variety of pouch styles and configured for high-speed. In this respect, as the length of the machine increases, both setup material and time increase.
New machinery designed for short runs will process pouch sizes potentially smaller than their predecessor machines and be configured to have a narrower unwind and machine bed width. Additionally, there are emerging opportunities for the machine supplier as narrow web printers and label companies enter the pouch market.
Pouch size specifications and the narrow print limitation mandate a close working relationship – a partnership – between the printer and machinery supplier to provide the right machine for the desired job.
Film Alternatives to Polyester
Ask any pouch machine operator about setting up a job that features, for example, a 48 gauge film structure with a polyester lamination of 3-4mil polyethylene, and they will tell you that practically any amount of heat will generate a good seal and that the film structure tracks well in the machine and has little print variation. Other structures with narrower operating windows can affect the manufacturing process and, ultimately, the performance of the standup pouch.
Nevertheless, ease of operation is not the primary factor contributing to the success of standup pouches.
Market growth of the standup pouch is partially attributed to high-end graphics, registered matte finishes and uniqueness of each product or consumer brand, as well as those pouches that differentiate themselves through film alternatives. In addition to these variations in film structure, end-user demand for recyclable pouches places significant constraints on the design and operation of the machine, which again makes close association between the machine supplier and customer a prerequisite to the mutual success of both parties.
As these trends in the pouch market continue to mature, film structures and coatings other than 48ga. PET have emerged. Pouch machines must be fully capable of handling these anticipated variations. In order to judiciously meet these changes in film, today’s machines should be more adaptable to handle webs at different web tension zones and to handle less heat tolerant film structures. Furthermore, the ability to heat seal the film to ensure sufficient seal integrity is a critical function of the pouch machine. A machine supplier with deep industry knowledge and front-line experience with films of differing characteristics will have the solution to ensure superior sealing conditions – temperature, sealing time and number of stations.
OEMs able to provide a high performing and cost effective machine that can process a wide variety of pouches in a timely manner will have an unparalleled competitive advantage.
All of this reinforces the need for a close association between the machine supplier and customer as a prerequisite for the mutual success of both parties.
Standup Pouch Sustainability and Recycling Efforts Create New Pouch Machine Enhancements
The conventional pouch machine may be capable of producing pouches made out of recyclable materials, but it should also be noted that web extensibility and heat sealing limitations do create production issues and pouch performance limitations. Comparing the production run of a nominal structure to that of a recyclable structure, the machine efficiency and output can be over 20 percent lower in some cases and scrap percentage two to three times higher. These drawbacks have led some manufacturers to invest into new technology to address the manufacturing and performance limitations around a recyclable standup pouch, as well as to offset the higher cost nature through production improvements in speed and efficiency.
The request for a recyclable or sustainable pouch actually goes back a number of years and it has taken time for new film formulations to be trialed and tested for success. To give some background without over divulging, it began with a customer request to improve upon the base model machine and to acknowledge areas of concern related to pouch converting given the emphasis being recyclable standup pouches.
Dealing with web melt, print variation, shadow seals and web instability were all primary driving factors that went into Totani’s most recent CT60DLLSC standup pouch machine that features a number of enhancements and new proprietary technology.
The biggest area of concern when dealing with recyclable material is the narrow sealing window to develop a strong seal without cracking, melting and/or tack sealing the material together. Overheating the seal area can cause the overall pouch width to change, effectively creating a more extensible web which causes processing issues including seal shadows.
The successful design of a pouch machine tailored specific for recyclable materials must be able to address possible print repeat variations and automatically make adjustments to the sealing stations as well as the cut-off knife. Draw roll accuracy throughout the acceleration cycle is critical to maintaining a consistent finished pouch width.
Newly designed innovations and enhancements have proven effective to improve efficiency and minimize waste both in setup and in operation.
The May edition of the Roundtable will expand on these topics and provide further technical insights from very reputable machinery suppliers in the industry. The proliferation of standup pouches across many new product categories will continue to drive innovation and change.
Totani America Inc.