The convenience retail food market remains fast-moving and competitive. As part of this, processors and retailers are always looking for a point of differentiation. As well as new product development, this can mean new pack formats. Convenience remains a major driver here, but this has to be matched by the ability to maintain product quality and freshness and extend shelf life. More recently, the growing anti-plastic sentiment has led to an increasing focus on alternative pack formats.
In markets such as ready meals and pre-prepared fresh foods, this has led to the introduction of many new pack types. As well as the different shapes and designs of trays, there are a wide variety of sealing requirements in addition to traditional atmospheric sealing, including Gas Flush, Hermetic Shrink, Vacuum, Skin Pack, Skin Plus and Skin Deep. Plastic trays are now being joined by a whole host of alternatives, such as formed, folded, lined or flat board for skinning.
New formats bring with them a number of challenges. While companies need the flexibility to be able to respond to changing market requirements and consumer demands in their style of pack, they must also be able to explore any new pack options and at the same time maintain current production. Equally significant, the proliferation of new products and pack types means that many manufacturers now have to handle a variety of different packs on a single line. Meanwhile the need for speed and efficiency on the production and packing line remains essential.
With top-sealed trays continuing to be the preferred format for so many different convenience products, the role of the tray sealer remains crucial in helping manufacturers meet these various requirements. Models which can handle all types of pack on the same machine offer the flexibility easily to switch between packs during normal production with minimal downtime, and to run trial packs.
Another vital element is the future-proofing of tray sealers with machines designed to be able to incorporate latest developments and enhancements. After all, there is little point having a machine that is fast and efficient if it is not able to cope with newer pack formats.
What these models provide is the ability to retrofit new features which have been introduced into later machines. This enables manufacturers to keep up-to-date with latest trends and respond to ever-changing market requirements without the need to invest in new machines each time.
KEPT IN LINE
In terms of increasing line speeds and efficiencies, the tray sealer has a central role, acting as the spine of the line and integrating all of the line components to be driven through its operating screen. The creation of such a fully integrated line can be tailored to the precise needs of individual products to help maximise throughput and efficiencies. As part of this, modular conveyor designs allow individual sections of a machine’s conveyors to be removed for maintenance and cleaning, helping to maximise hygiene and avoid unnecessary or unplanned downtime throughout the line. Similarly, the availability of Cartridge Tool systems enables any tool to be quickly and easily removed from a tray sealer and replaced in the event of a problem. All the elements that might need attention are contained within the cartridge, meaning repairs and adjustments can be carried out offline while the tray sealer continues to operate, thus ensuring that downtime is minimised, and overall throughput maintained.
Equally important, having a centrally-controlled and integrated line ensures that in the event of a problem, the tray sealer is able to flag an error and pass a stop signal to the feeding equipment. This ensures that the line can come to a controlled stop in order to avoid overfeeding of the tray sealer and prevent unnecessary product or packaging waste. Continual online monitoring also enables the tray sealer to collect data on small but unscheduled line stoppages, which can help production managers and engineers identify recurring problems and implement corrective action to maximise line uptime.
SEAL OF APPROVAL
The retail food market remains as challenging as it is full of opportunities. In such a constantly changing and developing market, the tray sealer’s ability to help manufacturers respond quickly to the latest trends while maintaining high efficiencies can make all the difference to a business’s success and growth.