The pre-made pouch market is one of the fastest growing for converters and you want to be part of it. So, you have decided to buy a pouch/bag system. You should have already considered your target market, as that’s key to choosing the proper pouch machine.
For example, if you focus on retort foods, the pouch machine needs to have the highest possible output. If you are new and have a more general intent, flexibility will be important. For converters that want to get into the market, but are not really sure what formats will be successful, a flexible machine is better. It is safe to say companies that have a good plan and know precisely what the target market is will always make better choices.
You may want to target one or more of these areas: pet food, lawn and garden, frozen foods, retort or beverage, or something else. Based on your objectives, you’ve decided on either short runs or long runs.
Print capabilities, like maximum width, are very important if the company is geared for long runs or short runs. If the target market is for short runs and you don´t have the proper press and systems in place for those lengths, you will need to make further investments and internal changes. Narrow web printers need to find a pouch machine that allows them to compete in their choice applications.
Now, you need to decide how to choose an OEM and a pouch/bag machine. You want to choose a machine that offers the best return on investment (ROI). In order to accomplish this, there are five factors worth considering.
Choosing a Bag Machine & Pouch Machine OEM
This is fundamental to the pouch/bag machine decision, and there are two crucial points to consider:
- Reputation: What kind of a track record does the manufacturer have? Ask around the industry. Are they innovators or duplicators? Is the machine durable and well designed? Ask other suppliers, such as zipper/closure suppliers. A solid reputation within the industry means you can rely upon them to deliver as promised. Reputation is a good indicator of whether a machine is “tried and true”
- Technical support: Is the OEM local? Does it have knowledgeable sales and service people? Does it stock spare parts locally? How experienced are its technicians and engineers? If possible, try to engage with the pouch machine users and their maintenance departments to help gauge the level of technical support. Technical support is perhaps the most important consideration—maybe even more than an OEM’s reputation
Efficiency & Productivity
Ask about typical changeover time from one specific job to another (using the same example for each OEM you investigate), production rates, scrap rates, ease of operation and ease of setup. Use the same parameters with each OEM investigated. Productivity is a key factor to be able to succeed and survive in this very competitive environment.
In order for a machine to be efficient and productive, the frame’s rigidity, as well as its precise and accurate construction, are essential. Machines designed to absorb the shock of pouch making will be more robust and have longer life. Pouch machines running 24/7 for 50 weeks out of the year need a shock absorption system.
Critical Bag Machine & Pouch Machine Components
Web and machine control: Pouch or bag making starts with unwinding the parent roll using good tension control. The web needs to remain wrinkle-free and flat as it is pulled off the unwind and folded or formed prior to sealing.
Servo-driven “drawrolls” are used to move the web in intermittent motion through the pouch machine in order to seal and cut off the film. Tension control is essential. Questions to ask include:
- What is the control system?
- How is the proper web tension measured and maintained?
- How is the parent roll braked? Using regen drive or an electromechanical brake?
- Is the film speed measured and the feedback given to the unwind braking system?
- Is automation used in order to be more efficient and limit operator errors, for example auto positioning of sealers during production or even for setup using stored recipes?
- Does the machine have print registration throughout the machine, even at the sealers?
- How do they deal with print variation, shadow seals and web instability?
- Long term, how will the OEM support the components that become obsolete?
- Can software be changed to support upgrades?
- Does the OEM have innovations and enhancements that improve efficiency?
Sealing system: Time, temperature, pressure—These are the basics of film sealing. A pouch seal is made with pressure from a hot seal bar. The amount of time it presses is called the dwell time. Questions to ask:
- How is the pressure maintained for repeatable, quality seals?
- How is temperature evenly dispersed through the heater/seal bar?
- How is the temperature maintained?
- How is the dwell time maintained?
- What unique features are offered and why?
Pouch cut-off & stacking system: The finishing section includes hole punching and cut-off, and then stacking and conveying the pouches for the packer to offload. Here’s what to ask:
- An explanation of the registration method; that is, print to cut-off?
- What kind of material is used for the cutter?
- How long before sharpening (specify the films you will use)?
- How is the blade adjusted?
- Is cutter control/automation an option?
Machine flexibility: Here, we are talking about machine specifications and the ability for a machine to be flexible.
- What style or type of pouch/bag do you want to produce?
- Do you need a flexible machine that can produce multiple pouch styles, or just a standup pouch machine that simply makes, for example, a standup pouch (SUP) and three-side-seal pouch (3-S-S)? Combination machines are the most flexible. They can make different style pouches—for example, SUP and quad seal side gusseted pouches, or even back seam/fin seal or lap seal pouches. This is in addition to 3-S-S format. These machines will be more expensive, but perhaps easier to keep filled because they are more flexible in the style of pouch they can make
- What is the size range of the pouches that can be made?
- What options and attachments are available? Can it process PE/PE or co-extruded materials? What type of closures will you need? Press-to-close (PTC) zipper? Hook-to-hook closures? Hole punch requirements?
Quality & Consistency
A high center of excellence (repeatable, consistent quality) at the highest production rates is the goal. Of course, high speed without high quality defeats the purpose. The quality of finished product is of the highest importance. Consistent high-quality pouches at high productivity and low waste are not possible without the right machine.
Price is listed last for good reason. Though price is always a factor and is considered important, the four points described earlier should be higher priority than price. Uptime and seal integrity, as examples, are so important. Buying a low-cost pouch machine with inconsistent seal integrity can lead to trouble. Having your customer reject pouches because of leakers or even poor finish could set you back and even kill your future in the segment. You are much further ahead buying a quality pouch machine in the first place. Losing a customer due to poor quality hurts in so many ways. Looking at the machine investment over three or five years—even 10 years or 20 years—is a long-term strategy many successful converters have used.
Quality bag and pouch machines are designed and built for 24/7 operation and last decades, making money long after they are paid off. Choose a quality OEM with high-level technical support. If you can connect with a good OEM, it can guide you through the process of choosing the right pouch or bag machine for your company.
About the Author: Mike Greely is the senior vice president and sales manager with Totani America, Inc. He has 35 years’ experience with pouch and bag machines, working for Bemis, Amplas and Proven Designs, and he helped found Totani America, Inc. in 2004.
Totani America is a wholly owned subsidiary of Totani Corp., Kyoto, Japan. Totani is a world leader in pouch- and bag-making machines, renowned for sales and service integrity, and technical support. Its products include pouch and bag machines. The Box Pouch is Totani’s trademarked, original flat-bottom, side-gusseted pouch.