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At IFFA, IMA ILAPAK, will introduce new solutions that enable meat, fish and poultry producers to package their products more sustainably without compromising on line speed, presentation or shelf-life. As well as demonstrating how processors can down-gauge material usage by 30-50% by switching from thermoforming to flow wrapping, IMA ILAPAK will present its capabilities in running fully recyclable paper-based and mono-polymer films.
While meat, fish and poultry producers are committed to making their packaging more sustainable, the dilemma they face is deciding on the best strategy - do they go down the compostable route, the paper-based route or the recyclable plastic route? For multi-national companies the matter is especially complex as not all countries are aligned on their regulations and waste management approaches. In Germany, for example, paper-based packaging needs to have a minimum cellulose content of 95% to be recycled, whereas in Italy and Spain the threshold is far lower. Similarly, while Italy has invested in provision for industrial composting, in the UK there is no such infrastructure.
Staying ahead of the curve with OpenLab
IMA ILAPAK has been following developments closely and, at its OpenLab proof of concept facility, its material scientists been busy testing and analysing new paper-based, mono-layer and compostable films from a range of suppliers. Much of their work is pre-emptive testing of new films before they are even available on the market.
“By analysing the mechanical, thermal, tribological and processing properties of these next generation films, we have built up an understanding of how they will perform in different applications and how packaging lines will need to be adapted to accommodate them,” explains Davide Paltrinieri, OpenLab Manager and Material Technologist at IMA ILAPAK.
“All of our analysis is catalogued in a database, so that when a customer wants to switch to a more sustainable film but doesn’t know which material to use, we can consult our database and make starting recommendations from there,” he adds.
Another major advantage of the OpenLab approach is that it cuts the trial, error and downtime out of introducing new films. Instead of having to interrupt production to test new films, films can be trialled within OpenLab’s testing area, on identical equipment and in conditions that emulate real-life meat processing.
As well as supporting customers with their material selection and testing, OpenLab serves as a valuable resource for informing machinery R&D. For the last few years, IMA ILAPAK’s equipment technologists have been working continuously on modifications to its flexible packaging systems to keep pace with sustainable film developments and cope with less wrapper-friendly mono-layer and paper-based materials.
Recyclable paper-based films
Paper films are notoriously difficult to run on flow wrappers because of their structure. In order to maintain sufficient sealability, flexibility and gas, water vapour and grease barrier properties, they have a micro-layer of plastic. Applying heat evenly to obtain an hermetic seal in an efficient way throughout this structure is difficult to achieve due to the thermal insulating properties of the top paper layer. IMA ILAPAK has overcome this by deploying special geometry surface treated sealing jaws in conjunction with the use of its consolidated long dwell technology which is able to guarantee uniform and efficient sealing of paper-based packaging materials.
Paper-based films are also challenging to work with from a forming perspective, requiring gentler handling and a longer folding section. A new patent-pending folding box system that prevents paper films from tearing provides a solution to this issue whilst ensuring processing speeds are not compromised.
The challenge with running recyclable heat-sensitive mono-material PE and PP films is that they have a narrow heat sealing temperature range and so a longer dwell time becomes essential to prevent the film from melting and sticking to the sealing jaws. In order to maintain high speeds whilst increasing the dwell time, IMA ILAPAK has engineered dedicated solutions on its sealing heads and surface treatments on its jaws.
These solutions can be applied across IMA ILAPAK’s horizontal and vertical packaging machinery portfolio, enabling meat and poultry processors to make the switch to fully recyclable packaging: IQF burgers can be packed in 100% recyclable PE mono-films on the Carrera 6000; salami, chorizo and other cured and cooked meats can be MAP flow-wrapped in recyclable paper or plastic mono-material on the Delta 6000; and the Vegatronic 6400HD can run off mono-material PE pillow packs for frozen chicken nuggets or scampi.
Quest for quick changeover
Now, the focus of IMA ILAPAK’s R&D is shifting from whether these emerging materials can be accommodated to how quickly packaging machines can switch between materials with different characteristics.
“Our ultimate goal is to handle every type of film on the same machine with minimal changeovers and negligible changeover time. We have reached the point where we can handle new sustainable materials as well as traditional plastic films on the same machine thanks to the development of quick release parts and flexible sealing systems,” notes Andrea Boccolini, IMA ILAPAK’s VFFS Division Product Manager.
Universal ultrasonic sealing technology
Whilst modification of conventional heat sealing systems is one approach, the best solution to the challenge of adapting to new generation films is to seal ultrasonically, as this universal sealing technology can handle potentially any kind of heat sealable packaging material.
Despite this advantage, and the technology’s ability to guarantee pack integrity by sealing through juices and contaminants in the seal area, the meat and poultry industry has yet to embrace ultrasonics. Anticipating a move to ultrasonic sealing in the near future, IMA ILAPAK can incorporate predisposition for ultrasonic sealing into any flow wrapper and vertical bagger as a future-proofed solution for manufacturers.
Flowing away from thermoformed packs
The quest to improve the sustainability of their packaging is leading many meat and poultry manufacturers to seek out alternatives to conventional film lidded thermoformed trays. Not only are most thermoformed trays unrecyclable due to their multi-layer structure, they are also heavy on materials usage (the tray typically ranges on average from 200 to 600 microns while the lid film is around 50-70 micron).
This is where IMA ILAPAK’s Vacmap technology - available on its Delta series of flow wrappers - comes into play. Incorporating both gas flushing and vacuum technology, Vacmap can match the shelf-life performance of a thermoformed pack, but with huge potential for material reductions: a flow-wrapped pack uses on average 30-50% less packaging material than a thermoformed tray-film combo uses. In addition, the overall cost of manufacturing is considerably lower as flow-wrapping is a far simpler process than thermoforming and requires just a single operator.
For cured or cooked meats such as sliced ham or salami, this down-gauged pack can even be constructed from a gas barrier paper film - with a cardboard back card for support - for a fully recyclable solution.
A fresh format for portioned packs
Fresh meat and poultry is another area where thermoformed packs have historically been the format of choice. Paper-based flow-wraps aren’t an option in this ‘wet’ application, but high barrier mono-material films extruded from PP and PE are. Using Vacmap technology to guarantee shelf-life, these recyclable films can be combined with either a paper or PE tray to provide a fully recyclable alternative to film lidded thermoformed trays for products such as minced beef, chicken breasts and diced lamb, for example.
Hygiene high on the agenda: Vegatronic 6400HD bagger for IQF proteins
While sustainability is grabbing the headlines, hygiene is a continuous thread in packaging machinery design for the meat, fish and poultry industries.
At IFFA, IMA ILAPAK will demonstrate how it has married the protein industry’s requirements for sanitary design with efficiency and accessibility in the Vegatronic 6400HD. This ultra-hygienic bagger was first launched in 2019 to deliver best-in-class hygiene and maximum uptime when packaging frozen meat products such as nuggets, burgers, chicken pieces and sausages.
Industry-leading hygiene is guaranteed through a number of design features on the Vegatronic 6400HD: all major parts are constructed from stainless steel, including the film carriage and machine frame, and minimal flat surfaces and rounded components prevent debris from accumulating. To enable full washdown, all electronic and electrical parts are sealed to IP66 or above; the cabinet is IP67 rated and the jaws are IP68. In addition, the machine’s open frame design gives unfettered access to the inner workings of the machine for cleaning and maintenance purposes.To maximise uptime, IMA ILAPAK has focused on re-engineering parts like the forming tube, film reel and sealing jaws for quick and easy changeovers.
Following feedback from the field, IMA ILAPAK’s engineers have fine-tuned its design to deliver enhanced performance. Previously unseen improvements include ‘all in one’ sealing jaws that are capable of handling a broader variety of materials, redesigned hygienic safety guards and a tubular stainless steel frame construction that can withstand vibration.
The Vegatronic 6400HD bagger on show will be configured with a WA16 25 MB (Memory Bucket) multihead weigher in an embossed execution for frozen food.
Joint up thinking
Last but not least, IMA ILAPAK will present its equipment solutions for larger joints of meat such as whole birds, deli hams and sides of beef. The new Delta RotaVac system seamlessly integrates ILAPAK’s Delta 6000 flow wrapper with an innovative rotary vacuum chamber. This has created a highly efficient, hygienic, labour saving solution for replacing pre-made shrink bags with lower cost film from a reel.
Meat the makers
Members of the IMA ILAPAK team will be on hand to answer any questions visitors may have about packaging meat and poultry. As well as offering stand-alone machines, IMA ILAPAK can supply turnkey and full-line solutions. Being part of the IMA group gives ILAPAK access to expertise and technology spanning the full flexible packaging equipment chain, from cartoning to case packing. Come and try us!
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