Sliced products should be finely sliced and appetizingly presented in the pack. Whether it is sausage, roast meat, ham, bacon or cheese, thinly sliced products are always well received by consumers. But these products place high demands on the packaging procedure as regards infeed and loading. MULTIVAC offers efficient and economical solutions for the automated and continuous transport of the individual portions from the slicer to the thermoformed pack cavities. These solutions ensure a high level of product and pack quality is achieved.
The market for pre-packed sliced products, which can be presented on the supermarket shelf or in the chill cabinet, is growing very strongly in Central Europe. The demands of consumers in regard to quality, shelf life, pack design, handling, and variety are also continually rising. Despite this trend however, there is strong price pressure in this very competitive market.
The retail industry also has a vested interest in attractively packaged sliced products, which have a long shelf life and are affordable for all groups of customers. Such sliced products at the point of sale give the impression of a healthy and natural taste in an uncomplicated and attractive product. Whether it is different varieties of salami slices shingled in rows, or cheese slices interleaved with paper, or thin slices of chicken breast packed flat or rolled, all of these tempt consumers to purchase the product more than if simply stacked in the pack.
The majority of sliced products today are packed on thermoforming packaging machines in MAP packs, which play a major role in extending shelf life. The evacuation and gas flushing process is always matched to the specific product requirements, so quality, visual appearance, moisture content, and taste of the packed product are retained perfectly. This also ensures the slices do not stick together or slide about in the pack. Slices, arranged in shingled layers, make it easier for the consumer to remove them from the thermoformed rigid pack, which can also be provided with a reclosure system for the upper web if required.
But how can the individual portions be loaded cost-effectively into the pack cavities, particularly at low to medium throughput, without any sacrifice in pack quality having to be made?
The key to success lies in the optimum linking of the slicer to the thermoforming packaging machine, since this enables automated loading of the pack cavities to be achieved efficiently.
The R 245 thermoforming packaging machine is a high-performance model for producing packs of sliced products in medium to large batch sizes. The R 245 is very flexible as regards the use of packaging materials, cutting units, and formats. Quick-change systems for the forming and sealing dies make it easy to convert the machine to other pack formats. Thanks to the HMI 2.0 user interface, even inexperienced operators are able to operate all the functions of the machine or line at the touch of a finger. The R 245 can also be equipped with an interface for linking a slicer, allowing the machine to be integrated into an automated slicer line.
There are two different loading systems available for loading the sliced products into the pack cavities, the first is the MULTIVAC Horizontal Loader and the second the MULTIVAC Pick-and-Place system. Both solutions are designed to transfer sliced products fully automatically and very efficiently at high output from the slicer into the pack cavities, while at the same time maintaining an optimum, continuous product flow. Both systems can be used for a wide variety of sliced products, and they are available for all high-output MULTIVAC thermoforming packaging machines.
The MULTIVAC Horizontal Loader is an innovative solution, which is unique on the market, where the infeed conveyor from the slicer is positioned horizontally at the film level. Since additional transport conveyors are not required, the length of the complete line is reduced significantly. This differentiates the Horizontal Loader from conventional solutions, which have to use additional lengths of rising or falling conveyors to bridge the height difference between the thermoforming packaging machine. In addition to this, the risk of products slipping during transport is reduced with the Horizontal Loader, since the products are transported horizontally, and this means that fewer products have to be subsequently adjusted manually. The products are therefore loaded more efficiently, reliably and above all more gently and hygienically.
MULTIVAC’s handling robots also offer another loading solution. They are characterised by their very high degree of flexibility - depending on the size of the working area available, the required functions and the desired output, these handling modules can be equipped individually with two-, three-, or four-axis robots and appropriate gripper systems. MULTIVAC handling modules can be used very flexibly for a wide variety of products, pack formats, weights, and cycle times. As the most simple form of presentation, individual portions can be packed in one or more stacks. However, it is also possible to create more complex loading patterns – even very thin slices can be shingled in multiple rows or arranged in a round or oval shape.
MULTIVAC’s automation concept is based on a higher-level control system. The MULTIVAC Line Control (MLC) coordinates all the components of the packaging line and ensures the loading and packaging procedure is fast, precise, reproducible, and transparent. Operating automated and sometimes complex lines is designed to be very simple via the central control terminal of the packaging machine. The integration of all modules into the central machine control also reduces the complexity – and where there are recurring production orders, the corresponding configuration can be automatically transferred to all the individual line components, which means the interaction between human and machine is reduced and the potential for errors kept to a minimum.
There are significant benefits in linking slicers to packaging machines by means of high-performance loading systems, which increase the level of automation throughout the line: thanks to its innovative slicing technology, the slicer always produces the optimum slice quality, while the loading system, which is perfectly tuned to the capacity of the slicer, ensures the portions are gently transported to the thermoform packaging machine and then loaded reliably into the pack cavities. The packaging machine then creates the optimum pack results thanks to its forming, sealing, and cutting equipment, which is perfectly designed to meet the individual pack requirements. Even in the case of small to medium throughput, such solutions quickly pay off – and when compared with manual loading, there are significant benefits in terms of efficiency, process reliability, and hygiene.