The new sealing system, which can be used for ambient or chilled oven-ready meal products, is designed to seal lidding film to food trays using a laser without the need for conventional tooling.
PA claims that the new method will bring numerous important benefits to the food industry including reduced tooling costs, improved seal quality and less wastage. The new equipment was developed as part of a Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)-sponsored FoodLINK project.
Multiple tray shapes can be processed on a single production line, and fast product changeovers can be achieved without resetting the sealing machinery. In addition, the lidding film is cut by the laser beam once the seal has been made.
An advanced inspection system, using an embedded signature and computer vision technique (UK Patent pending, application no. 0427321.5), has also been developed which will check the seal quality of every pack - vital in the demanding food industry where leaking trays can cause contamination and costly recalls. The firm claims that the laser seals are stronger than traditional methods, but have the advantage of being easier to peel - an advantage to consumers.
"There are numerous benefits evident with this new system," said Packaging Automation projects manager Graham Jones. "With no tooling needed, production speeds can be further increased and downtime minimised.
"Improved seal quality will mean fewer recalled products and greater confidence by retailers. And there is the added benefit of no tooling storage requirements, while tooling consumables - such as heater mats, trim blades, and thermocouples - will not be required."
Packaging Automation worked with other industry leaders on the project including RPC Containers, GSI Lumonics and FFP Packaging Solutions along with Loughborough University.
"Packaging Automation is delighted to be part of this key development," said Jones. "Each of the partners involved have all brought valuable expertise to the project.
"This type of work is vital to the food packaging sector and PA is keen to remain at the forefront of new developments that drive our industry forward."