The ultrasonic sealing machine took two years to develop and was designed by Ishida Japan and ultrasonic specialist Branson. Up until six months ago, it was in testing in Mexico and Ishida is gearing up to launch the system at Interpack 2014 in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Ultrasonic technology creates sound vibrations that agitate the molecules within a film, in turn, creating heat. This naturally occurring heat is then combined with pressure to seal a pack.
“The key advantage that is offered with the ultrasonic sealing technology is film saving,” said Simon Ruffley, business manager for Snacks Packaging Systems at Ishida Europe.
Speaking to BakeryandSnacks.com at Ishida Europe’s HQ in Birmingham, Ruffley explained that the technology can create seals as narrow as 2 mm – compared to the standard 12-13 mm for snack packaging. “This is an absolutely massive saving on any particular bag maker,” he said.
Ian Richards, applications manager for Snacks Packaging Systems at Ishida Europe, added that 2 mm was about as thin as manufacturers could expect to go. “A saving like that is tangible, it’s real… And [the seal] is actually stronger, because you’re using sound waves to seal it from the inside out.”
Ruffley said that this improved seal integrity was thanks to the consistency the ultrasonic technology gave across the length of the sealing jaw.
Right now, it’s too expensive…
At this point however, the system is not cheap, Ruffley said. “The technology is probably as much as the original bag maker is, as it stands today, which is why we are going through a rapid development to take the cost out of the system.”
Richards added: “It’s the technology that is costly right now. So we’re working with the people who make ultrasonic sounds… We are hoping to get the cost to equal a payback of 2-3 years, but it’s not there right now.”
Despite these upfront costs, Ruffley said the film savings should tempt manufacturers along with the quality seal the technology provides. He said the narrow seal could give snack makers a chance to differentiate in the market.
Challenges in sealing metalized polypropylene using ultrasonic
Hiroki Fukihara, R&D engineer at Ishida Japan and part of the team behind the design, said the biggest challenge when developing the system was finding a balance between the pressure and sound waves to ensure an optimal seal.
Richards added: “You need a tight grip but it’s about finding the balance in terms of mechanics to get that sound balance for the seal to work.”
Another hurdle was optimizing the machine's speed. Ruffley said: “The challenge we’ve engaged in on this technology is trying to get the speed while maintaining quality… Having a rotating jaw with all the ultrasonic parts added is quite a technical challenge."
Ishida can run the machine at 140 bags per minute – a rate Ruffley said should be of interest to larger snack manufacturers.
Sealing the future for snack makers?
“At the moment because it’s a new technology we’re at that leap of faith moment in engaging it as an acceptable technology for the snacks industry,” the business manager said.
The company needs to engage with snack manufacturers in order to learn more about the level of opportunity the system has in the marketplace, he added.
“We know it’s an exciting and great technology, but we need to use industry feedback to build on… As soon as we get in and show the abilities and capabilities and the difference this machine can make, all that will make it more affordable and an optimal solution,” Ruffley said.