Advances in flow-wrap technology are set to benefit bakery businesses, providing greater flexibility and ensuring high-quality display packs.

Managing director of Ulma Packaging Derek Paterson says it is "vital to ensure the packaging machine is versatile enough to handle a wide range of bakery product sizes and shapes" and advises bakeries not just to opt for the cheapest option.

His company has announced plans to target further growth within the bakery and confectionery sectors, by raising the commercial profile of its horizontal form fill and seal (HFFS) flow-wrappers. Its Florida entry-level flow-wrapper is suitable for packaging fresh bread in a range of formats, such as rolls, batched products and baguettes. It can also handle cakes, savouries and morning goods.

Ulma, which is based in Worksop in Nottinghamshire, says its Florida model is suitable for small to medium-sized bakery operations and, depending on the product being handled, can operate at up to 150 packs per minute.

The machine incorporates standard fully electronic motion control, a three-motor system to give control over various drives and greater programming flexibility with fewer mechanical adjustments and components.

At the top of Ulma’s range of flow-wrappers is the Atlanta hi-tech, aimed at bakers with medium to high volume production. It has left-to-right operating direction, rotary cross-sealing jaws, a self centering fill reel holder and a two-metre long in-feed conveyor.

Paterson points out that the company’s flow-wrappers also have "a unique double flexing form box, which allows infinite set-up variations". He says: "The equipment should offer flexibility and be tolerant to the unpredictable nature of yeast as an ingredient."

Mantle Packaging Machinery in Whalley, Lancashire has obtained the distribution rights for the UK for the Italian-made CRIMA semi-automatic flow-wrapper. It can adjust from a horizontal to a vertical flow-wrapper position in a couple of minutes, according to managing director Ken Mantle.

He says the hand-fed CRIMA automatically senses the length of a product to ensure a flow-wrap pack that fits. "This is particularly useful when you have random lengths of French sticks where a conventional flow-wrapper normally deals with uniform lengths. It is also good for the collation of bread, teacakes and pies," he adds, pointing out that bakery products not cooked in a mould can vary in size and shape when they are taken out of the oven.

John Colk, part of the sales team at FDA Packaging Machinery, says the company’s flexi-wrap machine produces flow-wrapping, but is more efficient than conventional machinery. He says that switching from flapjacks to baguettes on a conventional machine entails a 15-minute changeover, while the flexi-wrap enables this in a much shorter time.

"A baker is not a packaging engineer and wants something simple and reliable which doesn’t need maintenance," says Colk. "The flexi-wrap is more hygienic because it does not lose any product."

Paterson says that, when choosing a flow-wrapper, bakeries should approach suppliers with "a diverse range of machines to suit small, medium and high-volume production arrangements". They should also avoid manufacturers or agents that offer a "one-size-fits-all" approach, who are "not willing work with you to develop specific ideas and concepts".

He suggests that, because of the increasing use of migrant workers, the flow-wrapper machine should be easy to set up and use, with minimum training required and the use of icons instead of written instructions on the control panel.

Above all, he believes the criteria when buying a machine should be "value for money and robust build quality for longevity" coupled with "fast and responsive after-sales back-up and support, as down time costs money".