GEA Showcases PowerPak PLUS Technology, Automated Food Lines

GEA’s PowerPak PLUS technology now offers more sustainable packaging alternatives using paper.

The GEA PowerPak PLUS thermoforming packaging machine lends itself to a range of different packaging solutions, including handling protection, vacuum, MAP, and shrink packaging. GEA has recently made it possible for PowerPak PLUS to use a more sustainable paper-based packaging alternative with this technology. The new packaging option is made from a moldable paper composite consisting of more than 80 percent paper and a residual amount of plastic for features that deliver barrier properties. Thanks to technological advances, the machine can be fully relied on to safely process this delicate material.

“The packaging market is currently in a state of flux,” Volker Sassmannshausen, senior product manager Thermoforming Packaging Systems at GEA said. “While consumers and food retailers are demanding reductions in plastic usage, the food industry must ensure safe packaging from beginning to end of the supply chain. Not only must all hygiene and quality standards be met, but also legal requirements that call for a significant reduction in the amount of plastic used in packaging. When developing our machines, we always take our cues from what our customers need, so this was an obvious focus area for us.”

The GEA thermoformer ensures the highest packaging quality, efficiency, and consumer convenience. Thanks to technical modifications, this packaging machine can now also easily mold coated paper. A series of functions, including those dedicated to unwinding and feeding the delicate materials as well as the newly developed multi-zone heating system, which is paired with sophisticated sealing, ensure that fresh foods are safely and hygienically packaged. In turn, solutions to simplify pack opening and material separation make it easy for consumers to separate the paper from the plastic for disposal in their relevant recycling streams.

In the forming station, the multi-zone heating system warms the coated paper to the precise temperature required so that it’s ready for molding via vacuum and compressed air. This produces thermoformed packs of around 20 millimeters in height, into which the precut slices are inserted in the next step. Before the packs are separated, a very thin top film – measuring just 30 to 50 micrometers thick – is used to close and seal each pack.

The key advantage of GEA’s PowerPak PLUS thermoforming packaging machine lies in its motor-driven unwinding systems for the top and bottom films. Both unwinding systems are synchronized with the machine’s advancing cycle. This means that only minimal force is applied to the paper solution and the top film, which are unwound in a controlled and uniform manner. In addition, the membrane sealing system ensures tight and even seals.

For consumers to be able to properly dispose of the packaging, it is essential that the diverse materials – in this case, paper and plastic – are easy to separate. To achieve this, GEA has integrated a device for punching peel corners into the thermoformer’s molding tool. The user simply bends the top corner to separate the thin plastic film from the paper backing before dispose of both materials into their respective recycling stream.

Step-by-step automated food lines now available with track and trace

In response to the need to provide full traceability of food ingredients, the leading supplier of food processing solutions GEA is offering food manufacturers a layer of enhanced functionality on a variety of its food lines which enables track and trace of every single ingredient used throughout the duration of the production process.

GEA’s Food Solutions division based in Bakel, the Netherlands, has developed custom-built solutions to suit a vast range of customer requirements. Taking a step-by-step approach to automation, GEA’s food processing lines come with a choice of four key levels of automation known as Link Logic, Process Manager, Production Commander, and Plant Controller, covering systems which meet the minimum of CE regulations, through to systems which feedback and store data.

The higher-level systems can provide reporting on various trends and occurrences throughout the process of an entire production line, enabling manufacturers to monitor progress and respond to any deviations along the way. On GEA’s popular chicken nugget line, for instance, as staff access reports throughout the process information may be fed back stating that the temperature of the meat mix has slightly altered. In a highly sensitive process such as industrial-scale chicken nugget production, any marginal deviation like this will likely affect the viscosity of the mixture, ultimately affecting the finished product. So food manufacturers are able to respond in real-time and make adjustments to the process as needed.

Taking this one step further, GEA has enhanced the Plant Controller level of automation, providing manufacturers with complete ERP interfacing and total traceability of ingredients. At this level, GEA’s complete lines need the minimum of supervision to run, saving on labor, and ensuring consistent high quality by eliminating human error and significantly reducing food hygiene risks.

In terms of traceability, before meat or dry ingredients can be added to a Plant Controller level production line, operators are instructed via the touchscreen to scan the barcode of each batch beforehand. Information from the barcode including the place of origin of the ingredient gets fed back into the system and saved, allowing for upstream traceability. In conjunction with this, each product that comes out at the end of the line then gets its own unique barcode label, which is attached to the batch of finished products enabling complete traceability.

Should reports generated throughout the process highlight a potential risk of contamination, the barcode system makes it possible to trace the issue back to a specific batch of meat (or other contaminated ingredients), and ascertain which products that batch was used for. This targeted approach avoids costly mass destruction of products, and the availability of detailed reports means that food processors can prevent contaminated products from entering the supply chain in the first place.

GEA’s track and trace technology can be applied to a wide range of food production lines including those used for sausages, burgers, nuggets, processed seafood, and alt-meat products. Ensuring the highest level of traceability by optimizing the automation of food processing lines provides reassurance across the entire supply chain, especially during these challenging times.

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