FFS 101: How a Form, Fill and Seal Machine Works

Form fill and seal, or FFS, machines play a critical role in the packaging of goods. Specifically, they’re automated pieces of heavy machinery that work on a packaging assembly line. As the name implies, these FFS machines first help form the package, then they fill it with the desired product and, finally, seal it so that it can then be shipped to the store for purchase.

Form fill seal machines can work with either dry goods or liquids, and are commonly used for all types of packaging (i.e. both corrugated and flexible styles) and with all different types of product, from foods to pharmaceuticals.

In order to understand how an FFS machine works, however, we first need to separate such equipment into their proper categories. On that note, it’s worth mentioning that FFS machines generally are available in two different styles – vertical form fill seal, or VFFS, which are the more popular of the two, and horizontal form fill seal, or HFFS. VFFS are somewhat self-explanatory in the basics of their operation, working to form, fill and then seal packaging from above. Such machines are available in a few different varieties – single web and dual web. HFFS machines, on the other hand, work to package machines from a horizontal perspective (think things like blister packs and wrappers).

There are a few key differences between HFFS and VFFS machines. For instance, HFFS machines generally take up a greater space on the plant floor than VFFS machines, which have been developed to be much more compact in recent years. VFFS machines are also often better intended to work with products that are difficult to handle by hand, things like grains, liquids, chips and other types of food. HFFS machines are better suited for standalone products, like toys or candy bars. HFFS machines are generally considered to be a tad more versatile than their VFFScounterparts in that they can handle a greater variety of packages and products, as opposed toVFFS machines, which are best suited to work with foods.

Furthermore, both VFFS and HFFS machines can be further classified into the products that they’re designed to work with. For instance, categories of such machines include bags/pillow packs, bottles, cartons, trays and blisters, sachets and bags/pouches. While the operation of aform fill seal machine can vary based on the type of machine it is (VFFS or HFFS) as well as the type of package it is working on, all machines work under the same basic principles.

Form

The first step is the formation of the packaging material. Depending on the type of package that the machine is working on, this packaging material is either taken and made from a web roll (in the case of a plastic, flexible substrate) or taken from a stack of existing packaging (which is often normal when working with corrugated boxes or similar packaging materials).

For a single web VFFS machine that works with flexible materials, for instance, the web, or film roll, usually is fed into a cone-shaped tube. This tube, also commonly referred to as the “forming tube,” helps form the package by taking the outer edges of the web roll and wrapping them around it. The film is then often worked outside of the tube and then sealed together to create the package. The package is then sealed at the bottom, any excess film below the seal is removed and the package is ready to go on to the filling stage of the process. The process is similar on flexible applications with the VFFS dual web machine, except that two rolls of film are used.

While VFFS and HFFS machines have a lot of work to do from a forming perspective when it comes to plastic film and packaging lines, when working with corrugated and other packaging materials, such machines generally just grab from an existing product pile or fold the edges into a product. After the packages are formed, they move on to the filling station.

Fill

Following the forming step comes the filling step. This process works much more fluidly than the first task that these machines are programmed to complete. Simply put, a pre-measured amount of product, whether it’s a solid or a liquid, is dispersed from the machine and into the open package. Products are normally carried via a conveyor belt. After the packages are filled, they move on to the final main task – sealing.

Seal

The final main task of a form fill seal machine is sealing the package so that it can ultimately be shipped off to the store for consumers to purchase. Sealing usually occurs immediately following filling, partially to reduce any potential contamination to the products being packaged, which is especially true if the goods are to be consumed. In many VFFS machines that work with bags and pouches, a sealing bar is positioned horizontally and works to seal off the top of the package. Following this step, and the removal of any material, the package can also move on for another sealing task when applicable, which is often referred to as the “final sealing process” or “secondary sealing.” For applicable packages, this may include filling the product with air to help protect or preserve it or punching holes in the package so it can be easier hung on display racks. Packages then move on to be sorted and, eventually, shipped out to stores.

Today, VFFS and HFFS machines are highly technologically advanced, able to not only perform their tasks with extreme accuracy and precision, but they’re often also able to execute other important functions related to specific types of packaging, such as temperature adjustment.

One other important thing to note about form fill seal equipment is that it is large capital equipment – equipment that tends to be very expensive, ranging from tens of thousands to even hundreds of thousands of dollars. This price tag can pose quite the burden for a packaging facility, especially if one has run into an unforeseen situation where a piece of equipment failed outside of that particular company’s determined upgrade and replacement plan. That’s where buying from a pre-used source such as Bid on Equipment can come in handy, as you can get a like-new piece of equipment at a used price. Saving on this type of integral piece of equipment is essential for some companies, and when you don’t have to sacrifice quality for affordability, it makes the situation all the more win-win. For more information on form fill seal machines, and to browse Bid on Equipment’s inventory of HFFS and VFFS machines, contact us today.

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