How Machinery Gets Improved

Jan. 31, 2020

Big customers and patents influence equipment improvements.

At the just-concluded IPPE show, I saw a new piece of equipment from Harpak-ULMA that not only was impressive, but illustrated how the development of food processing and packaging equipment is extremely influenced by two things: patents and customer feedback.

The FS-400 flow wrapper stretches and shrinks film tightly across plastic trays of chicken or other wet products. It’s an improvement over Harpak’s previous machine in several ways; those improvements provide an interesting window into the product development process.

The old model held two rolls of film on spools about head-high. Harpak received complaints that loading the heavy rolls at that level was hard on workers’ arms, shoulders and backs. The point of having the rolls high on the machine was to accommodate two of them, but most end users don't need two, because they change film so often. So the FS-400 has only one roll, at chest level.

The FS-400 also delivers an improved seal, with seams hidden beneath the tray’s lip and a smooth, unbroken top surface. This was made possible when a patent, held by Harpak’s competitor, on a high-performance shrink tunnel expired. The tunnel directed heat up from the bottom, allowing greater control of the seams as the film shrinks. (It seems a little dubious to me that heating from the bottom is a unique idea, but that’s why I’m not a patent attorney.) The patent recently expired, and Harpak incorporated the principle into the FS-400’s shrink tunnel.