Markets & Technologies Have Changed - Has Your Chamber Machine Kept Up?
Vacuum chamber packaging machines were first introduced to the market (the first was a Multivac introduced in 1962) as a fast, effective means of packaging a wide range of materials, including everything from food to medical devices. Based on basic vacuum principals, these machines were simple, easy to use, and cost effective to operate. Today, however, the category of vacuum chamber equipment encompasses a wide range of machines and technologies.
Systems today contain advanced programmable features that can carefully regulate vacuum pressure and even self-diagnose service issues. Other features allow integration with other packaging equipment and, while early models where limited to tabletop size, today's vacuum chamber machines range in size for a variety of applications.
New features and expanded capabilities can offer more choices to food processors. However, there is also a greater opportunity to enhance product packaging and brand quality with vacuum packaging than ever before. One of the most important attributes to have is a complete wash-down configuration and a hygienic stainless steel flat bed to help meet critical industry standards. Knowing all that is available in this category can help in selecting an economical, effective, and versatile machine that fits production needs.
Many of today's chamber machines are "smart," offering a number of technologies that can help increase efficiency and decrease downtime.
Self-diagnosis is a feature that can save time in maintaining a chamber unit. This is a relatively new advent in these machines, but many of today's models include self-diagnosis technology that acts as the machine's "eyes and ears," enabling operators to troubleshoot a wide range of symptoms even in small, inexpensive tabletop models. Being able to identify problems enables any size operation to employ the benefits of having a technician on hand without interrupting production cycles.
Other important technology allows for more precise control of vacuuming to accompany a greater range of products. For example, certain foods that are largely liquid, such as salsas, can react negatively to a traditionally pulled vacuum - the liquid can foam and change in consistency. Using pulse vacuuming prevents this problem and allows for a great deal more food products to be packaged on a vacuum chamber machine.
Sizing the Situation
When the first Multivac was introduced, it was what we call a tabletop unit. In other words, it was a small unit used for basic, low volume applications. These machines still have a place on the market today, but the definition of vacuum chamber machines has definitely moved off the table and into an expanded variety of volumes, automation and application sizes.
For example, there are chamber machines today manufactured to handle large volume or bulk applications that can range from whole cuts of meat to 40-lb. blocks of cheese.
Other systems package more traditional applications and are often integrated into a larger array of systems. For example, a shrink tank and a drying tunnel is often integrated in the same system so that cheese, for example, is vacuum sealed, then travels directly to a shrink tank and drying tunnel to remove wrinkles from the package for greater shelf appeal.
A More Diverse Market
As with most technologies, equipment only tells part of the story. As markets changes and evolve, the technology of vacuum chamber machines is adapting. Though much of food is produced on a massive scale requiring more elaborate packaging systems such as rollstock systems and traysealers, markets for low volume, high-value products are also on the rise. Specialty meats and cheeses have a growing market and simply don't need to sell in large volumes in order to be profitable. The new breed of chamber machine is ideal for this market because they combine the latest technology in a compact and economical solution.