How To Maintain Your Shrink Packaging Machines
DOWNTIME.. It's the bane of any busy manufacturing or distribution floor, and it impacts more than just time. It often comes down to how well you maintain your packaging machinery, aside from the occasional fluke machinery issue.
When a shrink packaging machine goes down, you lose productivity, labor hours for your employees (add the impact on their stress levels, too), scheduling, delivery delays and the cost of getting the machine back up and running as quickly as possible. In order to prevent and/or reduce these unexpected downtime issues, you have got to create a plan for regular preventive maintenance, and regular maintenance before use and after.
Let's dive into a few ways that you can alleviate issues with your shrink packaging machinery:
The Berenstain Approach
Sealers are a common cause of packaging re-wraps, and it comes down to getting things just right, similar to the childrens' books, The Berenstain Bears. Check the following three items if you are experiencing some ugly seals on your shrink.
- Are your sealer bars too hot or too cold? These issues can cause your packages to seal improperly and look unprofessional. Check the temperature of your sealer before you begin your runs, and make sure this is done before each shift begins!
- Is the tension off? Check the tension and the pressure of the sealer to be sure it is completing the seal and not loose. A loose sealer will most definitely cause a deformed package, and inevitable re-wraps.
- Check the timing of the seal, too long and your going to over do a seal and make it brittle, too little and its not going to be a full seal.
- Are consumables like teflon tape and seal pads in good shape? Grooves will form over time leading to weak seals.
Make sure whomever mans the machine checks these three items before and after your shifts to maintain proper shrink seals! If you are unsure if the machine is causing the problems or if the shrink itself is the wrong size, run through an empty bag and seal as normal. If the bag seals properly, its a mechanical issue and performing a quick review of the above 3 items will most likely solve the issue for you.
Static is a common cause of shrink issues because most shrink material is static-prone. Check for static shocks on your machines, it's a sign!
If you are having issues with film tracking on your machine or the film is matting together, check for grounding on your machine. A quick way to see if there is some static-cling happening with your machinery is to hold a piece of your shrink film about an inch above the machinery. If it attracts to the machine, you need to get some grounding in there! Add a separator for your folded film to reduce these issues. There are also static eliminators and static strings available for purchase if your machine doesn't have something already included.
Another way to reduce static is to lightly rough up the shiny flat surfaces that your shrink film slides across (aka film drag) with a light-grit sandpaper. Don't go crazy and sand the machine down to nothing, but find the spots that are static-causing culprits and give them a light roughing.
Is It Me Or Is It Too Hot In Here?
Sometimes it may not be your machine causing the problems with your packages. It could be that the roll is being stored improperly.
Heat is a major issue for storing shrink films. You want your film to be stored in a climate that is roughly around 72 degrees. Once the film rolls see above 90 degrees on average, you are prone to problems. Film will stick to itself and its strength may weaken. Monitor your storage temps to keep the film problems at bay.
Keep your film burn-hole free by maintaining an appropriate temperature in the shrink tunnels you use as well! If you see smoking or burn holes in your package, your machine temperatures need a check up! Check for proper airflow in the tunnels as well, and make sure you aren't running the items too slowly in there. You know how you get a sunburn from being in the sun too long (unless you are one of the few blessed ones) ? Think of the product and film in the tunnel in the same way; just enough time to get what you need out of it and move the item along.
Feel The Tension
Tension can be a cause of a few issues that include bad cross-seals and seals that pull apart easily.
If you are seeing bad cross seals when using a semi-automated or automated l-bar sealer, check the distance between the products being packaged. The closer together the items are, the more chance there is for added tension to the seal when each package moves through the sealer bar.
The taller the item, the further apart the products will need to be placed between seals to reduce that tension!
If your seals are pulling apart, this is because the package is too close to the sealer bar and is causing tension when the bar closes together. If your products are being lifted by the sealer as they move through, this is your sign. Adjust the product spacing so there is more space between it and the sealer bar.
Lastly, a missing clamp could be the cause of tension on your shrink machine. Check your machine for missing clamps and springs. If you are in need of spare or replacement clamps, we have just the person for you to connect with to order some!
Clean Your Utensils!
If your machine uses a knife to seal, you have a few ways to remedy issues that may arise. Firstly, check the temps! Run these types of sealing systems at the lowest temperature possible to reduce shrink problems. High temperatures can do damage to your sealer bars including warping, so reduce the temps to maintain!
Knife sealers will get a buildup of polymer from sealing after a while or if you are running TOO cool, so it may be a best practice to begin regularly cleaning these off after shifts. A clean knife, free of debris or damage will give you a better seal. The key here is to never use an abrasive to clean these, as they will cause further damage. Instead, use a scrap piece of film to wipe it down; and do the cleaning after the knife has cooled!
It's important to note that you should keep your entire machine clean, a good wipe down pre or post-shift will keep your machine not only looking great, but properly running for longer between your full, regular preventive maintenance schedules.
There are many ways to keep your machines in tip-top shape, and these are just a few. If you don't have an in-house technician, talk to our team about our regular PM (preventative maintenance) programs, we can do it for you, and help your team maintain properly!
Are you looking into a new packaging machine replacement? Is your current machine ready to go or can you refurbish it? Take our quick quiz to help you understand whether you should repair, refurbish or buy new!
About David Roberge
Part of the outstanding Industrial Packaging team. I'm lucky to hang out with some of the most knowledgeable folks in the packaging industry. I feel even luckier to be able to share our knowledge with you. I love learning about our readers and helping them grow their brand through unique, flexible package design from the birth of the product idea, through the supply chain, and to the launch and placement on the shelf or at the consumer's door.