Vertical vs. Horizontal Form Fill Systems: Key Differences

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open pack of potato chips

Like any manufacturing business, the food packaging industry is always looking for the best ways to maximize efficiency while maintaining quality standards. Selecting the right equipment is essential to achieving these goals.

There are two main types of packaging machines: horizontal form fill seal (HFFS) machines and vertical form fill seal (VFFS) machines. In this post, we cover the differences between vertical and horizontal form fill systems and how to decide which is right for your business.

Main Differences Between Vertical and Horizontal Form Fill Seal Systems

Both horizontal and vertical packing machines improve efficiency and production speed in food packaging facilities. However, they differ in the following significant ways:

Orientation of Packaging Process

As their names indicate, the main difference between the two machines is their physical orientation. HFFS machines, also known as horizontal flow wrap machines (or simply flow wrappers), wrap and seal goods horizontally. By contrast, VFFS machines, also known as vertical baggers, package items vertically.

Footprint and Layout

Due to their horizontal layout, HFFS machines have a much larger footprint than VFFS machines. While you can find machines in different sizes, horizontal flow wrappers are typically much longer than they are wide. For example, one model measures 13 feet long by 3.5 feet wide, while another measures 23 feet long by 7 feet wide.

Suitability for Products

Another key difference between HFFS and VFFS machines is the type of products they can handle. While horizontal packaging machines can wrap everything from small objects to bulky items, they are best for single solid goods. For example, food packaging companies may choose HFFS systems for bakery products and cereal bars.

Vertical baggers, on the other hand, are better suited for items of varying consistencies. If you have a powder, liquid, or granular product, a VFFS machine is the better choice. Examples in the food industry are gummy candies, coffee, sugar, flour, and rice.

Sealing Mechanisms

HFFS and VFFS machines create a package from a roll of film, fill it with the product, and seal the package. Depending on the packaging system, you may see a variety of sealing mechanisms: heat seals (using electric resistance), ultrasonic seals (using high-frequency vibrations), or induction seals (using electromagnetic resistance).

Each seal type has its pros and cons. For example, a classic heat seal is reliable and cost-efficient but requires a cooling step and a larger machine footprint. Ultrasonic mechanisms create hermetic seals even for messy products while reducing packaging material consumption and sealing times.

Speed and Efficiency

While both machines offer high efficiency and strong packing capacity, horizontal flow wrappers have a clear advantage in terms of speed. HFFS machines can pack a large number of products in a short time, making them especially useful for high-volume applications. Servo drives, sometimes called amplifiers, enable HFFS machines to maintain precise control at high speeds.

Packaging Format

Both systems allow for flexibility in packaging formats, but horizontal flow wrappers permit a greater variety of types and closures. While VFFS machines can accommodate bags of multiple sizes and styles, HFFS machines can accommodate pouches, cartons, sachets, and heavier bags with nozzles or zippers.

Operational Mechanisms and Principles

rice packing in plastic bag on conveyor line

Horizontal and vertical packaging machines have numerous similarities. Both are made of stainless steel, both are suitable for the food and medical industries, and both form, fill, and seal packages in one operation. However, their physical orientation and mode of operation differ.

Explanation of How Each System Operates

HFFS systems move products along a horizontal conveyor belt. To make the pouch, the machine unwinds a roll of packaging film, seals it at the bottom, and then seals it along the sides in the correct shape. Next, it fills the pouch through the top opening.

This stage may include hot fills for heat-processed products, clean fills for non-heat-processed goods, and ultra-clean fills for cold-chain distribution. Finally, the machine seals the product with the proper closure, such as zippers, nozzles, or screw caps.

VFFS machines work by pulling a roll of film through a tube, sealing the tube at the bottom to form a bag, filling the bag with the product, and sealing the bag on the top, which forms the bottom of the next bag. Finally, the machine cuts the bottom seal in the middle to separate the bags into individual packages.

A principal difference from horizontal machines is that vertical machines rely on gravity to fill the packaging, dropping the product into the bag from above.

Which System Requires a Higher Initial Investment: Vertical or Horizontal?

Whether you choose a vertical or horizontal packing machine, costs will vary depending on each system’s size, features, capabilities, and customization. However, most industry insiders consider VFFS the most cost-effective packaging solution. But that’s only true if they work for your product. In the end, the right system for you is the one that fits your needs and optimizes your production line.

What Are the Ongoing Maintenance Costs Associated With Each System?

Beyond the initial price, all packing systems require ongoing cleaning, maintenance, and repairs. However, VFFS machines also have the edge here, as they are less complicated and need less maintenance. Unlike horizontal packaging systems, vertical baggers can only form one package type and only have one filling station.

Factors Influencing the Choice Between Vertical and Horizontal Systems

employee working in chocolate coating machine

When looking at vertical vs. horizontal form-fill systems, evaluating the following factors can help you choose the right one for your needs:

Type of Product Being Packaged

For starters, what types of products are you packaging? If you’re packing muffins, cakes, or candy bars, HFFS is ideal. However, if you manufacture pasta, spices, or chips, you may want to choose VFFS. Vertical baggers are typically better for anything difficult to handle manually, including liquids, loose items, and sticky or doughy products.

Production Volume and Speed Requirements

Although horizontal packaging machines cost more to purchase and run, they make up for this in production speed. If your business has high output demands and needs high packaging capacity, you can recoup your expenses quickly.

For example, high-speed HFFS systems can deliver 300 pouches per minute. Compared to pre-made pouches, the cost savings of HFFS film-roll pouches alone allow many businesses to cover their equipment costs in 12 to 18 months.

Standard VFFS systems, on the other hand, produce around 50-70 pouches per minute. You can purchase additional lanes to increase the output, but this may require a customized machine.

Available Space in the Production Facility

Due to their long, horizontal conveyor mechanism, flow wrappers take up a lot of space. If floor space is at a premium in your facility, you may look for more compact VFFS machines — as long as they’re compatible with your product type.

Budget Constraints

Given their complexity, high price point, and ongoing maintenance costs, HFFS machines are better suited to large-scale businesses with a high production output. Comparatively low-budget and low-maintenance, VFFS machines are often better for small and medium-sized businesses.

Can Both Vertical and Horizontal Form Fill Systems Be Automated?

Both HFFS and VFFS machines are assembly-line packaging automation systems designed to increase production speeds, lower labor costs, and reduce human error. They can automate the entire process, including weighing products, forming bags, filling pouches, and sealing individual packages.

Typically, these machines come in automated and semi-automated versions. Semi-automated horizontal systems typically require more manpower than semi-automated vertical baggers, which usually need only a single operator. Increasing automation, including robotics, will likely further streamline packaging in the future.

Common Challenges and Solutions of the Two Systems

technician holding his toolbox

Just as each packaging solution has advantages, each type of machine has challenges.

Maintenance Issues

Although horizontal systems typically require more maintenance than vertical systems, both types of machines suffer from periodic problems. For example, the film may not track properly, the product may get trapped in the seal, or bag lengths may vary widely.

Solutions to these issues include investing in operator training, conducting preventative maintenance and cleaning, and knowing when to call a professional for assistance.

Product Changeovers

Whenever you are changing machines to accommodate different packages or products, production often comes to a halt. A faster changeover means increased efficiency and more money in your pocket.

No matter which type of machine you choose, look for one that facilitates easy and quick changeovers. Some HFFS machines even come with two forming stations and two sealing stations so that you can change from one sized package to another automatically with zero downtime.

Operator Training and Skill Requirements

HFFS machines are larger, have more complexity, feature multiple filling stations, and produce more than one type of packaging. As a result, they often require higher levels of operator training and skill. In contrast, most VFFS machines have a user-friendly control panel that even first-time operators can usually easily understand.

What Packaging Automation Solution Is Right for You?

If you’re still wondering about vertical vs. horizontal form fill systems, contact the experts at TDI Packsys today. We offer a range of HFFS and VFFS systems to meet your needs, plus expert guidance to help you choose the right one.

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