US 20030009989 A1
Multiple side-by-side packages are produced on a vertical form, fill, and seal machine by using a former/delivery tube assembly designed for this purpose. The front and back surfaces of the package are sealed together to form separate pouches. The technology is extendable to more than two pouches simultaneously and can handle pouches of the same or different sizes and food products that are either the same or unlike.
1. A product package having a first and a second edge opposite each other, said package comprising:
a first pouch;
a second pouch, attached to said first pouch and separated from said first pouch by a first seal;
a second seal that runs across said first edge of said package, perpendicular to and intersecting said first seal; and
a third seal that runs across said second edge of said package, perpendicular to and intersecting said first seal;
wherein said product package is formed from a single sheet of film.
2. The product package of
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8. The of product package of
9. A vertical form, fill, and seal machine having the capability of producing a plurality of side-by-side packages.
10. The vertical form, fill, and seal machine of
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13. The vertical form, fill, and seal machine of
14. The vertical form, fill, and seal machine of
15. A method of packaging products, comprising:
feeding a roll of packaging film into a vertical form, fill, and seal machine such that said packaging film is directed to form a front surface and a back surface for a plurality of pouches;
forming a vertical seal on said packaging film, wherein said vertical seal seals a portion of said front surface to a portion of said back surface;
forming a first horizontal seal on said packaging film; and
after advancing said film a given distance, forming a second horizontal seal on said packaging film;
wherein said vertical seal extends from said first horizontal seal to said second horizontal seal.
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24. A method of packaging products, comprising the steps of:
installing, on a vertical form, fill, and seal machine, a former and multiple delivery tubes designed to produce multiple side-by-side packages;
packaging a plurality of products into side-by-side packages.
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 1. Technical Field
 The present invention relates to packaging of a product on a vertical form, fill, and seal machine, and more particularly to simultaneously forming, filling and sealing two or more packages side-by-side.
 2. Description of Related Art
 Form, Fill, and Seal
 Vertical form, fill, and seal packaging machines are commonly used in the snack food industry for forming, filling, and sealing bags of chips and other like products. One such packaging machine is seen diagrammatically in FIG. 1. This drawing is simplified, and does not show the cabinet and support structures that typically surround such a machine, but it demonstrates the working of the machine well. Packaging film 110 is taken from a roll 112 of film and passed through tensioners 114 that keep it taut. The film then passes over a former 116, which directs the firm into a vertical tube around a product delivery cylinder 118. As the tube is pulled downward by drive belts 120, the vertical tube of film is sealed along its length by a vertical sealer 122, forming a back seal 124. The machine then applies a pair of heat-sealing jaws 126 against the tube to form a transverse seal 128. This transverse seal 128 acts as the top seal on the bag 130 below the sealing jaws 126 and the bottom seal on the bag 132 being filled and formed above the jaws 126. After the transverse seal 128 has been formed, a cut is made across the sealed area to separate the finished bag 130 below the seal 128 from the partially completed bag 132 above the seal. The film tube is then pushed downward to draw out another package length. Before the sealing jaws form each transverse seal, the product to be packaged is through the product delivery cylinder 118 and is held within the tube above the transverse seal 128.
 The material that is fed into the form, fill, and seal machine is typically a packaging film, such as polypropylene, polyester, paper, polyolefin extrusions, adhesive laminates, and other such materials, or from layered combinations of the above. For many food products, where flavor retention is important, a metalized layer will form the innermost layer.
 The form, fill, and seal machines are quite expensive, in the range of $250,000 each, but pay for themselves easily when compared to the cost of pre-formed bags and the machinery to fill them. However, in order to maximize the productivity of the form, fill, and seal machines, it is common for the product delivery tube 118 and former 116 to be made as a unit that is easily interchangeable in less than 15 minutes. The length of the transverse seal can also be changed, by exchanging the sealing jaws, or in some cases, merely by exchanging the facing (the portion of the sealing jaws which actually makes contact with the packaging film). By changing these elements, as well as the width of film roll feeding into the machine and the programming of the machine, one form, fill, and seal machine can handle a number of different products in different size packages, limited primarily by the width of film the machine will handle, the maximum length of bag the machine is designed to handle, and the available former/delivery tube assemblies.
 A popular marketing concept is that of packaging two or more individually sealed items together. These can be, for example, multiple single-servings of one product, or servings of two or more complementary items, such as cheese and crackers. While the marketing idea of multi-packs may be simple, the translation of that idea to current packaging technology can be more difficult. Often, rather than packaging a product into several different packages at the same time, each package is separately produced, as usual, then the various packages are boxed together or over-wrapped to form a multi-pack. It would be preferable to be able to produce multiple packages fastened together for sales, but which could be separated by the consumer for convenience.
 One current solution is the use of a “saddle-bag” pouch, an example of which is seen in FIG. 2. Here, a product is packaged in a twin-pack 210/211,using a pouch configuration. To achieve this packaging end, the transverse seals 212A and 212D at each end of the twin-pack are separated from the transverse seals adjacent to them, but no cut is made between the two transverse seals 212B and 212C that separate bag 210 from bag 211. For convenience to the consumer, perforations 214 are formed in the gap between the two adjacent transverse seals 212B and 212C so that the consumer can separate the two pouches easily.
 This method of packaging is limited. Since there is only one delivery tube, the same product must be packaged in each half of the twin pack. That is, it is not possible to make attached bags containing different products. Neither is it possible to speed up the packaging process. Processes such as creating the transverse seal will take a given amount of time, regardless of whether the bag is 5 inches across or 15 inches. Since the saddle-bag packs must be created and filled individually, it takes twice as long to make a saddle-bag pack as it does to create one regular package of the same size. If bags could be produced side-by-side, the packaging time for a given number of packages would be cut, but that has not been possible with the previous machinery. Further, the programming of the machine (e.g., the length of bag to pull, where to cut or perforate) will handle only segments of packaging of 24 inches or less before the process repeats. This is the maximum length of one impression and limits the size of packages that can be produced in saddlebag packs.
 New methods of producing a multi-pack are desirable to maintain and expand the marketability of snack foods. It would be desirable to be able to package several packages side by side in order to fill them simultaneously and cut the packaging time. It would also be desirable to package different products in this side-by-side process, and to seal each item into an appropriately size pouch, even when that meant creating different sizes of pouches at the same time. Finally, it would be desirable to do all of this using the current form, fill, and seal technology, so that no large capital investments are necessary to use the technology.
 In the present invention, side-by-side multi-packs are produced on a vertical form, fill, and seal machine. A specially designed former/delivery tube assembly shapes the film into side-by-side packages, while separate delivery tubes allow identical or different snack items to be packaged simultaneously. This inventive packaging can allow new methods of presenting foods to the consumer. Various embodiments of the invention will have one or more of the following advantages:
 the products are packaged side-by-side, increasing throughput and saving time;
 different products can be packaged simultaneously, as well as producing multi-packs of the same product;
 the sizes of the different packages can be individually determined to best fit the product; and
 the multi-packs are produced on standard form, fill, and seal machines, requiring only new former/delivery tube assemblies and, when more than two bags are formed side-by-side, additional sealers to form the vertical seals.
 The novel features believed characteristic of the invention are set forth in the appended claims. The invention itself, however, as well as a preferred mode of use, further objectives and advantages thereof, will be best understood by reference to the following detailed description of illustrative embodiments when read in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein:
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a prior art form, fill, and seal machine.
FIG. 2 is a cross-section of a prior art saddle-bag package.
FIGS. 3A and B are front and top views respectively of an exemplary twin-pack produced using a vertical form, fill, and seal machine.
FIG. 4A is a front view of an exemplary former/delivery tube assembly that can be used to package the side-by-side twin-packs of FIGS. 3A and B.
FIG. 4B is a side view of the former/delivery tube assembly of FIG. 4a.
FIG. 5 is a cross-section of the former/delivery tube assembly taken at point 5-5′ of FIG. 4B.
FIG. 6 is a cross-section of the former/delivery tube assembly taken at point 6-6′ of FIG. 4B.
FIG. 7 shows a cross-section of an exemplary former/delivery tube assembly designed to produce a three-pack containing different products.
FIG. 8 shows an exemplary package produced using the former/delivery tube assembly of FIG. 7.
 An exemplary embodiment of the invention will now be discussed with reference to FIGS. 3A and 3B. FIG. 3A is a diagrammatical front view of a twin-pack 310 produced by the assignee of this application on a vertical form, fill, and seal machine. Like the previous bags, a horizontal transverse seal 302, 304 runs all the way across the top and the bottom of the twin-pack. However, the back seal, which seals the two halves of the back together, is replaced by a longitudinal seal 306, which seals each of the two halves of the back to the front of the package, forming two separate pouches 310A, 310B from the packaging film. Longitudinal seal 306 is wide enough that the two pouches 310A, 310B can be separated without destroying the integrity of either pouch, and preferably has a feature to aid the consumer in separating the two bags. This feature can be a line of perforations 308 to tear along, or it can be another, newer means of separation. FIG. 3B is a diagrammatical cross-section of twin-pack 310 at line B-B′. The horizontal transverse seal 302 is seen along the tops of the bags 310A, 310B, which are separated by the longitudinal seal 306.
FIGS. 4A and 4B show a former/delivery tube assembly 400 that was designed to make the twin-packs of FIGS. 3A and 3B. Twin delivery tubes 402 run the length of the assembly to deliver the product into the packages prior to making the final seal. The former 404 provides a curved surface across which the packaging film can be smoothly led into the correct shape around all surfaces of the two delivery tubes 402. In the rear of the assembly, an extension 404E of the former runs behind the delivery tubes in order to provide a support structure for the formation of the longitudinal seal. In the middle of the former extension 404E, a strip of teflon 406 provides a no-stick surface against which the sealer can press the film to create the longitudinal seal. Support posts 410 provide support for the structure and a handle by which the assembly can be held when installing or removing the assembly, while stabilizer bars 412 provide additional stability.
FIG. 5 is a cross-section of the former/delivery tube assembly discussed above, taken at line 5-5′ in FIG. 4B, although it is seen as if one were standing in front of the machine. It is important to note that the delivery tubes 402 are not completely cylindrical, as were the prior art tubes, but are somewhat teardrop shaped, with their narrowest points near the sealing area 502. In this particular embodiment, the delivery tubes 402 have a circular cross-section through 255° of the circle, with 105° degrees forming the narrowing portion of the teardrop shape. At this level of the assembly, the two delivery tubes 402, joined at the midpoint of the assembly, are completely surrounded by the former tube 404T, which forces the film material to maintain the flattened area where the seal will be made.
FIG. 6 is a cross-section of the former/delivery tube assembly, taken at line 6-6′. At this level, the delivery tubes 402 are no longer joined to each other, while only the extension 404E of the former tube remains along the back of the tubes 402. As previously mentioned, this extension 404E of the former tube provides support against which the longitudinal seal can be formed. A strip of velcro tape 606 is applied down the middle of the former tube extension, to which will be attached a strip of padding having a teflon coating. The teflon surface keeps the film from sticking to the assembly, while the velcro makes the teflon padding easily replaceable.
 When the packaging film is fed into the twin-pack former, the two lateral edges of the material are wrapped around the delivery tubes and approach each other at the midline of the machine, in the seal area 502. These edges can be somewhat overlapped in the final package, or they can meet in a butt joint. In some instances, it can be desirable to bring the two edges of the film close together, but not abutting each other, so that the very middle of the twin-pack is a single layer of film.
 To change from packaging single bags to twin-packs, a machine operator need only change out the current former/delivery tube assembly for an embodiment of the disclosed assembly. Depending on the respective sizes and types of bags being made, it may also be necessary to change out the packaging film, and the sealers or facings. These, however, are changes that the operator performs on a daily basis, and do not disrupt the flow of packaging unduly.
 Once the machine has been changed to accommodate twin packs, the packing process is run as usual, except that product is delivered into both delivery tubes of the assembly. In the presently preferred embodiment, separation of the two pouches, as well as opening of the pouches, is provided by a small vertical cut that extends partially through the horizontal seal area. Preferably, this vertical cut is made by the knife assembly at the same time that the package is separated from the packages either above or below it. Also preferably, the cut is made in the region of a set of laser scorings that help the packaging material to tear in a straight line.
 Alternate Embodiments
 While the embodiment above has been described in terms of two equal-sized packages of identical products, these are certainly not limitations. For instance, the assembly described above can be modified to produce pouches of different sizes, with different products in each pouch. One example would be to package a sample size of a chip having a new seasoning side-by-side with a regular size package of a popular flavor.
 Additionally, the two products to be packaged need not be similar types of foods. For example, a slim tube of a dip can be packaged side-by-side with a wider package of chips, or a dip with pre-cut vegetables. Sauces and other seasonings can be packaged side-by-side with the foods they are served.
 Additionally, this packaging technology can be adapted for more than two packages across. The number of side-by side packages is limited primarily by the size of the form, fill, and seal machine and the width of film that it can handle, so that a machine that can handle wider packaging films could produce greater numbers of side-by-side packages. FIG. 7 shows a cross-section of a former/delivery tube assembly to create a triple-pack having unequal sized pouches. Three delivery tubes are seen, 702A, 702B, and 702C. Tubes 702A and 702C have the teardrop shape seen in the former for the twin pack, while delivery tube 702B maintains a cylindrical outline only in the outer 150°. This figure is shown at the level where the former tubing 704 still surrounds the delivery tubes.
FIG. 8 shows an exemplary package produced using the assembly of FIG. 7. Upper transverse seal 802 and lower transverse seal 804 are standard; longitudinal seals 806 divide the package into pouches 810A, 810B, and 810C. Note that there are three different sized pouches and that they can contain unlike products. It is anticipated that packaging such as this could be used to package an entire meal side-by side. In one exemplary embodiment, pre-cooked rice or noodles are packaged in one pouch, a meat sauce is packaged in a second pouch, and vegetables are packaged in a third package. In this exemplary embodiment, the entire package can be placed in a microwave or in boiling water for heating, after which the foods are removed from the packaging for consumption.
 From the disclosure above, it will be seen that this inventive method of packaging has many advantages over the existing method. In addition to gaining the marketing advantages of multi-packs, the products are packaged side-by-side, increasing throughput and saving time. Additionally, different products can be packaged simultaneously in package sizes determined individually, yet the capital investment to do so is small (on the order of $2,500-5,000 per former/fill tube assembly), as opposed to the cost of the form, fill, and seal machine, which is 100 times more expensive.
 While the invention has been particularly shown and described with reference to a preferred embodiment, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that various changes in form and detail may be made therein without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.