Packaging Machinery


Packaging brings together scientific principles with practical technology and creative design. Packaging has a primary role in the route to market from the production line, through the logistics chain, and right up to the point of sale and home delivery.

What machines are used for packaging?

Packaging machinery covers a growing range of different technologies, with equipment for all budgets from simple manual systems to high capacity packing lines. The most sophisticated systems are fully automated and take unwrapped products through to primary and secondary packaging, to stacking pallets ready for shipping.

PPMA Members produce packaging solutions for a huge number of businesses. Their expertise on different types of equipment and services make the PPMA an invaluable resource for companies planning to invest in new packaging equipment. Here we look at the types of equipment they provide.

Wrapping Machinery

Wrapping machines use flexible packaging materials for a vast number of products to protect them and to facilitate handling. Plastic film is the most widely utilised wrapping material, and paper and foil are also common.

In Shrink Wrapping Machinery, plastic film is loosely placed around a product or package, then shrunk to a tight fit in a heat tunnel or heat chamber. Stretch wrapping also uses plastic film, but with elastic properties which form a complete, sealed layer. Flow Wrapping Machinery brings products on a conveyor system into film sleeves which are then sealed at both ends to form a package. Sealing packs is often through the application of heat, gum or crimping pressure.

Filling Machines

Filling machines are a core feature of food packaging equipment. For many products, single or multiple nozzles are used to fill jars, cartons, trays and other containers. Viscous products can be handled by vacuum filling machines, while for the beverages liquid filling machines are used. The process is either gravity fed, or is driven by pumping machines. FFS (form fill seal) equipment begins with packaging material which is formed into a bag, pouch or pack and is then filled with the product before being sealed in a semi-automatic or automatic process.

Labelling Machinery

Labelling machines allow packaging to carry important information for retailers, retail customers, logistics operations and management information systems (MIS). Labels are either pressure sensitive or are made to adhere with wet glue.

The function of labels is to carry:

  • branding
  • promotional messages
  • product information
  • barcodes

In addition, labels can be used for tamper proofing and security purposes. Packaging can also be overprinted with specific information such as best before dates, batch number and sequence number.

The main types of equipment used in labelling include Pressure Sensitive Labelling Machines, Wet Glue Labelling Machines, Label Rewinder Machines, Laser Marking Machines and Laser Coders, Label Dispensing Machinery and In-Mould Labelling Machinery. There is also an important market in Label Design Software.

Cartoning Machines

Cartoning machines use light, paper-based board to form a package for a wide variety of goods in many sectors including food, drink, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and household products. The process begins with Carton Erecting Machines. Flat carton board is folded to form a sleeve for products such as tray-packed ready meals, or a container to be filled with a variety of loose, dry products such as tea, coffee, cereals and rice. Form fill seal (FFS) machines close cartons ready for despatch or further wrapping. Heavier products need stronger materials and fall into the category of cases rather than cartons.

Pharmaceutical packaging equipment

Pharmaceutical packing machines are designed for the specific requirements of the sector. In addition to handling products as diverse as aerosols, tablets, capsules, ointments and powders, the packing of pharmaceuticals necessitates rigorous cleaning and hygiene processes, including sterilisation. Similar rigour is needed for filling, labelling and inspection. Blister packs are the most common type of packaging for pills and capsules. The technology behind blister packs is thermoform heat sealing.

Conveyors for packaging systems

Conveyors are an essential part of packaging systems. They deliver unwrapped goods and components from a manual or automated feed into the packaging line. Vibratory conveyors oscillate to maintain the flow of powders and small solids and are widely used in food packaging.

Inspection Equipment

Inspection machines are designed to ensure the quality, consistency and integrity of products, components and packages. They have a vital role in ensuring that products are not contaminated, and in minimising wastage of imperfect packages at a later stage of production.

Inspection technologies include weighing, metal detection, X-ray and vision systems and the range of inspection equipment includes Checkweighing Machines and Colour Sorting Machines.

Palletising Equipment

Palletising machines are a feature of many packing, warehousing and logistics operations. The equipment can increase the efficiency and accuracy of loading pallets, and keep breakages through dropped packs to a minimum. Unloading pallets, or depalletising, can benefit from the same advantages. The highest levels of automation are seen in Robot Palletiser Machinery which incorporates multi-axis programmable robots to undertake the lifting and placement of products of different shapes, sizes and weights.

Group Packing

Group packing machinery brings together a group of products in a single package. The processes include container erection with the insertion of dividing walls if required. Packing machinery will perform the tasks of gluing, taping, stapling or lidding, as well as loading and unloading containers.

What is the best packaging machine?

Investing in new packaging machinery is a major investment decision. With continuous, new developments in all types of packaging equipment, it pays to research the options for your business today, and for the future.

Many equipment manufacturers have developed machines that are flexible enough to cope with significant and rapid changes in demand for different types of goods, in different volumes. Flexibility can be a route to increased return on investment in new machinery.

At the same time, machinery exists for very specific purposes – cigarettes and tobacco, ready meals, sandwiches or vaping liquids are some of many examples. Specialist machinery is likely to operate at maximum efficiency with minimal wastage for specific products.

There are also different ways to invest in packaging machinery. Outright purchase is one route, but increasingly lease deals are being used to finance new equipment, minimising capital outlay as well as creating opportunities for moving on to newer machinery when appropriate.

How many types of packaging machines are there?

Packaging machines have been developed for every category and sub-category of product, so in total there is an exponential number of types of machine. However, they all fall into two principal types: primary and secondary. Primary packaging is the packing material that contains the product itself, such as a foil wrapper on confectionery, a bag for breakfast cereal, or a can for a beverage. Secondary packaging refers to the next layer of packaging material such as film wrap around confectionery, or a carton for bags of cereal, or a paperboard tray and shrink film for a group of canned drinks.

What are the different types of food packaging?

The food sector covers a wide range of food types. Fresh foods include meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables. There is also a multiplicity of frozen foods as well as confectionery, chocolate, bakery, ready meals, charcuterie, cereals and spreads. Beverages also fall within the general food and grocery sector and include soft drinks, beer, wine and spirits. 

Each type of product involves specific forms of processing, but by contrast, there are many examples of a common approach to packaging. Shrink wrapping is very widely used because it works so well with many different shapes and sizes. Flow wrapping works effectively for products such as tea bags, biscuits and chocolate bars. Filling machines are an integral part of packing liquid and viscous products, as well as loose and granular foods. Cartoning is used throughout the food sector for shelf-ready packaging in lightweight boxes. Labelling and inspection machines are also deeply embedded in food packaging operations. 

How much does a packaging machine cost?

The cost of packaging equipment varies with the type of materials and technology used, and the size of the machinery. Simple entry level machines for small, low volume packaging operations can be in the low hundreds of pounds. At the top end of the market, fully automated systems can come with a bill in the high tens of thousands of pounds, or even more. Leasing is an increasingly popular option for capital equipment and is a route to explore for packing solutions.

For a complete guide to packaging machinery, see our comprehensive guide Machinery Explained. For details of packaging equipment and services from PPMA member companies, search for relevant information in Machinery Finder.