How a vacuum packaging machine works

How a vacuum packaging machine works

Vacuum packers can make a huge difference in the quality of your product. From food freshness to electronics organisation (protection?), this style of packaging is continually growing in popularity. And it’s not just large operations that have access to this equipment - New Zealand’s ever-expanding small business community are making use of smaller benchtop vacuum packers. 

In this article we explore how these machines work. This will hopefully give you some useful information to determine whether vacuum packaging is right for your application.

The basics of vacuum packaging

At its simplest level, vacuum packers remove air from a packaged item, then seal it closed. The benefits of doing so include extending the shelf life of the item(s), where food that’s been freshly caught or processed can be preserved during transportation. In New Zealand this can include things like freshly processed produce, meat like lamb and seafood that’s been caught recently. 

There’s also the matter of keeping the contents protected. Because a vacuum packaged item has no pockets of air, there are fewer ways the bag can be accidentally damaged or opened in transit or handling. This tight seal can also be an advantage from a space perspective; more product can be stacked and shipped in a box with the help of vacuum packing. There’s a reason why some choose to vacuum pack their clothing before packing their luggage!

The list of things that our customers use their vacuum packing machines for is too long for this article. But typical use cases include:

  • Meat like whole chickens, lamb, fish, beef
  • Cheese and dairy products
  • Meal prep and frozen meals
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit 
  • Medical supplies and pharmaceuticals
  • Fragile electronic components such as computer parts, circuit boards etc
  • Automotive components including small items like bolts, bearings and spare parts.
  • Clothing for transport, protection and storage - commercially and personally
  • Bedding
  • Scientific purpose like samples, chemicals and instruments

These are just a sampling of the many uses for vacuum packing.

Parts of a typical vacuum packaging machine

Vacuum packers come in a variety of formats and features, but there is some fundamental technology involved with most machines. 

The vacuum sealer bags are used to package up your item, whatever this may be. They are made from materials that are designed to protect the contents, while still delivering a strong seal once the air is removed. There are different sizes of sealer bags to suit different needs. It’s important to choose packaging that will ensure a tight seal inside the vacuum packer and not leave too little space between the contents and the edge of the bag. 

The vacuum pump removes air from the package so it’s completely sealed with no pockets of space that can lead to degradation of the contents faster. Once activated, the pump creates a vacuum inside the bag with the item by removing air. Air surrounding the product, or even in the item itself is pulled out of the packaging. 

Control panels on vacuum packing machines have settings to control the vacuum level which can depend on your use case. Enduro machines have programmable settings to help you quickly achieve a proven setting time and time again.

Chambers in vacuum sealers refer to the area where the package is placed during operation. When buying a vacuum packer, it’s always worth checking the chamber size dimensions, so you know you’ll have room for whatever it is you need to seal. 

The sealing bar is a key part of a successful vacuum packed product. After the vacuum process is complete the sealing bar with heat will melt the open end of the bag, fusing the edges and creating an airtight seal. The bar then cools down and releases the package, ready for storing or sending.

There will be some other parts of a machine depending on the model and design. This includes emergency stops and integration with other factory equipment.

The vacuum packaging process

So, what’s the usual process to vacuum package your item? Here are some of the most important steps to get right.

Pack the product

Make sure the item is clean and prepared as intended before placing it into the bag. Take care to choose the right size of bag that enables you to easily fit the product inside, leaving enough space for sealing and to not squash the contents in order to fit. Don’t overfill the seal bag as it can overflow into the chamber and compromise the seal performance. 

If you’re packing something that is very soft or has liquidy contents in an external vacuum sealer, you might want to consider freezing these slightly before vacuum sealing them. This will help reduce the likelihood of loose contents being pulled into the sealer during the process. 

Place the bag in the chamber

Now you are ready to place your vacuum seal bag into the vacuum packing machine’s chamber. Here the bag should be evenly placed in the chamber - not towards one specific side and ideally as flat as possible. Make sure the end of the bag is placed centred in the middle of the sealing bag for the cleanest seal. Try to avoid the end of the bag extending beyond the sealing bar as this can cause sealing challenges (And not look as tidy!). 

Re-check your contents to make sure they’re  positioned evenly and as you want them presented.

Remove the air (activate the vacuum)

Once you’ve lined things up, you can get underway with the vacuum packaging. Each machine has its own settings and features, so you’ll want to consult your user manual in the first instance. The process will typically involve choosing an appropriate setting and then pressing go. The machine will pull the set amount of air from the bag and in moments turn your loose contents in bags into tightly vacuum packed bags.

Seal and cool the package

Your machine should seal the bags during its operation, automatically. The heat will seal the bag’s end and cool it so you end up with a safely contained product.

Store, sell or ship 

Your vacuum packed item is now ready to be stored away neatly, sold to customers and shipped wherever it needs to go. 

Types of vacuum packaging machines

Vacuum sealing machines have a number of designs to suit certain needs and products. A popular type is the chamber variant where the entire bag is placed inside the machine’s Chamber. Chamber vacuum sealers evacuate air from the chamber, leaving the air pressure equal both inside and outside the pouch and keeping liquids securely inside the pouch. The pressurisation also shortens marination, pickling and infusion processes. These are good for any contents that include liquid as the pressure is kept consistent inside and outside the bag during sealing which avoids drawing the liquid or soft materials out.  A chamber vacuum packer usually delivers a stronger vacuum than the external variant. 

If your needs are for personal or small-scale use and you don’t work with liquid, an external vacuum sealer could be worth considering. These machines are typically smaller as they don’t have a large chamber for the packaging to sit inside. Instead the open end of the vacuum bag is placed into the machine where it suctions air from the bag and  seals it. It is essential to use the correct bags with an external vacuum sealer as the channels in vacuum sealer bags assist with suctioning out the air.

There are also both benchtop and inline variants of vacuum packing machines. For most smaller businesses the benchtop format is more practical. Even larger businesses who have inline packaging equipment sometimes opt for a series of benchtop machines to complement or simply back up the inline machine in the event of downtime.

Maintenance and cleaning

Keeping your vacuum packing machine functioning day-in, day-out requires some maintenance and cleaning. Cleaning is especially important for food applications. Each machine will have its own unique maintenance guidelines. Enduro can provide servicing and maintenance on our range, and you can also refer to equipment documentation to understand what components should be cleaned, how regularly and the best way to do it. 

Whatever the model, always make sure your machine is off and unplugged before cleaning.

Looking to get a vacuum packaging machine? 

  • Recap of the importance of vacuum packaging.
  • Final thoughts on choosing the right vacuum packaging machine.
  • Browse our machines, get a quote or reach out for help.

Vacuum packing delivers a hygienic, secure and nicely presented product to your customer. You may even find like many others that a vacuum packing machine at home for domestic purposes is a wise choice. If you have a need to regularly seal items, especially perishable, explore our range, buy online or reach out to us for a quote.