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What’s a Vertical Form Fill and Seal Machine, and What’s it For?

NinjaGoat's Vertical Form Fill and Seal machine, freshly-opened.

If you want to put your food product into a single-serving pouch which is customized with your brand, nutritional information, serving suggestions, etc., and you want to do this in high-quantities (3000-20,000 servings per day) and at high speeds (60-100 servings per minute), then a vertical form fill and seal machine might be right for you.

What is a Vertical Form Fill and Seal Machine?

As the name would imply, a Vertical Form Fill and Seal machine does three things, in a specific way:

  • It forms packages or pouches out of a flexible feedstock – usually a film mounted on a roll
  • It fills those pouches with a material or product
  • It seals them, usually air-tight
  • It is arranged vertically, so that the functions listed above occur from top to bottom

Generally speaking, VFFS machines are separated into two general categories:

  • Those that fill packages with liquids or pastes
  • Those that fill packages with powders or other dry ingredients

The distinction is important because the machines are not interchangeable. A paste/liquid-filling machine will use a piston pump (powered either electrically or pneumatically, with an air compressor). A powder filling machine will generally rely on gravity to do the work of dropping ingredients into the pouches.

Costs vary widely. You can buy a Chinese-made machine for less than $3000, including the cost of shipping it to the US. You can also spend upwards of $50,000 or more for an American-made machine. One is not necessarily better or worse – for a Chinese-(or Indian-, or Pakistani-) made machine, you are trading cost for flexibility and… ease of use. Also, as is the case with going overseas for a product or service, you are going to need to know exactly what you want the machine to do, and how it should do it, if you expect to get something that works for you “out of the box.” An American manufacturer will likely be able to consult extensively with you, and customize their machine to do exactly what you want, at high-speed, with high-precision, rather flawlessly.

Often, and especially for small food makers who are just beginning to move into packaging automation, this isn’t really a choice you get to make. Usually the choice is, “a $3000 foreign-made machine, or keep doing it manually for a couple more years.”