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The mechanics of ready meal packaging are fundamentally the same whether the meals are chilled, frozen or ambient. The basic pack is a tray made from plastic, ovenable board, or aluminium foil, which is fed through a machine on which it is filled with food product and then sealed. The packed meal is then refrigerated, frozen, or retorted according to whether it is to be marketed as chilled, frozen, or ambient.
TWO MAIN PACKAGING systems are used for ready meals -- tray/fill/seal using prefabricated trays and thermoform-fill-seal (TFFS) where the trays are formed from reels of plastics material then filled and sealed on the same machine.
THE TRAY/FILL/SEAL system is widely used and several manufacturers produce machines for this purpose.
The Mondini system, which has been mentioned in previous articles in Packaging, is distributed in the UK and Eire by Peter Holland who are also responsible for the installation of the machines and provision of back-up facilities. Over 60 Mondini lines have been installed over the past three years for leading tray meal manufacturers such as Birds Eye, R. F. Brooks, Northern Foods, Oscar Meyer, Bluecrest Foods, UB Ross Young, and many others.
The complete range incorporates dispensing, filling, topping, dosing, closing, and sleeving. Speeds range from two to 300 containers per minute with automatic filling tailored in size and layout to suit the customer's process. At the less expensive end of the market Mondini can offer entry-level hand-operated systems such as the CV/MT which enables thermal closure of plastics trays with polypropylene top films followed by the model CV/MBT which will close the full range of thermally bondable top webs. Where more automated systems are required Mondini offers the semi-automatic machine Model CV/MBS which allows sealing of up to one, two, or four trays per operation and with the facility to gas flush or vacuumise the container as required.
The Mondini fully-automatic range encompasses the majority of their installations in the UK. Available for low speeds are single-head machines operating at 25 containers per minute. These machines, model CVS/MT, consist of a tray dispenser, three metres of filling conveyor, and a single closer: they cost around 30 000 [pounds].
For speeds ranging from 40-300 trays per minute Mondini recommends the |Compact' range of equipment which allows sealing of from two to ten trays per cycle on a single or twin track basis.
A machine closing three trays per operation incorporates a dispenser and filling conveyor, has a basic price of 50 000 [pounds] and operates at up to 50 trays per minute.
Figure 1 shows a Compact twin pack machine, and Figure 2 is a block diagram of a typical complete tray filling, closing and outer packaging design based on a Compact machine. Although it may be necessary to include one or two hand-filling stations, the principal objective is to use hand filling as little as possible.
Among special feeding machines which can be fitted into the line are:
* DTT/50P - a volumetric doser for diced vegetables, …