Should I choose a premade pouch packing machine or a form fill seal machine?

Danielle Ohl

on-one-hand.jpgSo you've decided to look into adding automatic flexible packaging machines to your operations.

You've been considering your options when it comes to machinery, perhaps speaking to some different packaging equipment manufacturers about your needs. Now comes a major decision point: How do you narrow down which packaging equipment is right for your business?

It really boils down to one important question: Do you want to create the package at your facility or use bags that are already premade? This answer will lead you in one of two directions: Form fill seal machines (creates, fills, and seals the package) or pouch packing machines (fill and seals premade bags).

Not sure which way to go? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself:

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1. How much waste and scrap are you prepared to deal with?

When operating a FORM FILL SEAL (FFS) PACKAGING MACHINE, you become your own bagmaker. A large roll of packaging film, called rollstock, is delivered to your facility. You are responsible for loading that roll of film onto a packaging machine that will create your bags. During the package creation process, excess packaging material will be concentrated in your facility, with your company assuming costs for its disposal. FFS packaging machinery will also create waste (both packaging and product) during machine set-up, calibration, and changeover.

On the other hand, if you choose to utilize premade bags with a pouch packing machine, scrap is disposed of off-site by the film company that creates your bags. When filling and sealing these bags on a premade pouch machine, you can set-up, calibrate, and perform changeovers without running product, allowing you to recycle the pouches and use them for final production. In theory, you could have zero waste on a premade pouch machine

2. How fast do you need to package your product?

If packaging speed is your foremost consideration, form fill seal machinery will often beat premade pouch filling and sealing equipment. Packaging World's Flexible Packaging Playbook explains that "form fill seal, whether horizontal or vertical, is dedicated. It is capable of considerably higher volumes and faster speeds."

New technologies in pouch packing machinery, like Viking's proprietary developments in fully robotic infeed, as well as Allen Bradley components and servo drives, are quickly increasing speeds of automatic pouch filling machines to rival the throughput of some VFFS machines. 

In the world of packaging, increased speeds can sometimes mean sacrificing some flexibility: Bag styles must be more simplistic when packaging at high speeds and initial investment requirements are often a fair amount higher when purchasing packaging machines optimized for speed.

Remember, faster isn't always better. You must consider the needs of your unique application when deciding on flexible packaging equipment. While speed is important, you may find that it is not the most important aspect of your packaging project. 

3. How much are you willing to spend on packaging equipment and materials?

The cost of packaging materials is dependent on many variables and is hard to estimate. But in working with our film supplier partners, we find that premade bags usually cost more than rollstock film when considering cost per impression. 

Don't let the higher cost necessarily scare you off of premade bags, though. Rollstock film may seemingly cost less, but that's because the user assumes the responsibility of paying for things like scrap and the labor needed to properly set up, run, and changeover rollstock on a form fill seal machine.

However, rollstock is much more flexible in the sense that is not preformed into a specific bag size or type. "Rollstock for form fill seal packaging machinery is inventory that can be used for multiple bag sizes, etc., whereas using premade bags can potentially leave you with a lot of inventory for a discontinued product," explains Packaging World's Flexible Packaging Playbook.

When it comes to packaging equipment, a premade pouch machine can require a higher initial investment than a form fill seal packaging machine. As with every capital purchase, what you pay upfront is important, but many other factors will impact the packaging equipment's total cost of ownership over the long term. Look beyond initial purchase price to get a full picture of what you are buying.

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4. How technically trained is your staff?

When utilizing a form fill seal packaging machine, you create your own bags in-house. Your employees will assume the 'bagmaker' roles necessary to ensure proper machine setup and changeover, including loading rollstock through the film path and ensuring accurate film tracking and proper seals. This requires a more extensive level of technical knowledge and training. But once a form fill seal machine is set up and running, it just keeps running with very minimal monitoring.

When working with premade bags, an expert film supplier fabricates and ships the pouches to your facility, and your employees simply load them into the machine's bag magazine, requiring much less technical expertise. With modern infeed technologies like robotic pick and place systems, manual labor is cut even more, so a single entry-level worker can effectively load and operate a pouch packing machine on their own. But keep in mind this person needs to tend to the machine fairly often to load more bags.

5. How many different bag types and styles do you have?

According to Packaging World's Flexible Packaging Playbook, if you will be making many different pouch sizes, shapes, or styles and need to change over a number of times in the same day, the automatic pouch packing machine is better suited to the short runs and flexibility you require.

If you have longer runs and higher output, and only one to four standard bag sizes or styles, a form fill seal packaging machine is the better option.

Final Recommendations

As with many decisions, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to selecting flexible packaging machinery. Your choice of packaging equipment must take into consideration many factors that will be unique to your packaging project:

  • Requirements of your marketing department, such as bag style, advertising area, aesthetic appeal, and shelf presence.
  • Requirements of your consumer base, both present and future. Consider things like portability, convenience, resealable and easy-open options, and the message you want your packaging to convey.
  • Logistical considerations, like weight and shape of your packaged product and how that relates to shipping costs. Also consider how easy and efficient it will be to pack and palletize your packages for shipment. 
  • The technical experience of your machine operators, production staff, and maintenance crew. Are you looking for a machine that will complement your current staff's technical abilities, or are your equipment considerations independent of workforce implications, realizing you may have to invest in new and possibly higher-paid staff?
  • The constraints of cost and budget that are set forth by company leadership.

Plan your next packaging machine project

Is your packaging automation project more complicated than you expected? Have no fear, we're here to help! Download our free packaging equipment project planner to nail down every last detail:

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Originally published 11/23/2016, updated 9/17/2019.


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