Cup sealing machines are used in small and large businesses for leak-free lidding of containers of fluid and viscous liquid. They are an essential part of a liquid packaging process, and are installed either as standalone equipment or part of an integrated packaging process.
What are the different types of cup sealing machine?
Small businesses which use standalone tabletop machines include catering stalls and vans, pop-ups, cafés and bars. Tabletop equipment is used to apply a film seal on the rim of a cup of various drinks to take away, or to consume on the premises. The film is heat-sealed and prevents leakage and spillage, and can be used instead of a pressed-on plastic lid. The costs of film are significantly lower than plastic lids, and is more reliable than manually applied lids, which, if not fitted carefully, can fail to prevent leaks and spills.
Larger businesses, including major food producers, use cup and container sealing within their packaging lines. In addition to film, aluminium foils are also used, sometimes with a plastic lid as well. The sealing unit is usually part of a fully integrated a workflow which includes:
- dispensers of nested containers
- arms or conveyors for positioning the containers under filling units
- pumps and dosing controls
- film application and sealing
- transport mechanisms for advancing the sealed containers to end of line operations
Automatic cup sealing machines in larger scale operations allow increased productivity and accuracy.
The rise of tabletop cup seal machines
One of the drivers for individual cup seal machines has been the growing demand for bubble tea. This flavoured combination of milk, fructose, fresh fruit and chewy tapioca pearls came into being in Taiwan in the 1980s, and has since spread throughout the Far East and into Australia, the USA and Great Britain.
Standalone machines are designed to hold a filled cup of liquid and solid ingredients while a layer of plastic film is placed over the rim of the cup. A relatively low level of heat seals the film to the rim. The importance of sealing for bubble tea preparation is that the ingredients need to be shaken together to mix and aerate the drink. For small catering operations, the drinks are shaken by hand. A small hole is made in the centre of the film, and a thick straw is supplied to pierce fully through the film to allow the customer to enjoy the mix of liquid and small solids.
Entry level sealers require manual operation for cup by cup sealing, and provide a low cost entry point for very small catering businesses and start-ups. Where larger throughput is required tabletop machine options include multi-cup holders for sealing a tray full of cups at the same time.
Other types of equipment used in this context can include mechanical shakers, dispensers and equipment for making tapioca pearls. By introducing any or all of these machines, businesses can increase the speed, capacity and efficiency of their operation.
Cup sealing with film is used in catering is also used for smoothies, soft drinks, hot drinks and draught beers. Cup sealing can also be used in artisan businesses for viscous cosmetic products.
Cup sealing for larger food businesses
Cup sealing is used in larger volume food businesses for dairy products such as viscous yoghurt, yoghurt drinks, mayonnaise, soft cheeses, cream and milk. It is also widely applied as part of the packaging process for deli products including hummus, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and dips.
Plastic films are in widespread use, but for more robust packaging foil is used. Foil is stronger than plastic films and is also available in vast array of colours and finishes, allowing for brand enhancement and messaging.
The workflow for industrial scale cup sealers begins with pre-made plastic cups or tubs taken from a magazine or stack. Denesting equipment separates individual containers. The containers are then placed individually under single filling heads, or more commonly in groups under multiple heads. The means of placement is usually either by an intermittent motion carousels or in-line transport mechanisms such as conveyors, or holding arms with mechanical grippers.
Each cup or tub is filled with the product from a tank, cylinder or hopper, by means of various forms of pumps. The dosage is measured by volume, weight or level. Once filled, the containers are heat-sealed with film or foil, with or without a plastic lid.
Once filled and sealed, containers are transported along the line for secondary packaging in trays or cartons which are commonly shrink-wrapped for secure transportation and ease of handling.
What materials are used for cup sealing?
The material requirements for cup sealing cover the container and the lidding material. Most commonly containers are made from PP (polypropylene) or PET (polyethylene terephthalate) as are the plastic films used.
The performance of both materials is comparable, although PET is more rigid and stronger. PET also comes in a huge range of colours and finishes, and is also available in the form of transparent cups and trays. Transparent packaging is favoured by businesses which believe a view of the product adds to its consumer appeal. PET cups, tubs and containers are also thermoformed, allowing for great flexibility in shapes and styles. A thermoforming station can also be a feature of a fully integrated packaging line.
While PET is recyclable, RPET contains 30%-70% of recycled PET, so has superior environmental credentials while performing in the same way as standard PET.
PP is also recyclable, and because it is usually lighter and less dense than PET, it has less impact on the environment, including in energy usage for transportation. Colour options are more limited than PET, and is usually opaque. It also has the ability to withstand higher temperatures, which helps for cleaning and re-use.
Paper is a further viable alternative for drink cups, and is beginning to make its mark on prepared food packaging. Paper cups can only be sealed with plastic film if the paper rim has a plastic or wax coating.
Where to buy a cup sealing machine
As with other packaging equipment, there is a buoyant market for businesses selling cup sealers. However, as with any equipment purchase it is essential to establish what you want to achieve with your cup sealing equipment, and to research your options.
Many successful equipment purchases begin with a search through PPMA Machinery Finder, where buyers can see a full range of suppliers and explore their products and services. Full contact details are also provided.
The annual PPMA Show allows purchasers to meet suppliers face-to-face, to see working demonstrations, and to network with peers in the packaging industry.
Explore cup sealing machines at PPMA Show.