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What’s New in the Teabag Machine Industry?

By Wendy Komancheck

The teabag machine industry continues to evolve to offer improved features and services to their customers around the globe.

Advanced technology, especially with computerized equipment, has eased labor and time in packing tea. Also, newer machines offer more tea packaging opportunities for all shapes and sizes of tea businesses, such as large factories to small tea shops. Companies, both in the U.S. and around the globe, advance their ideas to their customers whether that’s new teabag paper, string, or the machinery itself.

Fres-co System U.S.A.’s Universal Pack Tea Machines
In 1992, Fres-co System U.S.A. (www.fresco.com) based in Telford, Pennsylvania, started representing Universal Pack, which is based in Cattolica, Italy, for coffee and tea packaging machines in North America. Chris Burger, coffee product manager at Fres-co System U.S.A. Inc., says, “As many of our coffee customers also work with tea, we decided to represent a line of machines that could produce both coffee pouches and teabags. Universal Pack was the logical choice to represent as it already had the perfect line of machines that could produce either round or square coffee filter packs for hotel rooms, and [they] had high-speed options for the production of coffee frac-packs. In addition to in-room coffee pouches and high-speed frac-pack machines, the Universal Pack line easily transitioned to produce both large pouches of tea for bulk brewing — think iced tea jugs and single doses of tea. Universal Pack has been producing machinery for more than 30 years, complete with dedicated lines at high speed that can reach 2,000 pouches per minute. They can produce multiple pouch configurations including the classic rectangular-sealed on [all] four sides, or the rounded one with the possibility of adding an aluminum strip for handling it instead of the usual tag or string.”

Burger, who has been with the company for the past 17 years, reports that Universal Pack’s has sold 6,500 machines worldwide throughout the years, and Universal Pack’s factory in Cattolica, has grown to meet the demand, where they serve over 3,000 customers around the globe. “Their factory floor is currently over 10,000 sq. meters. Universal Pack achieved ISO 9001:2000 certification by TÜV in 2001; as a result, all relevant information is archived and easily accessed when required. Over the last few years, they have spent a lot of effort to increase the efficiency of the after-sales office, and the quality of service they provide to customers. In particular, they can easily visualize, by computer, all the characteristics of customers’ machines to solve by telephone, mail, or fax any problems or questions encountered.”

Universal Pack’s new computer systems allow them to have “quick and efficient access to an extensive and comprehensive computerized inventory of every single spare part in their warehouse, which allows for quicker delivery times to customers,” Burger says. “Universal Pack’s 500 sq. meter warehouse currently houses over 60,000 individually coded spare parts.”

Universal Pack works hard to upgrade their tooling machinery. Burger states, “They have continuously upgraded the size, technology and quality of tooling machinery used in their parts manufacturing department, currently over 4,500 sq. meters, and continue to do so to maintain control over all of the crucial parts in their packaging machines.” When it comes to quality assurance, Universal Pack stays on top of their equipment. Burger says, “Universal Pack also possesses extremely sophisticated and precise quality-control equipment and every manufactured part is rigorously tested before it is labeled and stored in the warehouse.” And Universal Pack’s brushless servo-motors save time, maintenance and money spent on spare parts. Burger notes, “Since all operational parameters are electronically managed and self-diagnosed, the efficiency, performance, flexibility and ease-of-use of the machine(s) are all drastically optimized.”

Burger also says that this modern machinery’s ease-of-use allows the operator to control many features of the teabagging process. He states, “This servo-motor technology also allows changes to operational parameters, [such as] pouch length, dose quantity, welding temperatures, production output, sealing, cut and dosing phases, etc. without mechanical intervention and even while continuously running the machine via a high resolution touch screen.”

According to Burger, the other benefits of the Universal Pack system for teabagging include:

  • Modem-mount option for direct remote access to customers’ machines from the factory, greatly simplifying and reducing troubleshooting times. The machines also comply with GMP criteria for cleaning ease and to CE/FDA regulations
  • Various pre-set programs for operational parameters — “As a result, it often becomes a very simple matter to change product, dose or pouch dimensions simply by changing from one pre-set program to another”
  • Increased output speed, decreased down times and maintenance times, which results in “doubly increasing their machines efficiency and productivity”
  • Optional systems to automatically align film reels and keep film tension constant which saves time and staff to produce pouches
  • Complete packaging lines “using pre-glued folded cartons, flat blank cartons or pouches randomly filled into bulk cartons with systems for pouch collection, stacking and link up with the cartoning machine”
  • On-line pouch check-weighing and automatic reject pouches outside preset tolerances: “The check-weighing system feedback this information to auto-regulate the dose with trend control feedback,” Burger states.
Tecnomeccanica SRL: “A Reliable New Partner for the Future”
Luca Diodati, sales director for Tecnomeccanica, www.tecnomeccanica.eu, succinctly explains the mission of Tecnomeccanica’s mission for their teabag machinery: “Our vision is state-of-the-art teabag technology at affordable prices.”

Who is Tecnomeccanica? “A reliable new partner for the future,” is from Tecnomeccanica’s sales literature, updated in January 2009, and reflects the techno-savvy company. The company was founded in 1985, and it’s located in the “packaging valley” of Bologna, Italy. According to Tecnomeccanica’s literature, “This development was originally due to a ‘spin off’ process: New companies have been founded by technical entrepreneurs, coming from larger companies of the same sector.”

Tecnomeccanica SRL has 30 employees. In October 2007, “Tecnomeccanica joined the COESIA Group, a very important industrial group of packaging machinery, tobacco, food [and] confectionary, located in Bologna. The Company ACMA, subsidiary of COESIA, has acquired a significant stake in Tecnomeccanica, with a view to supporting the latter’s growth over the coming years,” says the company profile.

Diodati explains that his company has four tea machines available for sale:

T2 Prima, which is a single chamber teabag machine. It goes at a speed of 250 teabags per minute with string and tag attachments. Diodati says, “The machine can produce teabags with and without string and tag; with and without outer envelopes; and with and without automatic cartoner. Two models [are] available: pre-glued cartons with count from 10-30 bags, [and] flat blank cartoner with count from 10-100 bags. [The] T2 Prima can work also with transparent material in order to match the demand for ‘crystal’ teabags.”

T10 Continua is a double chamber teabag machine, which outputs 500 bags per minute with string and tag attached. According to Diodati, the machine can output bags with or without the outer envelope and has an automatic cartoner, which packages bags from 10-100 teabags. Diodati says, “The machine is available also with automatic splicing for the packaging materials.”

T8 Continua is a new machine, which is slower, but similar to the T10. It can produce up to 400 flow-through teabags per minute with strings and tags attached. Diodati says, “The machine can produce teabags with and without outer envelope; with automatic cartoner, count from 10-100 bags. The machine is available also with automatic splicing for the packaging materials.”

T2 Prima Full Leaf is another new machine from Tecnomeccanica. It’s the same as the T2 Prima, but has a special dosing system for full leaf tea, and it can perform up to 180 strokes per minute, depending on the products and the sizes. “This machine can produce like three Japanese machines,” Diodati says, “but has automatic envelope and cartoner in place. The machine can work also with transparent material in order to match the demand for crystal teabags.”

Diodati further explains that his company’s machines have a unique feature: “Continuous motion for the main machine workflow. This allows a higher speed and a reduction of maintenance costs for the customers. State-of-the-art electronics are used in our machines, for process monitoring, quality control [and] remote assistance.”

When asked about the stability of costs for these machines, Diodati answered, “Costs are slightly increasing due to [the] increase of labor costs. And in some cases, material supply costs [are increasing], but we try to keep prices stable for our customers.”

Diodati says that his company services three types of customers:

Multinationals buying the T10 Continua for “higher production and economy of scale.” Medium producers and contract packers, who buy the T10 Continua, as well as the T8 and T2 Prima are “looking for flexibility and ability to respond to their demanding market”; and Neutraceutical companies, who buy T2 Prima and T2 Prima Full Leaf, for their herbal tea and infusion packaging needs.

Diodati emphasizes that the continuous motion on the main machine’s workflow is a unique feature of Tecnomeccanica’s tea packaging machines. Additionally, Diodati states, “By using heat-sealable papers, we’re able to seal the tag on the string and then attach the string to the filter paper. Product feeding is done continuously, [and] then the bag is closed and sealed. In case of outer enveloped products, the teabag is transferred to the sealing group and then, if required, to the automatic cartoner.” For single chamber machines, they produce 250 bags per minute. And with double chamber tea packaging machines, they output 500 bags per minute.

Diodati comments on how the current global economy is affecting his business, “Even if some customers are worried, it seems that tea consumption in teabags is still increasing. Some smarter customers are taking market share from slower players, so demand for machines is still ongoing. New trends, like leaf tea and infusion dosings, are leading our demand.”

Fuso/Nasa Corporation
“We promote our tea machines under the name of Fuso/Nasa. Fuso Industries is one of the leading tea machinery companies in Japan, and Nasa is their authorized representative overseas. We have been launching new styles and concepts to enjoying tea and coffee,” says Tsutomu Agata, general Manager of Nasa Corporation, www.nasaco.co.jp.

Fuso also specializes in a coffee drip bag in order to allow drinkers to have fresh ground coffee everyday. According to Agata, “It is a product which is positioned between instant and real coffee from grounded coffee. As you can see, from the bags that come from our machines, such as pyramid tea bags and drip bags, Fuso/Nasa pursues methods to have the real taste and aroma instantly from brewed tea and coffee.”

Also, Agata says that Makoto Murano founded Nasa in 1977. Suzuki of Yuwa Industries founded Fuso Industries in 1988. “At present, we are based in Tokyo, Japan, including a subsidiary company in Beijing, China. We also have agents in many areas around the world.”

Fuso Company specializes in tea and coffee machinery, which includes teabag packaging, automatic loose and bulk tea packaging and vacuum gas filling machines. Agata states, “They [Fuso] have developed their machines, concentrating on the art of tea and coffee packaging. “Fuso Industries is placed in Kikugawa Shizuoka Prefecture, which is a land with rich and full-flavored tea plantations. This environment gives Fuso Industries opportunities to consider tea, which makes them care about the real flavor of tea.”

Agata explains what’s new with Fuso’s tea machinery is in the areas of technology that allows various types of teas to be packed in teabags. He states, “To pack herbal, fruit, black and flavored teas into teabags, we have well-developed the ultrasonic technology for tea packaging and gained special know-hows such as the following: Load-cell weighing system — Compared to volumetric weighing widely used, this weighing system enables the operator to weigh and pack specialized tea accurately and without damaging the tea ingredient; Usage of clear, transparent filter material — The ultrasonic sealing and cutting unit has brought teabags with new types of filters into the market, such as mesh filter with which customers can enjoy teabags while seeing inside the bags. Also, the mesh filter, with high opening ratio, brings in excellent brewing; and the shape of the teabag — Our special machine unit has enabled us to make a 3-D pyramid tea bag, in which there is much more space for tea ingredients to move around as they do in tea pots. The 3-D shape also enables or allows the tea material to spread in the teabag — for tea must have space for brewing. As a result, many types of teas, which were impossible to pack into teabags, can now be made into teabags with our technologies. Now we can pack specialized, leaf, green, Chinese, fruit and herbal teas.”

Agata further states that Fuso accommodates clients in over 30 countries that range from big tea packaging companies to small tea shops, who custom package their own teas. He says, “Many of our clients are using our machines to pack their specialty tea into teabags. Among our clients… companies who run their original brand and co-packers. Many of them are introduced to our machines for the first time in their companies. Our machine is compact, but multifunctional to comply with various types of teabags in one set that can give our clients cost-performance ratio with high-added value. Our machines are welcomed by clients who do not have large factories.

“One characteristic of our machines is that the tagging and the bag packing units are separated. We believe this is one of Fuso’s achievements to have separated packing and tagging processes.” Agata explains that the initial investment by a customer is “lower than the ordinary way of teabag production. To clients, who do not have the tagging machine, we can supply the pre-tagged and threaded filter rolls, which can be used directly for bag packaging. This might be one reason that we have tea shop clients who do not have a large factory. We believe that with our machines it is easier to start [either] a teabag or tea [packaging] business.”

Agata talks about how the current global economy has affected Fuso’s business. He states, “The fluctuation of currency exchange rates does affect us in some degree, but since the tea industry is still not bad compared to other industries, our sales are not bad. In response to market demand, we have developed our machine(s) and will keep on providing what clients require.”

Finally, Agata emphasizes that Nasa’s packaging machines preserve tea quality, and that preservation is opening up the doors to attracting attention in the market. Agata says, “Now, our preservation concept and technology, which was first developed for green tea has been started to be applied to black, flavored, herbal and fruit teas. The concept of Fuso/Nasa enabling the end-user to drink high quality tea with convenience has become a widely accepted practice.”

What’s New in Teabag Technology? Recyclable Teabags
“The humble teabag has been undergoing a makeover recently, increasingly finding its way into the specialty and value-added segments with a range of innovations and developments geared to servicing the growing upper-end of the market. Ahlstrom’s recent offering promises to fuel further interest and solutions in an industry that does not typically garner a lot of attention from consumers,” writes Heneage Mitchell in an upcoming article for Tea and Coffee Asia called “Advances at Ahlstrom.”

According to their website, www.ahlstrom.com, “Ahlstrom is a global leader in the development, manufacture and marketing of high performance fiber-based materials,” called nonwovens, and this is the material that they use for teabags.

Mitchell reports that “Ahlstrom invested approximately US$40 million in the project to build a brand new machine and facilities at its Chirnside, Scotland, UK plant. The investment is in line with Ahlstrom’s growth strategy, and the product development is aimed primarily at the food and beverage sectors. Commercial production of the new material, which is unique to Ahlstrom and uses low base weight spunmelt technology, started at the end of 2008. The plant now produces the widest range of beverage filtration materials under one roof, including the new fine fiber web for premium tea infusions and the traditional heat-sealable and non heat-sealable filter paper.”

Ahlstrom is proud of its new product because it’s “eco-friendly, sustainable and affordable” which is unusual for new inventions in the green industry. But it’s geared toward high-end and specialty tea packers vs. the mainstream tea packing factories and tea shops. “… [it’s] designed for conversion on tea packing machines using ultrasonic sealing technology,” Mitchell writes.

Corn starch is the new factor in “green” teabags. Mitchell writes, “Using renewable biopolymers manufactured from corn starch, products created with new raw materials are biodegradable, compostable and sustainable. The principal ingredient is polylactic acid (PLA), derived from yellow dent corn contains the high value protein element used for feedstuff, food and other industrial products.”

Yamanaka is another company making in-roads with PLA woven fibers for teabags. “Tearoad Soilon: The material is 100% PLA, and it is biodegradable. Therefore, it’s characteristic(ally) environmentally friendly. We develop(ed) a new and original filter with a fiber manufacturer for tea and coffee bag filter materials,” says Toshimasa Shiraishi of Yamanaka Industry Co., Ltd., in Kyoto, Japan (www.yamanaka-sangyo.jp).

Shiraishi says that Yamanaka has three types of woven mesh filter, which are nylon, polyester and PLA. By far, the company is finding that their sales in PLA have grown. “It [PLA] is 60% in our sales of woven mesh filter. The reason why PLA-woven filter is accepted in the market is that, as you know, tea manufacturer(s), retailer(s) and consumer(s) [are concerned with] ecology. Therefore, many tea companies, worldwide, are using PLA more in the near future.”

In teabag filters, Yamanaka specializes in the woven mesh filter, which they developed in 1981. And they developed the pyramid teabags in 1986. Shiraishi says, “we had been selling only in [the] Japanese market, but we started to export overseas after 2000. We aimed to develop a new teabag filter material for real tea flavor, and we aim to develop filter material [that] a consumer can enjoy easily [the] real taste of high quality tea and coffee.”

Yamanaka sells to tea manufacturers and retail companies who have packaging machines. “Many customers sell teabag(s) with our filter in the retail shop(s) and department store(s) rather than [sell] mass market [teas] with low price(s). They use the characteristic woven mesh with their high quality tea to advantage and they sell the teabag(s) as premium teabag(s),” Shiraishi says.

Yamanaka produces their teabag filter using weaving technology, and the weave is larger in order to allow larger leaf tea to be packaged. “Therefore, it doesn’t need to crush leaf tea so small to hasten the brewing speed. Many customers are filling a big leaf tea and can brew [the] real taste of tea,” Shiraishi states.

Shiraishi also explains that their filters can be used in heat seal and ultrasonic packaging machines. This opens up the market for Yamanaka. “We can develop a new material for many use(s), shape(s) and packaging machine(s) [using] our technology.”

When asked how the global economy is affecting Yamanaka’s teabag sales, Shiraishi responded, “High yen is making a bad situation for exporting, but we will not produce low-cost quality material. Because our policy is that we have to produce a high-quality material to the market [so that] the consumer can enjoy the real taste of tea …”

And the World of Tea String Manufacturing …
“We belong to the leading producers worldwide of teabag threads. We are selling around 8,500 million meters of teabag threads per year (around 9,300 million yards/year),” says Marcel Steinweg of Zwirnerie a.d. Wutach GmbH, in Stühlingen, Germany (www.zwirnerei-wutach.com).

“Our teabag threads have excellent running properties on all the different types of machines. Working closely with the machine producers and our customers, we cooperate to develop the specific quality in accordance with food regulation and hygiene requirements. Teabag threads are available on cones up to 20.000 m or more for certain machines to reach high productivity. The threads are tested in accordance with German [and] European legislations by accredited independent laboratories,” Steinweg continues.

Zwirnerei an der Wutach is a family-owned business that began in 1886. It’s located in the German Black Forest near the Swiss border. Not only do they supply their threads to the tea packaging companies, but they also produce thread for other food producers, as well as to the medical disposable and packing industries. “The factory is equipped with modern machinery, which is regularly updated to accommodate the market requirements. All threads are produced under hygienic conditions,” Steinweg says.

Most of their teabag threads are cotton, but they also produce threads in viscose or polypropylene for pyramid teabags. “We have also established a complete product line of teabag threads designed for use on the latest tea packing machines, [the] knotting system that produce teabags with strings and tags without using heat sealable filter-paper or metal staples,” Steinweg explains. “All [of] our threads are packed hygienically in PE bags, strong cartons and are palletized. The pallets are also wrapped in PE foil.”

Steinweg also says that Zwirnerei an der Wutach has teabag producers as customers all over the world. “Some of our customers are global players, but the big parts are smaller packers, which have sometimes one or more teabagging machines. We serve all teabag producers; it doesn’t matter how big they are.”

Steinweg comments on the global economic crisis and how it affects his company, “[It] affects us as it does other companies. Some of our customers postponed their orders for a few weeks as their customers reduced [their] stocks. As the total consumption of teabags is worldwide slowly growing, we believe and hope that in [a] few months the situation will get back to normal.”

The teabag industry classifies its parts into tea packaging machines, tea papers and threads. These various markets open up growth in the industry, and modern technology advances the speed, precision and ease-of-use for the tea packagers that translate into sales for these niche markets. Fortunately for the tea industry, the teabag packaging arm isn’t slowing down anytime soon, as all of the represented companies in this article attest to.

Wendy Komancheck freelances from her home in Pennsylvania. She writes about small business, agriculture and tea. She’s always looking for story ideas. You can reach her at wendykomancheck@yahoo.com.

Tea & Coffee - May, 2009

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