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Auto vs. Semi Auto Shrink Wrap Machine Differences

Auto shrink wrap machines and semi-auto shrink wrap machines produce the same finished product but differ dramatically in appearance, size, efficiency, set up, and many other aspects. To be clear, this post discusses heat shrink wrap machines for packaging, not auto vs. semi-auto stretch wrap machines for pallets. Heat shrink wrap machines use a sealer to enclose and protect products; a heat tunnel shrinks the material around the item or items being wrapped.

The final product should look the same. The capabilities of each machine can vary substantially, though. Some standard features on a full auto machine will not be available on a semi-auto machine. In contrast, other benefits of a semi-auto shrink machine are not possible on an automatic system.

Below is a broad description of each machine's benefits, drawbacks, and production capabilities. At the very bottom, there is a chart showing differences in automatic and semi-auto shrink wrap machines. It is essential to remember each manufacturer is different, and details can vary. Our main goal for this post is to describe the differences between auto and semi-auto shrink wrap machines. We also threw in some info on manual machines for easy comparison.

Manual Shrink Wrap Machine

Manual Shrink Wrap Machines

Manual shrink wrap machines require hands-on operation for every step of the heat shrink-wrapping process. The machine operator will need to pull the film off the roll, insert products into the material, and make a seal. Once the seal is made, heat will need to be applied to shrink the material. Manual shrink wrap machines can wrap several products daily, but the operator can make or break the process.

Because manual machines are an affordable shrink-wrapping option, heat guns are used during the shrinking process. It can be an art and a science to package several products daily with a heat gun and not be required to redo several items. An operator can get the hang of manual shrink wrapping and efficiently package a product every sixty seconds or less. Other operators can get midway through a package and burn through the shrink film, causing redo after redo. This is one of the drawbacks of manual machines; each operator can vary substantially in consistency and efficiency. View the benefits and drawbacks of manual shrink wrap machines below.

Manual Shrink Machine Pros

*Cost Effective



*Most Fit Standard Plug-ins

*Inexpensive Parts

*Identical finished product as auto machines

*Beginner all-in-one systems available

*Easy Setup

Manual Shrink Wrap Machine Cons

 -Lack of efficiency

-Dependent on the operator's skillset

-Not made for high output

-Parts wear out faster

-More labor intensive


Manual Shrink Wrap Machine Differences

The operator is required for every step

One power supply 110V – 120V

Wire Sealing Element

Heat Gun for Shrinking

Small Footprint

Costs hundreds

 Up to 300 products daily

Not made for high production

Semi auto shrink wrap machines

Semi-Auto Shrink Wrap Machines

Considerably more efficient with fewer hands-on are semi-automatic shrink wrap machines. Semi-auto machines can come with many different functions and designs. Generally speaking, semi-auto machines assist with one or more steps in the shrink-wrapping process. They can be a step away from automatic shrink wrap machines or a step above manual machines depending on the features included with each machine.

Some semi-auto machines have a magnetic hold-down to keep the bar closed during sealing. This function frees the hands of the worker to grab the following product to be packaged. The magnets release once the seal is complete. One-step shrink packaging systems seal and shrink in one cycle within a chamber. Magnets hold the lid closed during the sealing and shrinking process. Many steps are considered semi-auto with this type of machine, but they are not made for high-volume shrink packaging. Most can package a product every 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on the power supply.

For a higher volume semi-auto machine, shrink wrapping combo systems are prevalent. Combo machines have an L bar sealer and shrink tunnel for streamlined shrink packaging. Decked-out semi-auto systems require the operator to insert the product into the film and push a button. Other basic semi-auto shrink machines need the operator to hold the sealing bar down and place the product into the shrink tunnel. There are many production benefits to semi-auto shrink machines. They are a favorite for companies wrapping more than two hundred products daily. The durability and efficiency are often justified because of less hassle throughout the entire process.


Semi-Auto Shrink Machine Pros

*More efficient

*Relieves the operator of one or more steps

*Durable parts to last through more seals

*Consistent-looking finished products

*Easy Set up

*Many semi-auto features are available

*Works with thicker materials

*For higher production packaging


Semi-Auto Shrink Machine Cons

-Most require 220v power supply

-Larger footprint than manual machines

-Shrink tunnels can take time to heat up

-Operators can still make or break the process

-Products will still need to be inserted into the shrink material


Semi-Auto Shrink Machine Differences

The operator is required for one or more steps

Most require one or more 220V Plugins

Wire, Micro knife, or hot knife sealing elements available

Small to medium shrink tunnel for shrinking

 Medium Footprint

Costs thousands

Some machines are capable of 5,000 products daily

Made for medium production levels

Automatic shrink wrap machine

Automatic Shrink Wrap Machines

Auto shrink wrap machines will pay for themselves with enough use. Manual machines can package one or two products per minute, while automatic machines can package up to thirty products per minute. With enough volume, an automatic shrink wrap machine purchase is a no-brainer.

Any company packaging more than three-thousand products daily should begin to consider a fully automatic machine. Once volume breaks ten thousand products daily, full auto is almost a necessity. With semi-auto machines, two semi-automatic devices with one or more operators would need to package products for a full day to reach ten thousand. In comparison, a fully automatic machine would package that amount of items within four hours or less, with someone loading the line and someone unloading the line.

There are two popular fully automatic machine styles for shrink packaging with centerfold shrink film. The first is an automatic L bar sealer with two sealing sides close as the photo-eye sees products pass. The two sealing sides are fixed and can only accommodate products smaller than the sealing bar. In contrast, an auto-side seal machine can seal products up to a specified width but can seal elongated products such as molding and baseboards.

Longer shrink tunnels are used with fully automatic sealers to keep up production speeds. With auto side seal machines, shrink tunnels can be more than six feet long. In addition to the shrink tunnel, an exit conveyor to catch finished products is strongly recommended. Conveyors come in many different forms but should be used at the entrance and exit of automatic shrink machines. With a complete packaging line, packaging tens of thousands of products daily can be done with two employees.


Auto Shrink Machine Pros

*Unmatched speed

*Efficient packaging

*Made for high volume

*Durable parts

*Minimal operator knowledge needed

*Consistent Packaging

*Faster Warm-up times

*Cycle Counter

*Auto-side seal machines can wrap infinite lengths


Auto Shrink Machine Cons

-Multiple 220v plugins are often needed

-Large footprint

-Required assistance for initial setup and training

-Higher initial capital expense

-Does have limitations

-Repairs can be costly


Auto Shrink Machine Differences

The operator only loads and unloads conveyors

One or more 220v plugins required

Premium hot knife sealing blades

Medium to large shrink tunnel for shrinking

Large footprint

Costs tens of thousands

Some machines made for 25,000 products daily

Made for high production levels.


The differences can be innumerable with the vast selection of semi-automatic and fully automatic shrink wrap machines. Use the chart for a brief note of some differences. For a business with higher packaging requirements, efficiency and durability are the primary difference between the machines. Spending the additional money on the front end can pay for itself within months. It does not matter if you have low or high-volume shrink-wrapping needs; we would like to help. Call 1-800-441-5090 and speak with a professional today.


Auto vs. Semi-Auto Shrink Wrap Machine Differences

Question about the machine Manual Shrink Wrap Machine Semi-auto shrink wrap machine Full Auto Shrink Wrap Machine
How much is required from the operator? The operator is required for every step Operator required for one or more steps Operator required to load and unload conveyors
What is the power supply? 110V One or two 220V power plugs One or more 220V power plugs
What is used for sealing the shrink film? Wire Sealer Wire, Mirco knife, or hot knife Hot Knife
What is used for shrinking the shrink film? Heat gun Small to medium heat tunnel Medium to large heat tunnel
How large is the machine footprint? Small, tabletop Medium  Large
How much does the system cost? Hundreds Thousands Tens of thousands
How many products can be packaged daily? 300 5,000 25,000
What production levels can the machine handle? Low Medium High


Auto vs Semi Auto Shrink Wrap Machine Chart



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