Developments in Thin Wall Packaging
Applications of thin wall packaging range from dairy ice cream tubs and yogurt pots to ready meals, bakery trays and long-life jar and can replacements. Applied Market Information LLC launched a new packaging event- Thin Wall Packaging Films 2012. The two day program was co-chaired by AMI consultants with extensive knowledge on the thin wall packaging markets: Jon Nash and Martyna Zimakiewicz.
In the inaugurating conference session, Amcor Rigid Plastics and Grupo Phoenix (leading FMCG packaging suppliers in North America) presented an overview of the changing landscape of rigid plastic packaging in the context of materials and design that helped the audience understand the role of innovation in consumer appeal and product differentiation. Greiner Packaging (a leading European supplier of dairy packaging, with growing presence in the Americas) discussed different ‘green’ packaging options available on the market and stressed the importance of recyclability. Product differentiation can certainly be enhanced by superior decorating technologies, of which in-mold labeling is a perfect example. There were a number of in-mold label producers in the audience, as new market opportunities in this segment attract research and development initiatives. Printing Company Verstraete assured that IML not only allows for excellent graphics and improved shelf appeal, but it can also provide functional barrier properties to extend product shelf life, when applied in combination with high barrier multilayer filmic substrates. Although IML is predominantly used with injection molded containers, the emergence of T-IML (in-mold label for thermoforming) is not to be overseen; Hekuma Automation’s second and third generation machinery designs are contributing to bridging the gap on the market with that in regard. Nevertheless, brand owners and packaging converters must realize certain limitations of IML, especially contour doming, multi-dimensional curves and contours, as pointed out by Fame Technology Solutions. The company highlighted the importance of prototyping and the pilot phase in order to minimize adjustments on production equipment. The thin wall packaging market witnesses technical developments in two competing production processes: thermoforming and injection molding. This Chicago conference provided an opportunity for an open debate – Illig Maschinenbau (represented by Midwest Plastics) looked at the benefits of thermoforming, of which cycle speed, high output and cost were key. This topic was further developed on the second day of the conference by OMV-USA, which highlighted manufacturing advancements in the in-line extrusion thermoforming technology. On the other hand, Kortec Inc. explained how co-injection technology for multilayer thin wall packaging can improve options for differentiated marketing, flexibility of design as well as scrap and cost control. This topic is well known to Husky Injection Molding, a machinery supplier, which presented the advantages of using integrated production solution and hot runners (i.e. single source supplier responsibility, higher performance and integrated controls).
The manufacturing technology advancements are equally matched with developments of new materials. Braskem discussed innovations in polypropylene for thin wall packaging and the benefits of bio-polyethylene, while Kuraray America presented the latest achievements of using high performance EVOH barrier films, especially applicable for plastic packaging replacing traditional metal or glass packaging formats. Netstal Machinery continued this topic and talked through a number of barrier solution technologies, their strong points and challenges. In terms of material sourcing for thin wall packaging, the role of recyclate is an area of steady growth. Amut North America tackled the challenge of improving sustainability though recyclability and changing ‘trash to cash’. The company demonstrated its sorting, washing and flaking capabilities, which allow for efficient and sustainable material recovery from post-consumer PET bottles.
The second day of the conference focused greatly on barrier and retort packaging in response to the growing industry demand, resulting mainly from can replacement initiatives. Rexam Food Containers analyzed the range extension opportunities for ambient packaging, proposing the concept of a ‘plastic can’. The presentation by Winpak Inc., supplier of peelable retortable lidding to the thin wall industry, shared scientific data on retort process versus oxygen and moisture barriers, impact resistance properties and retort shock. Furthermore, Marbach (the headline sponsor) discussed molds, automation, temperature and quality control systems – the technical aspects of using barrier IML technologies. Printpack continued the discussion of material and design optimisation for high barrier ambient food packaging, introducing its desiccant technology, which would enhance EVOH retort performance and minimize the retort shock. Lastly, Graham Packaging took a stand on the topic of extended shelf life packaging for food products, comparing the existing technologies and categorizing their downfalls. He stressed the importance of different cooking/preparation methods in the choice of barrier technology, as well as regulatory issues.