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The transition to new flexible packaging structures

The transition to new flexible packaging structures

From the very beginning, packaging was created in order to preserve, transport, and protect the product which was contained within them. To a great degree, and focusing on the food packaging, this has helped to extend the lifetime of products, hence avoiding the waste of large amounts of food.

In a scenario where the world population is daily increasing and concentrated in big metropoles, the shelf life of FMCG products has become a primary concern for every brand owner. This is carried by two main drivers. Firstly, through damage to the reputation of a brand if products are delivered in poor condition, and secondly, through disposal derivation cost of product prices which have been corrupted, both of which affect brands and distribution chains.

These two factors greatly impact barrier properties, which mostly affects the quality and shelf life of the product. Barrier properties, particularly OTR and WTR, which are the rates used for calculating the amount of water vapor and oxygen going through a specific structure, define the safety of a product inside a particular package.

Aside from increasing the barrier properties of the structure protecting it, prolonging the shelf life of food is not a great secret. Better barrier properties lead to better shelf life, but can become complicated when considering the number of different products that are packaged daily throughout the world daily particularly need variations regarding barrier properties, an example being that crisps have different needs than coffee.

All these factors have made the market scenario unclear regarding the different structures required for each product, leading to the development of tailored solutions for each product, thus adapting the structure to the required shelf life and not the reverse. Cost then becomes the main force of this complexity.

Regardless of the substantial flexible packaging advantages, and even considering the level of complexity and creation of different structures, being able to handle waste is out of reach. Continual sustainable development is important, regardless of the overall impact of flexible packaging in comparison to standard structures.

This cost driven mindset has ushered the development of marginal recyclable or reusable structures, leading to the societal belief that flexible plastic packaging is dysfunctional. The PET laminated with LDPE, providing a film with printability, sealibility, and barrier properties is an example of a standard flexible packaging structure.

As of late, this structure, containing two different materials, has shifted to a single material lamination called MDO PE + LDPE. This special polyethylene, which is typically extruded in 3 to 5 layers, has similar mechanical and physical properties of PET and can be easily used with most of the technologies available in the market for either front or reverse printing.

Afterwards, this material is laminated to a sealing layer of PE, allowing the film to be highly recyclable compared to a traditional structure, as the former contains the same type of polyolefin in the whole structure. At a later stage in the process, this same material will be slit into smaller reels and used for filling lines.

This structure, which in regard to most prototypes must have easy open access, can be lasered either in the packaging line or during conversion. The standardization of structures makes it even more challenging not to damage different layers, which are present in the film, and make precise tension accuracy and focal distance control extremely relevant. Fortunately, this will no longer be a challenge, due to the laser system integration of Comexi’s slitters.

Barrier properties are a main concern regarding this structure. While a standard PET + PE delivers an average barrier property, both in regard to oxygen and water vapor, this single PE structure has poor barrier properties when considering oxygen, making it, on its own, unsuitable to pack products with high barrier needs.

This is where the application of different technologies, such as barrier coatings or the extrusion of other natural elements can aid this structure in being fully resistant to oxygen and being in major contention with the PET+LDPE structure.

Taking all of this into consideration, this shift in the type of products regularly printed, laminated, and slitted will most certainly affect the manner in which we manufacture our machinery, as there may be a need of even more accurate tension control across the entire range, as well as in extremely specific and cautious drying systems, which are required to avoid damage or unnecessary material stretching.

In conclusion, considering the short term, this shift does not affect the core business of laminating or slitting BU’s, as the manner in which we have worked over the past years will continue: searching for the excellence in the machinery we design and manufacture as well as simply changing the nature of the products we use.

 

Eduard Boja

Brand Manager Lamination


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