A technology that combines high-quality, registered printing with thermoforming lets brand owners add tactile interest to blisters, bottles, cartons and more.
Something’s happening in a small Canadian town that’s shaking up the packaging industry. It’s a technology from converter think4D Inc. that merges the visual pop of high-definition flexography with the fingertip appeal of thermoformed details.
The touch-friendly technology can be used to create clamshell packaging, plastic folding cartons, plastic rigid cartons, pressure-sensitive labels, sleeves and point-of-sale materials.
The think4D process evolved from a long-standing focus on print excellence and a knack for manufacturing innovation at think4D Inc.’s parent company, book manufacturer Friesens Corp. Friesens was founded more than 100 years ago in Altona, Manitoba, where the company’s 300,000 sq ft of manufacturing space remain today.
Jeffrey Hayet, president of sales at think4D Inc., answers questions from Packaging Digest’s technical editor Rick Lingle about the patent-protected think4D technology.
In short, what’s all the hoopla about with think4D?
Hayet: The think4D process brings a package “to life” by decorating it with detail, texture and color previously unachievable.
Consumers and consumer-goods companies are looking for more highly decorated and tactile packaging. They like to touch and see the product or, at minimum, an excellent graphical representation of the product. A well-designed think4D package makes this possible.
Our goal is to leverage our ability to create tactile and highly decorated packaging products, cost competitively. We do this through an integrated manufacturing process combining several packaging solutions under one roof. With our in-house printing and thermoforming capabilities, we can preprint blisters and then thermoform them, all in one plant.
Two capabilities distinguish think4D:first, thermoforming to the register of print, and second, high-quality print/decoration—special effects, that is—on paper and plastic packaging.
With regard to thermoforming and print registration, for a blister package, we can preprint the material and then accurately thermoform the material, registering graphics to shape. Depending on the package, registration variation is almost always less than plus or minus 0.5mm. There are lots of decorated blisters in the market, created either by applying pressure-sensitive labels on an already formed blister or by preprinting a blister. Both methods are designed so there is little or no registration required.
We can also include special effects on a think4D package, in-line with printing, using tactile inks like MBoss, MiraFoil coating, glitter or grit features, Cast and Cure coating, cold foils, embossing, scratch ‘n’ sniff and contrasting coatings. Through our print experience and use of the best equipment available, we can deliver these at competitive costs, bringing them within reach for brand owners.
In the case of a plastic folding carton, we can create incredible printed effects that support the brand owner’s need for differentiation. And we can then thermoform the carton with a lower draw than a blister to give the package a unique tactile effect.
What industry drivers does your technology address?
Hayet: Feel is the real driver. It’s also where our name comes from. 4D refers to the fourth dimension: touch! Every time I present our samples to new customers, I’m deliberate about watching what they do. Almost every time, the same thing happens. They look, they pick up, they run their fingers over the texture and they say “wow” or “cool.” We call this the Wow Factor.
To test how well our packages do in this regard, we have conducted a great deal of research, including studies with major brands as well as independent studies. Our packages have gone through several consumer trials with at least two of the largest consumer-goods companies. The favorable results have strengthened our relationships, because the brand owners believe what we do strengthens their messages and brands.
We’ve also had our products studied by Rochester Institute of Technology. The objective was to understand the perceived quality and difference in worth of items containing images created with think4D forming technology. The research showed:
• Participants, on average, would pay 50% more for a product presented in a think4D package.
• 80% of the time, participants believed think4D technology added value.
• 96% of participants chose a think4D product as a thank-you gift for participating in the study.
How important is texture in your business proposition, as a way to engage consumers and for brand equity?
Hayet: Brand owners are always looking for differentiation and shelf appeal. Based on our customer feedback, texture is very important. Our customers view our technology as filling a void in the packaging space today. Certainly it’s not for everyone, but judging by levels of interest in tactile packaging, we believe there’s a large need and a strong alignment to what we can deliver.
We have a slogan: “Liberate your senses and touch the moment.” Consumer spending is often triggered at the emotional level, and we help brand owners engage consumers at the sensory and emotional levels.
Every brand owner wants consumers to pick up and handle its packaged product. After it’s in their hands, the brand owner is a long way down the consumer’s decision path. We want to help the brand owner drive the consumer to that decision point.
What are the basics of the process, and what’s required on the part of customers?
Hayet: The think4D technique connects with customers on sensory and emotional levels by using the power of multidimensional printing, tactile inks, and metallic and holographic effects. We are a packaging converter, and we use cutting-edge technologies like HD Flexo, UV inks and environmentally responsible substrates.
The process depends on the type of package receiving a think4D application. On a conventional, clear blister, the process generally starts with our team receiving or creating a model of the package design, followed by prototyping, tooling and production. But for a think4D blister, the process is more complex. It again starts with package design but requires development of a 3D model and associated graphics.
Next, we Sculpt the part, adding the think4D forming treatment that creates the tactile effect. We can give our customers a view of this with a DigiProof. This is a soft proof that electronically shows the shape, graphics and application of the think4D Sculpting. We can supply various prototypes, depending on the customer’s needs. After these are approved, we work toward being production-ready, including the necessary print preparation and tooling.
How would you characterize the current level of interest and the number and types of applications we’ll see in 2014?
Hayet: We had an initial vision of who our customers would be, but we very quickly adjusted our vision because of the strong interest from much larger customers than we had imagined...and many of them. Most of our discussions focus on blisters, clamshells, folding cartons, point-of-purchase display work and tip-on labels.
We believe we have spent money wisely on equipment that meets the needs of these customers, for the volumes they require. Our equipment includes the most state-of-the-art flexo press currently in North America.
Because of our combination of printing capabilities and patented thermoforming process, the interest level from many market segments, for diverse applications, is growing continuously. The segments showing the most interest for packaging applications include cosmetics, personal care, outdoor recreation, pharmaceuticals, food and liquor.
Editor’s Note: Read more about the think4D technology, including its sustainability message, turnaround times and costs—“The more decoration required, the more cost competitive we are,” Hayet says—in Part 2 of our Q&A.
In coming days, we’ll also post case studies of how product manufacturers are already using this technology.
Read how Added Extras LLC, which markets licensed and private-label cosmetics and personal-care items, boosted packaging consistency for a new line of Sesame Street bath products and yielded operational benefits.
Thinking up a dimensional label for kids’ bath products