How different are the inputs from brand owners to make this happen; how much more complex is this for them vs procuring standard thermoforms?
Hayet: When it comes to larger brand owners who are familiar with package design (solid models and graphics), the inputs are much the same. They are used to supplying Solids files and InDesign or PDF files for graphics.
One of the differences from a conventional blister is that there is a graphic proofing process required. We are really combining the two worlds of shape and graphics. Like most packaging projects, there are prototyping and production test-run requirements.
What is a “typical” turnaround time for a project? Cost premium over conventional thermoforms?
Hayet: It’s like most manufacturing—we can do some jobs very quickly, but we can’t do every job quickly. To answer the question on turnaround and cost, let me use two product examples again. The two products are differentiated by depth of draw.
Blisters have an increased depth of draw. In addition to adding proofing cycles for graphics and Sculpting, there is a longer development cycle. The other big factor is quantity. So, to simplify the answer on turnaround, let’s talk about development time to first parts. This is the larger effort than producing, say, a few hundred thousand parts. Getting to the first parts might take about 10 weeks, then getting first parts might add another two to four weeks, depending on volume.
One of the most exciting things about think4D technology for blisters is its affordability. The closest alternative package would be a preprinted blister or one decorated with a pressure-sensitive label. Compared with these products, our price is similar. In addition to being cost competitive, we provide the advantages of:
• The ability to add decorations that are not normally affordable.
• Exceptional print quality, compared with most preprint and labeling processes.
• And of course, most importantly, the ability to add the think4D texturing technology.
Formed folding cartons have a shallow draw. Products that require big differentiation but less draw, such as folding cartons and point-of-sale pieces, require less time to develop. Generally speaking, this would save about one to two weeks of development time to first part. After that, manufacturing time is similar and, again, depends on quantities.
Carrying on with the example of plastic folding cartons, there are lots of nicely decorated plastic cartons in the market today. But imagine the difference it would make to add shape to their panels. Most buyers know the differential to get from a paper folding carton to a plastic one. Like other plastic folding-carton manufacturers, we don’t cost-compete against paper. If someone is looking for a plastic folding carton, we can provide this with or without the think4D technology. There is only a small differential to get to the think4D treatment.
What we have found in all of our packaging products, regardless of whether they are blisters, blister cards, folding cartons, rigid cartons or point-of-sale products: The more decoration required, the more cost competitive we are.
What is the most frequently asked question about your technology and what is the answer?
Hayet: Two questions come to mind most often when talking to customers. The first is: “Is this commercial?” The answer is yes. All of the samples we show our customers are produced by think4D. The think4D technology is proprietary. Although we frequently get inquiries about licensing, in our hearts, we are manufacturers. We love creating and making things. We spent several years developing the technology to get it to where it is today. About two years ago, we commercialized and went to market. During the last two years, we have continued to refine and improve the technology. Perhaps at some point licensing might make sense, but for now we just want to grow the business and see more think4D packages in the market.
The other common question is: “Where is it made?”Many people assume it’s made outside of North America. Actually, we are located in central Canada near the U.S. border. All our manufacturing is done here in Altona, where we have been in business since 1907. We have deep roots in our community, with one of our visions being the creation of local employment. We have always been able to do this in a cost-competitive manner, even on conventional products.
What aspects of think4D can be considered “green”?
Hayet: Our location creates somewhat of a “natural” (no pun intended) sustainability story. Manufacturing requires a significant amount of energy. There’s no secret about that. However, here in Manitoba, we are in the heart of hydro-generated electricity. The energy created and consumed here is from the Nelson River Watershed. This is a clean, self-renewing source of energy with zero carbon.
We are a strong partner with Manitoba Hydro (a large exporter of energy), which works with customers like us on motion-controlled lighting in our plants, energy-efficient temperature and humidity systems and other more efficient manufacturing requirements such as centralized vacuum, and air. We have one of the largest wind farms in the country.
We try to look at all aspects of sustainability. In addition to energy, this includes materials, consumables and plant infrastructure. This can include everything from the best plastics available all the way through to waterless systems in restrooms, plus everything in-between—such as UV inks and reduced polymers in plates. All of it is important and can be addressed.
What options are available for materials, printing and other variables? What “green” options are available? What new options in these may be available by year’s end?
Hayet: Let’s start with available materials. This is generally driven by brand owners that follow the direction of the large retailers. On conventional products such as clear blisters, we can use conventional products as PVC. However, as much as possible we have been driving PET materials. They work well in our printing and forming processes. More than 90% of the materials we are using are in the PET family.
Going forward, we expect the demand for recycled PET (rPET) will continue to rise and that we will qualify this material as an option for our customers, as well.
On the paper side of our business, there are many “green” options. However, the challenge often is cost. Many recycled papers cost more and therefore keep the demand low. We are also certified under the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).
What is possible—how complex of a project can currently be done?
Hayet: We have often joked that nothing we do is easy. The process was challenging to commercialize. Once commercialized, the types of jobs we have been doing further challenge us. However, this is what characterizes us as an organization.
When we talk about complexity, we generally evaluate it based on print complexities and forming complexities. Some projects are more complex in printing and decorating, and others are more challenging to form.
We are currently working on a challenging print project. You will see this part in the market late this year. It has a complex design. There is so much print and decoration on this part that we need to run it through our press in two passes. This adds further challenges to an already challenging design. However, the results have been astounding, and we are very excited about seeing it come to market.
We are a younger organization when it comes to forming. However, the complexity of the process and nature of forming projects has forced us into a steep learning curve. This has been great for us organizationally. Although challenged, we have not come across a project we were not capable of producing. We are entering development on a project right now that will determine the limitations of our capabilities. It involves more decoration in areas usually not considered possible. A comparable example would be a tub. Image a thermoformed tub and printing on the walls. Any thermoforming company could appreciate why in-mold labeling (IML) is a good fit for this, and why it is not. We are going to see how far we can take this.
What’s next—where do you see this technology going?
Hayet: This has been one of our biggest challenges. We have had great opportunities to show our product to many of the large consumer-goods companies. We often enter these meetings with a focused application. However, we are re-directed when they show interest in various other ideas for applying the technology.
We have seen how the technology could go in more directions than we have the ability to manage. Although we thrive on these challenges, it’s also important to continue focusing on where we have developed core competencies and strong pricing fits. At the same time, we will maintain a pipeline of new ideas and applications.
What else would you like to mention that’s of benefit to our audience of packaging professionals?
Hayet: There are several things, but let me focus on one: How think4D can create game-changing packaging for various types of packaging used regularly today.
You may be familiar with a study that Klöckner and Clemson conducted supporting clear packaging, with visibility to the product. This study on retina tracking emphasizes a few key points about clear packaging vs completely opaque packaging (such as a paper folding carton) that include:
• Increased number of fixations on a product.
• Increased duration of the fixation on a product.
• Increased number of purchases.
Although we agree with this study, note that none of the packages focused on is simply a clear blister or clamshell with a product inside. All of them are what I would call semi-transparent. What I mean by this is that both transparency and graphics are critical in packaging. Packaging with the right visibility to the product, enhanced by branding graphics on blister cards or insert cards, is promoted in the video.
Let’s take this a step further by applying the think4D technology to this thinking on various types of packaging:
Blister/Blister Card—Traditionally this has been a clear blister sealed to a printed solid-bleached sulfate (SBS) card. Rather than putting the cost of printing on the card, what if you used a blister/blister card combination? This creates product visibility while better utilizing the surrounding real estate to bring excellent value by forming it using the think4D technology. In addition, you could decorate it with tactile inks, foils, Cast and Cure, MiraFoil or other decorations. All this can be done in a single pass through our press, creating a game-changing blister.
Folding Cartons—Using the same concept of graphic design complemented with product visibility, folding cartons have two options today:
1. Die-cut Paper—Begin with an opaque substrate but add a window to create product visibility.
2. Plastic—Begin with a clear substrate and add printing where opacity is required. Here’s the game changer with a think4D plastic carton: In addition to great graphics or decoration, the panels can contain the think4D forming technology. We can create visibility where required and print where visibility is not required.