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Flexible Packaging

New Dissolvable Packaging Eliminates Waste

A smart tactic to draw attention for a product roundup of new products for packaging or other markets is to lead with the best or most photogenic development. It’s doubly advantageous when said product is a world’s first of some kind, which is why LifeFuels, “the world's first smart nutrition bottle,” headed the gallery of 8 Unexpected Ways Beverage Packaging Innovates, published June 2020.

In short, the reusable LifeFuels' 16.9oz/500mL smart nutrition bottle turns ordinary water into a beverage with flavor, essential vitamins and nutrients using small bottles of liquid ingredient concentrates called “Pods.” The Pod, which can refill the LifeFuels bottles 30 times, are equipped with a Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tag.

Pretty cool, right?

The company will shortly bring an even more sustainable packaging innovation to the platform: Cylindrical-shaped Modules, or Mods, which are powdered ingredients packs made of food-grade film that fully dissolve in water.

A Quick Response (QR) code printed with edible ink on the Mod film connects with the smart nutrition tracking platform via the LifeFuels smartphone app.

The innovative packaging eliminates the need for the usual plastic tubs, scoopers, or single-serving packets typical of the powdered beverage market.

The company is planning to launch with at least two flavors, but more are possible. Mod pricing is also to be determined.

The company’s managers responded to our questions presented in the following highlights.

LifeFuelsLifeFuels 3 managers combo

Left-to-right, LifeFuels’ Mark Lyons, Christine Shearer, and Amanda DiCuffa-McGregor.

Ultra-convenient delivery.

“Our classic Pod package provides exceptional protection, dispense precision, and traceability for liquid concentrates,” says Mark Lyons, VP of engineering. “However, protein supplements are typically found in powder form and demand larger serving sizes. We wanted to find a way to deliver these nutritional products in a convenient form factor while maintaining the same level of consumption tracking within our digital platform.”

A no-mess experience.

“Although the Pod bottles have their sustainability advantages, with dissolvable film, the Mod product has almost no waste when used by the consumer,” says Amanda DiCuffa-McGregor, beverage product manager. “This is because the powder is encased in the film, which dissolves entirely in water. We are also looking into compostable packaging for methods of delivery to ensure sustainability in our in-house supply chain.”

“Protein powder is notoriously messy and difficult to manage on-the-go when you need it most,” adds Lyons. “With this package there is no measuring or spilled powder, and the system maintains an accurate record of nutrients consumed.”

Add, shake, and drink.

“The Module will be added to 450-mL of cool water in a bottle with 500-mL capacity,” explains Beverage Scientist Christine Shearer. “The lid is closed and the bottle shaken 5-10 times to disperse and dissolve the film and the powder. We have found that most consumers shake their protein powder bottles much more vigorously and longer than is actually needed for this process to take place.”

LifeFuelsLifeFuels Protein Bottle Group

Works akin to the current Pods.

“The Modules are integrated into the LifeFuels system basically the same way as our classic Pods,” explains Nick Mahon, Mobile Software Manager. “The scanned SKU references the ingredients stored in our database, then the app and the Bottle work together to track and report consumption data for the user, giving them insights and visualization into their individual nutrition and hydration data.”

Fast-track development.

“Leveraging R&D work we had done on powders and dissolvable films, we launched a rapid product development effort in July of this year, with plans to begin beta testing in late September,” says Lyons.

The company is launching the Beta testing with consumers this week.

Product and packaging film attributes.

“We researched ingredients and methods for the preparation of different films and experimented in-house and developed a formula that had the flexibility, strength, heat sealability, and dissolvability we were looking for,” says Shearer. “The ingredients were either already in our ingredient pantry, available from our current suppliers, or in a few cases, required some research to find new suppliers. While researching printing on edible film we found that the cake decorating business offers considerable use of edible ink.”

A short video below shows the process for the QR-code-printed film.

General storage considerations.

“We’re asking consumers to store the Modules in a cool, dry place,” says Shearer. “This is a conservative approach since the film has excellent moisture barrier properties. During the Beta test we will continue to learn more about the interaction of the film with the protein powder and the environmental conditions.”

Contract packaged with direct supervision.

“We fill our products at a certified secondary location, with a supporting LifeFuels production team present on site,” says DiCuffa-McGregor. “Additionally, all the machinery used in the Pod and Mod filling processes has been designed and is owned by LifeFuels.”


Research Turns Plastic Waste into Biodegradable Silk

RPI RPI Alex Connor koffas Lab glowtube flip

Solutions to big problems can spring from little things. In research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, a microorganism that digests common petroleum-based plastic waste and yields a biodegradable plastic alternative represents a new solution to an on-going problem.

With the support of a substantial new National Science Foundation grant of $500,000 for the project, a team of engineers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will explore this potentially transformative idea entitled Microbial Upcycling of Petrochemical Polymer Waste into High Value Protein-Based Polymers for a Circular Economy.

“We have all of this plastic pollution in the environment that comes from all of this plastic that we use on a daily basis, most of which is based on petroleum feedstocks, which are based on molecules that can’t degrade naturally in the environment,” says Helen Zha, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, who is leading this research project.

Zha and her collaborators will explore whether a genetically engineered bacteria would be capable of breaking down petroleum-based plastic waste that could then be used as energy to produce artificial silk, a biodegradable protein that behaves much like traditional plastic.

Provided over a two-year period, the NSF grant will allow RPI to demonstrate proof-of-concept at a small scale.

“The grand-funded research began in September, though we performed some preliminary studies earlier this year,” Zha says. “We’re now at the bench-top level and are working towards pilot scale-up.”

It’s currently a batch process.

“However, there may be potential for developing a continuous process in the future, in conjunction with other research occurring in our lab,” Zha points out. “We also hope to explore pilot production at 20 to 30-Liter scales within the project timeframe.”


Graduate student Alex Connor in a lab at RPI's Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Into unexplored territory.

“The use of metabolic engineering approaches for plastic waste degradation and its conversion to higher value chemicals such as biopolymers is an underexplored area of research,” says Mattheos Koffas, a professor of chemical and biological engineering. He has previously established a number of microbially-based processes and now joins Zha in this research. “Our collaborative effort will provide more sustainable and environmentally friendly methods and materials.”

According to Zha, a barrier to using silk as a replacement for traditional plastic is that it’s hard to produce from nature in large quantities. Designing and creating a new bacterium that can manufacture artificial silk could be a valuable solution. 

“Our research develops genetically modified bacteria capable of producing recombinant silk protein by metabolizing waste plastic,” Zha explains. “At some point, we as a society should be transitioning to using plastics that not only come from nonpetroleum-based sources, but can also completely degrade into something that goes into the natural environment.”

If you’re familiar with the term GMO, this is a similar process.

The research is presently focused on polyethylene, which Zha calls a “major source of global plastic waste. However, our technology also has the potential to be compatible with other common plastics.”

There are various potential end markets for the artificial silk.

“While textiles are one possibility, other interests include replacements for single-use plastics such as packaging and wraps or materials for biomedical applications,” says Zha. “While some of the materials produced may replace silk, the intention of the project is to develop a microbial system that can produce silk materials with tunable properties that may suit a diverse range of applications.”

Molecular design.

"How to optimize the molecular architecture and microstructure of artificial silk is a fascinating design problem that nature has perfected over hundreds of millions of years, yet we have just started to piece clues together,” says Yunfeng Shi, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, and another grant collaborator.

This unique challenge requires a cross-disciplinary approach, bringing engineers together from across departments.

“This forward-thinking, innovative idea is exactly the type of environmentally friendly and sustainable solution CBIS faculty are focused on developing,” says Deepak Vashishth, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselaer, of which Zha and Koffas are members.

The RPI team is also partnering with Guohong Mao, the associate director of Conagen, a biosynthesis and biomanufacturing company. It seems a natural choice; according to the company’s website, “Conagen innovates and develops synthetic biology solutions for supporting global partners across a spectrum of current and developing markets. Our bio-manufacturing capabilities, coupled with extensive platforms of enzymes and microorganisms, gives us the edge in commercial biotechnology. Nature is our inspiration for designing metabolic pathways, improving production organisms, and optimizing production processes."


Cobots vs. COVID-19 — Designed and Deployed a Solution in 2 Weeks

“We’re all in this together,” says Samuel Bouchard, CEO of Robotiq, on the challenge faced by manufacturers struck by COVID-19 with sudden needs to ramp-up production while keeping employees out of harm’s way. At 23 minutes long, the video takes a deep dive, and that’s a good thing for those who must meet sudden demands on capacity and agility. Learn about cobot system design, system integration, and ongoing operations. Bouchard provides a step-by-step guide, project management tools, and advice on how to get started and how to scale-up your application — or perhaps replicate it, now that you’ve got a repeatable automation framework — with links to web resources.


Packaging Design

Does Your Brand Need a New, Inspired Packaging Design?

Is your brand’s packaging design tired or a bit dated? You can inject some new life into it while supporting packaging and design students by being a sponsor of the 2021 48 Hour Repack competition. Now in its 12th year, this annual event is presented by the Southeastern Chapter of the Institute of Packaging Professionals.

“This student package design competition was created as a forum to highlight the skills and talents of tomorrow’s professionals,” according to the 48 Hour Repack website. It does that — and so much more. As a previous judge (I’ve also been accepted as a judge for the 2021 competition), I can attest to the imagination shown in the entries and to the viability of the winning designs to be successful in the market. You would be short-changing yourself and the solutions by thinking this is “just” a student packaging design competition.

Students redesign packages that are already in the market. For example, last year’s First-Place Winner designed a new, recyclable paperboard design, replacing the typical plastic ring carrier, for a six-pack of Coca-Cola bottles (see video above) to help reduce the amount of plastic waste in oceans and waterways.

The Coca-Cola Co. has been a regular sponsor of the competition. The Southeastern Chapter is now seeking sponsors for the 2021 challenge. If you or your company is interested in participating, contact Chapter President Scott Biondich at as soon as possible. Sponsorships cost $5,000 and contribute to the winners’ awards and educational assistance prizes, as well as support the Chapter.


How the competition works.

What makes the designs even more remarkable is that the students envision the new package, create a physical sample, and shoot a video that showcases its features and benefits — all in just 48 hours. None of the students know what the challenges are until the clock starts, which for the 2021 competition will be at 7 p.m. EST on January 29. At that time, the contestants (individuals or teams) receive an email with several competition challenges and select one of the design challenges to solve, which depends on the number or need of sponsors. They must then submit their entries no later than 7 p.m. EST on January 31.

A three-person judging panel reviews the entries and selects First-, Second-, and Third-Place winners. The winners are recognized at the NextPack Packaging Summit, an annual spring event of IoPP’s Southeastern Chapter. Winners receive awards and educational assistance funds — $3,000 for first place; $2,000 for second; $1,000 for third.

Students, 18 years or older, enrolled in a design- or packaging-related program in a recognized college or university are eligible (even students from outside the US). In previous years, between 200 and 300 students from more than 25 colleges have participated.


Healthcare Packaging

4 Benefits of Packaging Automation for Pharmacies Amid COVID-19

Photo supplied by Euclid Medical Products Euclid-pharmacist-with-Axial-machine-featured.jpg
Eric Schoffner, owner and manager of iCareRX Pharmacies, uses the Axial machine from Euclid Medical Products to pack pouches of pills for his customers.

COVID-19 has made a major impact on the healthcare industry. Since the outbreak reached the U.S. in January 2020, hospitals, pharmacies, and other facilities have had to address challenges at a magnitude that had never been seen before. As cases skyrocketed from single digits to millions, healthcare facilities had to adapt quickly at a time when labor, money, and resources quickly diminished. As stay-at-home orders lifted and states began to reopen, pharmacies were faced with a “new reality” and a new challenge: How can we continue to fight this pandemic, and how can we be more prepared for the next one?

Community pharmacies are an essential business, as they remain on the frontlines of public health by serving as the direct point of access for their patients. A study conducted by the National Community Pharmacists Association found that nearly 90% of community pharmacies were applying for small business federal aid under the CARES Act to assist them during COVID-19.

Pharmacists are looking for new strategies to navigate the pandemic, as it is continuing to alter how we function in our daily lives. Fortunately, with new technologies and packaging automation, there are a variety of new opportunities for pharmacies to leverage that can not only benefit patients but also enhance operational efficiency.

It’s crucial that pharmacies across the country learn these four benefits of packaging automation now, to be ready for when another pandemic like COVID-19 happens again.


1. Maintain social distance.

Automated packaging helps pharmacies and their patients adhere to social distancing guidelines put in place by the CDC. As patients may be weary of making multiple trips to their pharmacy each month due to the risk factors of the pandemic, packaging automation can compile all of their medications in one place for a longer duration, eliminating the need for separate prescription pickups. Pharmacists also benefit, as these machines eliminate the need for several pharmacists in a confined area at once, allowing more room for pharmaceutical professionals to maintain a safe physical distance.


2. Increase efficiency and cost savings. 

Automated packaging is a cost-effective way that pharmacies can get back on their feet after experiencing reduced revenues and high operating costs from the pandemic. Multi-dose adherence pouch packaging can attract more than 10 new customers each month (each taking, on average, five to seven medications per month), and this can generate in excess of $100,000 in new annual gross profit. With more customers using pre-packaged multi-dose medication, comes improved adherence, increased pharmacy Star ratings, and decreased Direct and Indirect Remuneration (“DIR”) Fee pullbacks, which can be up to $72,000 of fees per year.


3. Improve patient adherence through medication synchronization.

While COVID-19 is currently top of mind, the lack of medication non-adherence is severe and continues to grow. Nearly 23% of the US population takes three or more medications per day, with 12% taking five or more per day. In developed countries, adherence among patients suffering chronic diseases averages only 50%, costing the US healthcare system almost $300 billion each year.

We’ve already seen, and will continue to see, worsening adherence due to a variety of correlating factors during this pandemic and beyond. An avoidance of care, pharmacy closures, reduced financial resources, medication shortages, and contaminations in the drug supply are just a few of the ways that COVID-19 may affect patient adherence.

Medication synchronization (med sync) is a simple way for pharmacies to tackle the ongoing problem of medication adherence. With med sync, a patient’s entire prescription regimen is designed to be refilled on the exact same day of the month, which cuts down the need for multiple call-ins and medication pickups to just one simple pick up 12 times a year.

If a pharmacy gained an additional 100 customers on med sync, taking five to seven medications a month, this would add up to an additional 2,450 prescriptions filled each year — generating an additional $24,500 in gross profit. Multi-dose pouch packaging is a sufficient way to be sure your customers are staying compliant to all of their prescribed medications 12 months out of the year.


4. Enable contactless packaging and verification.  

With traditional manual medication packaging, pharmacists are in contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of prescriptions every day. In today’s climate, contactless operation is essential to reducing the spread of germs. Multi-dose packaging and pouch verification machines can package and verify medication automatically. Pouch Verification Machines analyze the size, color, shape, and number of each medication in every pouch quickly, accurately, and risk-free.

In addition to minimizing risk and hands-on interaction with medications, automated machines cut down the time needed to manually dispense and verify each prescription. Research from The Journal of the American Pharmacist Association showed that pharmacists can save more than 46.5 minutes per 100 prescriptions filled compared to the traditional count and pour method. Automating cannot only save your pharmacy time, but can greatly reduce the risk of spreading germs through contact.


Future of automation.

What impact will pharmaceutical automation have on the future of pharmacy? With advanced technologies and automated equipment growing more efficient, pharmacies and their professionals are quickly learning that they can’t afford not to automate. Community pharmacies will become cleaner, safer, and more efficient as technology continues to evolve — and lowered costs of automated systems put automation at reach for even the smallest of pharmacies.

By offering touch-free service, social distancing capabilities, efficiency and improved patient adherence, packaging automation will benefit pharmacies today, tomorrow, and in the future. While we don’t know when the next world crisis will occur or when COVID-19 will subside, packaging automation is the next step to running a healthcare facility that can withstand the unexpected.


New Products

Fast, Stable Pallet Stretch Wrapper Tops 100 Pallets-Per-Hour

Photo supplied by Orion Orion shrink wrapper - Pack Expo Connects 2020-featured.jpg
The high-speed Orion MA-DX2 Rotary Stretch Wrapper can be mated with a LoPro Drag Chain Conveyor System that virtually eliminates pallet loads tipping over and damaging cases while reducing labor costs.

Companies seeking greater throughput, savings, and safety in the warehouse and loading dock have found all of these benefits with automated pallet stretch-wrapping systems. Now, a new system from Orion Packaging Systems, a division of ProMach, is the MA-DX 2 Rotary Tower stretch wrapping system that pushes load throughput to 100 pallets per hour.

The MA-DX2 shares features with its previously announced sibling, the MA-DX. These include a stable 4-leg design and the manufacturer’s Insta-Thread film carriage for fast, easy, and safe film loading — among other features for safety and reliable performance.

The new system adds a second rotary arm and film carriage. To maintain high-speed stability, the dual 30-inch Insta-Thread film carriages and 28-revolutions per minute (rpm) counterbalanced rotary arms oppose one another to apply film in a crisscross pattern.

Automation features include a menu-driven operator interface communicating with an Allen-Bradley PLC; AC motors with variable frequency drives (VFDs); and photoelectric sensors that will pause the machine if the film breaks or runs out.

Some users will opt to add a smart companion: the MA-DX LoPro Drag Chain Conveyor System. It’s said to virtually eliminates pallet loads tipping over and damaging cases, and can accept three pallets at one time. It’s also a labor-saver because it can be operated by just one person. One beverage distribution center, the company reports, realized a complete return on investment in only 18 months.

The MA-DX2 will be featured at the 2020 Pack Expo Connects virtual show (November 9-13), with three separate topics discussed in live product demos hosted on the Orion Packaging Systems exhibitor page.