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Articles from 2020 In November


Recycling

11 Fascinating Facts About Frugalpac’s Paper Bottles

Paper bottles seem to be the “it” format in 2020, with major brands like Absolut, Diageo, Carlsberg, Coca-Cola Co., and PepsiCo developing them via collaborative projects including Pulpex and Paboco (see “Are Paper Bottles Sustainable and Practical?” published October 2020).

Another notable entrant in the paper bottle chase is Frugalpac’s Frugal Bottle, which was introduced in June. The 750-mL Frugal Bottle is made of 94% recycled paperboard with a inner food-grade pouch to hold the wine or spirit. The pouch is a polyethylene/metallized polyester laminate, the same material used in bag-in-box wines. The first wine to launch in the format is 3Q, an unwooded Sangiovese red with a hint of Merlot and Cabernet from the award-winning Italian vineyard Cantina Goccia.

Since then, the company has been inundated with more than 700 quality enquiries from brands, bottlers, and retailers around the world, according to Malcolm Waugh, Frugalpac CEO.

Here’s more Frugal Bottle fascinating facts from our interview with Waugh, starting with several callouts why the package is claimed as a sustainably better choice than glass or plastic bottles…

1. It’s lighter. The Frugal Bottle weighs just 83 grams so is up to five times lighter than a standard glass bottle, making it easier to carry and less costly to ship.

2. It uses less plastic. Made using only 15 grams of plastic for the inner pouch, the Frugal Bottle uses up to 77% less plastic than a PET or rPET bottle, which weighs 64 grams.

3. It’s better for the environment. An independent Life Cycle Analysis by Intertek found the Frugal Bottle, which is made from chemical-free recycled paperboard, has a carbon footprint up to six times (84%) lower than a glass bottle and more than a third less than a bottle made from 100% recycled plastic. The Frugal Bottle’s water-production footprint is also at least four times lower than glass.

4. It stands out. Made from recycled paperboard, the Frugal Bottle allows for 360-degree branding around the bottle and has a printed base. Because no other wine or spirits bottle looks or feels like it, it stands out whether on shelf or table.

5. It’s better for wine producers. The Frugal Bottle can be produced within a customer’s bottling facility, offers complete design and print freedom, and is more cost effective to transport while reducing the customer’s carbon footprint.

6. The company is striving to make the Frugal Bottle more sustainable. “The recycled content in the Frugal Bottle is currently 80%, which is better than most glass bottles, but we are keen to increase that figure.”

7. The inner pouch could be recycled, but that is not yet happening. “As with most laminated pouches used in the drinks industry it is not easily recycled in UK waste streams and usually is incinerated. However, in some European countries it could be recycled with mixed plastics. Once testing is complete, Frugalpac will switch to a pouch made from mono-metallized polypropylene that can be recycled in the UK and other markets.”

FrugalpacFrugal Bottle back label instructions

Frugal Bottle back-of-label and base-of-bottle information.

8. Material separation instructions are shown clearly on the bottle, which can be handled in paper recycling streams.  “Simply separate the thin inner pouch by opening the paper bottle and placing each component into the appropriate bins. The Frugal Bottle has been designed so you don’t need to separate the paper bottle from the pouch to recycle it. You can just put the whole bottle in your paper recycling bin and the pouch will be easily separated in the paper repulping process. We also print information on the bottle’s sustainability credentials on the bottom of the bottle.”

9. The Frugal Bottle is comparable in cost to a labeled glass bottle. “The Frugal Bottle will around cost around $0.6 apiece depending on volumes. Glass bottle ranges from anywhere between $0.3 and $0.8 apiece depending on weight and label complexity.”

10. The business model is as an “open platform” for brands and companies. “Frugal Bottles were initially produced at our Frugalpac HQ in Ipswich, England. We have now scaled up production to meet the global demand for the Frugal Bottles by moving to a larger bottle making facility at Group Roland, which isn’t too far from our HQ.

“Bottle filling can be carried out at the Silent Pool Distillery in Guildford. This partnership will also see Silent Pool produce the world’s first spirit in a paper bottle using one of its excellent gins.

“However, Frugalpac’s business model is to build Frugal Bottle machines and place them at bottling, packaging, and filling facilities, to reduce the packaging’s carbon footprint even further.

“Instead of restricting it to limited consortiums like Paboco and Pulpex, Frugalpac wants to share our innovation with the world with as many producers as possible. We believe this open access approach is also a great opportunity for the packaging, plastics, and print industries as it creates a supply chain for an exciting and innovative sustainably packaged product."

FrugalpacFrugalpac bottle 7 designs

11. It’s generating a lot of interest. “The response has been fantastic and has sparked a huge amount of interest in a drinks industry keen to cut their emissions and appeal to a new audience of consumers interested in sustainability.

“Our first customer, Cantina Goccia, sold out the initial run of 3Q red wine in the UK. They are now launching in Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and have orders from the US and Japan. The company is pleased with the results they’re set to launch one of their white wines in a Frugal Bottle, too.”

“For example, Spanish wine producer Torres has launched the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) with members targeting an overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by 2045, with a shorter-term target of 50% by 2030. Moving to the Frugal Bottle would allow wine producers to cut the carbon footprint of each bottle by up to 84% and reduce emissions from transporting bottles because the Frugal Bottles can be made and filled on-site.

“In general, we’ve had a lot of interest from bottlers, brands, and retailers from around the world, including North America.”

The company has also created the Frugal Cup, a takeaway cup for coffee and other drinks that offers improved sustainability compared to regular paper or plastic cups. The video below starts with the Frugal Cup.

Tell us about the Frugal Cup.

Waugh: Frugalpac’s mission is to create and supply recycled paper-based products with the lowest carbon footprint that are easily recycled and don’t need to go to a landfill.

The Frugal Cup was designed to solve the huge environmental problem that only one in 400 paper coffee cups is actually recycled. That’s because conventional and compostable cups are made from 100% virgin paper with a laminated plastic or polymer that’s very hard to separate. Thus, the vast majority of coffee cups go straight to landfill.

That’s why we radically redesigned it by making the cup from 96% recycled paperboard and then inserting an inner plastic liner that was lightly embossed to the cup interior. This means the liner can be easily removed in the pulping process in standard waste facilities. As a result, the Frugal Cup has a carbon footprint up to 60% lower than conventional and compostable cups.

What’s the cup’s pricing?

Waugh: It’s only slightly more expensive to produce than a conventional or compostable cup, but the environmental benefits outstrip that. What’s more as we use recycled paperboard, the cup has already had several uses before being made into a cup and can be easily recycled again. The Frugal Cup is by far the most sustainable paper cup on the market. 

What’s the status or potential for the US and North America?

Waugh: The Frugal Cup is commercially available for the US and North American markets and we hope to see an increased presence over the next year. You can order the Frugal Cup online at www.frugalpac.com.

Healthcare Packaging

Medical Device Packaging Expert Talks Trends, Technical Developments

VEW2020-Amy Stewart_quote-ftd.jpg

Uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have imposed new supply chain and regulatory hurdles for medical device manufacturers and further complicate the process of navigating the strict requirements applied to packaging materials for medical devices. While the market for medical device packaging is projected to grow to just shy of $44 billion by 2026, growth may be restrained by health and safety regulations governing sterilization and a plethora of other compliance issues. In this environment, attention to scalable, innovative, and unconventional production methods will be a key driver for sustained market growth. 

Amy Stewart, chairperson of the Institute of Packaging Professionals Medical Device Packaging Technical Committee (MDPTC), will explore the current state of packaging sterility and safety, including regulations in place to avoid healthcare-associated infection and the gravity of packaging integrity to patient safety, in her keynote presentation at Virtual Engineering Week, an all-new digital event taking place November 30 – December 4, 2020.

Virtual Engineering Week is organized by Informa Markets – Engineering — producers of the nation’s largest advanced manufacturing events, which includes Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M), WestPack, EastPack, Cannabis Packaging Summit, PackEx, and MinnPack, and owner of Packaging Digest. The five-day event is designed to connect suppliers with buyers and purchase influencers in the medtech, automation, design, packaging, materials, plastics, sustainability, and product development sectors. It offers world-class education for the close-knit manufacturing community through comprehensive conferences and networking at a time when in-person connection is not feasible.

Packaging Digest spoke with Stewart for a preview into what attendees can expect from her keynote address “Leading Change in Medical Device Packaging,” scheduled for Wednesday, December 2, at 11:15am EST. For anyone interested in tuning in to the event, registration is open at engineering.im.informa.com/2020.

 

As chairperson of the IoPP Medical Device Packaging Technical Committee (MDPTC), your keynote presentation at Virtual Engineering Week is “Leading Change.” What does that mean?

Stewart: Medical device packaging is an industry with range of technical expertise with one common mission — patient safety. We all have our roles in the supplier value chain to serve the patient through medical device packaging integrity and sterility assurance. Not only are there new ideas and challenges to decades of technical convention to explore, there are new faces in the industry. This brings a greater opportunity — being intentional with our differences.

As the leader of a professional organization in a well-established industry, I am passionate that our organizational culture is built on the pillar of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Our conversations are richer because of the various perspectives in our membership (and overall in our industry) and our Board. 

In one “closest” example, I work with a talented young packaging engineer, Seema Momim, events chair on the MDPTC Board. Seema, a packaging engineer with Network Partners, is a consummate professional and is making an impact with the aggressive events schedule of MDPTC Tech Talks, meaningful forum-style discussions. In spite of competing priorities in this new world, Seema is “leading the change.”

 

Where are the opportunities in the medical device packaging industry?

Stewart: In my keynote presentation, I share a few highlights from the last 12 to 18 months, where we’ve seen trends and insights from less conventional sterilization methods to new medical device packaging innovation groups. These topics illustrate what’s happening in the industry that may resonate and inspire someone to seek his/her opportunity to further contribute.

Many speakers at Virtual Engineering Week are presenting on facets of medical device and medical device packaging, including regulatory changes making a global impact and the “global” concern of healthcare waste.

In the last eight months of COVID-19 support, there have been many activities leveraging the experience of medical device packaging professionals, including educators and media partners in our MDPTC membership. There’s no better time to answer the call-to-action, lean into the conversation, and provide technical leadership.

 

If you’re a new packaging professional in this field, how do you break into this industry and be a contributor on game-changing advancements in medical device packaging? 

Stewart: Whether this was 2019 (pre-pandemic) or 2020, a good start is to join the Institute of Packaging Professionals and its Medical Device Packaging Technical Committee. Membership offers immediate access to programs and other like-minded professionals who are driven to see medical device packaging...be better, the timeless goal.

Also, in my presentation, I share the relationships between IoPP MDPTC and other industry organizations, such as the Sterilization Packaging Manufacturers Council (SPMC), a council of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA); the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI); and ASTM International, organizations that collectively are passionate about advancing medical device packaging technical guidance.

 

Hasn’t this industry had those leading the change already? Will we hear about new faces leading the change? 

Stewart: Yes, and yes. Thankfully, we continue to have strong technical leaders who have built the technical foundational knowledge of medical device packaging. I share some examples of how industry professionals are leading “their” change. As we close out 2020, we thank once again lifetime medical device packaging industry contributor and MDPTC Honor Award recipient John Spitzley. A key objective for IoPP’s MDPTC is to be a valuable resource for new medical device packaging professional members — for industry education, networking, and professional development. In the next couple of months, MDPTC will be accepting applications for two industry recognitions, the annual MDPTC Honor Award and the Student HealthPack Award, in addition to open positions for Board re-elections. These applications are great indications of the faces leading the change.

 

Steve Everly is group event director for Informa Markets – Engineering. He leads the teams producing top industry events, including Virtual Engineering Week, EastPack, Powder Show Digital FlowiPBS, and the Cannabis Packaging Summit.

Ecommerce/Supply Chain

3 Holiday Trends and the Gift of Packaging

Photo credit: trahko – adobe.stock.com Package-opened-AdobeStock_129610648-ftd.jpeg

Every holiday season presents a scramble of activities. With consumers seeking to entertain and provide gifts for family and friends, demand is at a yearly all-time high and brand teams are busier than ever working to meet that demand.

This holiday season in particular — with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact lives across the country —presents unique challenges. Packaging solutions that are flexible, scalable, easy to implement, and sustainable are increasingly important.

Specifically, here are three trends we are seeing and some packaging tips to ensure success:

 

1. From candles to cookware, diffusers to dishware, ecommerce will continue to rise.

Ecommerce had been seeing a steady rise prior to COVID-19, with retail ecommerce sales taking a larger percentage of total retail sales in the US. Now, in the current and post-COVID environment, ecommerce sales are expected to garner a greater share of total retail sales globally, as consumers increasingly look to more convenient, socially distanced, online shopping.

Deloitte forecasts that ecommerce sales will grow by 25% to 35% year-over-year during the 2020/2021 holiday season. In total, ecommerce holiday sales are expected to generate between $182 and $196 billion.

As retailers prepare to address this demand, as well as the continued shift in purchasing habits, secondary packaging will be increasingly important.  Americans will not only be purchasing gifts online but will also be shipping gifts directly to family and friends, many of whom they may not be seeing in person due to travel restrictions and coronavirus precautions.  

In the ecommerce business, an optimal unboxing experience is key. Surprising your customers with their purchased items packaged like real gifts represents your brand values and positioning, and your consumers will feel highly valued more and likely to turn into loyal customers in return.

Retailers should also be prepared to anticipate the types of gifts likely to be popular this year. We expect home gifts to take center stage as Americans are spending more time at home. Candles, dishware, and décor all top numerous lists of 2020’s expected hot holiday gifts — all highly breakable items that should be wrapped carefully.

While bubble wrap has long claimed center stage in holiday gift unwrappings, retailers should consider switching to a more sustainable and aesthetically appealing paper solution. Although there may be some disappointed children missing out on the satisfaction of popping plastic wrap, a sustainable, biodegradable, and recyclable alternative to traditional bubble wrap not only improves brand reputation as a more sustainable company, but it also offers an outstanding in-the-box presentation and unpacking experience.

 

2. Automation will continue to enhance, but not replace, labor.

A recent study by Forrester stated that automation may be key for many businesses looking to survive the coronavirus recession. What’s more, a report by Ernst and Young from March found that 41% of managers in 45 countries were investing in accelerating automation as they prepare for a post-coronavirus world.

In times of increased holiday demand, coupled with the economic effects of COVID-19, speed and efficiency will be key, as more and more companies enter or bolster their presence in the ecommerce space.

Automation that enhances, not replaces, labor can serve a multitude of benefits. Automation tools can help you analyze and improve consumables costs, reduce waste, quickly adjust for seasonal volume peaks, and optimize freight among other contributors to overall costs and usage.

Automation can also ultimately reduce warehouse space. Since the pandemic, there has been a scramble amongst retailers to either upgrade warehouses or do more with the same amount of space. The packaging process needs to be increasingly quick, ergonomic, and cost efficient, as warehouse space is becoming rarer and more expensive.

Finally, using automated tools and processes can also help companies do more with less, ultimately creating a better environment for workers. Since COVID 19, there’s been a surge in warehouse worker demand coupled with a skills gap, which Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute estimate could leave almost 2.5 million manufacturing jobs unfilled between 2018 and 2028. Automation is critical to companies seeking fewer, but more engaged and motivated packagers — people who are there to make sure their machines are giving optimum results.

 

3. Companies will increasingly ditch plastic, heeding consumer calls for greater sustainability.

According to Nielsen, the US sustainability market is projected to reach $150 billion in sales by 2021. Additional research shows that 66% of global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable goods and 84% of consumers seek out responsible products wherever possible.

A truly sustainable product also comes in sustainable packaging, and there is still immense untapped opportunity to use more recyclable materials. In the United States, plastic packaging alone accounts for 47% of the estimated 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste generated from 1950 to 2015, of which only about 9% was recycled and 12% incinerated, with 79% left to occupy landfills or pollute the natural environment for hundreds of years.

Paper packaging, on the other hand, is one of the most sustainable products. Made from renewable resources, it is biodegradable, and easily cycled back or used for renewable energy.

Paper is also good for the bottom line, as it outperforms many in-the-box product protection alternatives, especially when considering indirect costs such as handling and storage, employee safety, machine downtime, and facility cleanup.

 

While these trends will be particularly prevalent during the holiday season, they also represent long-term shifts for the packaging industry. Companies that adjust now will be better prepared for long-term success in 2021 and beyond.

Labeling/Claims

Shrink Label Applicators: What’s New and What’s Next

Photos supplied by each supplier Shrink-labelers-group-ftd.jpg
Innovations in shrink-sleeve labeling machinery include mechanical upgrades, advanced software controls, and management tools.

Full-body shrink-sleeve labels wrap rigid containers of all sizes and shapes to provide the greatest possible canvass for graphics and information. They also offer great promotional and marketing flexibility while streamlining container inventories. When it comes to automatically applying these labels, innovations in materials are driving new challenges for packaging machinery.

In response, builders of shrink-film labelers are responding to demand for their machines to handle thinner films and faster changeovers, and with greater sustainability. Innovations range from mechanical upgrades to advanced software controls and management tools that brands can coordinate with related equipment on the line, such as banding, accumulators, and tunnels.

Four industry insiders participated in a virtual roundtable on the topic:

Ed Farley, product line manager with Axon, a ProMach Co.

Richard Howlett, product line leader for Accraply, a Barry-Wehmiller Packaging Co.

Rich Keenan, national sales manager, PDC International

Matt Linz, vice president of sales, Tripack

Below you’ll find their insights on the latest advancements, benefits, challenges, and future developments for shrink-label applicators. (For a related primer on shrink tunnels, see “Which Shrink Tunnel is Best for Your Labeling Operation?”)

 

What recent advancements have you seen in shrink-label applicators?

Farley: A recent advancement is the ability to run ultra-thin gauge sleeving materials. Axon’s SLX system is equipped with our patented SLT technology and, when paired with a zero-tension film feeding system, can run film as thin as 25 microns at production rates of up to 800 containers per minute.

Photo supplied by AxonAxon-HydroTech-TB-labeler-web.jpg

Axon’s new HydroTech-TB is a stainless steel, washdown-able performer with food-grade servo motors.

Howlett: The shrink-sleeve film market is very dynamic with new and more advanced shrink films being developed continuously. These advancements are certainly having an impact on shrink-label application machines.

The most significant trend that we see is the down-gauging of shrink films. This has an impact on the design of shrink-sleeve application machine cutting system. The cutting systems are now required to cut thinner, softer films at higher speeds.

 

Keenan: We have been making improvements in design and features to address customer issues on a few fronts.

First, with more companies using unskilled labor, we’re offering features for easier, quicker startup and changeover for greater uptime.

Second, we’re helping customers better address downtime due to failure of wear parts, which has a major impact on your overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and total cost of ownership (TCO).

Finally, we’re working with folks on ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their machines without affecting performance.

 

Linz: As a company focused exclusively on the shrink-sleeve labeling and packaging industry, we are continuously pursuing advancements to our equipment solutions with a focus on performance, reliability, and operator adaptability (PRO). Most recently, Tripack is developing new technology that allows the equipment to expand and contract with the flow of the lay-flat (LF) film web. This advancement in equipment technology dramatically improves the relationship between film and equipment. 

In addition, we’ve created ergonomically friendly film accumulation solutions that enable operators to continuously run their lines without stopping to perform film splices.

 

How do these advanced systems compare to the existing standard equipment?

Linz: Tripack’s equipment works within the industry standard mandrel LF tolerance of +/-1 millimeter. Our unique mandrel design will help compensate for occasional film size fluctuations resulting in reduced application failures and greater productions efficiencies.

 

Howlett: With the trend to cut thinner, softer films at higher speeds, control of the shrink-sleeve during the cutting cycle is critical. These systems generally use the most advanced controls to allow maximum control of the sleeve during the cutting process. With the need for control being paramount, we see the need to monitor OEE in the form of advanced data-gathering and diagnostics. To achieve this, “smart” human-machine interface (HMI) technology is used in many shrink-sleeve application machines, giving the end user full transparency and understanding of how their shrink-sleeve system is performing.

 

Farley: The film thickness standard in the US in most cases is 50 microns. Most mandrel-style systems can accommodate film thicknesses down to 40 microns for less challenging applications. Handling film below 40 microns becomes an issue for most systems due to the lack of stiffness in the film, making it difficult to advance and apply to containers.

 

Keenan: For customers who might not need frequent changeovers, our standard equipment would be a good fit. But for others, we have addressed quicker changeovers on some of our models, especially for those using unskilled labor.

To reduce changeover time, we are now offering a Power Height Adjustment with linear transducer. Because this is menu-driven in the HMI, you can push a button and the applicator head will raise to a pre-set location. Also, you can have the inspection unit and heat tunnel all raise at the same push of the button. Eliminating these physical adjustments, in turn, reduces changeover time.

To take it further, this same push of the button can change all electrical adjustments; line speed; the photo-eye used to separate the shrink sleeves; and the heat tunnel temperature.

As to removing our mandrel during changeover, which requires a person, we are now using self-centering units with digital positioning indicators. Customers asked if we could take this further, since there have been issues with folks who weren’t adept with this process during changeovers. We have installed a torque wrench-style device, so the dial indicator will not over-tighten the changeover even if an operator fails to pay proper attention. Working closely with our customers is what drives our improvements. 

Photo supplied by PDC InternationalPDC-R-250-labeler-web.jpg

PDC’s R-250 Mandrel Series shrink-sleeve labeler features advanced cutting techniques and automated single-pushbutton changeover.

Another advance is the way we address downtime to replace wear parts, which is a major contributor to total cost of ownership and your OEE. One example can be seen in advances we’ve made in cutting-blade design. There are many in use that will last one or two weeks, which is detrimental to both your TCO and your OEE. Instead, we have made some adjustments in our design over the years that address this. As a result, today, data from our customers show 20 to 25 million cuts before the blade set has to be removed and sharpened. Plus, there is less than a 5-minute change time, with adjustments made before you’re up and running.   

 

What are the benefits of these advancements for packaging machinery buyers/users?

Keenan: Many of the benefits come down to uptime on the packaging line and overcoming lost time during changeover and start-up. Now that changeover is performed with a push of a button, which always goes back to the factory setting, in a very short time, this will reduce issues associated with a changeover.

And as I said earlier, greater longevity on wear parts along with quick and simple replacement can only help your OEE and TCO.     

 

Linz: A cohesive relationship between the film converter and equipment manufacturer is key for any end user. Tripack’s recent technological advancements further develops that relationship, while giving end users and brands the flexibility to select film converters of their choice.

 

Farley: Thinner films translates into less packaging used, which is beneficial from a sustainability as well as a cost standpoint.

 

Howlett: The benefit for the buyers/users is that if the correct sleeve-application machinery is selected, then the machinery will be advanced enough to cope with the trend of cutting thinner, softer films at higher speeds, thus opening up the market for the user to use a wider range of shrink films and offering more options to brand owners, with thinner films reducing weight and volume for logistics, and reducing CO2 emissions.

 

What areas in shrink-label applicators still need work and why?

Howlett: The areas of a shrink-label system that are being worked on are that part of the system that can be deemed the most challenging, which are the shrink tunnels. With the continued advancement in shrink film, shrink tunnels are equally important parts of the process and are being advanced in technology in the pursuit of providing the perfectly finished shrink-sleeve labels. Selecting the correct tunnel is critical to produce the best possible final appearance of the product. [Editor’s Note: See Howlett’s guidelines in “Which Shrink Tunnel is Best for Your Labeling Operation?”]

Photo supplied by AccraplyAccraply-VF350-labeler-web.jpg

Accraply’s VF350 Shrink Sleeve Applicator, rated at 350 containers per minute, is among the new breed of machines designed for thinner, softer films at higher speeds.

Keenan: A lot of what we have been hearing from our customers is about the carbon footprint. We have already, as a standard, gone with high-efficiency motors, and we use almost no shop air. We continue to look at ways to reduce power to our dry heat tunnel. As for our steam tunnels, some of our models are now using very low pounds per square inch (PSI) of steam vapor.

 

Farley: Almost all shrink-sleeve labeling machinery is not designed to be used in wet or washdown areas. This is due to many factors — mainly cost-related.

 

Linz: Communication and planning between film converter, equipment manufacturer, and end user continue to be an area of opportunity. Toward that end, our consultative approach focuses on ensuring an end user is always set-up for success at production start-up. 

 

What’s next and when might we see further improvements in shrink-label applicator machinery?

Keenan: What’s next? Faster single-head applicators exceeding 800 containers per minute, low carbon footprint, and an overall smaller footprint. At some point, we will be announcing our next-generation high-speed applicator.     

 

Linz: We are pushing research and development (R&D) improvements every day. Tripack is a big advocate of simplistic design and user/machine interface. Future equipment improvements will focus on making changeovers easier and quicker.

Now it’s about fine-tuning — how reducing one more adjustment or improving calibration settings can promote quicker, easier, and more reliable changeovers. Uptime equals profits. It’s all about uptime. 

Photo supplied by TripackTripack-MSAHSA-405-labeler-web.jpg

Tripack’s high-speed MSA/HSA-405 models include touchscreens and pre-calibrated clutch wheels for “perfect” mandrel placement and film pressure tension.

Farley: Axon introduced a new line of washdown tamper-evident banding and shrink-sleeving machinery at Pack Expo Connects. The HydroTech line will include machines with food-grade washdown, servo-motion control, and all stainless steel construction. [Editor’s note: This line was included in our flexible packaging highlights from the PEC event.]

 

Howlett: As the industry continues to keep a watchful eye on sustainability and the carbon footprint, the industry may make improvements in ways to shrink the sleeves using less energy and with more use of renewable energy.

Labeling/Claims

Which Shrink Tunnel is Best for Your Labeling Operation?

Photo credit: olliethedesigner - adobe.stock.com Three-Options-Shrink-Tunnels-AdobeStock_245671115-ftd.jpeg

The shrink-sleeve label market is booming, thanks in part to how well this type of full-body packaging decoration appeals to consumers. Growth is anticipated to exceed 6% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the next five years, according to multiple research reports. This is driving innovations in associated packaging machinery, such as labeling machines (see the recent article, “Shrink Label Applicators: What’s New and What’s Next”).

Another system you’ll need for a shrink-sleeve labeling operation is a shrink tunnel. Do you know what to look for?

Here is a rundown of the three main types of shrink tunnels — convection hot air, infrared radiant, and conduction — courtesy of Richard Howlett, product line leader for Accraply, a Barry-Wehmiller Packaging Co. Howlett shares insights to help guide you past the pitfalls of each technology and make the best choice for your packaging application.

 

Hot-air (convection) tunnels.

Hot-air tunnels are versatile and cost effective to use. They connect to almost any power source. Hot air tunnels offer directional heat. Therefore, depending on the type of equipment used, the many different manifolds in these systems enable heat to be focused on those areas of the container that require the most shrinkage. This makes them good systems for focused heating on necks, recesses, and grooves.

Hot air tunnels do have some disadvantages. Hot air is not a very efficient medium through which heat is transferred. Therefore, temperatures in hot air tunnels are generally higher to enable enough heat to be transferred onto the surface of the film to start the shrink process. With hot-air systems, heat can sometimes be over-exposed to the leading edge of the container/sleeve, resulting in distortion and producing a poor-quality finish. This is particularly prevalent with certain container types and process conditions.

Examples of this may be a cold-filled plastic container, or glass containers. One way to mitigate this issue is to rotate the container as it passes through the tunnel using a spinning” conveyor.

 

Radiant-heat (infra-red) tunnels.

Radiant-heat tunnels were primarily designed for preheating containers — prior to sleeving — to mitigate the heat-sink effect of glass containers. However, they can also be effectively used to shrink sleeves. Radiant systems deliver infrared heat, and, because the heat remains in the chamber, they create an oven-like shrinking environment.

Because of their high temperatures, radiant heat tunnels represent a harsh shrinking environment with little opportunity to direct heat toward specific areas on a container. Additionally, it can be particularly difficult to get even shrink results. For example, the leading side of the sleeve entering the tunnel gets aggressively shrunk before the trailing edge; or, the sleeve on the two sides of the container are exposed to more intense heat than the leading and trailing sides — again resulting in a pulled” or uneven finished shrink sleeve.

A further complication of the high temperatures in radiant tunnels is the difficulty they can present with empty containers. For example, the task of shrinking a polyethylene terephthalate gly (PETG) sleeve on a thin-wall, empty polyethylene terephthalate (PET) container can be extremely challenging in a radiant tunnel. 

 

Steam (conduction) tunnels.

Steam tunnels are the preferred medium for most applications. They offer some significant advantages in terms of the process window. It is the most versatile type of tunnel and works well for a variety of films.

Steam distributes heat evenly to the entire surface of the film as it envelopes the container passing through the tunnel. And, because it is steam — and water is more than 20 times more efficient at transferring heat than is air — temperatures are lower and the environment in the tunnel much less harsh. 

Despite steam tunnels being the most favored method of shrinking shrink-sleeve labels due to their propensity to deliver the most even finished result, their initial installation is likely to be more involved and expensive than other technologies. This is due to the need for a steam-generating boiler, as well as all the associated piping, extraction, valve gear, and drainage required. The volume of steam, and hence the boiler requirements, will primarily be dictated by the volume of throughput required of the sleeving line.

Healthcare Packaging

Global Healthcare Company Adds Smart Labels to Meds

Photo supplied by Fresenius Kabi Fresenius Kabi RFID-featured.jpg
By tagging pharmaceuticals with RFID track-and-trace technology, Fresenius Kabi is helping hospitals with inventory management, making it easier for them to assure the right products are in the right places at the right time.

In September 2020, global health care company Fresenius Kabi began adding radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to a portfolio of essential medications so hospitals can immediately identify, locate, and manage their inventory. This replaces the current manual method, which is time consuming and fraught with the potential for errors.

Fresenius Kabi’s investment has immediate use: IntelliGuard, a pharmacy automation vendor, is already set up to process these RFID-tagged medications.

The first product in Fresenius Kabi’s +RFID product line —Diprivan (Propofol) 200 mg per 20 mL (10 mg per mL) Injectable Emulsion — launched at the beginning of October and is fully operational with any GS1-compliant equipment, including the IntelliGuard system, which allows interoperability throughout the company’s global supply chain.

“It made sense to have Diprivan be our first +RFID product given that it is the number one prescribed Propofol in the US and we know many hospitals depend upon it every day,” says John Ducker, president and CEO of Fresenius Kabi USA. “It will help hospitals with inventory management and is designed to answer our customers’ call to make it easier to assure that the right products are in the right places at the right time.”

Fresenius Kabi expects to add more than 20 medicines in prefilled syringes and vials to its +RFID portfolio in the United States in 2021.

“Fresenius Kabi’s commitment couldn’t come at a more important time, as hospitals are faced with significant medication supply chain challenges,” said Gordon Krass, CEO of IntelliGuard, in a press release. “Our customers will now be able to get RFID smart-labeled medications directly from a manufacturer. It’s a great example of leadership from industry and a win for both patients and health care providers. Fresenius Kabi’s technology solution further revolutionizes health care, protects patient safety and will undoubtedly bring a new level of track, trace, and inventory visibility throughout hospital supply chains.”

Products in the +RFID portfolio will automatically provide the National Drug Code, expiration date, lot number, and serial number (at the item level).

 

Pharma industry renews interest in RFID.

The Fresenius Kabi +RFID portfolio launch coincides with the formation of a new consortium, DoseID, which has representation from the entire pharmaceutical supply chain: drug manufacturers, RFID inlay providers, automation vendors, and hospitals. Industry interest in RFID technology remains high, as its many benefits have been known for a decade.

Among its activities, DoseID creates universal standards for how RFID tags are used in the healthcare industry from several angles: RFID quality and performance; data and interoperability; and serialization.

Founding members include Omnicell Inc., Sandoz, Baxter, Hikma, Nephron Pharmaceuticals, Avery Dennison, Kit Check, MPI Label Systems, and CCL Healthcare.

Sumant Ramachandra, M.D., Ph.D., president, Pharmaceuticals and senior vice president, chief science and technology officer at Baxter, says, “Reliable, transparent medication supply chains are crucial to Baxter’s priorities of advancing pharmacy efficiency and patient care. DoseID is an important step toward modernizing these supply chains, and we welcome the opportunity to help guide the development of medication tracking.”

 

Inside Fresenius Kabi USA’s decisions.

Matthew Kuhn, senior director, external communications and government relations at Fresenius Kabi USA, answers our questions about the company’s development, as well as the industry’s pursuit of RFID technology.

 

How many hospitals can read RFID tags?

Kuhn: RFID medication tracking systems are in approximately 10% of US hospitals and growing due to the need for tighter medication inventory control. Hospitals that currently use these systems must manually RFID tag and identify every dose of medication, which is a very time consuming and tedious process. Fresenius Kabi will be the first pharmaceutical company to pre-tag and embed medication identification data into the RFID tag and will follow GS1 open, technology independent, global standards that permit full interoperability and compatibility with all RFID systems and allow tags to be read in both the US and internationally.

 

What is the extra cost? If there is additional cost, how are you handling? Passing along, and, if so, how is the market reacting to that?

Kuhn: Any additional cost for the RFID-enabled medications will be nominal and will vary depending on a customer’s Group Purchasing Organization (GPO) contract.

Fresenius Kabi conducted extensive market research and it overwhelmingly showed that RFID customers want pre-tagged medications from pharmaceutical manufacturers for convenience and because manufacturers are held to cGMP quality standards. Hospitals are already spending time and money to tag products.

Fresenius Kabi +RFID eliminates the time-consuming process of manually tagging medication, which means pharmacists have more time to focus on higher-value clinical services.  Our research also indicates that convenience, accuracy, and safety were top of mind with customers when discussing the challenges associated with manual tagging.

 

How are you handling space constraints on packaging?

Kuhn: Fresenius Kabi +RFID medications take up no more space than non-RFID products.  The RFID tag is embedded under the label and is virtually unnoticeable.

 

What specific IntelliGuard systems are able to handle the +RFID products? Did the company create new equipment/carts to do this?

Kuhn: The Fresenius Kabi +RFID label was developed using global GS1 EPC RFID tag data standards, the same standards used on pharmaceutical barcodes today. It was also designed to be interoperable. Any RFID system designed to read GS1 will be able to read Fresenius Kabi +RFID labels. IntelliGuard RFID systems are GS1 compatible and the feedback from customers has been very positive. GS1 compatibility with other RFID systems is expected to be announced soon.

 

How does the packaging communicate with the IntelliGuard system?

Kuhn: Historically, RFID medication tracking systems have used proprietary numbering systems on the RFID tags they sell to their customers. These tags are manually applied to medications and the drug data is associated to a proprietary numbering system, like a license plate. As a global pharmaceutical company, it’s important to assure that any hospital or vendor can read the drug information locally on our products, regardless of which type of RFID reader is used. We can do that by using GS1 standards, which are non-proprietary and easily decodable. IntelliGuard was the first to evolve its system to read GS1 RFID EPC tag data standards and we expect more to follow.

 

Who in hospitals will use this and how?

Kuhn: Hospitals are already using RFID systems in a variety of ways — for example, to track patients and monitor refrigerated units. Fresenius Kabi introduced RFID technology at the source, at the manufacturing level, so it can be used throughout the value chain and, ultimately, by the hospital. Our focus is on medications used in the operating room (OR). 

Manually tagging medicines is time-consuming, inefficient, and open to error. In a fast-paced, time-sensitive hospital environment like the OR, healthcare providers aren’t likely to question what’s on the tag, even if it has been programmed wrong. In other words, the safety of a program is only as good as those who program it. That’s why it is beneficial to program these tags with RFID at the point of manufacture — in a cGMP environment.  This eliminates the risks associated with manually tagging. We are taking this process and making it better.

 

Is Fresenius Kabi a member of the DoseID group? If not, why not?

Kuhn: Fresenius Kabi is not currently part of the DoseID consortium. Fresenius Kabi +RFID products are GS1 global standards compliant, which are the prevailing standards used on pharmaceutical products today and contain all the relevant information that hospitals require. 

In our market research and conversations with customers, we have been advised to follow GS1 standards for compatibility and interoperability of our barcodes and RFID. As DoseID grows its presence, we will be interested to learn what their requirements will be.

 

What specific GS1 standard does the Fresenius Kabi RFID tag follow?

Kuhn: The Fresenius Kabi +RFID label was developed using global GS1 EPC RFID tag data standards, the same standards used on pharmaceutical barcodes today. It was also designed to be interoperable.

Robotics

How to Build a Better Robotic Packaging Operation

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The packaging operation is detailed, complex, but repeatable. While it’s not an easy operation to get right, the benefits of a fully automated packaging effort are immense. The result is efficiency, speed, and quality.

We caught up with Aaron Donlon, product manager at Epson America, who works in the company’s Factory Automation Robotics group. Donlon’s expertise in detailed packaging operations comes from his Bachelor’s and Master’s in mechanical engineering as well as his time working for an equipment OEM and in the consumer packaged good industry working on both the factory floor as a plant engineer.

Donlon walked us through what it takes to create an effective packaging operation.

 

What is involved in creating an effective robot automation application/system for packaging?

Donlon: It all begins with filling out your request-for-proposal with as much detail as you can possibly provide. The most critical inputs are speeds required, sizes of the product, and what pack pattern configurations are required. Providing samples is also important. To determine the actual weight of the product in addition to the packaging. For example, a gallon of milk in a glass container is much heavier than a gallon of milk in a plastic one. In addition, by providing samples of the product the automation engineer can determine what kind of end-of-arm tooling can be used to pick the product. Will a simple vacuum tool be enough to handle the product, or is something more complex and heavier necessary?

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For end-of-arm tooling, there is a great range of products that can be customized but are still right off the shelf.

The end-of-arm tool along with the product is necessary for determining the inertia the robot will experience. Just like maximum payload, every robot has a maximum amount of inertia each joint can resist. Once this is determined the robot kinematics will govern how fast the robot can accelerate and decelerate, ultimately affecting the speed. An automation engineer may swap in different robots in a simulation tool to determine the best robot to handle the speeds of the application. An enabling technology is the use of 3D printed end-of-arm tools. These can be custom designed with composite materials eliminating extra weight over traditional manufacturing methods.

 

How important is it to determine the pattern of the packing?

Donlon: The pack patterns will be critical. Is the product simply picked and placed into the package or will they need to be rotated or nested prior to loading? The more complicated the load pattern, the more likely it is that additional steps in the process will be necessary. Many case packers use robots to load directly into the case, but if the packing pattern requires the product to be rotated 90 degrees prior to loading that must be taken into account.

How to mount the robot and controller in a packaging machine is also a key decision that will affect the overall size of a packaging machine. Ceiling mount typically provides the greatest reach for a robot, to pick and place the product, but the frame must be designed stiff enough to reduce the reactive load of the robot. The placement of the electrical controller is critical as well. It is a compromise between allowing access for maintenance personnel and having enough room around it to dissipate heat and keep it away from sources of contamination.

 

What constitutes an effective robot application? Speed? Ease of use? Agility? Flexibility? Fast change-overs?

Donlon: An effective robot application is one that contributes to satisfying the needs of the customer’s business. If the use of robotics helps to resolve a real customer business issue, they will continue to invest in the future.  

Every business and every engineer has a list of needs and wants. Most customers are concerned with not only the capability to run this product at this rate but also delivery time, enhanced safety, ease of use, sanitation, controls architecture….etc. In the packaging space though we do know changeovers are much more frequent than in the past, and the very fast pace of change does require the equipment to be very flexible. Ease of use will continue to be a requirement to allow for successful operation on the plant floor. Remote access and troubleshooting from OEMs will continue to expand as customers want to reduce their costs and the time it takes for a service rep to be on site.

Speed to market, with a focus on delivery, may be key to their business to launch a product before a shelf reset or begin a contract with a new customer sooner. Conversely, some folks may be focused on changeover and flexibility. If you are a copacker you would be better focused on those.

 

How important is simulation to the manufacturing process these days?

Donlon: What we are seeing robotics do for the packaging industry is freeing up some time for the engineers tasked with building these systems to allow them to create and simulate the rest of the system knowing that the motion control is designed and simulated. This extra time not spent designing a gantry or XYZ plains can be spent focusing on ways to better collate and load product into a given container with end-of-arm tool designs.

We also see some merging of new technologies, even the larger end-of-arm tools companies like Schmalz and Piab have embraced 3D printing of end-of-arm tools that in packaging can easily translate to different formats the robots can run. 

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How to mount the robot and controller in a packaging machine is also a key decision that will affect the overall size of a packaging machine.

 

What is involved in integrating a robotic packaging operation? Aligning the software of disparate equipment?

Donlon: Integrating a robotic packaging operation faces the same challenges as any packaging automation solution. A packaging machine can be made up of motors, sensors, solenoid valves, air cylinders, laser coders, heaters, scanners, robots, printers, dust collectors….and on. For a packaging machine, there is the main controller for the system taking in inputs from all of those devices.

In some instances, it may be the robot itself that is the main controller, or a PLC is very common in the packaging space. Having a standard Fieldbus protocol for communication has made the integration of all these signals from different suppliers much easier than it was in the past. For example, at Epson Robots we support multiple Fieldbus protocols with Ethernet/IP being a very popular option. Taking another step forward, to make our robots easier to integrate with the popular Allen Bradley PLC devices we created Add on Instructions software. This software allows the programmer to stay in their native ladder logic environment and program the robot functions just like they would turn on a motor or switch in their program.

 

Is part of the process bringing incompatible equipment (such as matching the right robot with the right conveyors), or has equipment become flexible enough that compatibility is not a profound issue?

Donlon: A robot is part of a packaging system application. It can be a very big part and be the muscle and the brain of the operation, or many times it is the muscle on a machine and is merely told to move things around. But a robot does need supporting equipment around it to handle the incoming packages, to convey the product into it, and all the other supporting functions. As much care and thought must go into the product and packaging material handling as programming the moves of the robot. Even with a robot, a machine will perform poorly if the cases all crash into each other or get crushed due to backpressure before they are loaded.  

A common enough operation in packaging is to pick single units randomly oriented on a conveyor and place them into a pattern. That pattern is then picked and loaded into the final carton or case. It is not uncommon to use vision with a backlight under the belt to find the product. What is critical on this conveyor is that the speed of the belt is known, the product does not shift around, and that a clear image can be taken of the product.

Experienced builders will ensure that the encoders do not slip, the belt transitions are smooth, the splices are flat, the belt material is resistant to dust buildup, transfer from the product is minimal, and can be cleaned easily.

 

What new technology is having an impact on packaging operations?

Donlon: There are some emerging technologies like laser-guided 3D scanning that are getting better every year and the prices keep coming down. The benefit of this new technology, once it matures, is that you eliminate the requirements of a vision system and also get the height of the product, allowing the robot to compensate for the height variety of the incoming product.

For end-of-arm tooling, there is a great range of products that can be customized but are still right off the shelf. The design of end-of-arm tools used to be very time consuming and expensive but is very turnkey now. Another gauge I have on the automation space is that you can literally buy a robot pedestal and safety barrier off McMaster Carr right now. It is a great time in automation where the pieces are much less custom and come at a commercial price point to make automation affordable so that small and medium-sized businesses can see the benefits.

 

How important is it to match the operation with the right HMI and analytics?

Donlon: An HMI that operators and mechanics can interface with is critical for the long-term performance of any piece of automation. Error handling and fault messaging must be developed to enable a short mean time to recover after a machine error. What this looks like in practice is, after a machine fault, the operator will scan the HMI, may or may not jog the machine, and then safely interact with the machine and get it started back up right the first time. A machine with a poor HMI will take several tries to get going again and may even require a call to maintenance.  

Security and change-logs are important to ensure that program changes are managed and accounted for. It is critical to have different levels of access to features on the machine. There are running adjustments that may need to be made by operators, but there are also key parameters that should only be changed by an experienced maintenance or site engineer. Even with these permissions, it is critical to see what changes were made to isolate a problem during troubleshooting. After finding a component that has or was failing, it is critical to returning the machine to the centerline.

Access to analytical data is critical to make sure that machine performance does not degrade over time. Good data is a key ingredient to increasing machine performance, for machine stoppages can be targeted for reduction, a known method to increase machine uptime.

 

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cybersecurity. For 10 years, he was the owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication Design News.

New Products

New Engineering Products Solve Packaging Puzzles

Packaging engineers can learn about new solutions in 3D printing, medical packaging, and automation at the upcoming Virtual Engineering Week (November 30 through December 4).

Virtual Engineering Week is owned and organized by Informa Markets – Engineering, the division of global events and media leader Informa plc that oversees Packaging Digest. For the week-long event, we have a full lineup of best-in-class educational sessions, product sourcing prospects, and networking opportunities. Learn more and register here to attend from the comfort and safety of your office.

Through the Exhibitor Showcase and Product Demos, you’ll be able to see some of the newest manufacturing technologies available. For example, here are four packaging-related new products to preview that just might be an answer to your pressing needs:

Slide 1: Medical Device Package Facilitates Aseptic Transfer

Slide 2: Additive for 3D Printing Bonds Materials for 50% Less Than Others

Slide 3: Vacuum Pump Offers Industry 4.0 Benefits

Slide 4: Micro 3D Printer Builds Parts Faster

Reach out to each of these solution providers throughout this epic engineering event.

COVID-19 and the New Future of Packaging

Brent Gilmour Restaurants foodservice packaging kitchen cooks staff preparation

It is not a stretch to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of life around the world, including how we work, socialize and shop.

For the packaging industry, shifting consumer behaviors and attitudes during the pandemic have created unprecedented opportunities to engineer solutions that deliver a safe, sustainable, and frustration-free buying experience.

We’ve identified see four key pandemic-related developments that will have significant influence on the future packaging landscape: the cementing of ecommerce, rise of touchless, evolution of restaurants, and trading up or down.

Cementing of ecommerce.

Several factors, including product shortages, a desire to avoid brick-and-mortar stores and retail closures pushed consumers – including the previously reluctant 55+ demographic – to shop online at unprecedented levels. Ecommerce accounted for 11.3% of the North American retail market coming into 2020. By the end of the second quarter, its share had almost increased to more than 16.1%, a jump of 42.4% in just six months, according to the US Census Bureau.

Now firmly cemented in consumer buying habits, ecommerce is ratcheting up the need for packaging that is designed for abuse resistance and product integrity to elevate safety and hygiene. For consumers — especially seniors and others with physical limitations — this packaging should be easy to open and, in the words of Amazon, “delight.” It also must enable ship in own container (SIOC), eliminating the cost, bulk, and waste of additional packaging.

Post-COVID, packaging solutions that withstand the rigors of shipping and handling, provide an aesthetically pleasing and frustration-free consumer experience, and are right sized will win in the ecommerce space.

Rise of touchless.

Walk the perimeter of any grocery store, and the impact of COVID-19 on food packaging is quickly evident. Salad and olive bars, food steam tables, and bulk bins now serve as displays for prepackaged goods.

Consumers who before gravitated to a grocery store’s perimeter for prepared-food convenience now stroll the center aisles as they cook more meals from scratch. A shift toward grocery deliveries and curbside pickups, as well as increased awareness of how fruits and vegetables are handled by fellow shoppers, are creating additional demand for prepackaged food.

For food manufacturers, the rise of touchless presents opportunities to differentiate their products through an enhanced consumer packaging experience. Grocery shoppers will gravitate toward aesthetically pleasing packaging that provides health and hygiene peace of mind. They want packaging to be tamper resistant, yet easy to open, and for it to make food preparation convenient, easy, and safe.

There is a plethora of opportunities for the packaging industry to meet these shifting needs. Examples include new designs for improved dispensing, reclosability, and enhanced printing capabilities that allow products to stand out from shelf competition.

In April 2020, 42% of consumers purchased more packaged foods than in the previous month, and 36% of consumers continued to purchase more packaged foods in May versus April, according to the International Food Information Council.

Evolution of restaurants.

While people are making more meals at home, they still want to alleviate their cooking fatigue. Some people may not be comfortable dining in a restaurant, but there’s less hesitation for takeout.

The rapid evolution from in-person dining to takeout and delivery creates both opportunities and challenges for restaurants, which must assure their customers that food is cooked, handled, and delivered in a safe and hygienic manner.

The packaging industry is in a unique position to deliver on safety and hygiene while providing a great customer experience. Tamper-proof and tamper-evident packaging, creative printing, easy-open containers, and recyclability all contribute to customer peace of mind and a positive brand interaction.

Another opportunity is developing packaging solutions for companies that supply food to restaurants. The same functionality, convenience and safety that packaging provides to home cooks is equally important to professional chefs, who, more than ever, must ensure hygienic food handling and storage in their kitchens.

Trading up or down.

Shelves empty of brand-name products and consumers tightening their belts have led to an increase in willingness to try private-label products, while panic buying and a desire to cut down on store visits accelerated bulk buying of both food and personal care products.

Packaging has not been a differentiator for either private-label or bulk products, but market conditions are ripe for that to change. As consumers learn firsthand that private-label products can be as good as or even better than well-known brands, they’ll require an equivalent packaging experience to maintain loyalty. For bulk purchases, packaging with improved reclosability and resealability will be needed to reduce food waste and boost hygiene. The need for packaging as a differentiator is accelerating as a result of COVID and these improvements may guarantee that people don’t switch back when things settle out.

COVID-19, SARS and other viruses that are transmitted from animals to humans are also driving consumers to trade meat products for meat alternatives due to safety concerns while others are making the switch as part of a healthier lifestyle. Close to 40% of U.S. consumers cited health concerns for their shift to plant-based proteins in an August 2018 Mintel survey.

This shift will have a huge impact on packaging, as plant-based products have different needs in terms of oxygen and vapor transmission. Because these products are packaged at the factory and not at the supermarket like traditional proteins, there is tremendous opportunity for unique customized packaging and distribution via ecommerce channels.

At the height of stockpiling in March 2020, the year-over-year growth for fresh meat alternatives was 454%, while traditional meat growth was 100%, according to the Good Food Institute.

What’s not changing? Sustainability.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given many consumers a renewed appreciation for the benefits of plastics — safe and sanitary delivery, increased shelf life and reduced food waste. That has somewhat shifted society’s sustainability narrative from reducing packaging to caring for people, communities, and employees.

Post-pandemic, sustainability needs to remain a priority for the packaging industry. We must continue working together and with communities and governments to increase packaging recyclability, eliminate plastic waste around the world and advance the plastics circular economy.

Packaging that is designed for recyclability, safety, hygiene, convenience, easy opening, and ecommerce is the future of our industry.

Authors

Jonathan Quinn is ecommerce market manager and Eric Vignola is food packaging market manager for Nova Chemicals, which develops and manufactures chemicals and plastic resins that make everyday life healthier, easier and safer. They can be reached by email at Jonathan.Quinn@novachem.com and Eric.Vignola@novachem.com

Sweet Sustainability: Bio-based PET Precursor Made From Sugar

Sarayut_sy/Adobe Stock green shoot in lightbulb

Two companies have combined their know-how and resources to achieve the first-ever demo-scale production of bio-based monoethylene glycol (MEG). MEG is a raw material for PET (polyethylene terephthalate) that is widely used in textile and packaging markets, especially beverage bottles.

Braskem, the largest petrochemical company in the Americas and a global producer of biopolymers, and Denmark-based Haldor Topsoe made the joint announcement November 23. The two companies have been involved in a technological partnership that began in 2017. Called MOSAIK, the technology development has been progressing according to schedule at the demonstration unit located in Lyngby, Denmark.

The demonstration unit was started up in 2019 with the primary goal to demonstrate key design features of the pioneering technology that transforms sugar into renewable MEG. Since then, the remaining process units of the plant have been built and put into operation, and the production process has been optimized.

MEG is predominantly made from fossil-based feedstocks, such as naphtha, gas, or coal. The global MEG market represents a value of approximately $25 billion.  

The technology will also co-produce, in a lower quantity, monopropylene glycol (MPG), which has a wide variety of applications ranging from unsaturated polyester resins (UPR), commonly used in construction materials, to cosmetic products.

The next phase will involve providing samples to strategic partners for testing and validation. The results of the demonstration plant operations and the validation of products will be essential for the decision to deploy the technology on a commercial scale.

“This technology has the potential to revolutionize the PET market.”

"This first-ever production of Mosaik-MEG is a major step forward in our project and underlines Braskem's commitment to the Circular Economy through renewable chemicals,” says Gustavo Sergi, executive officer of Renewable Chemicals and Specialties at Braskem. “This technology has the potential to revolutionize the PET market. That's why we are increasingly closer to start building this new value chain, so we can deliver the sustainable solution that society is looking for.”

"We are extremely pleased to have achieved the first production of bio-based MEG together with Braske,” says Kim Knudsen, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Haldor Topsoe. “Topsoe's strategic vision is to deliver technologies to reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions from the production of fuels and chemicals. Advancing technologies to produce bio-based chemicals and making them a commercially attractive option is an essential step on the way to a more sustainable future."