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3 steps to selecting the right LCA tool

3 steps to selecting the right LCA tool
The online COMPASS LCA tool from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition lets packaging designers play “what if” to evaluate the impact different materials have on the environment to help guide packaging material selection.

Use this step-by-step guide to help identify which life-cycle assessment (LCA) tracking system will best fit your needs.

Heightened environmental awareness over the past decade has spurred increasing interest by both manufacturers and consumers in how products and their packaging—and the industrial processes behind them—affect the environment. And the interest in performing Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) of these environmental impacts, from the moment raw materials are extracted for production to when the goods become waste, has kept pace.

LCAs evaluate a number of environmental impacts of a product or a process throughout its entire life cycle (from “cradle-to-grave”). And today, a large number of LCA tools are available, from simple, web-based applications to more involved tools that often require trained specialists to run the analyses. With so many possible directions, how do brand owners, packaging designers and decision makers who need—or want—to use an LCA tool select the most appropriate application for their needs?

Step 1: Set your goal

The first step in the process is defining the overall goal of the analysis, and roughly scoping it out, since this will make it much easier to decide which exact processes to analyze, data needs and the right software to use.

For instance, since LCAs can be carried out for products, services or processes, one of the first decisions a company must make is what it wants to evaluate, such as the environmental impacts for one or more consumer products placed on the market.

Next, the company should identify the particular focus of the analysis it wants. For a consumer good, for instance, a company may decide to focus initially on the product’s packaging sustainability goals. By narrowing the scope of the review to just packaging, that decision also limits the number of tools available for that particular analysis, which can streamline software tool selection process and help reduce initial investment costs.

Later, the same company may decide to either upgrade its packaging-focused tool, if it offers such flexibility, to include additional impacts—such as environmental impacts of the product itself—or move on to a more complex analysis tool that helps perform a complete LCA of the product and the packaging.

Step 2: Define metrics of interest

Once an organization finalizes the main objective of the study it wants to perform, the next important step is to decide whether a more complete LCA approach is most valuable for the company at that time, or whether only one specific type of impact is of particular interest in certain circumstances. While performing a complex analysis of interrelated impacts on all Life Cycle Inventory (LCI)-specific metrics (water, energy, raw materials, and releases to air, land, and water) is a comprehensive way to map environmental impacts, sometimes a company may need to focus on a single metric, in which case a “footprint” analysis may be all that’s needed.  For example, while a “water footprint” analysis is not an LCA (although an LCA will provide results regarding the water-related impacts), it may be all that a company needs to perform at a given time.

Step 3: Decide on the type of LCA

After identifying goals and metrics, a company is ready to choose the type of LCA technique they would like to use. The two main types of LCA methods, including their most appropriate uses, are as follows:  

1. Qualitative LCA methods: Qualitative LCAs are sometimes also called “approximate” LCAs (although, in reality, no LCAs study is exact). For example, a qualitative LCA can analyze environmental effects based on metrics and procedures agreed upon by stakeholders who are interested in a brief overview of changes made in certain situations, such as the impact of reducing the weight of a packaging system at each life stage. The results (in this example, from data gathered from participants in each stage) are generally used as benchmarks to track improvements over time or to inform future decisions, but they are by no means extensive or comprehensive.

On the other hand, complex qualitative LCAs, performed by specialists using only impact tables (such as emissions or toxicity) that are publicly available for various processes, are very involved—and are therefore heavily dependent on the expertise of the professionals performing them. While unlikely to be used for any type of reporting to third parties, these analyses can help companies “red flag” certain elements, such as substances in products and packages, and consider reducing or eliminating them from the life cycle.

Although standards exist (ISO 14040/44) that give guidance on general requirements for running a complete LCA study and reporting on its results, evaluating the environmental impacts of a product or process remains, in practice, somewhat of an art that relies on the skill and experience of the specialist performing the analysis. As a result, many companies prefer to use quantitative LCA techniques.

2. Quantitative LCA methods: The methodological framework for quantitative LCA techniques is based on ISO 14040/44 standards and are, therefore, used by companies who want to use LCA results for specific claims regarding the sustainability improvements of their products or packages. When an organization needs a quantitative LCA, decision makers can choose either a full LCA or a streamlined ISO-based procedure—and a number of tools are available on the market for either approach.

Full Life Cycle Assessments. These assessments are used by companies interested in a range of impacts on the environment by both their products and packages. The results of these studies are the most detailed and close to the actual impacts on the environment and are best used during the design phase to make the best possible choices of materials, layouts, messaging and more. However, they can be costly, require extensive data and take longer to complete.

Streamlined Life Cycle Assessments. To help reduce the costs, data and timeframes a full LCA can require, the LCA community has created ISO-based LCA techniques that streamline the processes. These options can include tools that only analyze packaging life cycles (instead of products, packages and industrial processes all in one) or tools that eliminate certain life-cycle stages, use industry averages or publicly available databases for certain data, and eliminate detailed recommendations or interpretation of results. These tools can be used for a valuable first-time assessment or an assessment of just packaging, for instance. With enough transparency about the assumptions used, they can represent a quick and simple way to make certain design decisions.

Spending the time to consider the basics upfront can be valuable in saving subsequent difficulties in running these studies. Once a company works through these initial steps, decision makers will be ready to move forward with researching the availability and reliability of various tools or experts that can help them run LCAs for their specific needs.

Gabriela Dobrot is a principal consultant at Environmental Packaging Intl. (EPI), a consultancy specializing in global environmental packaging and product stewardship requirements. Contact her at 401-423-2225 or gdobrot@enviro-pac.com.

Tools for packaging-related life-cycle assessments

Learn more about these popular LCA tools for packaging:

Streamlined LCA Tools:

COMPASS (Comparative Packaging Assessment) from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition

www.sustainablepackaging.org

EIO-LCA Calculator

www.eiolca.net

PIQET (Packaging Impact Quick Evaluation Tool) from the Sustainable Packaging Alliance (Austrialia)

www.sustainablepack.org

Full LCA Tools:

GaBi

www.gabi-software.com/america/index/

openLCA

www.openlca.org

SimaPro

www.pre-sustainability.com

Modular conveyor belt makes 90-degree transfers

Modular conveyor belt makes 90-degree transfers

The M5482 Roller Top plastic modular conveyor belt is suitable for packaging/materials handling applications and designed for 90-degree transfers. A unique feature of the M5482 allows for the rollers to be placed in 15-degree steps. M5482 features strong closed edges and smart-fit rod retention system. The lug tooth sprockets provide positive engagement for both tracking and increased belt strength. In addition to sprockets, it is recommended to use support rollers at the belts edges on drive and idling side. See this on display at Pack Expo International 2014.

Habasit America, 800-458-6431

www.habasitamerica.com

Pack Expo Booth #S-4178

Getting a feel for multi-sensory packaging

Getting a feel for multi-sensory packaging
Japanese mega-brand Kirin uses an interrupted surface pattern on a two-piece steel can for its Kirin Fire Cafe Au Lait product. A series of facets are rolled into the can body during forming. The facets help strengthen the side walls and top load strength of the can so that it can be thin-walled; they refract store lights to attract shoppers and provide a unique hand-feel for consumers during consumption directly from the can.

Brands today are tapping into the personalization of packaging to reach the masses one consumer at a time. But standing apart from the it’s-all-about-me package decoration crowd, tactility is an underused multi-sensory element that draws shoppers in, often with visual cues first, and then closes the deal with what may be the most personal of the all the senses—touch.

Tactility in packaging today takes on many forms and performs wonderfully in myriad leading and supporting roles. It can take the form of a rubber-like grippable surface that makes hard-to-open lids a breeze or heavy containers easy on the hands during transport. It can manifest as an interrupted surface pattern on an aluminum can that refracts light and draws a shopper’s attention, while at the same time allows can makers to thin the sidewalls without sacrificing top load strength. It can whisper a subtle hint about a personal care product’s ability to soften your skin or a cosmetic product’s ability to highlight your eyes. Or, on a purely functional note, it can help those who are visually impaired simply ensure they are using the right product.

Tactility can be used by any number of printing and converting technologies: embossing, raised-letter inks (both traditional and now digital as well), laser-etching, molded patterns, specialty materials, and even tactile coatings. Once the bastion of high-end cosmetics, jewelry or expensive wines and spirits, the categories and package formats in which tactility is being exploited seems to have no limits today.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), between 2009-2013, 75% of skincare product introductions in the U.S. featured some element of soft-touch packaging. But more recently, categories such as pet foods, baby foods, dairy, fabric care, health care and savory spreads are also using the emotional connection tied to soft-touch packaging. In the Asia-Pacific market during the same period, 47% of new color cosmetics featured a package with soft-touch element, while the percentage of new product introductions with soft-touch attributes across all categories grew from 13% to 32%. In Europe, the trend has expanded to such products as sauces and seasonings; and meal centers are beginning to embrace tactility.

While embossing as a tactile element is not new, it is crossing category lines and making its presence felt not just in cosmetics and personal care items, but in chocolates, gum and other confections.

Introduced in January 2014, Japanese mega-brand Kirin used an interrupted surface pattern on a two-piece steel can for its Kirin Fire Cafe Au Lait product. The can, produced by Toyo Seikan Kaisha (www.toyo-seikan.co.jp/e/), features a series of facets that are rolled into the can body during forming. The facets serve a dual purpose; they help strengthen the side walls and top load strength of the can so that it can be thin-walled; and, secondarily, like for its premium wine in a two-piece aluminum can, the facets refract store lights to attract consumer attention on crowded convenience-store shelves. And finally, the diamond-shaped facets provide a unique hand-feel for consumers during consumption directly from the can, which, along with the high-quality of Kirin products, help to form a repurchase decision during the Third Moment of Truth—when the consumer experiences the product and the package together and begins to form a decision about whether to buy the product again.

Tactility is a new concept neither to wine and spirits, nor, more matter of factly, to the visually impaired community. But it is unique, and perhaps unprecedented, to include Braille branding on a front-panel label for an upscale organic wine. But that’s exactly what South African vintner Bon Cap did for its handcrafted 2007 Organic Cape Blend. The 750ml glass bottle with a flexo-printed and embossed paper label with Braille further accentuates the complexity and elegance of this handcrafted wine, which is a blend of 50% Pinotage, 21% Petit Verdot, and 29% Cabernet Sauvignon.
For the launch of this private label woman’s deodorant, Cosméticos Natura pulled out all graphics and multi-sensory stops. The striking red oval-shaped plastic dispensing container is drenched in an unspecified soft-touch coating and then screen printed. Natura Faces Ousada Desodorante Feminino is fragranced with a mulberry scent enveloped in a fruit cocktail aroma. The product is made with 95.1% renewable vegetable origin ingredients, and retails in a 100ml refillable pack made with 98.9% recyclable materials. The container also features tactile Braille branding.

For those who wish to wash the muck and the mud off their neck after a hard day of hunting, the Duck Commander Body Wash container features a highly tactile (or tactical) pistol grip shaped container. The 24-oz high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bonus-pack with a gravure-printed camouflage and wood-grain pattern shrink-sleeve label presents both a visual and tactile experience for fans of the hit reality TV show “Duck Dynasty.”

David Luttenberger is the global packaging director at Mintel. He has 24 years’ packaging experience. Reach him at dluttenberger@mintel.com. Follow him on Twitter at @packaginggeek.

Green cleaning innovator Ecover gets packaging makeover

Green cleaning innovator Ecover gets packaging makeover

Ecover, a leader in the green cleaning arena, has redesigned its plant-based, recyclable cleaning product line to coincide with its 35th anniversary. The brightly-colored packaging is fun and inviting while the eco-friendly formula inside has been enhanced with fresh, naturally derived scents.

The new redesign touts the products main green benefits with easy to identify symbols for consumers. The ingredients are clearly laid out for shoppers to quickly scan and understand what is inside each cleaning product. The logo has taken on a softer logo with lowercase letters and a heart leaf plant to represent the company’s nature-based formula. The ergonomic-shaped bottles are transparent which has been on the top of consumer’s wish list as they want to see what they’re buying exactly. Also, on trend with sustainability, the bottles are readily recyclable and composed of Plantplastic, Ecover's own blend of plant-sourced plastic made from sugarcane, and post-consumer recycled plastic.

In 2012, Ecover joined forces with design-forward Method, a leader in eco-friendly household, fabric, and personal care products to create the world's largest green cleaning company.

"We developed Ecover's new design and packaging to be friendly and modern and were inspired by the bright colors found in nature," says Sally Clarke, global creative director of Method + Ecover.  "We feel the new look will help Ecover reach more consumers and better illustrate our values, while continuing to be deeply rooted in nature-based science."

The revamped product offering consists of laundry, home care and dish products in a variety of fresh, naturally derived fragrances and fragrance-free options. Ecover's new products retail from $3.99 to $14.99 and are available at Whole Foods Market, natural channel stores, and online on Soap.com.

Higher-resolution digital printer is also faster

Higher-resolution digital printer is also faster

The new 2600 Series digital printers from Colordyne Technologies feature an upgraded print engine powered by Memjet™ technology for Production Class Digital Color Printing System and flexo retrofit program.

Some highlights:

• Faster speeds at 225 feet per minute vs. 160 ft/min previously;

• Improved print resolution: of 1600 x 1375 dpi (up from 1600 x 1200 dpi);

• Enhanced print quality: Send uncompressed files directly to the print engine;

• PDF workflow: No need to change file formats;

• Larger ink containers: 55-L ink tanks per color an option in addition to current 10-L ink tanks.

The 2600 Series is available on the company’s new systems and can be retrofit.

Gain an education edge at this year’s Pack Expo

Gain an education edge at this year’s Pack Expo

In today’s competitive landscape, it is more important than ever to stay on top of cutting-edge technologies and innovation as they continue to evolve at a blink of an eye. There’s no better place to get ideas and solutions for your business than at Pack Expo International 2014 (Nov. 2-5, McCormick Place, Chicago). This is the ultimate resource for developing networking and educational opportunities that allow you to grow professionally within your organization.

After the most successful Pack Expo Las Vegas on record last year, show owner and producer PMMI, The Assn. for Packaging and Processing Technologies, is projecting similar success for Pack Expo International 2014 and PharmaExpo, an inaugural show providing total solutions for pharmaceutical manufacturing. Pack Expo’s newest neighbor will be presented jointly with the Intl. Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE).

“One of the benefits of attending  Pack Expo,” says PMMI’s Jim Pittas, vp, trade shows “is how much you can learn, simply by looking at technologies up close, talking to experts and networking with peers. The size and scope of Pack Expo means you’ll encounter—and learn from—innovation everywhere you turn.”

Those opportunities include educational sessions presented throughout the exhibit hall, including featured areas such as The Innovation Stage, The Food Safety Summit Resource Center (sponsored by the Food Safety Summit and GE Intelligent Packaging), The Center for Trends and Technologies (sponsored by Rockwell Automation and its PartnerNetwork Program) and the Reusables Learning Center (endorsed by the Reusable Packaging Assn.). Over in Pharma Expo, ISPE’s world-class conference program will specifically address needs of pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers.

"Pack Expo is where you’ll encounter innovation,” Pittas adds. “It’s where you can see how your peers in other industries tackle challenges like the ones you face every day. As you cross between Pharma Expo and Pack Expo, you’re going to find new ways to approach the goals you have for your packaging and processing operations.”

Engaging education
With more than 1.1 million sq ft at your disposal to explore, take advantage of these educational offerings:

• The Center for Trends & Technology (CTT)—Sponsored by Rockwell Automation and its PartnerNetwork Program, this program will have learning sessions centered on the theme of “Improving Production through Innovation.”

“The CTT provides an action-oriented Pack Expo experience for attendees,” says Mike Wagner, global packaging business manager, Rockwell Automation. “Our goal is for attendees to leave with solutions that will start solving their manufacturing challenges right away, and help them anticipate future needs.”

With 10 daily sessions, topics include machine safety, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), The Internet of Things (IoT), security control networks, remote support and the IoT, serialization, line optimization/performance and more. From presentations and interactive kiosks, you’ll learn about the latest technologies and emerging trends. (Located in South Hall, Booth #S-3907).

• The Food Safety Summit Resource Center—Swing by for information, one-on-one consultations and free presentations addressing critical food safety issues, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Here you can listen to hear experts
discuss best practices, recent advances and proven strategies for maintaining a safe environment and product. (Located in South Hall, Booth #S-2962).

• Active and Intelligent Packaging Association (AIPIA) Congress—The AIPIA will survey the role active and intelligent packaging technology can play in profitability through a complement of sessions.

“Major brand owners are clearly ready to invest heavily in active and intelligent packaging. Some already have,” says Charles Yuska, president/CEO of PMMI, The Assn. for Packaging and Processing Technologies. 

“Recent conversations have taken us by surprise—not due to the enthusiasm for the technologies, but the diverse range of motivations behind it. The AIPIA Congress is on the right topics, at the right place and at the right time.”

On Nov. 2, the Congress forum will reveal several promising research and development projects. Program highlights will include sessions on nanotechnology, track and trace, smart labels, food waste reduction, anti-counterfeiting and shelf-life extension. Separate registration from Pack Expo International/Pharma Expo is required to participate. Visit pdlinks.com/AIPIACongress  for more information about registration.(Located in West Building of McCormick Place).

• Clemson University’s CUshop—Back by popular demand, the Clemson University interactive shopping experience lets you explore the impact of packaging. Try out their eye-tracking technology, virtual reality and packaging insights testing for yourself. As you walk through a simulated store, the technology will aggregate participant data to determine the impact of packaging on shopper attention. (Located in Lower Lakeside Hall, Booth # E-10112).

• Reusables Learning Center (RLC)—Endorsed by the Reusable Packaging Assn. (RPA), the RLC offers free education sessions on integrating reusables into your supply chain and capitalizing on their many benefits. Gain insight from presentations such as Reusables 101; Refining the Produce Supply Chain; and Reusable Transport Packaging Boot Camp. (Located in Lakeside Upper Hall, Booth #E-6866).

• Exhibitor educational sessions—Familiarize yourself with suppliers and their products by attending their in-booth education sessions. When you fully comprehend how the product or service works, you are better able to optimize its benefits and justify your purchasing decision.

• Innovation Stage—Stop by one of several stages to see your choice of 75 eye-opening, 30-min presentations by packaging and processing industry experts. Topics include next generation packaging, active and intelligent packaging, display packaging design with impact and sustainability. Visit pdlinks.com/InnovationStage14 to view session times and location. (Location North Upper Hall, Booth #N-4560, #N-4570 and #N-4580).  

New sourcing solutions
This year, Pack Expo International welcomes the new Contract Packaging Assn. Sourcing Center presented by PMMI and the Contract Packaging Assn. (CPA). This new educational offering will be a showcase for the capabilities of the nation’s top contract packagers—and a huge resource to Pharma Expo, as well as Pack Expo, attendees.

“In addition to the CPA members who will exhibit there, the Contract Packaging Assn. Sourcing Center will feature a display of innovative packages alongside experts who can speak to the benefits of using contract packagers,” says Yuska.

While at the Sourcing Center, check out product samples, videos, educational materials and brochures from the 20 CPA member sponsors and the association. The CPA will also be on hand at the Innovation Stage on Tues., Nov. 4 at 3:00 p.m. Panelists from different sectors of the supply chain will answer questions about how contract packaging affects their businesses. Gain insight from representatives from a large, multi-national food company, an innovative contract packager and packaging material suppliers about their experiences related to contract packaging, trends and opportunities for innovation and growth.

Vertical conveyorized sealing system suitable for stand-up pouches

Vertical conveyorized sealing system suitable for stand-up pouches

USDA approved vertical band sealer with synchronized lower support conveyor for sealing pouches and bags from 3-in. to 23-in. tall includes crank handle for sealing head assembly height adjustment range of 11-in. up or down. Variable speeds up to 45 feet per minute. The sealer will seal a variety of films such as polyethylene, polypropylene, Tyvek, foil and polylaminates. This non-trim model is suitable for stand-up pouches. Other models with various options are available. See this product at Pack Expo International 2014.

All Packaging Machinery, 631-588-7310

www.allpackagingmachinery.com

Booth #S-2366

3 examples of aligning food safety risk and packaging safety

3 examples of aligning food safety risk and packaging safety

The relationship of food safety risk level and sponsor program selection to packaging safety expectations is illustrated by 3 examples: A high-risk packaged food, tertiary packaging and an imported product.

Last month’s installment of this on-going series of columns described the value of establishing meaningful communication with your supply chain partner in order to understand targets, objectives, options and realistic alternatives.

Targeted food safety programs, when well thought out and situationally matched, are intended to manage risk and protect against hazards. It is important for both sponsor and partner to understand how and why the requirements, linked to the chosen scheme or program, are appropriately matched to the saleable product within its supply chain.

Example one: A high-risk packaged food

A manufacturer of a food product calculated to be high hygiene risk (wherein components, processes, intermediate or finished product pose one or more significant physical, chemical or biological risk to consumer safety if not handled and monitored with care and diligence) chooses a GFSI-approved food safety scheme, a benchmark for safety and control. For the sake of consistency, uniformity, and protection, the manufacturer (“sponsor”, in this case) requires all supply chain participants to be compliant with that specified program.

The converter or vendor that provides the food contact packaging for the finished product in the example is aware of and amenable to the scheme requirements, and directs the providers of raw and intermediate packaging materials to comply with that scheme in kind. One or more of the secondary materials suppliers are perplexed or displeased about the requirement to meet all steps within the targeted scheme, which, on face value, appear to be onerous and unnecessary. However, in context, it is reasonable for the packaging converter to pass those requirements on to material vendors in order to maintain consistency and honor the customer’s targeted program, which was matched with the sensitivity of the edible component.  

If one looks at it from the standpoint of the sell unit manufacturer, how it is practical to monitor multiple food safety programs within a single product chain? Thus, in that case, one scheme must fit all.

Example two: Tertiary packaging

Another example that occurs frequently involves food safety expectations for tertiary packaging (corrugated cases or paperboard cartons which will not contact the food and thus, may not be  directly controlled, based on use definition, by regulations contained in 21CFR). The packaging materials converter (paperboard or corrugated, for example) is perplexed by having to comply with a scheme that seems aimed at direct contact packaging materials. The converter may question his obligation based on the indirect nature of the non-food contact packaging material. Again, view the situation from the perspective of the end user, who wants to be as sure as possible that no unsuitable or deleterious substances enter the manufacturing supply chain. Surfaces of some paper-based packaging can be porous and/or permeable.

How is the end user to be assured that the paper packaging entering his/her facility is free from surface or absorbed contaminants? 

If a sponsor has spent the time, resources and funds to control ingredient, process, and primary packaging safety, why risk the integrity or consistency of that effort by ignoring the suitability and safety of tertiary packaging and accessories used in the internal plant manufacturing process?

The answer lies in understanding risk analysis and mitigation throughout the entire process chain.  Since all responsible entities involved in the food supply chain are concerned with consumer safety risks, it is reasonable to assert that they all benefit from consistent and mutual risk analysis, identification and management. No single member of that group can assert “this doesn’t apply to me” without possibly affecting the safety integrity of all.  

Example three: An imported product

A final example involves materials sourced outside of North America. End users need to have a comfort level that imported goods, which may or may not have been subjected to the same safety processes and inspections as domestically-produced goods, are assessed and certified to be safe and suitable without question at the point of end use or storage in the United States.

Only after undergoing a comprehensive supply chain risk assessment can all partners understand the overall risk mitigation objective and, thus, begin to systematically and consistently control food suitability and safety.

Next month:   Identifying and responding to risk types.

Gary Kestenbaum has 40 years’ experience in the food and packaging industries, six as a supplier with National Starch, 18 as a product developer with General/Kraft Foods and 15 as a packaging engineer and developer with Kraft. In his current position as Senior Food Packaging Safety Consultant with EHA Consulting Group, Kestenbaum provides guidance on packaging safety and suitability-related projects for raw material manufacturers, converters and associated supporting professionals. He can be reached at gkestenbaum@ehagroup.com or 410-484-9133. The website is www.ehagroup.com.

 

The 6 most popular packaging patents of 2014...so far

The 6 most popular packaging patents of 2014...so far
This pouch invention from a major brand owner that uses filled chambers for structural strength was voted #1.

Inventions by PepsiCo, P&G and Abbott captured your attention, as well as new flexible packaging and an ingenious why-didn’t-we-think-of-that-before metering device.

You have voted! Here are the Promising Patents you, our readers, have found most interesting in 2014. The tally is based upon page views per PackagingDigest.com online analytics through the first eight months of the year as of Sept. 1.

This six-pack is an evenly balanced mix of different types of packaging and applications. It appears that brand recognition is important, so filings by companies like PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Abbott Labs made the cut. Also, three packaging vendors are included, two of which are materials suppliers while one machinery vendor, a late addition to the list, comes in at No.5.

Here’s another chance to see which of the patent filings among more than 25 we’ve reported on these past months have been the ones your peers have been most interested in this year. Links to the original articles are at the end of each item.

Without further ado, we present the 6 Most Popular Promising Patents of 2014 (so far) in reverse order:

6. Flexible container is reclosable and stackable

Flexible packaging remains a material of choice for many new and relaunched products so the appearance of a patent centering on this efficient and consumer-friendly format comes as no surprise. This filing is for a flexible, stackable container for transporting and storing just about any type of product, from foods to liquids to detergent and more. It creates a sealed bag or package formed from a flexible film and with a recloseable fitment or lid integrated into the design.

The lid fitment may be made from PE, PET, PLA or other thermoformable or injection-moldable material.

Besides offering consumer convenience, the lid also serves to structurally reinforce the package for stacking.

The sheet of film may be formed from PP, PE, foil, paper and/or of composites.

The filing also points out the cube efficiency of the rectangular shape in transport and distribution and at retail and describes the manufacture of the container using vertical or horizontal form-fill-seal equipment or other machines or machine assemblies. This patent is assigned to Clear Lam Packaging Inc. (www.clearlam.com).

pdlinks.com/stackableflexpack

5. Patent-pending innovation offers a New Twist on product metering

A package machinery company breaks into the rankings at No.5. This may be the most unique entry in this list, including the fact this posting reached this lofty spot in only two weeks; if this were a Billboard Top 40 List, it would be marked with a bullet.

It’s also unique because we were able to pay an on-site visit to one of the first two users of the technology: Merrick Pet Care’s operations in Hereford, TX (see pdlinks.com/Merrick).

Every once in a while a packaging development comes that is as revolutionary as it is simple, a combination of elusive qualities that is a rare bird indeed. Such is New Twist, a patent-pending metering system that comprises a worm-style feed screw of the type seen in many packaging operations. But in this inventive use, the feed screw is a servo-driven smart system that starts and stops with precision to meter the right amount of cans at the right time. With each rotation, it picks up a can in a screw thread; and once it has reached the preset amount of cans on each side of the screw, it releases them as a group.

The New Twist patent filing published July 10 summarizes the invention as “Grouper apparatus for a packaging machine and methods of grouping items for packaging.” The system can handle a numerous range of product shapes and packing configurations.

The publication date was especially timely for me as an editor because I had already made a visit two months earlier to one of the first installations of the New Twist technology by patent-holder Holland Engineering LLC (www.hollandpkg.com) for its Model CM-70 tray packer. The detailed case study for Merrick Pet Care centers on the cannery’s use of the New Twist technology to produce a space-saving, retail-friendly 2x6 multipack.

At Merrick, the New Twist screw portion can be changed out for a different can size in two minutes and the entire multipacker in 15 minutes in what is essentially a tool-less process. Merrick’s previous multipacker took 40 minutes to changeover.

While multipackers including Merrick’s are the first applications of the New Twist technology, Peter de Hertogh, Holland Engineering’s national sales manager and New Twist inventor, tells PD that “we have plans to offer this technology for shrink wrappers in 2015.”

pdlinks.com/NewTwist

4. PepsiCo solves post-fill carbonation challenges

Our first brand owner filing in the rankings is this patent assigned to PepsiCo, Purchase, NY. It solves a production challenge to produce carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) and other beverages by inducing carbonation after filling. One obvious way to carbonate a liquid is to add solid carbon dioxide, but that presents problems—including but not limited to container deformation—that the patent addresses.

In one method, after adding solid carbon dioxide and sealing the container, the development of overpressure is limited through the use of an adsorber material—such as activated carbon—that is included in the applied closure.

Alternately, in-line agitation done at 150 to 200 oscillations per minute for at least 2-1/2 minutes can be used to control the overpressure from the added CO2. The filing indicates that standard production equipment such as vibratory conveyors can be used to provide the needed agitation.

pdlinks.com/carbonation

3. Abbott’s single-use, unit-dose "liquid" pouch

Assigned to Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, IL, this recently published patent plays off yet another revision for the ever-popular pouch that is flexible in far more ways than in structure. It was only nosed out from the No.2 slot by a half-dozen page views.

Abbott’s patent filing for the pouch addresses a need for liquid human milk fortifiers that are commercially sterile, do not require refrigeration and have relatively low acidity. In addition, it should be sufficiently flexible to allow in-pouch mixing and transparent so that a user can see that the proper mixing has occurred before opening the packaging to dispense the fortifier.

The patent invention comprises two films that create a front panel and a back panel to define a space within the structure that contains a volume of liquid product that’s less than about half of the total liquid capacity of the pouch, which can range from 2mL to 80 mL.

What's going on with that unused nearly 40% or more of the pouch volume is that it permits product mixing via manual kneading by the user.

In fact, the need for kneading is a fundamental differentiating characteristic of the pouch and is illustrated through three charts. These indicate that when the amount of liquid in the pouch exceeded 50%, the kneadability of the pouch was reduced.

That design-driven kneading attribute results in a more effective, better blended product than a ready-to-use infant formula, which can experience phase separation including creaming at the top and sediment at the bottom.

The pouch also uses a broad definition of a liquid product as “a flowable non-solid product including, for example but not limited to, aqueous solutions, emulsions, colloids, pastes, gels, dispersions and other flowable non-solid products.”

In other words, it covers most forms except solid products such as bars and particulate products such as powders.

One version of the pouch is spouted. The patent also describes a hinged, secondary container that serves as a multipack.

pdlinks.com/Abbott

2. New high-barrier multilayer film replaces EVOH

Winpak Films Inc. (www.winpak.com), Senoia, GA, was awarded a patent for a seven-layer film that provides excellent oxygen- and water-barrier properties for food packaging applications. The film is claimed as durable and with good optical properties. It is proposed as a replacement for oxygen-barrier films that rely on the use of ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer (EVOH) or nylon MXD6, which lose their barrier properties when exposed to water.

Package options include bags, pouches, and chubs. Applicable product markets include meat, cheese, milk, condiments, salad dressings and other oxygen-sensitive products.

At the core of the filing and the literal core of the 7-layer structure is a layered blend of polyamide and amorphous polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH). It is noted that a film made without PVOH in the critical fourth layer does not exhibit the required oxygen barrier properties to provide the proper shelf life. In total, five of the seven layers are proposed as polymer blends.

What is also notable about the patent filing compared to others we have assessed over the past 18 months is that it is as brief in length—only 5 pages long—as it is of illustrations, in this instance just two, which show cross-section, layer-by-layer structures.

pdlinks.com/winpak7

1. P&G’s flexible container supports its contents

Shown in the picture at the top of this article, this patent at the apex of our list hits on two key points of interest: a major brand owner and a flexible package. This patent filing from Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, is for a new kind of flexpack, one that is claimed to be less expensive to make, can use less material and can be easier to decorate when compared with conventional rigid containers. So far, pretty familiar as far as flexible packaging goes, right?

However, designed for fluent—flowable—products, this pouch is, notably, configured with novel support structures that do not require the use of the thick solid walls used in conventional rigid containers. Furthermore, the patent’s reference of a "structural support volume" refers to a fillable space made from one or more flexible materials.

As a result of the ingenuity of this supportively structural design aspect, the patent is also remarkable in that these flexible containers can be more readily and carefully dispensed because the pouch sides can be more easily and controllably squeezed by human hands.

The concept accepts numerous types of closures, from a flip-top cap to a pump-spray dispenser. It can be made in reusable or disposable formats.

The filing is accompanied by approximately 50 figures representing various plays on the same, patented theme, and visually demonstrates the wide-ranging utility of the concept.

pdlinks.com/PGflexpack

Tabletop system capable of printing 60k labels daily

Tabletop system capable of printing 60k labels daily

Debuting at Label Expo last week, the high-speed C7500 tabletop label printer fills a gap in Epson America’s product line and permits users to reduce their labeling costs.

The C7500 is the company’s first industrial ColorWorks label printer with PrecisionCore print chip technology to offered custom “Just In Time Color” (JITC) Labeling to provide fast turnarounds on in-house printing needs with labels printed to offer 4-color shelf impact.

At the company’s Label Expo booth, a full-color shoebox label was demoed by Andy Scherz, senior product manager, who characterized the C7500 as the first of Epson America’s next generation of industrial printers. The C7500’s technology delivers a higher image resolution of 600 x 1200 DPI at faster (12 inches per second) speeds with precise dot placement. It promises to increase print speed by as much as four-fold or more and ink capacity by tenfold.

Scherz noted that the system is a cost-effective solution to market drivers including private-label branding, regulatory compliance and supply chain optimization that push users to increase their use of product pictures, logos, color warnings and variable data elements.

The system can be used as a robust, cost-effective replacement for traditional thermal-transfer printers, he added.

Epson America