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Articles from 2020 In September


Survey Reveals Consumers’ Attitudes About Food Packaging

In July 2019 I happened across an interesting posting that resulted in an unusual take on sustainability published that month at Packaging Digest, Top Sustainable Companies by State. Customized for the benefit of our packaging audience, it turned out to be as compelling for readers as it was for me and soon became one of the top-read articles at the website.

The source of the material was Shorr Packaging, which alerted me to a survey the distributor had contracted and recently posted.

Shorr’s first annual Food Packaging & Consumer Behavior Report offers the results of +1,128 US consumers surveyed about their in-store and online food product shopping behaviors. It provides a glimpse into how US shoppers are adjusting their shopping habits and highlight the ways food brands can communicate the value of their products through innovative packaging.

The study has a Margin of Error of 2.98%; Respondents Age: 18-29 (26%), 30-44 (22%), 45-60 (34%), and 60+ (18%); Respondents Gender: 44% Male, 56% Female.

In the gallery that follows you’ll find four graphics from the survey.

Recycling

Assessing the Blowmolding Suitability of rPET Resins

Pixel_B/Adobe Stock PTI Blowmold Bottles AdobeStock 173940319 FTR

While polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a highly recyclable plastic resin, there are supply and technical challenges in producing packages with high recycled PET (rPET) content. Because there are multiple rPET grades and suppliers, the respective consistency and quality issues can affect color, material distribution and performance of the final package.

While there is an increasing demand for rPET, these issues can result in challenging roll outs which require a significant amount of monitoring. Additionally, many brand owners are also lightweighting their packages while increasing rPET content. This further complicates blowmolding.

One could say that there is a need to identify the basic building block of each rPET resin akin to a DNA characterization. This will enable the development of a formula that works best for each, as well as determine which ones are most suitable for a particular application. For example, a resin that is high in acetaldehyde (AA) content may not be suitable for a beverage product, yet offers acceptable attributes for soaps and other home care products.

What needs to be done?

To better understand rPET grades that are broadly characterized under food contact grades and nonfood grades, additional attributes need to be monitored. These include intrinsic viscosity (SIV), color (L*a*b*, Haze), key processing parameters as measured by crystallization kinetics and melting (Tm and Tg), black specks, IR transmission, AA, benzene and limonene should be monitored.

The IV of the incoming resin and the molded preform needs to be monitored. Different rPET grades may have different rates of IV loss under similar conditions due to their melting point and solid-stating temperature. Since all rPET grades are not the same, a recipe for each needs to be setup for both injection and blowmolding.

Because consumer perception of the final package is critical, the color and black specs are important attributes and these need to be checked via various testing protocols before molding each batch of resin into packages.

Many bottles are blowmolded on two stage equipment where the absorption of energy depends on the color of the preform. A variation in that color may swing the blowmolding process window out of range, which means the package will not meet the performance specifications.

Pixel_B/Adobe StockPTI Blowmold Bottles AdobeStock 173940319 720px

There are methods to measure IR transmittance from plaques and hence the same plaque that was used for color and black spec measurements can be used for not only monitoring IR transmission but also AA content before molding the preforms. This saves valuable time and resources. Additionally, gas chromatography-based mass spectroscopy can warn us of the benzene and limonene levels in the resin to help make a decision on their usability. It can also help direct efforts on technology to improve decontamination levels.

So, a multi-pronged assessment of the incoming rPET grades should be conducted to understand their suitability for replacing the virgin resin in greater percentages.

Author: Chia-Jen Hsu, PhD, is a materials specialist at PTI. He has years of experience in resin characterization and analysis in both injection-molded and blowmolded articles. He has expertise in understanding the effects of incorporating recycled grades of plastic in different product categories.

About PTI: PTI is recognized worldwide as a major resource for preform and package design, package development, rapid prototyping, pre-production prototyping, and material evaluation engineering for the plastic packaging industry. For more information: www.pti-usa.com.

Pandemic Boosts Demand for Harvest Pack’s Eco-Friendly Packaging

Image: Harvest Pack compostable food packaging

Business is booming for Harvest Pack, a company based in Torrance, CA, that provides compostable and easily recyclable food packaging. Founded by siblings Christina and Alex Pou, Harvest Pack works with more than 500 restaurants and food service producers across the country, including the upscale LA-area Erewhon health-food chain. Chowbotics, the “salad robot” that recently announced a deal with Saladworks to expand to more than 100 locations, uses Harvest Pack’s 100% plant-based, compostable food packaging to keep its meals safe and fresh for consumers.

Christina and Alex Pou, co-founders of Harvest Pack
Siblings Christina and Alex Pou founded Harvest Pack seven years ago. They are having their best year ever partly because of surging demand for take-out food during the pandemic. Image courtesy Harvest Pack.

Harvest Pack makes its food packaging from various plant fibers, including wheat, bamboo, and sugarcane fibers, said the company in response to questions from PlasticsToday. “Sugarcane fiber, also known as bagasse, is a residue that is left after juice is extracted from sugarcane. Usually the sugarcane fiber left from the extraction gets discarded as waste,” explained the Pous.

“We regenerate the material to make it into bagasse fiber products. These fibers are 100% compostable. This reduces the environmental impact and reduces landfill waste by transforming production waste into a new product,” they added. In addition to the company’s compostable single-use containers, Harvest Pack also offers a line of recyclable PET foodservice items.

After seven years in business, the surge in plastic waste caused partly by double-digit growth in take-out food because of the pandemic has given new meaning to their mission. Harvest Pack’s founders are committed to making sure their compostable food packaging is a go-to option for food service providers.

“During this extremely difficult time, food service businesses have really needed a lot more support,” said Christina Pou, adding that the company has also been donating a range of PPE products to various organizations. “Our second quarter earnings alone equaled our entire revenue for last year. So, yes, we are able to help the food services industry and it’s a win for our climate and efforts to reduce waste, as well.”

Recycling

Absolut is Perfecting Paper Bottles for Spirits

It can be said that the future is a moment away, and for Niclas Appelquist, director of future packaging for The Absolut Co. (TAC), the moment is now. Appelquist is leading the spirits company’s pioneering work in research and development of a paper bottle.

The company rolled out 2,000 paper bottle prototypes the week of September 14, calling it a milestone and noting that it’s the first time a paper bottle for the spirits industry has moved from the conceptual into a real-world prototype.

The focus for Absolut’s journey has been scaling and functionality, prioritizing technology that fits into current recycling streams across the world.

The products testing, Absolut Vodka (40% alcohol) and Absolut Mixt (4% alcohol), are scheduled to be available to consumers in November.

The company’s aim is to invoke real and long-lasting behavioural change, not just in the spirits industry, but for other markets, too. Working collaboratively with a pioneer community that includes partners Coca-Cola, Carlsberg and L'Oréal, that’s a key part of Absolut’s prototype development as the companies move faster toward the end goal of a viable, commercially available bottle.

Appelquist shares details and insights in this exclusive Q&A interview in the individual slides of the Gallery, just click the arrow in the main image above to launch it. Additionally, he appears in a video in the company's Tweet below.

 

Recycling

What’s Happening in Advanced Recycling Now

INEOS Styrolution Ineos Circular economy Syrenics Advanced Recycling FTR ps

Traditional mechanical recycling as it is today presents significant limitations including degradation of valuable polymers leading to “down cycling” and the added necessity of having to supplement post-consumer sources for reuse with virgin material.

On the other hand, traditional mechanical recycling has significant advantages such as low energy requirements and a mature technology, with established understanding and process acceptance within the recycling industry.

In recent years, demand for recycling solutions has increased. The plastics industry is becoming extensively involved in finding end-of-life solutions for plastic waste — launching a new era in viability and in investments in new plastic recycling technologies.

New and innovative recycling technologies enable us to capture a broader spectrum of plastic waste, processing materials at higher contamination levels and, in some cases, eliminating the need for complex and expensive sorting steps, which are often cited as a reason for low recycling rates.

True to the nature of innovation, creativity combined with groundbreaking science has resulted in a variety of new technologies. Working together, each part plays a critical role and allows us to build the zero waste future we greatly need: making the commercialization of advanced recycling technologies within reach.

Dissolving plastic: Dissolution.

The dissolution method of advanced recycling takes plastic waste in its solid form and dissolves it in a solvent. Once dissolved, the process can mechanically and chemically separate contaminants and additives, before finally separating the original polymer from the solvent. The end-product then becomes a cleaned polymer that may be used as new raw material resin again. Polystyvert Inc. uses this process to recycle polystyrene. It is a novel approach to a polymer that has historically been deemed challenging for recycling.

Polymeric breakdown: Depolymerization

Depolymerization technology is poised to be a game-changer in the way we recycle. This technology provides us the ability to “un-zip” a polymer chain and then break it down into the individual building-block molecules for unparalleled separation, purification, and recovery of plastic materials. The resulting product is a plastic raw material (monomer) that is nearly identical to material sourced from traditional fossil fuels.

This means the depolymerized material can then be used for food contact and even medical applications. In other words, no down-cycling! Additionally, the depolymerization process does not degrade the polymer/monomer material, meaning that this process can be repeated on the same material an infinite number of times. Future generations ten years from now will be able to enjoy the benefits of a well-insulated coffee cup made using the same molecules in your used coffee cup today!

INEOS Styrolution is one company embracing depolymerization. Cooperating with the innovative technology company, Agilyx, the two have begun engineering a new facility located just south of Chicago, IL, which will eventually recycle up to 100 tons of polystyrene material per day.

INEOS Styrolution Ineos Circular economy styrenics Advanced recycling.jpg

Collaboration catalyst: Pyrolysis.

Pyrolysis uses a thermal cracking process to convert plastic waste to an oil, which is often further purified and then used as feedstock in the production of base chemicals- for example, ethylene which is used for polymer production. The Pyrolysis method has sparked industry collaboration due to the process producing base chemical products that can be developed and used across multiple polymer segments. Even the by-products of pyrolysis are finding purpose as seen in the collaboration between Ineos Styrolution and GreenMantra Technologies. GreenMantra’s unique approach converts polystyrene waste directly into marketable products. Ineos Stryolution is working to purify GreenMantra’s byproduct stream to recover styrene monomer for polymerization into recycled polystyrene resin.

Contamination solution: Gasification.

Wondering what to do when waste is too contaminated to process using any of the above technologies? Gasification! This recycling method enables processing of mixed plastic waste alongside domestic and bio-waste. This technology heats materials to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen (i.e. not burning or incinerating the material), creating syngas. Syngas is then used as a carbon source to produce base chemicals such as methanol and ethanol, beginning the value chain to numerous end-products. Enerkem is a gasification technology company that is leading the way to commercial scale. Enerkem’s technology has been deployed at Edmonton, Canada’s Waste to Biofuels and Chemicals site, supporting the city’s goal of 90% landfill diversion.

The University of Florida is conducting related research and development in this area as well (see Is plasma gasification the solution for plastics and all waste?, published August 2019).

What’s this all mean?

Plastics are highly engineered materials, providing unparalleled value to our society. From inception, plastics have always been a pioneering material and it is, of course, quite fitting that the technologies now being used to recover these materials are just as innovative and impactful. As our attitudes and attention towards the earth’s climate and environment continue to evolve, so must our infrastructures and behaviors change with them.

Ineos Cassie Bradley Headshot 180x200H.jpgUnderstanding the options at our disposal is the first step. Optimizing technologies like these position us for the common goal of repurposing all materials in the most efficient way. Unfortunately, the biggest problems never seem to have a convenient, silver-bullet solution. Nevertheless, if the bright minds developing the solutions discussed here are any indication of our future, well then, with collaboration and creativity abound — it seems that the solutions to plastic waste are already here.

Cassie Bradley is INEOS Styrolution’s Sustainability and Circular Economy Commercial Manager.

Healthcare Packaging

Balancing Sterile Barrier Packaging and Sterilization Requirements

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From left: Jeremy Elwell, senior principal engineer for Oliver Healthcare Packaging; and Brian McEvoy B.Sc. MBA, senior director for global technologies for STERIS Applied Sterilization Technologies

In July, packaging and sterilization experts explored the complex relationship between sterile medical device packaging and sterilization methods in the webinar, “Sterile Barrier Packaging: The Impact of Sterilization Modalities.” Jeremy Elwell, senior principal engineer for Oliver Healthcare Packaging, explored the design and development of sterile barrier systems, while Brian McEvoy B.Sc. MBA, senior director for global technologies for STERIS Applied Sterilization Technologies, provided high-level overviews of ethylene oxide (EO), irradiation, and vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP) sterilization methods.

 

During the event, Elwell and McEvoy answered a number of attendee questions, and we asked them to expand upon those answers and address any additional questions we couldn’t include in the hour-long webinar. We encourage you to log on to the now-on-demand event for their presentation. 

 

How can we mitigate risk when performing accelerated aging testing using sterilized samples?

Elwell: In any packaging verification study, it is important to understand the performance capabilities of your selected materials. It is also important to properly set up your test protocols per industry standards. You can reduce risk by performing higher-intensity feasibility testing prior to a verification study or by leveraging existing data. In some cases, it may be feasible to shorten the duration of accelerated aging conditioning by increasing temperature or changing Q10 levels (per ASTM F1980); however, a proper analysis must be performed since this may cause additional risk to both the packaging and device materials.

 

Is the maximum dose study also applied in E-beam sterilization? 

McEvoy: Per ISO11137, the impact of maximum dose will be assessed in all three irradiation modalities: Gamma, E-beam, or X-ray.

 

Is coated Tyvek more compatible with extreme conditioning (2x EO sterilization + accelerated aging) more than uncoated Tyvek?

Elwell: While coated Tyvek does improve some aspects of a seal, both types of sterile barrier systems have been tested and proven to withstand extreme conditions.

 

Have you seen a greater effect on the packaging materials after being sterilized with Gamma versus E-Beam? 

McEvoy: We have not observed anything specifically, since testing is conducted by our customers, and often we are not privy to the results and outcomes. To our knowledge, packaging materials tend not to be of primary concern here...it’s usually a material associated with the product itself. 

 

If a product is sterilized in a two-tray system (a sealed tray inside a sealed tray), would the product still be considered sterile if the outer tray is opened? 

Elwell: If appropriate verification and validation testing is performed, and the labeling of the inner tray meets the necessary requirements, the inner tray in this situation would be considered sterile as long as the sterile barrier is still intact. 

 

Is seal creep a higher risk in Gamma irradiation or EO Sterilization when using a film to 1073B Tyvek Pouch?   

Elwell: Seal creep is a higher risk with EO sterilization because it includes sterilization cycles with a combination of heat and vacuum while gamma irradiation does not. The risk can be mitigated if the recommendations discussed in the webinar are followed. 

 

Is it appropriate to sterilize samples from a process qualification (OQ/PQ) before testing them?

Elwell: Typically, sterilization is not part of the OQ/PQ process since outputs from the OQ/PQ process are used for in process monitoring (unless you plan to perform in process monitoring using post sterilization samples in ongoing production). Activities after the packaging process (sterilization, distribution, storage, etc.) should be addressed through the design verification process and tied back into a minimum specification as identified by the OQ/PQ process. For more information, reference ISO 11607 part 1 and part 2.

 

Does printing directly on Tyvek impact the porosity of the sterile packaging?

Elwell: Printing on medical grade Tyvek is not anticipated to significantly impact the porosity of the substrate. Tyvek is a fibrous material. When ink is applied to Tyvek in a printing process, it is laid on the surface of the exposed fibers and does not typically “fill in" and block off the breathability of the material. To demonstrate this, Oliver Healthcare Packaging conducted a porosity study using a Gurley Hill porosity tester. Samples of Tyvek were printed on an offset process with a full lay down of ink (worst case scenario). Porosity was then measured in the printed area and compared to an adjacent area of unprinted Tyvek. Values were reported in Gurley seconds (number of seconds required for 100 cubic centimeters of air to pass through 1.0 square inch of the material). Results indicate the full lay down of ink has little impact on the porosity of the Tyvek. The study is available from Oliver Healthcare Packaging upon request.

 

What is considered sufficient seal strength?

Elwell: This has been an ongoing discussion in the industry. Please refer to our Developing a New Industry Standard for Seal Strength Testing webinar by Geoff Pavey, Oliver Technical Fellow. 

 

Is there a recommended packaging design (that is, flexible pouch design or rigid blister with top lid design) to use when the packaging will be subjected to E-Beam or Gamma radiation sterilization?

Elwell: Most of the materials we reviewed in the webinar are compatible with both E-beam and Gamma. For more information regarding compatibility, you can reference AAMI TIR 17 or watch the webinar recording. However, it is more likely that packaging design selection will be based on device requirements and end user needs.

 

For the validation of a new EO cycle, is it appropriate to evaluate a worst case to represent a packaging configuration family?

McEvoy: Generally speaking, it is feasible to perform sterilization validations per product family. However, every aspect of the packaging system and packaged device needs to be addressed. Some recommended factors to consider are density of packed product/pallet load, similarity of device design, packaging configuration and materials, pack out pattern, labeling, and IFU placement.

 

With the incorporation of electronics into medical devices, what are the best sterilization modalities? 

McEvoy: Radiation can have an impact on sensitive electronic components. This would need to be assessed and (radiation) shielding/attenuation opportunities could be explored. VHP as a surface sterilization would be an effective method.

 

Is there a difference between a standard VHP and a VHP Plasma process for sterilization?  (Or are these the same?)

McEvoy: A number of providers in healthcare sterilization and room decontamination offer variants of VHP solution, e.g., VHP combined with other chemicals or processes. Plasma is one such variant where the plasma is suspected to assist removal of sterilant in the aeration phase, which is necessary as VHP-plasma tend to use higher concentrations of sterilant than non-plasma VHP. 

 

If I am lowering EO concentration and increasing the EO dwell time, do I need to repeat aging studies?

McEvoy: Adjusting these parameters will have an effect on EO product residuals, with a likely reduction due to lower concentration. Increase of dwell time will add more time to the overall process at a temperature elevated beyond ambient. The additional time would still have a process falling below the max times of the original process, and thus, likely to be an effect but should be reviewed and have risk assessed in the change management process. 


Is there more risk to my packaging in an EO-CO2 mixture than EO-Nitrogen cycle? 

McEvoy: We have no information/data of such an impact. Both CO2 and N2 are inert gases. EO:CO2 mixed gas processes are conducted over a wider pressure scale where a portion of the process is conducted above atmospheric pressure. Would need to assess the impact of that pressure differential.

 

What will be the predominant sterilization method for titanium / steel implants in 3 to 5 years?  

McEvoy: Implants have enjoyed the benefits of radiation processing particularly with Gamma. Likely, over the coming years, X-ray will provide a beneficial alternative and necessary capacity: same penetration and bulk processing options without the reliance on cobalt radiation sources.   

 

Does Nitrogen injection time play a crucial role in diluting process in EO sterilization? We can't see this time on our report—is it important to place this time in the sterilization batch report?

McEvoy: The role of N2 is to assist in the dilution and removal of air. Air and EO form an explosive mixture. N2 is used to reduce the air concentration in the chamber to a level where an explosive atmosphere is not present upon the introduction of EO gas.

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication MD+DI

Packaging Design

Man Loses Sleep Over Failed Packaging Design

Photo credit: Fotos 593 – adobe.stock.com Man-with-insomnia-AdobeStock_158326569-featured.jpeg

What mastermind at The Genius Brand thought it would be a good idea to make the packaging of two opposite products in a line of supplements look nearly identical? That’s what Twitter poster Sam Hulick is wondering. He mistakenly took two caffeine pills before bedtime instead of a sleep aid.

 

This self-described composer, developer, entrepreneur, husband, cat dad, co-founder/CEO of @ReelCrafter — probably with no formal packaging design training — even had suggestions of his own on how to fix what he saw as a preventable confusion.

 

 

Perhaps the company (or the label printer) printed the different product labels in the same print run to save money on color plates (called gang-run printing). That happens quite often; a secondary benefit is less material waste.

But using different colors isn’t the only option. TALLman lettering — a technique that uses uppercase lettering to help differentiate look-alike drug names — is used quite successfully in pharmaceutical labeling.

The National Institutes of Health warns against taking medicines in the dark because errors are common — but it happens all the time anyway. Knowing that — and with packaging designers more interested in improving the user’s experience anyway — I wonder if anyone is using or looking at using glow-in-the-dark ink???

Robotics

Today’s Case Packers Tap Robotics for Flexibility

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Case packing systems leverage the flexibility of robotics to manage product and packaging format variety.

The up-and-coming generation of case packers is a far cry from the cam-driven models that once dominated this market niche. Today’s case packers feature a trove of advanced components, including robotics, smart controls, and vision systems that increase reliability, streamline changeover, and automatically correct operational problems.

Today’s advanced models are also more flexible than ever. Increased variability of stock-keeping units (SKUs) and demand for retail-ready packaging from consumer packaged goods companies are driving demand for flexible pack patterns and variable package formats. To meet that need without sacrificing line speed, equipment makers are incorporating robotic collation and case loading.

At the same time, labor dynamics have made ease of operation more important. Equipment manufacturers are developing more intuitive human machine interfaces (HMIs), which assist operators with case packer use and troubleshooting. In addition, predictive maintenance features are helping packagers to maintain their case packers and prevent unplanned downtime.

Automated changeover capabilities are also making it faster and less onerous to switch case formats or product configurations — even as case packer footprints get smaller.

Several equipment-industry insiders participated in the following Q&A, offering their views on how far the equipment has come, as well as the market and technology changes shaping the future of case packing. The participants in this exclusive Packaging Digest Q&A are:

• Maria Cancino, product line manager at Brenton, a ProMach product brand

• Rick Gessler, vice president of engineering at Delkor Systems

• Daniel Maeyaert, vice president of manufacturing operations at Fallas Automation

• Scott Williams, northwest regional sales manager at BluePrint Automation (BPA)

 

What recent advancements have you seen in case packers?

Cancino: Many of the advancements that we have seen in recent years follow the trends for overall packaging automation — increased demand for SKU variability and a shortage of labor impacting the number and training of operators.

The high variability of SKUs has caused case packer manufacturers to respond with more flexible, higher-rate machines. For example, five years ago, companies may have run six- and 12-packs consistently with few changeovers; now we are seeing two-, three-, and four-packs in addition to the six- and 12-packs. The upstream equipment continues to fill at the same rate, but now with the lower-count packs, the case per minute has increased.

To address this need for flexibility and speed while keeping overall throughput the same, we have developed a pitchless design for our product infeeds, as well as the case packer’s main design, to get to the faster rate and address the varying pack patterns. We are also incorporating more use of robotics and robotic vision both for collation and the case packing itself, adding to the overall flexibility of the machine.

The second trend — labor shortage as it relates to trained operators — we see reflected in our case packers needing to be easier to use and troubleshoot, and needing relatively little oversight. We have addressed these concerns through the improvement of our HMIs to be more intuitive and similar to smartphone or tablet applications. This decreases the overall training time needed for operators to interface with our machines. Additionally, we offer options to automate changeover or provide assistance to operators during changeover, which also decreases the machine-specific knowledge an operator needs.

 

Gessler: Case packers are trading physical parts and hardware for more sophisticated controls and advanced technology. Our latest generation of smart machines incorporates technology that combines product flow and pattern building in an innovative manner, reducing machine complexity while increasing reliability and package-format flexibility.

These advancements are critical, as retailers and ecommerce continually drive a changing landscape in terms of packaging requirements. As producers select their next packaging lines, it is important for them to be able to invest in a system that has the flexibility to keep pace with these ever-changing packaging requirements, helping to protect them from packaging-line obsolescence.

 

Williams: There have been quite a few advancements in case packing recently. One advancement I am seeing more of is the use of different styles of robots working together to create new case-packing equipment, like our model that uses delta-style robots to load directly to cases for horizontal patterns. Or the delta can pattern-form the product onto a belt and then use an articulating robot to collect and load vertical patterns into cases.

Another example is our case packer that combines a delta robot with an integrated robotic case erector to pack snack bags vertically into cases.

 

Maeyaert: The most recent advancements in case packing have circulated around making the machine easier to operate with less personnel. That includes predictive maintenance that allows the machine to tell the maintenance staff that the machine needs to be maintained, or that the machine is about to fail. This is in contrast to staff having to check on machines regularly or rush over because of a failure emergency. For operators, that has meant ease of use with less knowledge. Another advancement is adding centerlining devices that require less knowledge of the machine, and more instructions fully available to the operator right at the machine.

Technologically, servo technology has improved quite a bit to increase machines speeds. A lot of effort has also gone into work by electronics manufacturers to provide as much information as possible about their component to us. That allows us to use that data to better understand how the machine runs over its lifetime.

From the market, there has been a large push the last five years for retail-ready. End users are starting to figure out what works for them, but there are still regular changes to what is needed in this area.

Photo supplied by FallasFallas_R700 Adabot_NEH_1521-slide.jpg

The R700 Adabot case packer, from Fallas Automation, uses robotic technology to place products anywhere in a case, based on the desired pack pattern.

 

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

Gessler: Where traditional machines use hard automation — for example, chains, buckets, cams, and pneumatic pushers — the latest generation of equipment replaces legacy technology with advanced robotics, vision systems, and smart controls that can detect and correct issues on the fly. These changes also minimize the moving parts in the machine, increasing reliability and minimizing changeover points, which reduces the time required to transition from one case format to another.

Many of the latest advanced case-packing systems also offer auto recovery from faults or product mis-feeds. This capability minimizes the impact to production when nonconforming products enter the system.

 

Williams: They provide more flexibility with fewer change parts and smaller footprints. Standard case-packing equipment on the market today still has its niche and fits some users and applications very well. However, the newer styles of case-packing equipment deliver some strong advantages that shouldn’t be ignored. Newer styles of case packers fit into smaller footprints, have a wider array of product and patterns they can pack with fewer change parts, and require less operator intervention.

 

Maeyaert: Most equipment on the floor right now runs until it breaks — it’s all reactive maintenance. Plants are also just gleaning the surface of the data available to analyze how their lines run. Most machines don’t use the data available to them and there is much more data available to analyze with added sensors.

 

Cancino: In many cases, if the advancements hold value for the majority of our markets and customers, we are rolling out the innovation within our standard equipment. If a more limited customer base has interest in the advancement, it could be offered as a standard option to our equipment. In either case, we continuously seek to drive innovation and technology to provide more value to our customers and address their automation concerns.

 

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

Williams: Benefits include less operator intervention, more uptime, the machinery fitting into existing plants, and being able to do more with one machine.

These advancements, as I mentioned, increase the flexibility of the case-packing equipment, allowing users to pack a variety of products and patterns, going into multiple styles of cases, whether they be vertically or horizontally packed, all while fitting into a smaller footprint and having fewer change parts.

Photo supplied by BluePrint AutomationBlueprint Automation_spider 300v - slide.jpg

BluePrint Automation’s Spider 300 V series case loaders use robots to load horizontal and vertical patterns of products into cases.

 

Maeyaert: Machinery users can use these new advancements to avoid unnecessary downtime. They can plan needed downtime around their schedules. They also allow the plants to run their machines more efficiently with a less knowledgeable staff.

 

Gessler: Recent advancements ensure quicker package-format changeover coupled with the flexibility to meet the packaging needs of a range of customers with a single case-packing line. This flexibility also lengthens the life span of the case-packing line, as it can adapt with the change in products and package formats.

Modular machine designs and a compact floor footprint help to better fit the exact speed and size requirements, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all designs of old. Ergonomic, operator-friendly designs are built into these cutting-edge case packers, such as large walk-in doors, push-button changeover, LED status glow lights, and more. These adjustments make a noticeable difference in day-to-day operations and reduced downtime.

 

Cancino: Besides alleviating the burden of training for the operators, the biggest benefit of the advancements I mentioned is additional flexibility and reducing the overall footprint of the machine.

Through the use of robots and our pitchless designs, we are able to handle the complexity and number of SKU and pack-pattern variations that our current customers need. We also work with customers to “future-proof” the machines to allow customers to import new pack patterns or additional SKUs, all within a compact footprint. We can use robotic vision and collation to add to the machine’s flexibility in handling multiple flavor packs or interweaving packs. This technology not only works for initial deployments but also makes it flexible enough to be deployed in a new line, should it be needed.

 

What areas in case packing still need work and why?

Maeyaert: We are just starting to get into machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). There are data available and sensors to obtain it, but much of that cost is still high. It requires desire by the end user to put these capabilities on a machine. Prices are still too high to include them as standard. Also, the more data that case packer OEMs have, the better we can make our machines run. Plants have held that data very close to their chest for obvious reasons, but the more data we can obtain in real time, the better we can serve our end users.

 

Gessler: So often, the packaging itself is overlooked. Traditional brown-box shippers — regular slotted container (RSC) cases — are still used by many producers. These cases often use excess material, which is waste, driving high per-package costs.

There is an opportunity for these producers to shift to a more efficient box style, reducing their packaging costs in many cases by 15% or more. These efficient case formats are formed from a flat blank, without a manufacturer’s seam. Erecting from a flat blank can enable increased throughput rates by using more advanced case-erecting technology, such as servo-driven erectors.

Inferior corrugated board is an issue on a lot of legacy equipment out in the field. Addressing this are erectors that incorporate adjustable tooling that enables quick changeover, easily handles warped corrugated, and uses dynamic compression to achieve perfectly square cases. In addition, the dynamic compression ensures excellent case integrity by applying 100 pounds of compression force to each glue joint.

Photo supplied by DelkorDelkor_MSP-M Series_Case Packer-slide.jpg

Delkor’s MSP case packer uses vision-based robotics to create precise patterns of pouches at high speeds for pack out by a long-travel gantry. This combination of robotics enables packing of formats ranging from 30-inch club-store trays to single-facing, shelf-ready trays.

 

Williams: More automated changeovers, increased flexibility, and ease of use are a few. We are always searching for ways to improve upon our existing equipment or create something totally new that changes the preconceived notion of the way things should be done or has been done in the past.

Some areas where we see opportunity for improvement with regard to case packing include: increasing ease of use of the case packers through reduced amount of spare parts needed, having more automated changeover capabilities, and creating a user experience in which the equipment is simple and easy to operate.

 

Cancino: As the market continues to move toward more and newer uses for flexible packaging, we continue to be challenged with how to handle the new packaging more efficiently. Even for some of the existing technology, we continue to look for ways to improve the speed, collation, and overall handling of the product.

Our customers challenge us to provide smaller footprints and faster pack rates as we see much of the labor of displaying product at retail stores move to consumer packaged goods manufacturers — they are being challenged to provide display-ready packaging for a smaller shelf space. We partner with our customers to drive new ways to orientate and pack product within the cases to reduce labor at the retail end.

 

What’s next and when might we see further improvements in case packers?

Maeyaert: Linear servos are what will take machines to the next level. Servo racetracks and linear servo actuators have improved a lot in the last couple years. As the cost drops, this will allow machines builders to replace air cylinders with servo actuators. These will smooth out and speed up machines and allow fully coordinated motion on all aspects of the machine.

Servo racetracks eliminate complicated chain-and-belt tracks and add whole new levels of freedom. It will allow us to create machines that operate as smoothly as the old cam machines, but with the speed and reliability of servos.

 

Cancino: As we continue to partner with our customers, we envision more robotics and linear servos being included in case-packing machines, to cut down on overall footprint. We see more advances to make machines less operator driven and enable our customers to have one operator for several machines vs. the 1:1 ratio we have seen in the past. We also expect the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to drive more preventive maintenance schedules and help reduce unplanned downtime.

Photo supplied by BrentonPromach-Brenton_m2000_02-slide.jpg

The all-servo driven Brenton M2000 Side Load Case Packer can handle many case styles as well as a range of package formats, including cartons, bottles, cans, and tubs. Brenton is a ProMach product brand.

 

Williams: Next up is Industry 4.0 and remote monitoring. We are definitely seeing a push to have increased monitoring of systems within our portfolio. Industry 4.0 is still a buzzword we hear a lot, and we are working to provide even more data and integration than we have before.

Customers are asking for case packers to have machine-to-machine communication and provide data back in real time, allowing manufacturers to connect in an environment of data, processes, services, systems, and IoT-enabled assets, while monitoring them from anywhere in the world.

 

Gessler: Case design has been relatively stagnant over the past decade, with retailers only in recent years shifting to shelf-ready packaging. With the current, growing ecommerce markets, there is a lot of change that case packers will need to accommodate.

I envision more collaboration between equipment providers and package designers, going forward. We have both functions in-house. Our Package Lab is fully staffed by packaging engineers and design and test equipment that our customers can use for free not only to help reduce packaging cost but also to achieve the goals set forth by the retailers — such as shelf-ready packaging, Walmart’s Project Gigaton, and more. This type of tightly connected development enables producers to keep pace with their customers’ needs, and it enables equipment providers to stay ahead of the curve.

 

Packaging Design

3 Ways COVID-19 Will Change Packaging Design

Photo credit: VK Studio – adobe.stock.com Shopper-masked-AdobeStock_345294314-featured.jpeg

Product packaging has developed an even more vital role in the COVID-19 world.

Early shelter-at-home orders made food delivery and ecommerce a necessity, driving increased packaging demand. And concerns over surface contamination changed the way that many people interact with the packaging that arrives in their homes.

Even with states re-opening, these trends continue and most people expect that these changes will persist even after the pandemic is behind us.

Packaging design is cued up to respond to the new normal in three ways.

 

1. Product packaging is adapting to shifting buying patterns.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way that people shop.

Running out to the store now carries inherent risks that simply weren’t a consideration before. For many people, online shopping has become the safest choice.

 

Photo supplied by crowdspringcrowdspring-ecommerce-website-traffic-chart-web.jpg

Coronavirus impact on retail ecommerce website traffic worldwide as of June 2020, by average monthly visits. (Credit: Statista)

 

Ecommerce traffic has spiked significantly. This means it’s more important than ever for packaging design to accommodate the rigors of shipping but also preserve that important unboxing experience.

Going forward, packaging designers must be mindful of the additional physical demands being placed upon packaging to accommodate shoppers’ preference for online buying.

 

2. Product packaging must meet heightened health and safety standards and expectations.

The novel coronavirus has prompted people all over the world to question the safety of the products they bring into their homes.

Fear of contamination has been lowered — but not eradicated — by the CDC’s reassurances that “transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented,” or that touching a surface with viral particles on it “…is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

As a result, many people are disinfecting or quarantining packages before bringing them into their homes.

Packaging design must adapt to meet both the physical need and psychological desire for safer, more hygienic packaging.

Physical Health: There are a number of ways to prioritize health in packaging design.

Keep in mind the importance of protecting products from possible viral exposure. Among other things, avoid product packaging with open cut-outs that would impact the integrity and hygiene of the products.

In addition to providing additional packaging to protect products, you can also make strategic choices about the packaging materials themselves.

The National Institutes of Health study that has become the primary guideline for how long the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive on various surfaces states that the virus can survive “…up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic…”

This information provides packaging designers and manufacturers with valuable information on how to keep consumers safer.

When all other things are equal, paperboard is a safer packaging material compared to plastic.

 

Photo supplied by crowdspringcrowdspring-CDC-mental-health-numbers-web.jpg

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2020.

 

Psychological health: Buyers are keenly aware today of the increased risk level from handling possibly infected products and product packaging.

Occurrences of anxiety symptoms in 2020 have approximately tripled compared to those reported during the same time period in 2019.

Hygiene and physical and mental health are top-of-mind for many. And, even after the pandemic, people’s heightened awareness of health concerns will not disappear overnight.

Reassuring your audience that you have their well-being at heart will continue to be a powerful message. Well-designed, thoughtful custom packaging can speak to those anxieties and reassure consumers.

This is important for established companies but is even more important for new brands. If you’re just starting a business or finishing your business plan and looking to launch a new product soon, pay particular attention to how you address peoples’ anxieties and fears.

As a new business, you will not yet have a strong brand identity or consumer loyalty. You’ll need to work hard to earn peoples’ trust. And, it will take extra effort to inform prospective consumers about the steps you’ve taken to make those products safe — especially during a pandemic.

So, redesign food and product packaging to address consumers’ health and safety concerns. And, include copy letting people know why your product and your packaging is safe to purchase.

 

3. Product packaging will need to be designed for sustainability.

In addition to ravaging through populations around the world, the COVID-19 coronavirus has had a major impact on our planet.

As people stop reeling from pandemic-induced shock and daily life finds its new rhythm, environmental awareness is re-emerging. And, product packaging needs to adapt quickly to counteract the damage being done.

Food delivery and online shopping prevalence will likely remain high for quite some time. This makes it more important than ever for packaging companies to prioritize more sustainable packaging.

There are two major pathways to explore.

Packaging material: The first option is to use biodegradable packaging materials.

Biodegradable and sustainable packaging options like bioplastics, corn foam, and mushroom-based packaging are now available. And, of course, paperboard is also biodegradable.

These packaging materials aren’t just good for the planet. Many also tend to be more porous (and hence likely to kill viral particles more quickly) than virgin plastics. So, these packaging materials deliver powerful benefits on multiple fronts.

Simply searching for “sustainable packaging” will reveal a variety of planet-friendly packaging materials for you to explore. With so many options available today, one of them is bound to be a good fit for your business.

Reusable product packaging: The second pathway to more environmentally-sound packaging practices is to embrace reusable packaging options.

Reusable packaging leads to less waste. And a systemic change to increase efficiency and safety will make the practice more practical than ever.

You can learn more about reusable packaging from the folks at the Reusable Packaging Association.

 

The pandemic has fundamentally changed so many aspects of life.

But product packaging is positioned to make a significant positive impact if you evolve it to adapt to the new normal.

 

Recycling

Evian Adds 100% Recycled Water Bottles to Portfolio

Image: Evian Evian's 100% recycled water bottle

Bottled water company Evian has reached a new milestone on its journey toward a circular economy: 100% recycled water bottles are now part of the portfolio of the Danone brand. All Evian water bottles are recyclable, and this week’s announcement means that, on average, 40% of its portfolio is now also made from 100% recycled plastic (rPET). The bottles are available in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, and the UK. 

According to Evian’s announcement, when plastic is recycled into a new bottle, it reduces carbon emissions in the production process by as much as 50% compared with bottles made from virgin plastic.

Evian's 100% recycled water bottle
Carbon emissions reportedly are reduced by as much as 50% in the production of Evian's 100% recycled water bottles compared with bottles made from virgin plastics. Image courtesy Evian.

“Increasing demand for rPET promotes better recycling systems to keep plastic out of nature and in the economy,” commented Evian’s Shweta Harit, Global Vice President of Marketing. “At Evian we encourage everyone to accelerate the usage of these collection points and ensure that all used bottles can become new bottles, keeping the use of virgin plastic to an absolute minimum. We are committed to our journey to care for the planet by providing our spring water in the most sustainable way possible as we look to become fully circular by 2025,” said Harit.

Earlier this year, Evian was certified carbon neutral by Carbon Trust, following significant improvements at every stage of the product life cycle, from production and transportation to the use of renewable energy.

The caps and labels on Evian’s bottles are not produced from the same type of plastic (rPET) as the bottles. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and oriented polypropylene (OPP) are used to help preserve water purity and quality for consumers. HDPE and OPP plastics are recyclable, however, and Evian encourages consumers to check their local recycling listings and recycle all Evian bottles in the correct stream so that they can be reused.

To help consumers looking to hydrate with spring water at home, Evian also has launched a collapsible bubble dispenser that contains 66% less plastic than a typical 1.5-liter water bottle while holding nearly three times the volume.