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Introduction to Flexible Packaging

Nnamdi Anyadike
Published by
Pira International Ltd
Randalls Road, Leatherhead
Surrey kt22 7ru
T +44 (0) 1372 802080
F +44 (0) 1372 802079
The facts set out in this
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Pira International Ltd 2003
ISBN 1 85802 915 5
Annabel Taylor
Customer services manager
Denise Davidson
T +44 (0)1372 802080
Typeset in the UK by
Jeff Porter, Deeping St James,
Peterborough, Lincs
List of figures v
Currency conversions vi
Raw materials and production 1
Petrochemicals 1
Prices 1
Naphtha 2
Ethylene 4
Cellulose 4
Chemical pulps 5
Sulphate (kraft) pulp 5
Cellulose film 5
Paper 6
Flexible packaging papers 6
Aluminium foil 7
Flexible materials 9
Polyolefins 11
Types of flexible plastics 13
Other materials 14
Conversion of flexible plastics 14
Polyethylene 15
Cast PP 16
PA 16
PET 17
PVC 18
Cellulose 18
Barrier packaging materials 18
Ethylene vinyl alcohol 19
Polyacrylonitrile films 19
PVOH, metallised films 19
Polyethylene 19
Polypropylene 19
Polyvinylidene chloride: example
Saran 19
High-barrier substrate materials 20
PVdC 21
Some polymer developments 22
Metallocene polymers 23
Flexible packaging implications 25
Fruit and vegetables 26
Development drawback process, cost,
patent concerns 26
The technology 28
Competition 29
Other polymers 29
Biopolymers 30
Aliphatic polyketones 30
Liquid crystal polymers (LCPs) 30
Films 31
Film type and manufacture 31
Cast film 31
Blown film 32
Multilayer (high-barrier) film 33
Coextruded film 34
Laminated film 35
Metallised film 37
Intelligent/smart films 38
Oriented polystyrene films 39
Microwaveable films 39
Edible and soluble films 39
Downgauging 39
Innovations in flexible materials 41
Modified atmosphere packaging 41
Commercial examples 43
Active packaging 43
Fresh foods 44
Processed foods 44
Systems 44
Other developments 46
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Introduction to Flexible Paclaging
Barrier films 48
Intelligent packaging 49
Intelligent plastics for packaging 49
Antimicrobial film 49
Antimicrobial packaging films 50
Flexible-based retail units 53
Pouches 53
Commercial examples 54
Lidding 59
Bags 61
Bag-in-box packaging 62
Stick packs 62
Reclosable devices 63
Flexible cans 65
Shaped bags 66
Sacks 67
PE sacks 67
Heavy duty PE sacks 67
Multipacks 68
Wrapping film 69
Shrink sleeves 70
Label market 72
Printing of flexible packaging 73
Gravure 73
Flexo 75
Lithography 77
Digital printing 79
Flexible packaging machinery 85
Calendering 85
Extruding 86
Blown film extrusion 88
Slit die-cast extrusion 89
Coextrusion 89
Thermoforming 90
Vacuum forming 91
Pressure forming 91
Thermoform-fill-seal 91
Lamination 91
Metallised film 93
Aluminium 93
Form/fill/seal 93
Legislative issues 97
Food contact materials 97
Current activities possible future 98
Recycling 99
European legislation 99
National legislation 100
End-use markets 107
Fresh food 107
Meat and poultry 107
Vegetables 108
Frozen food 108
Frozen potatoes 109
Soup 109
Cheese 110
Baked products 110
Bread 110
Snack foods 112
Biscuits 112
Cakes 112
Coffee and tea 112
Confectionery 113
Dried foods 113
Pharmaceuticals 114
DIY 115
Household detergents 115
Labelling 115
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Page v Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
List of figures
2.1 Monomers 12
2.2 The evolution of metallocene olefin
polymerisation catalysts 23
5.1 Structure of the flexible spout
pouch 53
5.2 Dual chamber pouch 54
5.3 Structure of the dispenser pouch 55
5.4 The design of Procter & Gambles refill
pack for liquid detergent 55
5.5 A resealable pouchs unique structure
gives easy peel and reclosure 57
5.6 Unique structure of a resealable
pouch 56
5.7 An alternative adhesive closure 57
5.8 The concept behind Amcor Flexibles
Europes EasyPack system 63
5.9 The Amcor FlexCan family 66
5.10 Film structures for pharmaceutical
blister packs 69
6.1 Schematic of a webfed gravure
printing unit 73
6.2 A conventional flexographic printing
unit 76
6.3 The blanket-to-blanket configuration
used on perfectors and webfed offset
presses 78
6.4 Typical layout of a sheetfed offset
press 79
6.5 Multiple nozzle, continuous inkjet
printing mechanism 80
6.6 Continuous inkjet printing
mechanism 81
6.7 Impulse (or drop-on-demand) inkjet
printing mechanism 81
6.8 Dry toner electrophotographic (laser)
printer 82
7.1 Four-roll inverted L calender coater 85
7.2 Schematic of a simple extruder 86
7.3 Schematic of a simple extruder 88
7.4 Thermoforming techniques 90
7.5 Cross-section of a typical
lamination 92
7.6 Wet method lamination 92
Currency conversions
$1 = 0.95
1 = 1.52
1 = 0.008
Ffr1 = 0.15
Fmk1 = 0.17
Esc1 = 0.005
Skr1 = 0.11
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Raw materials and production
Page 1 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
Flexible packaging normally refers to the manufacture, supply and conversion of plastic
and cellulose films, aluminium foils and papers. These may be used, separately or in
combination, for: primary retail food packaging and labelling; non-food applications, such
as DIY and household detergents; and certain other specialist non-food niche sectors, such
as medical and pharmaceutical packaging. This chapter endeavours to explain in simple
terms, the basic primary production method of polymers used to make plastics for flexible
packaging from raw materials.
With the exception of regenerated cellulose film and cellulose acetate, with its sub-
variants, all plastics are ultimately based on petrochemical feedstock. Consequently, the
price of raw materials for flexible packaging is very dependent on the price of crude oil.
PVC is a special case as about 50% by weight is accounted for by chlorine, which is
available from salt or seawater. The main building blocks for producing plastics are
ethylene and propylene, which is obtained from one fraction of the feedstock via catalytic
crackers of petrochemical refineries. Plastics manufacture accounts for only a small
proportion (about 4%) of total world oil consumption.
However, while this pattern has not changed greatly in the past it may well do so if
other end users switch to other forms of raw material or energy sources. The fact remains
that while the flexible packaging industry is not very important to the oil industry, the oil
and downstream, refined products industry remains hugely important to the flexible
packaging industry.
Petrochemicals The supply of crude oil to markets in both the developed and developing world is
surprisingly free from disruption considering the fact that a large portion of it comes from
Prices regions that are inherently unstable, such as the Middle East and Africa. For much of the
1980s, two of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opecs) major
producers, Iran and Iraq, were at war with one another and, as of the fourth quarter of
2002, all the signs were that the US was about to launch a second war against Iraq.
However, while supply has tended to be unaffected by events in the Middle East, oil
prices have long been subject to volatility. This volatility, which affects ethylene
production costs and thus the price of a key polymer for the flexible plastics packaging
industry, helps to explain the various ways that the industry is attempting to introduce
more cost-effective ethylene production.
Throughout 2002, the crude price of oil has been subject to a number of spikes and
dips in response to sluggish world demand, quota-busting by Opec members, scarce
commercial inventories, government stock-building and the prospect of war against Iraq.
In January 2002, a barrel of Brent crude fetched $17.52; this rose 70% to just under
$30 at the end of September amid fears of war in the Gulf. Then during October the price
of crude fell back 11% as the threat of war appeared to recede.
As a result of the soft demand, supply slumped in 2002 as 4 million barrels a day
were taken off the market. Opec has made progressive cutbacks over the 18 months to
November 2002 in a bid to bolster the price of oil.
The Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES) forecasts that Opec will be forced to cut back
its production to 25.3 million barrels a day in 2003 compared with 27.1 million barrels in
2002. Saudi Arabia, as keeper of the oil surplus, has cut the bulk of this, and other
countries quotas have been reduced in proportion to their production.
Meanwhile, commercial US crude oil stocks were at their lowest level in November
2002 since US energy authorities began keeping weekly records in 1979. Stocks are
normally high ahead of winter in Europe and the US. The shortage suggests that prices
could spike in 2003 if the winter is especially cold.
However, other industrialised nations have been quietly building up oil stocks to deal
with any supply interruption during a conflict with Iraq. The US, Japan and Germany hold
a total of 3.8 billion barrels in stock, some 114 days of net imports. President Bush has
already announced that the US is seeking to fill its strategic reserves. Nippon Oil of Japan
has started to buy crude from Russia as well as the Middle East.
Should oil prices, as seems likely, rise further in the current economic climate then
most upstream industrial activity will be affected. High oil prices will feed into inflation,
hamper industrial productivity and, in industries such as flexible plastic packaging where
oil is a key raw material, the pressure on costs will be severe.
Naphtha The term naphtha is usually restricted to a class of colourless, volatile, flammable liquid
hydrocarbon mixtures, one of the more volatile fractions obtained from the fractional
distillation of petroleum (when it is known as petroleum naphtha). It is widely used as a
solvent for various organic substances, such as fats and rubber, and in the making of
varnish. Technically, gasoline and kerosene are also naphthas.
Naphtha is also a feed in olefin production in the production of propylene and
ethylene, roughly in a ratio of 3:1. If, however, the concentration of n-paraffins in the feed
can be increased, the yields of ethylene relative to the feed can be substantially higher, up
to 3839% or more. With the reduced margins that most steam crackers are forced to
operate under, cost reductions and improved yields are seen as essential.
Naphtha is the most common feedstock sent to naphtha cracking units for the
production of ethylene. A typical naphtha feedstock contains a mixture of paraffinic,
naphthenic and aromatic hydrocarbons with varied molecular weight and structure. The
composition of naphtha feedstocks varies considerably, yet the composition has a
significant impact on ethylene and by-product yields.
If a high ethylene yield is required, then it is preferable to have a high concentration
of normal paraffin in the naphtha. Normal and non-normal paraffin decomposes to
ethylene in a cracker, but the ethylene yield from normal paraffin is much greater.
Coincidentally, refiners and aromatics producers prefer naphtha feedstocks that are
depleted of normal paraffin. Naphtha that is depleted of normal-paraffin contributes
more octane value to the refiners gasoline pool and increases the aromatics yield in an
aromatics complex.
Ideally, ethylene producers would use naphtha with a high normal paraffin
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Raw materials and production
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concentration, and refiners and aromatics producers would use naphtha that is depleted
of normal paraffin to increase their yields. However, relatively few steam crackers,
particularly in Europe, are in a position to increase their yields. The main limitation is a
lack of suitable opportunities for process integration that not only reflect the increased
yield in ethylene but also provide for the enhanced utilisation of the remaining
components: isoparaffins, naphthenes and aromatics.
New technologies coming onstream seek to incorporate a processing unit that can
effectively separate n-paraffins from the remaining hydrocarbon components present in
the naphtha feed.
Vapour-phase IsoSiv units were used to enrich the feed to steam crackers as far
back as 1967. Various designs and operating modes were used for such units. In general,
however, these units had fairly high utility and operating requirements and there has been
little interest in the use of this technology in recent years.
Recently, UOP LLC introduced a new approach, the MaxEne process for maximum
ethylene production, which is an extension of the Molex processing concept. MaxEne
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Raw materials and production
Petrochemicals The simplest alkene, with two carbon atoms, ethylene is a colourless flammable gas. It is
glossary made industrially by the cracking of a fraction, typically naphtha, from the fractional
distillation of petroleum. It is often used in the manufacture of other chemicals. For
Ethylene (C
) example, direct hydration of ethene gives ethanol, whereas oxidation gives epoxyethane
and thence ethane-1,2-diol (common antifreeze). Polymerisation gives polyethylene (PE).
Cracking Cracking is the process whereby a large molecule is broken down into smaller
molecules. The starting molecule is often an alkane from the fractional distillation
of petroleum and the product molecules are smaller alkanes and alkenes, such as
>> C
+ C
Thermal cracking involves heating the alkane to between 800 and 1000C,
sometimes in the presence of superheated steam. The reaction mechanism involves
radicals. Another type of cracking is catalytic cracking (or cat-cracking). This does not
require such high temperatures, 500C being common, but does require a catalyst, such
as silica (SiO
) or alumina (Al
). The mechanism is less certain but may involve
carbocations. The biggest difference is that the carbon skeleton suffers more
rearrangement in catalytic cracking. This is put to good use in reforming.
Naphtha A fraction of petroleum obtained by fractional distillation. Different oil companies use
different names for the fractions which have five to ten carbon atoms; the range from
five to eight is often termed gasoline and that from nine to ten naphtha. Naphtha
contains mainly alkanes, both straight-chain and branched. It is currently the favourite
feedstock for further refining by cracking.
operates in the liquid phase and was developed for the separation of n-paraffins in the
range or as required (more often C
or C
) as feed to steam crackers for the
production of ethylene.
The recovery of n-paraffins from a MaxEne unit are claimed to be very high, typically
more than 90%. But while single-pass ethylene yields with the MaxEne unit have
increased by over 30% the yields of propylene remain largely unaffected.
Ethylene Ethylene is the primary building block for many of the plastics we use every day. Ethylene
is used to produce PE plastics from which a number of plastic packaging items are made.
Ethylene is also used in other plastics, such as polystyrene (PS), polyester and acrylics, and
is the main ingredient in ethylene glycol antifreeze.
Ethylenes role in flexible packaging is crucial. Indeed, the raw material for all
packaging plastics is ethylene. Ethylene is a gas derived from natural gas or from a
fraction of crude oil that has a composition similar to natural gas. Both natural gas and
crude oil are products of fossils and are therefore non-renewable.
Producing and refining ethylene uses a lot of energy, requiring combustion to achieve
high reaction temperatures and refrigeration to achieve extremely low temperatures to
condense and separate gases (down to about -260F. Largely because refrigeration is
inherently mechanically inefficient, producing ethylene consumes at least 20 megajoules
(MJ) per kilogram of ethylene produced 20MJ would run a 100W light bulb for 56 hours.
Much of this energy is generated at the production site by burning some of the
feedstock of natural gas or crude oil.
Once ethylene has been produced, it is combined with solvents, comonomers,
additives and other chemicals that will participate in the planned chemical reactions.
The mixture is then subjected to a chemical reaction called polymerisation which creates
long-chain molecules. (Mono means one and poly means many, so a monomer is
a single molecule like ethylene which can be bound with other molecules to form
a polymer.) The new polymer is extruded, pelletised, or flaked and the product is called
a resin. Resin is sold, re-extruded, and made into containers, films and other products
(see Chapter 2).
Cellulose This bio raw material is used to make paper and film, both of which are used as flexible
packaging materials. Paper is made of pulp that is mostly cellulose. The cellulose is
usually derived from various vegetable fibres, chiefly cotton and linen, or from wood pulp.
The pulp and paper industry uses several processes to convert wood fibre into
cellulose pulp, which is then manufactured into paper, newsprint, cardboard and
thousands of other products. The basic pulp process reduces wood to fibre by mechanical
means or by heating in chemical solutions. To make paper, the fibres are mixed with water
and extruded in continuous sheets, which are pressed and dried.
Pulp is the product of the mechanical or chemical breakdown of fibrous cellulose
materials, more or less into component fibres. When mixed with water the mass of fibres
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Raw materials and production
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can be spread as thin layers of matted strands. When the water is removed the layer of
fibres remaining is essentially paper, although in practice other materials may be added to
give the paper a better surface for printing, greater density or extra strength, as is the
case for cardboard used in packaging, etc.
Chemical pulps The principal aim of chemical pulping is to remove lignin and other materials that bind
individual cells together, so making fibres directly available for papermaking. Fibres are
less likely to be damaged in chemical pulping than in other pulping processes.
Chemical pulping requires a significant amount of energy, mostly for process heat but
uses less electrical energy than mechanical processes. However, many modern kraft pulp
mills are totally self-sufficient in energy, with the combustion of residues and waste
products meeting all heat and electrical needs.
Sulphate (kraft) pulp This process, where chips are cooked in a mix of more or less equal parts of caustic soda
and sodium sulphide, is an improvement on the soda process.
Kraft pulp is used where strength, wear and tear resistance, and colour are less
important. The most obvious examples are brown paper bags, cement sacks and similar
sorts of wrapping paper.
Cellulose film Cellulose is a long-chain carbohydrate with no cross-linking. The large number of hydroxyl
groups in each molecule results in a lot of hydrogen bonds and a consequent strong
attraction between the chains. Cellulose is not thermoplastic.
Cellophane is an important cellulose-based biofilm. It is a transparent and flexible
film, with good tensile strength and elongation properties. Cellophane is a regenerated
form of cellulose. It is often coated (e.g. with nitrocellulose-wax (NC-W) or polyvinylidene
chloride (PVdC)) to improve the water vapour barrier and make it heat-sealable. NC-
W/cellophane is fully biodegradable, but PVdC cellophane degrades to small PVdC
fragments, which are not biodegradable. Uncoated cellophane is a good barrier against
oxygen, fats, oils and flavours at low relative humidity, but these properties suffer as
relative humidity increases.
As cellulose is not thermoplastic it cannot be extruded. Cellulose films are not edible,
although modification can solve this problem. Cellulose ethers (methyl cellulose (MC),
hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose (HPMC), hydroxypropyl cellulose (HPC), carboxymethyl
cellulose (CMC)) are edible. These films have moderate strength, are flexible, transparent
and resistant to oils and fats.
HPC is the only edible and biodegradable cellulose-derived polymer that is
thermoplastic and, therefore, extrudable. One disadvantage is its sensitivity to water.
However, coating with solid lipids can be one solution, e.g. bilayer films of MC or HPMC
with stearic acid or palmitic acid have been produced. Cellulose acetate or ethylcellulose
are thermoplastic, too, and can be cast from a non-aqueous solution or extruded. They
provide good barriers against oils and fats, but not against water.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Raw materials and production
Although cellulose acetate is not a good barrier against water or oxygen, it works well
with high-moisture products, because it breathes and does not fog up.
Properties of cellulose-based films Films cast from aqueous ethanol solutions of
these cellulose ethers have improved properties. They are resistant to oils and fats and act
as moderate barriers to moisture and oxygen. Other properties are: moderate strength,
flexible, transparent, odour-free and tasteless and water-soluble. MC is the most
hydrophobic of the cellulose ethers, but it is still not a good moisture barrier. However, it
is an excellent barrier to the migration of fats and oils. Cellulose-derived edible polymers
are not capable of being extruded or injection moulded, because they are not
thermoplastic (except for hydroxypropyl cellulose). MC and HPMC both form thermally-
induced gel coatings and are used on frozen French fries, onion rings and other fried
foods to decrease oil absorption during cooking.
Paper Paper- and board-based packaging accounts for some 40% by weight of all packaging in
the world. The main strength of paper-based packaging is its flexibility. It is easy to print
on and can be used in conjunction with other materials, such as plastics or similar
coatings, for waterproofing. Unlike plastics, paper-based packaging is made from a
renewable material source and there are already extensive mechanisms in place for the
recycling of these grades.
Paper is used to make three main types of packaging: corrugated, sack kraft and
containerboard. Corrugated board for packaging remains popular due to its relative
strength, low cost and adaptability.
Paper products can be divided by grammage into two categories: paper and board.
Papers consist of one layer and weigh 25300g/m
. Board is manufactured using a
multilayer technique, and weighs between 170 and 600g/m
The line between paper and board is not clear cut, because the lightest boards are
lighter than the heaviest papers. More important than weight, it is use that determines
where the line is drawn paper for printing and board for packaging.
The strongest packaging paper is made of kraft paper. Unbleached or bleached kraft
is used for making sacks, bags, liners and wrappers.
Flexible packaging This form of packaging is widely used as a disposable wrapping for food products and
papers drinks that are not already packed. They are also used as a presentational outer covering
for different types of products. Wrapping paper may be supplied coated or uncoated and
in colour. Their main applications are in food and gift-wrapping and to give temporary
protection to other loose retail products.
In the wrapping of food, packaging papers can be used to wrap products such as
newly baked bread and fresh cheeses. The latter application is popular in France. In the
gift-wrapping sector, demand for packaging papers is highly seasonal with noticeable
peaks around Christmas.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Raw materials and production
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Paper wrappings and bags are popular with retailers and their customers because they are
inexpensive, lightweight, adequate in performance and easily disposable. Whether natural
or bleached, rubbed, finished, coated or associated with other materials, paper comes in
various shapes and sizes: brown paper bags for fruit and vegetables, cement sacks,
crystallised or sulphured paper, technical and special papers (yoghurt lids, separators for
metal sheets or coffee sacks).
However, the outlook for the flexible paper packaging market in both the UK and
Europe is one of decline. In 2000, demand for flexible packaging papers in western
Europe was put at 363,000 tonnes, down from 374,000 tonnes in 1997. In 2001, demand
fell to 360,060 tonnes and demand for flexible packaging papers in western Europe is
forecast to fall further still to 345,700 tonnes in 2006. In the UK, a similar long-term
demand trend has existed for most of the 1990s.
Flexible packaging papers are under constant threat from plastic films in a number of
end uses such as baked goods, dried foods, confectionery and soap. This has only been
partially alleviated by some end-use successes and continuing popularity in countries such
as France and Germany. These two countries are the largest markets for flexible packaging
papers and together account for an estimated 40% of total European consumption.
Among the successes for flexible packaging papers are fast food wrap and metallised
paper cigarette bundle wrap. Also, in the packaging of flour and sugar, and traditional
applications such as French soft cheeses, flexible wrapping paper continues to dominate
because these items are not hygroscopic.
Aluminium foil Aluminium foil is available in a number of specially developed aluminium alloys as well as
pure aluminium. Aluminium alloys provide varying degrees of strength and other
characteristics that result in extremely varied uses for foil in flexible packaging. Coils of
aluminium strip with thicknesses of 24mm are cold rolled to thicknesses of between
0.045 and 0.4mm to make semi-rigid dishes and containers for the bakery, butchery,
ready meals, deli, hotel catering and pet food markets.
Plain (unlaminated) foil in thicknesses of around 0.0120.018mm is used in large
quantities for household and catering wrap. Aluminium foil is used in over 97% of UK
households. Much of the thinnest foil around 0.007-0.009mm is used laminated with
one or more layers of other materials, such as paper, board and plastics, coated, printed
and embossed to produce packs for foodstuff, drinks, pharmaceutical, tobacco, cosmetics,
horticultural, medical and industrial products.
Extremely thin aluminium sheet offers many packaged goods the best barrier
properties. These include: preventing the loss of valuable aromas; and protecting contents
against light, oxygen, moisture and contamination. Foil guarantees quality and the best
protection against deterioration for sensitive and valuable products.
Aluminium foil just 0.0063mm thick, commonly used in packaging laminates, can
keep sensitive foodstuffs fresh for months without refrigeration.
The main packaging applications include: aluminium-lined beverage cartons, sachets,
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Raw materials and production
preserved foods in pouches and cartons, yoghurt-pot lids and wrappers for butter or
cheese, confectionery wraps, pharmaceutical blister and strip packs, foil containers for
baked products, ready meals and pet foods, etc.
Aluminium foil has high thermal conductivity. This reduces the energy required for
sealing and sterilisation. Aluminium foil is malleable and can be deadfolded this is
beneficial when deep-drawing containers, embossing surface designs or wrapping, e.g.
hollow shapes. Another advantage is, of course, that it is recyclable.
Recent Pira studies indicate that the flexible packaging market for aluminium foil has
been more than matching the growth in other materials. Lifestyle trends and innovative
packaging will help to underpin its healthy future. New trends include the use of alufoil in
healthcare packaging and an increase in the use of foil pouches.
In the case of other flexible packaging applications, aluminium foil is benefiting from
its ability to protect dairy foods from UV light. Studies show that light not only reduces
the vitamin content of milk but also acts as a catalyst for the oxidation of unsaturated
fatty acids. Clear glass transmits 92% of light; a foil-lined carton transmits 0%.
There is now growing evidence on Europes supermarket shelves of the increasing use
of aluminium foil-lined stand-up pouches and cartons for new long-life food products.
The retortable pouch is now well-established in modern packaging. It uses a
minimum of materials yet is extremely robust. Its thin walls, coupled with its slim shape,
allow the heat in a retort to penetrate and cool quickly. This gives full control over
temperature and processing time, which is necessary to ensure the maximum quality
of the food contents. The broad pack format also offers excellent opportunities for
colourful display.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Raw materials and production
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Flexible materials
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One of the fastest growing segments in the packaging industry is flexible packaging in
general and its flexible plastic component in particular. Technological developments in
flexible plastics have allowed the material to steal market share from paper-based
packaging, such as the rigid corrugated box. Flexible plastics are still very much a work
in progress with new developments in chemistry, films, forming and filling emerging all
the time.
New plastic products and new applications for existing products are constantly
coming to market. While most flexibles are produced from commodity polymers, an
increasing number are now being made with sophisticated multilayer structures and
combinations of substrates.
Packaging in western Europe is big business, accounting for more than 1% of regional
GDP. Plastic is the second most important packaging material in Europe, after paper and
board; it is also the most dynamic, with growth based on historic trends estimated at
some 45% a year. The flexible component accounts for some 30% of all plastic
packaging sales in western Europe. Under its broadest definition, this includes sales of
pallet shrink and stretch wrap, collation shrink, carrier bags, refuse and agricultural sacks,
dry cleaning and laundry, industrial liners, heavy-duty sacks, bubble film, mail film and
converted flexible packaging mainly used for consumer products such as food and
groceries, DIY and healthcare.
According to Pira estimates, by 2002 plastic films accounted for some 78% of the
flexible packaging materials used in western Europe.
The main flexible packaging materials are: polyethylene (PE), biaxially oriented
polypropylene (BOPP), cast polypropylene (PP), polyamide (PA), polyvinyl chloride (PVC),
polyethylene terephthalate (PET), cellulose, aluminium foils and papers.
Among the substrates used for flexible packaging in western Europe, PE has by far
the largest share. However, its rate of growth is slow compared with faster growing rivals
such as BOPP, cast PP, PA and biaxially oriented PET (BOPET). Pira estimates that the
rate of growth for PE is 1.5% a year to 2006, less than the forecast growth for GDP in
western Europe.
Over the past several years, linear polyethylenes (LLDPE and HDPE) and PP have
shown the highest growth rates and are expected to continue to grow at rates well above
GDP. According to some estimates, global demand for PP will grow by 68% a year
through 2006. These growth rates are 1.5 to 2.5 times that of world GDP over the same
period. Per capita consumption of PP resins worldwide is expected to grow throughout the
next several years.
Worldwide PP capacity is forecast to increase by more than 7 million metric tons
between 2001 and 2006. North America, western Europe and Asia account for the
majority of new capacity. As with PE, the new PP facilities being constructed are 1.5 to
two times larger than they were less than five years ago, and more versatile.
Total European production of propylene in 2002 amounted to around 14 million
tonnes. At the end of 2000, there were 50 steam crackers operating in western Europe
and nine in central/eastern Europe, with annual ethylene capacities of 21.6 and 2.2
million tonnes respectively, giving a total 23.8 million tonnes.
In 2002, western European PE consumption was estimated at 975,000 tonnes, little
changed from the 920,000 tonnes consumed in 1998. The rate of growth for BOPP,
estimated at some 3.25%, has seen consumption in the region rise from 476,000 tonnes
in 1998 to an estimated 570,000 tonnes in 2002; it is forecast to rise to 650,000 tonnes
in 2006.
Reasons for this growth rate are numerous but BOPP, one of the flexible packaging
success stories of the 1990s, has seen demand grow as it has replaced cellulose films, PVC
films, aluminium foils and paper. So comprehensive was its advance as a material
substitute in flexible packaging applications that western European demand grew from
335,000 tonnes to 475,500 tonnes between 1993 and 1998.
If demand for BOPP reaches the 650,000 tonnes expected in 2006 this will represent
a near doubling of demand in ten years. The greatest demand comes from coextruded
films, with around two-thirds of BOPP packaging film demand. Growth in coextruded film
growth continues to outperform coated BOPP, largely because it is a cheaper and more
efficient process.
Around 10% of BOPP packaging films are metallised; two-thirds of this is used for
savoury snacks packaging with most of the balance used for confectionery, baked goods
and dried foods. Growth in demand for metallised BOPP is set to outperform BOPP
packaging films as a whole at around 9% a year.
BOPPs properties, which have allowed it to grow organically and as a material
substitute for paper, aluminium foil, PVC and other films, are:
Good moisture-barrier properties;
A poor gas barrier without coating;
Low tear resistance;
Can be sealed to itself when coated or coextruded;
Excellent clarity and stiffness;
Perception of being an environmentally friendly material easy to recycle or
Handles well through machinery;
Cheaper per square metre than other films (although more expensive than PE) due to
its lower density and higher yield.
BOPPs main drawback is its relatively high melting point of 160165C and very narrow
thermal melt threshold for sealing purposes, which necessitates constant monitoring of
the packaging line.
The principal demand sectors for BOPP film include:
Snack foods
Baked products
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Carton overwrap
Tea and coffee
Polyolefins Polyolefins is the generic term used to describe a family of polymers derived from a
particular group of base chemicals known as olefins. The polyolefins family includes PP
and PE. Polyolefins are made by joining together small molecules (monomers) to form
long chains (polymers) with thousands of individual links.
The base monomers, propylene and ethylene, are gases at room temperature, but
when linked together they become long chains of molecules called polymers. As polymers,
they form tough, flexible plastic materials with a large variety of uses.
The monomers are linked together by polymerisation. This requires high temperatures
and, in many cases, high pressure and the use of a catalyst system. Catalysts are generally
a mixture of titanium and aluminium compounds. Without these remarkable substances
the production of polyolefins would not be feasible; the polyolefin success story is in large
part due to increasingly powerful and sophisticated catalyst systems.
Although ethylene had been successfully polymerised in the 1930s, it was not until
the early 1950s that progress was made with polymerising propylene. One of the problems
was that the propylene molecule, being slightly more complex than ethylene, could attach
itself to the growing chain in one of three different ways. Unless all the links are facing in
the same direction, however, the PP formed is an oily liquid. The secret to creating an
isotactic form of PP lies in the catalyst used to drive the reaction: the right catalyst lines
up the molecules to ensure they are facing the right way when they join the chain.
After lengthy experiments with different catalysing agents, the breakthrough came on
11 March 1954. Over the following decades the catalysts and process systems used to
produce PP and PE have been progressively refined. As development continued, catalysts
became more powerful and sophisticated, the PP and PE produced became purer and
more versatile and the production process became simpler and more efficient.
Polyolefins are the worlds fastest-growing polymer family. Modern polyolefins cost
less to produce and process than many of the plastics and materials they replace. In
addition, continuous improvement in strength and durability enables manufacturers to use
less of them. Todays polyolefins come in many varieties. They range from tough, rigid
materials for outdoor furniture and car parts to soft, flexible fibres. Some have high heat
resistance for microwave food containers, while others melt easily and can be used in
heat-sealable food packaging. Some are as clear as glass, others completely opaque.
Through research and development, the variety of materials available is increasing
and polyolefins are steadily replacing other polymers and traditional materials in many
applications. Films made of polyolefins are widely used for packaging food and other
goods. They are made by squeezing molten material through a narrow slit. The film
produced in this way may later be stretched to make it stronger. Films may be used for
coating other materials such as paper to make them glossy or waterproof.
As well as being highly transparent and glossy, the materials used for making films
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must also be strong enough to resist tearing or splitting during manufacture. When used
to wrap food they must be acceptable under food contact rules. The worlds most widely
used food packaging material is PP film because it provides strong, attractive protection
for a wide variety of foodstuffs. The latest advances in polyolefins are currently giving rise
to interesting new developments in film technology.
FIGURE 2.1 Monomers
Ethylene monomer:
Propylene monomer:
Vinyl chloride monomer:
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Styrene monomer:
Types of flexible Flexible plastics packaging benefits from the wide range of polymers available, each with
plastics its own combination of physical and chemical properties. These polymers can be used
alone or in combination with other polymers or with other materials such as aluminium or
cardboard. The following is a broad breakdown of how these materials may be used:
Mono-material shopping bags, candy wraps/twistwraps;
Polymer multilayers detergent refill packs, PP big bags with PE liners, blood/
fluids bags;
Combined with other materials metallised film, PE liner in steel drum, bag-in-box
Polyethylene PE is produced in several forms. HDPE is used for both rigid and flexible
packaging applications. In flexible applications, it is used in the manufacture of blown
and cast films for many food items. LDPE is used in the manufacture of industrial liners,
vapour barriers, shrink and stretch-wrap films, while LLDPE is used in the manufacture of
stretch/cling film, grocery bags and heavy duty shipping sacks.
Polypropylene PP is used in the manufacture of medical packaging, moisture-proof
wrapping and fat-resistant films.
PET This is used for both rigid and flexible packaging. In flexible packaging, PET is
commonly used in the manufacture of pouches for boil-in-bag foods and pouches for
sterilisable medical applications.
PVC Also used for both rigid and flexible packaging applications, in recent years PVC has
had to contend with concerns from the environmental lobby. It is still used, however, in
the manufacture of films for butter, meat, fish, poultry and fresh produce. It is also used
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to make bags for blood and intravenous solutions and in the manufacture of blisterpacks
for medical devices, pharmaceutical products, hardware and toys.
Polycarbonate (PC) PC films are used for pre-baked bread, biscuits, confectionery, meat
and processed cheese.
Ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVAL) Also referred to as EVOH, this material is used in
multilayered flexible packaging to provide an oxygen barrier.
Other materials Polyethylene naphthalate (PEN) This polyester is similar to PET but more temperature
resistant; it is expected to have a bright future when prices fall as production increases.
PEN offers a good balance of properties and manageability that provide many
advantages in packaging applications that require: transparency, gas and water vapour-
barrier performance, high-thermal performance, UV screening, high strength and
dimensional stability.
PENs mechanical properties allow downgauging to thinner films. It can also be
blended with less expensive PET to produce a copolymer that is cheaper than PEN but
which retains PENs superior barrier properties.
Polymers in combination Each packaging polymer has its own specific physical and
chemical properties. One way of achieving optimum cost performance and a precise
packaging function is to use a combination of different polymers. One example may be
the manufacture of a toothpaste tube. This is commonly made out of several polymer
layers, often with intermediate tie layers that bind them together. It must also contain
a barrier material.
Recycling also plays a role. In the packaging of detergents many containers are now
made with three layers of the same polymer, such as HDPE, but with the middle layer
made from post-consumer waste. The outer layers of virgin polymer achieve the desired
surface characteristics and protect the contents from contamination.
Polymers with other materials Plastics are sometimes used in combination with other
materials. One example is the breakfast cereal box where a plastic bag is often used
inside a cardboard carton. Even here, to ensure maximum product freshness, the bag
often has a multilayer construction of different polymers. In the case of pharmaceuticals,
many products are packaged using plastic blisters and aluminium foil.
Conversion of An important property of plastics, which makes them suitable for a wide range of low-cost
flexible plastics packaging applications, is their ability to be converted into a wide range of shapes.
Extrusion The first of several shaping processes for plastics is extrusion. Granules are fed
from a hopper into the barrel of the extruder where they are melted by heat and the
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mechanical action of the screw. The action of the screw forces the molten plastic through
an orifice called a die, which determines the type of product produced. A die design will
create thin flexible plastic films of the type used for food packaging.
Cast film Packaging film can be produced by extrusion followed by cooling on chill rolls.
The temperature of the chill rolls is controlled in order to cool the film progressively. The
gauge of the film is determined by the dimensions of the die and the rates of extrusion
and take-off. When more rapid cooling is needed, the film is sometimes passed through a
water bath. During the production process cast film can be oriented by stretching. This
strengthens the film and can also improve its resistance to gas permeation.
Orientation can be in one direction (uniaxial orientation) or both (biaxial orientation).
Film used to make bags is usually uniaxially oriented because most of the forces it
experiences only occur in one direction.
Calendering An alternative method of producing film is to pass the extrudate through
a calender. Unlike the chill rolls used in the cast film process, pressure is exerted in the
sheet between the rolls of the calender. This enables special surface characteristics, either
smooth or textured, to be applied. Sheet thickness can be controlled by the size of the gap
between the rolls. The temperature of the rolls is controlled so that the film remains hot
during the calendering process. Cooling is carried out at a later stage. Tight control over
the film or sheet thickness can be achieved through the calendering process, which is
often used in the manufacture of PVC.
Blown film A popular way of making film is by a process of extrusion through an
annular die to produce a tube. Air is blown into the tube causing it to form a bubble.
When the bubble has cooled sufficiently it is collapsed between rollers and wound on to
a drum. The blowing action stretches the film radially; often the film is also stretched
vertically by the winding process. The result is a very strong biaxially-oriented film.
Multilayer films, often used for food packaging, can be produced using this process.
Polyethylene PE in its various forms LDPE, LLDPE and HDPE is by far the most common film
material used in converted primary flexible packaging. Its principal properties are:
Cheap relative to other films
Good puncture resistance
Good low-temperature performance
Good sealing properties and the ability to be sealed to itself without coating
Good moisture-barrier properties
Poor gas-barrier properties.
PE mono web film uses include: frozen foods, confectionery, processed meat packs,
coextruded inner bags for cereal packs, bread bags, rice, collation shrink wraps, and
overwrapping for a number of products such as kitchen rolls and toilet paper.
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Historically growth in western Europe is around 1.5% a year. Based on this consumption in
2006 will be just over 1 million tonnes, up from around 975,000 tonnes in 2002.
Some 5.1 million tonnes of PE films were consumed in western Europe in 2001, about
80% of this by packaging applications; under its broadest definition, this included stretch
and shrink films, carrier bags, refuse sacks, household bags and heavy duty sacks.
PE film usage in converted flexible packaging applications is estimated to be around
975,000 tonnes in 2002, having grown from around 920,000 in 1998. Future growth in
demand is unlikely to be high, which reflects both the maturity of the market and the
encroachment of other films such as BOPP in a number of applications.
Cast PP The growth in consumption of CPP is expected to rise in western Europe in the years
ahead. Annual growth, according to historic trends, will be just under 5%. If this
continues, demand for CPP will be around 180,000 tonnes by 2006.
Among the properties for which CPP film is valued are:
High impact strength
Good moisture-barrier properties
Poor gas barrier without coating
Ability to be sealed to itself
Excellent clarity and stiffness
Easy to recycle or incinerate.
Its end use applications include:
Textile packaging
Transparent windows in food cartons
Bread and bakery products, with significant demand in Germany and Scandinavia
Confectionery twistwrap, especially in Germany
Medical and pharmaceutical applications in multilayer constructions
Flower wrap
Laminations with other materials.
PA In 2002, some 100,000 tonnes of nylon resins were consumed in western Europe in
flexible packaging applications. In the late 1990s, demand was growing at some 4000
tonnes a year. Based on historic trends, consumption will rise to close to 120,000
tonnes by 2006.
Nylon films are used in a number of packaging applications. Their gas-barrier
properties mean that they are often used in multilayer structures and frequently in
combination with polyolefins for barrier pouches and lidding films. Among the end-use
applications are: PA/PE laminations reverse printed for conversion into pouches for
processed meats and frozen fish; and coextrusions for processed meats, cheese and
medical packaging.
More than half of western European demand for nylon resins for flexible packaging
applications is for cast nylon films (CPA). The remainder is for biaxially-oriented nylon film
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(BOPA), for which demand is growing at some 6% a year compared with 5% for CPA,
barrier films and other coextrusions.
PAs characteristics include:
It is the most expensive of the main films used in flexible packaging;
Excellent puncture resistance giving high-tensile strength and the ability to remain
flexible at low temperatures;
Good gas- and odour-barrier properties;
Moderate to good moisture-barrier properties;
It is not sealable to itself except with coextruded versions.
PET Some 60,000 tonnes of PET was used in western Europe for flexible packaging in 2002.
Based on historical growth rates of more than 7% a year, this could rise to around 75,000
tonnes by 2006.
Polyester film is highly regarded for its advanced technical properties, which are
exploited in a wide range of food applications. The most important are in the packaging
of fresh meat, fish and poultry, processed meats, snack foods, baked goods, dried foods
and convenience foods.
Polyester film, which is expensive relative to PE and BOPP, has the following
Superior puncture and stretch resistance
Very strong
Good thermal stability
High clarity
Available in thin gauges down to 12 microns
Moderately good gas and moisture barrier
Excellent carrier web for coatings and vacuum metallising
Cannot be sealed to itself except when coextruded or coated with a heat-seal layer.
The main trends associated with the different types of PET film include:
Growth in the use of corona-treated film because suppliers now sell it at the same
price as plain film;
PVdC-coated PET films are being replaced by silicon oxide- and EVOH-coextruded
PET films;
It is anticipated that coated PET films, such as acrylic-coated films, will become the
standard commodity film in place of corona-treated and plain PET film.
The PET packaging film market in western Europe is growing at around 4.5% a year based
on historic trends, and should continue to do so over the next few years.
The principal reasons for the continued growth in demand for PET films reflect those
for growth in the flexible packaging market as a whole. These include: the growth of
packaged foods in western Europe, particularly prepackaged fresh meat, snack foods and
convenience foods, such as ready-made meals; and the growing use of prepackaged foods
in southern European countries like Spain.
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In addition, polyester film-based flexible packaging is replacing other packaging formats
and materials, including rigid packaging, and aluminium foils are being replaced by
metallised polyester film in laminate applications.
PVC Very little growth is expected for this sector in the years ahead. Demand for PVC films for
flexible packaging applications in western Europe was around 53,000 tonnes in 2002 and
is expected to rise to 56,000 tonnes by 2006. By far the most important applications are
for machine overwrapping of fresh meat, fish, poultry, cheese and carton overwrap. Some
PVC film is also used for confectionery twistwrap, particularly in France, Spain and other
parts of southern Europe.
In western Europe as a whole, consumption of PVC films is growing at barely 1% a
year. This is largely because the use of PVC packaging film has come under attack from
the environmental lobby, but also because of downgauging.
Environmental concerns have been the main reason for the decline in consumption of
PVC films in the northern European markets of Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands
since the early to mid-1990s. By the late 1990s, demand in the UK, which had previously
held up because of effective lobbying by the industry and the higher cost of alternatives,
also began to decline.
This was in part a result of the multiples moving from in-store PVC overwrapped EPS
trays for red meat to centrally-packed MAP systems. In other areas, such as overwrap for
fresh poultry, demand has been resilient, although new thermoformed packaging formats
are challenging PVC overwrap.
Alternatives to PVC film for cling overwrap include newly-developed high-clarity
thermoplastic elastomers and pastomers based on olefin and styrenic monomers.
Cellulose Western European demand for cellulose film for flexible packaging applications in 2002
is estimated at around 15,000 tonnes, 2000 tonnes less than in 1997. Although the steep
declines of the late 1990s are levelling off, further decline is expected in the years ahead;
demand in 2003 is forecast at 13,400 tonnes.
Cellulose has been the victim of material substitution by BOPP and other films in
high-volume standard packaging applications. One of the drawbacks of cellulose film is its
relatively high cost compared with BOPP, a result of the expensive chemical production
process involved in its manufacture.
Nonetheless, despite this adverse price differential, cellulose remains popular among
many small food processors that operate older or slower equipment, as it is a forgiving
material with a wide thermal-sealing tolerance and good machineability.
It is expected to continue to fulfil a niche role in flexible packaging. New products,
such as pearlised colour effects, are being developed to broaden its appeal.
Barrier packaging The presence of a layer of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) in, for example, high-barrier
materials pouches dramatically lowers the oxygen transfer rate (OTR). Their lower OTR makes these
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Ethylene vinyl alcohol pouches a good choice for products, such as sliced luncheon meats and cheeses. EVOH is
far and away the most widely used barrier material. However, it is sensitive to moisture.
As moisture increases, EVOHs crystalline structure plasticises and creates pathways for
gas molecules. Its effectiveness as an oxygen barrier then decreases accordingly.
Polyacrylonitrile films Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) films are fabricated using both spin- and solvent-casting
techniques, and pyrolyzed to produce carbon films 20050,000A thick. These films have
higher electrical conductivity than carbon films produced from most other precursors at
similar temperatures. Just over 25 tonnes a year of PAN is used as barrier material in
packaging worldwide and growth is estimated at just under 4% a year. Larger amounts
are used in composites for non-packaging applications in, for example, the automotive,
construction and aerospace sectors.
PCTFE The best current moisture-barrier film is polychlorotrifluoroethylene (PCTFE), which has a
water vapour transmission rate (WVTR) of less than 0.03mg/day for most structures and
is the only true high-moisture-barrier film resin. The WVTR is usually determined at 100F
and 90% relative humidity. High-barrier films have WVTR values of 0.03mg/day or lower.
A commercial example from the pharmaceutical sector is Aclar, Honeywell International,
Inc.s registered trade name for its high-barrier films made from PCTFE.
PVOH, metallised film PVOH is used as a coating to give packaging film high-barrier properties. One commercial
example is Hifipac S.A.s cast PP, acrylic/PVOH-coated transparent film for packaging
dried fruits and nuts. This package is said to have an eco-friendly structure and a good
combination of materials for high barrier, transparency and gloss.
Polyethylene Low-density PE film is a poor gas barrier, but resistance to gas transmission increases with
density. PE is frequently laminated with other, often more expensive films to combine its
good moisture-barrier and heat-sealing properties with other desirable properties.
Polypropylene OPP film is usually stronger and more resistant to the transmission of water vapour and
gas than PP. This orientated film has slightly lower water vapour and gas transmission
rates than a medium-density PE. It is resistant to fats, acids and alkalis.
Polyvinylidene chloride: Manufactured by Dow, Saran F-Resins are available for solvent coating of cellophane and
example Saran other film substrates. Polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC) is inert when in contact with food
and can be used either as a film or as a coating on other films. It is often linked
chemically with PVC to produce a range of copolymers. PVdC provides an excellent barrier
to water vapour and oxygen and is therefore useful in preventing fat in fish from going
rancid. It is resistant to fats and oils and to many organic solvents. PVdC and its
copolymers are most frequently used as thin coatings on other, cheaper films.
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High-barrier Western European demand for high-barrier substrate materials, such as EVOH and PVdC
substrate materials for flexible packaging applications, was put at around 95,000 tonnes in 2002. The growth
in demand is high and, in 2006, is forecast to reach 140,000 tonnes, a near doubling in
demand compared with 2000 when it was 79,000 tonnes.
The development and exploitation of a growing range of sophisticated barrier films in
the form of laminations, coextrusions and coated films, including metallised materials, has
been central to the success of flexible packaging in the past two to three decades.
In the years ahead new developments are expected which will lead to greatly
extended shelf lives for a wide range of food products. The use of smart films, which can
modify their barrier properties in response to external changes in temperature and
humidity, is also expected to grow.
High-barrier substrates are often loosely defined to include a wide range of
laminated, coextruded, coated and foil substrates that offer a better oxygen- and
moisture-transmission barrier than monolayer and coextruded films.
EVOH EVOH is a polymer with superior oxygen-barrier properties in dry conditions, but not when
exposed to water and steam during thermal processing or retorting. However, EVOH can
be partially protected from moisture when it is coextruded as an internal layer in
multilayer plastic retortable structures that include high temperature-resistant polymers
such as PP. Because of their excellent gas-barrier properties EVOH resins offer outstanding
protection against odour and flavour permeation and are finding applications in the
active packaging area.
EVOHs growing importance as a food packaging polymer is a result of its excellent
processability, high thermal stability and recyclability. Indeed, some studies forecast that
demand for EVOH will grow at 10.6% a year, as it has proven its value when used in
coextrusion structures.
The biggest EVOH producer in Europe, EVAL Europe N.V. (Antwerp, Belgium), a
subsidiary of Kuraray Co. Ltd, is currently doubling its production capacity from 12,000
tonnes to 24,000 tonnes a year. The new facility, which is costing an estimated 8.5
billion (68 million), is scheduled for completion in the third quarter of 2003.
This is considered necessary in order to meet growing worldwide demand for EVAL
EVOH resins. EVAL is the registered brand name while EVOH copolymer resin is the
chemical name of the product.
EVAL Europe is the only producer of EVOH copolymer resins in Europe and is a world
leader in EVAL EVOH production and development.
Kuraray has continued to expand its food packaging business since commercial
production of EVOH resins began in 1972.
Principal EVAL applications include food packaging (coextruded flexible films, sheets,
bottles and tubes), automotive components (fuel tanks and lines), and medical and
pharmaceutical packaging.
Worldwide growth in demand is over 10% a year, with growth in the food and
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pharmaceutical sectors accounting for a large proportion of this. The company has plants
in Okayama, Japan (annual capacity 10,000 tonnes), Pasadena, Texas (EVAL Company of
America, 23,000 tonnes) and Belgium (annual capacity 12,000 tonnes). The combined
capacity of the Kuraray Group stands at 45,000 tonnes, which the company estimates will
not meet growing demand and explains the reason for its expansion plan.
Kuraray designates EVAL as one of its core businesses in its five-year New Medium-
Term Business Plan (G-21). The plan focuses on the strengthening and expansion of its
global business. EVAL is also regarded as a key product for expanding demand in eco-
friendly areas, one of the four strategic areas defined in the companys expansion plan. In
line with this goal, it aims to ensure that the new production facilities feature process
improvements that take environmental preservation needs into consideration.
After expanding in Europe, Kuraray is considering a similar increase at its EVAL
Company of America site in Texas, US. The plan is to increase capacity by 12,000 to
24,000 tonnes a year to 35,000 to 47,000 tonnes a year.
EVAL produces a number of EVOH resins for a range of applications:
EVAL L has the lowest ethylene content of any EVOH and is suitable as an ultra high-
barrier grade for several applications.
EVAL F offers superior barrier performance and is widely used for automotive, bottle,
film, tube and pipe applications.
EVAL T has been specially developed to obtain good layer distribution in thermo-
forming and has become the industry standard for multilayer sheet applications
EVAL J offers thermoforming results said to be superior to those of EVAL T, and can
be used for unusually deep-draw or sensitive sheet-based applications.
EVAL H has a balance between high-barrier properties and long-term run stability. It
is especially suitable for blown film. There are special U versions that allow improved
processing and longer running times even on less sophisticated machines.
EVAL Es higher ethylene content allows for greater flexibility and easier processing.
There are different versions for cast and blown film as well as for pipe.
EVAL G has the highest ethylene content, making it the best candidate for stretch-
and shrink-film applications.
EVALs main customers are in the food and non-food packaging sectors. Foods packaged
include: meat (fresh meat, dry meat), fruits, cheese, ham, pasta, pizza, sausage, salami,
yoghurt, mayonnaise, ketchup, bread, coffee, tea, milk, beer, juice, snacks and pet food.
Unspecified growth is forecast for all sectors to 2007.
PVdC PVdC was developed in the 1950s and therefore has a long history of use as a high-barrier
material. In the early 1990s, it was one of four options for customers that required barrier
properties in their packaging; the others were nylon, EVOH and metallised films.
Nowadays, PVdC is commonly used in multilayer constructions with other materials
to provide enhanced barrier properties.
Copolymers made from PVdC are resistant to a number of foreign materials. They
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provide a barrier against gases, odours, water, water vapour, oils and fats, and are also
used in the coating of various materials (paper, plastic film, thin aluminium foil) which is
primarily used in the packaging of food and pharmaceuticals.
Widely used to over-wrap foods, Dows Saran wrap is a commonly used trade name
for PVdC. Saran monolayer films come in a variety of grades, with various cling, shrink,
barrier properties and colours. Each grade can be supplied in a range of widths, lengths,
and thicknesses, and several grades are available in a rainbow of colours.
Saran films can be used in a number of ways:
To wrap items such as cheese, bakery goods, marzipan, processed meats and other
food items.
In more sophisticated packaging applications they can be heat-tacked and sealed
using radio frequency sealing equipment on form/fill/seal (FFS) machines.
In tubular form for the production of low-shrink bags or for sausage production.
As part of a laminated packaging structure or in water vapour-retardant structures in
the building and construction industry.
Saran PVdC has a unique molecular composition, which gives the film high-barrier
properties, including cost-effective and dependable oxygen-barrier performance for the
packaging of meats and fish. It also has an improved moisture-barrier performance that
keeps crackers, cereal and shelf-stable baked goods fresh and crisp.
Dow claims that its PVdC has superior barrier characteristics to EVOH as it delivers
performance at real-world temperatures and humidities, not the zero relative humidity
environs where EVOH is typically tested.
Some polymer The flexible packaging industry is poised to introduce and capitalise on new technologies.
developments It will also benefit from new specialty PP copolymers and terpolymers, including
functionalised resin systems that make it possible to produce both engineered and
elastomeric PP grades. Many of these new technologies result from improved
metallocene/single-site and traditional ZieglerNatta (ZN) catalysts.
While large producers such as Basell, BP, ExxonMobil and Dow are leading the way,
the PP industry as a whole retains latent and commercially underdeveloped product
technology with cost/performance advantages. Access to these technologies will play a
role in improving producers long-term profitability.
Although PP offers a cost/performance advantage over other materials, it is still
applications driven. PP product applications development, diversification and substitution
for existing plastics and materials have been and will continue to be a lifeline for PP
producers. In addition to the obvious economic benefits derived from consolidation,
improved access to technology will broaden the range of higher value products offered
by larger players.
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Metallocene Metallocene-based catalyst technology is revolutionising the polyolefin industry,
polymers particularly the markets for PE and PP. Some have called metallocenes the single most
important development in catalyst technology since the discovery of ZieglerNatta
catalysts. This optimism is reflected in the R&D efforts of the major polyolefin producers
which, according to some estimates, spend about 75% of their total polyolefin research
effort on metallocenes, with the remaining 25% spent on the incremental improvement of
conventional technologies.
Metallocene polyolefins are projected to penetrate many polymer markets. First, the
higher priced specialty markets, followed by the high-volume and commodity markets.
New markets are also expected to be created with the development of new classes of
polymer that were not possible with conventional ZieglerNatta technologies.
Conventional LDPE accounts for 55% of the polymers processed by European film
extruders. But an AMI study shows that linear low density and metallocene polyethylenes
(mPE) are growing steadily; they accounted for 28% of films in 2000.
The primary reason for the increased interest in this new technology is that metallocenes
offer some significant process advantages and produce polymers with very favourable
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
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FIGURE 2.2 The evolution of metallocene olefin polymerisation catalysts
Source: Pira International Ltd
+ B(C
+ Support +
+ Support + B(C
+ MAO + Support
+ MAO cocatalyst
Constrained geometry
properties. Metallocenes are a relatively old class of organometallic complexes, with
ferrocene the first to be discovered in 1951. At the time, the term metallocene was used to
describe a complex with a metal sandwiched between two eta5-cyclopentadienyl (Cp)
ligands. Since the discovery of ferrocene, a large number of metallocenes have been
prepared and the term has evolved to include a wide variety of organometallic structures
including those with substituted Cp rings, those with bent sandwich structures, and even
the half-sandwich or mono-Cp complexes.
The sandwich structures have been known for decades, but were not considered
practical as catalysts. Then, in the mid-1980s, German professors Walter Kaminsky of the
University of Hamburg and Hans H. Brintzinger of the University of Konstanz showed that
metallocenes had industrial potential. Since then research has focused on modifying,
improving and extending this catalyst family.
Metallocene-based polymers tend to have the following features, for example:
increased impact strength and toughness; better melt characteristics, because of the
control over molecular structure; and improved clarity in films. Most early applications
have been in specialty markets where value-added and higher-priced polymers can
compete. As the technology develops and catalyst costs decrease, metallocene-based
polymers are expected to compete in the broader plastics market.
Exxon Chemical and Dow Plastics are leading the plastics industry into the
metallocene era. Competition comes from other plastics producers which are polishing
technologies to increase productivity, reduce costs and create intellectual property estates.
Exxon first produced metallocene-based polymers with its Exxpol catalysts in 1991. It
now markets about 30 grades of ethylene-butene and ethylene-hexene copolymers under
the Exact trade name. In April 2002, ExxonMobil Chemical Company and Mitsui
Engineering and Shipbuilding, Inc. began expanding their metallocene ethylene elastomer
production facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The facilities are expected to be operational
by the third quarter of 2003 and will add capacity of more than 90,000 tonnes a year.
The capacity expansion will include EPDM (ethylene propylene diene rubber),
plastomers and novel polymers, all produced using Exxpol metallocene technology. Exxon
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Differences between ZieglerNatta catalysts:
ZieglerNatta The presence of several metal sites gives less control over polymer branching
catalysts and Monomer insertion occurs at the end of the growing chain
metallocenes Changing metal centre is ineffective
Single metal site allows for more control over branching and molecular weight
Insertion of monomers between metal and growing chain of polymer;
Versatility with countless variations (i.e. bridging atoms, overcrowding).
Page 25 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
believes that having both conventional ZieglerNatta and metallocene catalyst
technology gives it the opportunity to supply its customers with a broad range of current
and new products.
Dow uses its Insite technology to make ethylene-octene copolymers, which the
company launched in 1993. Copolymers with up to 20% (by weight) octene are sold as
Affinity plastomers and compete with specialty polymers in packaging, medical devices
and other applications. Dow says its catalysts permit the uniform introduction of
comonomers and long-chain branches that improve processability in otherwise essentially
linear polymers.
With an octene content of more than 20%, the copolymers fall into the elastomers
category and have been sold under the name Engage since early 1994.
In Freeport, Texas, Dow converted 113,500 tonnes a year of solution process capacity,
which previously produced its Dowlex PE, to produce metallocene-based polymers. In
2001, as a result of a merger with Union Carbide Corporation, Dow agreed to divest to BP
Chemicals Limited its interest in technology developed in the course of their joint
development programme between 1995 and 1999; Dow also divested a research
programme with BP and Chevron Phillips Chemical Company L.P. between 1998 and 2001.
Each of these programmes was directed at the development of metallocene catalysts
for gas-phase PE. Dow also agreed to divest to BP its patents and other assets solely
related to gas-phase PE processes using metallocene catalysts, including a license granted
to Chevron Phillips.
Flexible packaging The new breed of metallocene catalysts is ushering in a new age of custom-made
implications commodity plastics. Metallocene technology is finally reaching critical mass, accounting
for more than 1 million tonnes of the plastics sold in 2001.
Few materials can match the versatility and economy of modern PE and PP. These are
by far the best-selling plastics. Whether in bottles, plastic films or medical products, the
two polymers collectively known as polyolefins have proved themselves to be
workhorse materials since the 1960s.
For all that, polyolefins still leave much to be desired. The average plastic is a mixture
of polymer chains and structures whose properties are difficult to predict and demand
many compromises in their use. Designers and engineers typically factor in these
uncertainties by making their products thicker, larger and less intricate, or by using special
additives, at great expense, to change the properties.
Metallocenes promise to fix all that and deliver new properties. The catalysts act
rather like tiny molecular robots to let chemists control the alignment and structure of
polymer chains. By some measures, films made of metallocene-based PEs can have two
to three times the tensile strength, five times the impact strength and twice the tear
strength of traditional polymers. This means users can make much thinner films and parts,
saving on everything from plastic resin to transport costs.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible materials
Fruit and vegetables The ability to produce lower-density polymers creates softer, more elastic films that can
breathe oxygen in packaging for fruit and vegetables. Traditional food packaging is
perforated with tiny holes to allow the food to breath and be stored for longer, all at a
cost in strength and overall expense. Metallocene-based packaging can be tailored to
breathe at a specific rate to match the respiration of the food it is storing and is stronger.
Notably, too, the narrow distribution of polymer and the low residual catalyst content in
metallocene-based PE means that the plastics give off little flavour or scent to the food
they are storing.
Development Although the technology was well developed by the end of the 1980s and commercialised
drawbacks early in the 1990s, the market for metallocene plastics has remained largely one for
processing, cost, specialty and high-value applications. More important, perhaps, is the fact that licensees
patent concerns of the technology have been slow to come forward.
However, the market has increased and the use of metallocene polymers has grown at
2530% in recent years. In total, the market amounted to about 1.1 million tonnes of PE
and nearly 115,000 tonnes of PP in 2001. But these amounts are small compared with the
large volumes of traditional polyolefins sold. All told, metallocenes amount to little more
than 1% of the total market. What is more, the bulk of that growth has come from
cannibalising the existing PE and additives markets. Still, metallocene producers see
countless new applications ahead that will boost demand, such as replacing glass,
specialty polyesters and even PVC, the other major plastic.
Processing concerns A number of hurdles must be cleared first, however. In the first
place, metallocenes are fraught with processing problems that make it hard to use them
in existing equipment. The resulting narrow polymer distribution makes extrusion and
processing more complicated. Clear metallocene-made films tend to crackle on the
surface, making it hard to produce a smooth film. And all sorts of modifications to
plastics machinery are required to account for their varied properties.
Metallocene producers say they have taken great strides towards overcoming such
problems. Ironically, one of the solutions has been to add specific copolymers into the mix
to give the effect of ZieglerNatta distributions, but in a more controlled way. Other
efforts seek to tweak the processes to make switching from ZieglerNatta to metallocene
as easy as swapping one for the other.
Patent concerns With all the billions spent on research and development, some 3000
individual patents have been issued for various processes and designs. Most of these have
been locked up by Dow, which developed its Insite metallocenes for solution-based PE
production, and by Exxon, which commercialised metallocenes for a gas-phase PE process.
As chemical companies sought to consolidate control over intellectual property, they
set off a series of lawsuits that has mired the industry in courtrooms for close on a
decade. Dow, Exxon, Mobil, Phillips and others filed more than ten big patent lawsuits in
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the 1990s, and a number are still in court today. With millions being spent on litigation,
plastics makers have been reluctant to license one metallocene technology over another.
Many of the suits were finally resolved by industry mergers. Exxon and Mobil merged
in 1999 to form ExxonMobil and absorbed a judgment against Mobil in the process.
Meanwhile, Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide, becoming part-owner of Univation,
the metallocenes licensing joint venture between Exxon and Union Carbide. (Dow agreed
to transfer its patents for gas-phase metallocene, developed with BP, to the British oil
company to meet regulatory demands.)
In the past five years, ten leading polyolefin producers have disappeared and, in the
process, all their intellectual property has been gathered under just a few roofs. With
many of the lawsuits now resolved, metallocenes have come to the fore, with licensing
deals and market acceptance reinforcing the future of the technology.
Univation, which licenses Exxons EXXPOL technology and Union Carbides UNIPOL
process, has seen brisk business in re-licensing the technologies to new firms. Meanwhile,
companies such as Chevron Phillips and NOVA Chemicals have commercialised their own
proprietary, single-site catalyst technologies and intend to make them available for
licence. Countless others are following suit, as customers interest in metallocene
technology grows.
Cost concerns Using metallocenes has been expensive, not because of the cost of the
catalysts themselves, but because of the expense of the co-catalysts needed to activate
them. The cost of methyllalumoxane (MAO) and other co-catalysts used has kept
metallocene plastics out of reach for most commodity plastics users. But thanks to new
production methods and the falling cost of co-catalysts, metallocenes have become more
commercially viable.
Metallocene-based polymers are superior to traditional polymers, but they are being
sold into very cost-sensitive markets, such as those for LDPE and LLDPE. Catalyst costs and
production rates in the plants need to be addressed.
In the 1990s there was a price premium over non-metallocene LLDPE offerings
because metallocene-based LLDPE had much better properties. But the current trend is for
producers to compete with and displace conventional LLDPE.
Exxon and Mitsui Petrochemical of Japan collaborated on optimising metallocene-
based gas-phase processes while Mitsui and Ube Industries retrofitted LLDPE production
lines with metallocene catalysts. Combining metallocenes and gas-phase processes was
considered a major milestone because gas phase is the low-cost industry standard for
large-volume manufacturing and would move metallocenes out of niche markets. Other
firms, such as BASF, BP Chemicals and Phillips Petroleum, used metallocenes as drop-in
catalysts in slurry processes.
Soaring research and development costs are driving developers of PE metallocene
catalyst and product technology to form joint ventures. The BP Chemicals/Dow/UCC-
Exxon venture is one, but others of more limited scope are also happening. The increasing
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible materials
costs associated with maintaining patent portfolios and declining standards of
patentability are also affecting matters; it is no longer possible to predict how long
a patent will be enforceable.
Price performance is forcing competitors to become partners and will drive the
replacement of LLDPE with metallocene-derived materials. Technology licensing is being
used to recoup company costs. Licensing in new technologies, which permit a shift to
metallocene production without plant re-tooling, are an important feature of business.
The technology There is a major research effort underway to develop metallocene catalyst technologies
for use in the production of ethylene-propylene (EPM) and ethylene-propylene-diene
(EPDM) elastomers. Current catalyst technologies for production of such elastomers are
based on vanadium technologies. Vanadium catalyst technologies in current use can
provide a polymer microstructure that is already very suitable for elastomers.
Metallocene catalysts offer numerous advantages for LLDPE, HDPE and PP, such as
increased activity, increased stereospecificity, single-site behaviour and incorporation of a
wider variety and greater amounts of alpha-olefins. For EPDM, metallocene catalysts have
less to offer, since stereospecificity is not very relevant and single-site behaviour is already
achieved using vanadium technologies. Certainly, however, the possibility of improvements
in catalyst efficiency, the incorporation of higher levels of propylene and diene, the wider
variety of comonomers, and the possibility of EPDM production at higher temperatures
justifies the efforts underway to find suitable metallocene catalysts for EPDM production.
While metallocenes in general deliver polymers with higher levels of randomly
inserted propylene and diene, one of the main obstacles is to find a metallocene catalyst
that simultaneously produces polymers with a molecular weight high enough for
elastomer applications.
Innovations in the production of metallocene-based PE include m-linear LLDPE
(single-site catalyst) and resins produced using innovative multiple-reactor and resin-
tailoring capabilities.
Polyethylene PE is a zig-zag formation of carbon atoms with hydrogen attached to each
carbon. It has no side branches except for extra chains of PE that form other chains. The
characteristics of PE include excellent toughness, good tear and burst strength, excellent
chemical resistance, translucence, low-heat resistance, and low cost because of the simple
production processes involved.
PE with straight linear geometry is brittle and not very useful, while PE with side
branching is more bendable due to the bonds that can form between the side branches.
Metallocene is important in the production of PE because it allows control over side
branching. They can control the side branching because of the single activity site found
at the metal centre. Traditional ZieglerNatta catalysts are harder to control because
they have several activity sites and polymers are produced by adding monomers to the
end of the chain.
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Polypropylene PP consists of propylene monomers connected in three different forms.
Propylene is similar to ethylene except that a CH
group replaces one of the hydrogens.
Propylene monomers are combined in the same way as ethylene monomers to form
Using traditional catalytic processes, PP was produced as a mixture of the three
forms consisting of 95% isotactic, a few percent undesirable atactic and a lesser
amount of syndiotactic PP. Advances in metallocene technology mean that the amount
of each type of PP can be controlled. Control is achieved by making changes to the
catalyst stereochemistry.
Competition Production of a cleaner, clearer, glossier polymer with the benefit of a superior uniform
distribution of molecular sizes is claimed for metallocene PPs (mPP). MPP is now being
tested in fibre and multifilament extrusion processes. The greatest drive to replace PVC
with metallocene-derived polyolefins is in the medical and food packaging sectors. A
stretch cling film for meat wrap that offers oxygen permeability, clarity, puncture
resistance and good handling with elastic recovery after handling has been developed
by Exxon using Exxpol technology.
Medical supply companies are working with metallocene PE (mPE) producers to
develop suitable products to replace PVC in medical packaging film and disposable
surgical bags. Plastomer and HDPE are being combined to produce disposable surgical
bags but will not be commercially available until 2004. Other uses as an alternative to
PVC, include high-clarity soft.
Metallocene polymers, which were introduced in the 1990s, have been hailed as the
most significant advance in polymer technology since the commercialisation of LLDPE in
the 1970s. The principal end uses for metallocene polymers include packaging films.
Metallocene-modified PP and PE films are now at the forefront of new developments,
which are expected to find a wide range of end-use applications where the film can be
tailored to meet the needs of a particular product. The most commercially-viable areas
include BOPP and LLDPE packaging films to wrap:
Fresh fruit, vegetables and salad
Dry foods, meat and cheese
Food on high-speed packaging lines.
Although metallocene-based films have been commercially available in the US since the
early 1990s, they have not been generally available in volume in Europe until fairly
recently. However, investment in new plant over the past two to three years has resulted
in big improvements in the availability of metallocene-based films in Europe.
Other polymers In the 1990s, biopolymers, which are biodegradable materials produced from agricultural
feedstock, were being touted as a possible replacement for more established hydrocarbon-
Biopolymers based polymers. They have many of the properties of traditional plastics and can be
processed using conventional techniques to produce films, coatings, mouldings,
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible materials
containers, laminates and sheet. Their attraction is their biodegradability in a variety of
environments, such as soil and sewage systems, and the fact that they can be disposed
of by composting.
The main drawback is that biopolymers are expensive and unlikely to be considered
viable in mainstream volume-packaging applications until they can be produced on a
commercial scale to compete with conventional polymers.
The wider use of biodegradable films is also held back by their inability to fit into any
regular revalorisation channels.
Aliphatic polyketones This high-barrier polymer material has similar properties to EVOH. Aliphatic polyketones
are strong, tough and perform well at high temperatures. Materials can be produced with
melting points up to 140180C.
Work is being undertaken on grades for packaging, engineering and fibre
applications. The materials low gas and particularly oxygen permeability offers potential
applications in long shelf-life food packaging and other packaging sectors, such as
household products, medical products and pharmaceuticals.
Liquid crystal Although only used in engineering applications at present, it is predicted that LCPs could
polymers (LCPs) be a promising material for packaging in the future because of their very high-barrier
properties, high strength and clarity.
Until recently, LCPs could not be made into a usable packaging film material because
conventional blow extrusion techniques produced a product with low tear resistance,
streak and pinholes in the cross machine direction.
Recent work appears to have resolved some of these problems. In the longer term,
LCP could be used in LCP/thermoplastic coextruded laminate structures for use in high-
barrier packaging.
Although LCPs are expensive, prices are expected to fall, which could make them
competitive in applications such as retortable food pouches and microwaveable trays and
lids. There is also the potential to use 90% PET/10% LCP resin blends to exploit the high-
barrier properties and mechanical strengths of LCPs and produce a competitively priced-
material with properties markedly superior to conventional PET.
This could in theory offer the possibility of producing 2-micron films of consistent
thickness and strength, but with barrier properties comparable with 20-micron PET.
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Much of the growth in flexible packaging can be attributed to the increase use of films
and the manufacture of better resins that produce films with a wider range of
applications than was previously the case.
The film industry is witnessing a growth in the popularity of oriented plastic films,
which are now used extensively in flexible packaging. Bi-oriented polypropylene (PP) films
are the largest segment of the oriented-film market, with global consumption of more
than 2.24 million tonnes in 2002.
Orientation technology is used extensively in plastics processing to improve virtually
all of the plastic fibres on the market today. End-users of films and fibres may not be
concerned with the use of orientation directly, but the film and fibre products they use
are significantly improved by the technology. Tensile strength, toughness, and barrier
properties are just a few of the properties often improved by a factor of three or four
when compared with their non-oriented counterparts.
Another benefit of orientation is that it can create shrink characteristics in films. The
molecules of a plastic film, if stretched at the correct temperature, will retain a memory to
return to their original shape. Thus, films oriented at the correct temperature will shrink
back to their original shape when re-heated.
A variety of plastic resins can be processed or oriented to create a shrink film. PVC,
polyester, PP and polyethylene (PE) resins are all very popular; all are used as raw
materials for oriented films and all are processed to form shrink films. However, each
family of resins and resulting shrink films has its own processing requirements, its own
characteristics and its own market niche.
Oriented polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a popular choice for security sleeves, shrunk
around bottle closures for products around the globe. Oriented PP is a popular shrink film
for consumer products where lower levels of shrink are required. PE is used as a bundling
shrink film, where cost is a significant factor.
Film type and In the blown film process, resin pellets are melted and forced through a circular die. Cold
manufacture air is blown into the middle of the molten film and forms it into a bubble. The thickness
of the bubble wall can be as thin as 0.011cm and must be held to close tolerances. The
bubble cools on its way up a tower. On the way down, the bubble is collapsed and cut
into two film webs. Finally, the webs are trimmed to size and wound around cores to form
the rolls of stretch film that are sold to customers.
Cast manufacturing is different. After the plastic resin pellets are mixed and melted,
the molten plastic is extruded through a long, precision-made die onto a rotating drum.
The drum has a highly polished stainless steel surface and is filled with a chilled liquid to
keep it at around 60C. The surface of the drum gives cast film its clear, smooth
appearance. After the film solidifies on the drum, it is fed to the cutters, then the winders.
Cast film Cast film is a thin, non-oriented, clear, flexible substrate with high-impact strength and
good tear resistance. Because of the immense number of polymers and combination of
polymers that can be cast, properties can be tailored to meet almost any packaging
need, including high-barrier performance against gases and water vapour. The principal
applications for cast film are food, textile, pallet stretch, cling, stationery and medical
The cast film process involves the extrusion of polymer melt through a slot or flat die
to form a thin, molten sheet or film. This film is pinned to the surface of a chill roll
(typically water-cooled and chrome-plated) by a blast of air from an air knife or vacuum
box. The film quenches immediately and then has its edges slit prior to winding.
These fast-quench capabilities mean a cast film generally has much better optics
than a blown film and can be produced at faster line speeds. However, it has the
disadvantage of higher scrap due to edge-trim, and very little film orientation in the
Cast films are used in a variety of applications, including stretch/cling films, personal
care films, bakery films and high-clarity films. Coextrusion is also a growing process
technology, which can provide additional functional, protective and decorative properties.
Blown film Blown film moulding uses a jet of air to blow plastic polymer into a circular cross-section
blown film. Once the plastic has been blown out, rollers flatten it into a sheet of double-
thickness film and it is automatically cut to length.
The whole process is very efficient because little polymer is needed to produce large
quantities of film. Blown film plastics are usually thermoplastics.
Blown film is one of two principal processes used in the fabrication of film products.
Films are typically defined as less than 10 mils (0.254mm) thick, although blown film as
thick as 20 mils (0.5mm) can be produced. The blown film process is used to produce a
wide variety of products, ranging from simple monolayer films for bags to very complex
multilayer structures that are used in food packaging.
The material feed system combines virgin polymer with recycled material from edge
trim or scrap film. The recycled material may be chopped film, compacted material or
re-pelletised. The virgin material can be a single component or blends of two or more
polymers. Various additives, such as slip, antiblock or pigments, can also be blended into
the feed to the extruder. The feed can be monitored for output rate using gravimetric load
cells, which control the extruder screw speed or the haul-off drive speed to maintain
constant film thickness.
The extruder is the heart of the blown film process. It consists of a motor drive, gear
box, barrel with heater/cooling zones and a rotating screw. This mechanism conveys the
polymer into the extruder, melts the polymer then creates enough pressure to push the
molten polymer through the die.
The blown film die forms the molten polymer from the extruder into an annular
shape. The die is designed to provide a uniform polymer velocity around the circumference
of the die exit.
After the molten polymer exits the die it is formed into its final dimensions and
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cooled. The molten polymer is stretched by expanding the bubble using air pressure
trapped inside. The web is drawn down with the nip rolls, reducing the film to the desired
thickness. Air is ejected through an air ring onto the bubble surface to cool the molten
polymer web.
When the molten polymer is solidified, the tube is stabilised and collapsed in a frame
just below the nip rolls.
After collapsing into a flat web, any of several auxiliary processes can be performed,
such as treating, slitting, sealing or printing.
The finished film can be made into rolls using a winder for later processing, or fed
to an inline bag machine and converted into bags.
Multilayer (high barrier) A multilayer structure (MLS), either laminated or coextruded, is needed to give flexible
packaging both strength and barrier properties. Some of these MLSs, even those for
seemingly simple products like snack foods, may have seven or more different plastic
layers, each performing different structural barrier or adhesive functions.
There has been significant growth in plastic barrier packaging since the discovery and
development of the first synthetic specialty barrier resin, polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC or
Dow Chemicals Saran R brand) in the 1950s and 1960s. The commercialisation of
ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) came later, in the 1970s.
The development of coextrusion technology enabled the efficient manufacture of
multilayer plastic structures in a wide range of thicknesses in a single pass through a
machine. This really caused barrier packaging growth to take off in the late 1970s and
early 1980s. Before then, ML structures were made by laminating two plastic layers
together, a slower and intrinsically less efficient process. Lamination is still an important
MLS method, especially for resin combinations that are difficult to coextrude.
The perfect polymeric barrier does not exist, and probably never will, since each
application has different requirements. In some cases, for example in the packaging of
meat, PVC film, which is not a good oxygen barrier, is commonly used in supermarket
meat displays since it keeps the meat colour red and inviting for the short time it is on
display. But for the long-term transport or storage of meat, a good oxygen barrier is
needed to prevent spoilage.
Current barrier packaging plastics are good, but problems remain that restrict their
use or hinder their growth in many applications. These include:
High cost they are almost always more expensive than a simple monolayer plastic
package of, for example, LDPE or LLDPE.
Susceptibility to contamination or degradation, especially by moisture. EVOH best
illustrates this problem. Its hydroxyl groups give it good barrier qualities but also
make it susceptible to hydrolysis. As a result, EVOH only can be used as an inner layer
in an MLS.
Disposal or recycling problems. Most MLSs contain more than one type of plastic, so
cannot easily be commingled and recycled with, for example, HDPE or PET. Many
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
multilayer containers have to be classified and labelled with the SPI recycling number
7 or other.
Challenges from competing materials, some as old as glass, others new, such as
silicon-oxide glass coatings, which can provide a superior barrier.
Most of the plastic multilayer films used in the food packaging industry contain several
thermoplastic films to combine hydrophobic, diffusion barrier and mechanical properties.
But multilayer films can only be recycled if they are added to a commingled plastics
recycling process.
The alternative re-use of these plastics has received little attention. Studies are
underway to look into the possibility of reprocessing multilayer plastics. Five-layer
LDPE/nylon-6 films with an overall content of 71 wt% LDPE, 24 wt% nylon-6, and 5 wt%
adhesive (a PE-based graft copolymer) have been successfully reprocessed under both
minimal and extensive mixing conditions.
Minimally reprocessed film has given better mechanical results than extensively mixed
samples. The minimally reprocessed film had O
and H
O vapour-barrier properties on a
par with as-received film.
Coextruded film Coextrusion combines two or more molten polymer layers into a composite extruded web
or tube that provides functional, protective or decorative properties. The introduction of
new high-performance polymers, the development of new processing equipment
technology and the emergence of many new packaging applications has resulted in high
growth rates in coextrusion.
For food packaging, medical packaging and general packaging applications cast
coextruded barrier film of three layers (exposed nylon) or five layers (burried
nylon/EVOH), comprising a barrier layer made of nylon or EVOH and outer layers of PP
and/or PE, can be used. The different layers are designed to give heat-seal, printing and
barrier properties to the end package. It provides excellent oxygen/gas/aroma/moisture-
barrier properties for food packaging resulting in a much longer shelf-life. Applications
include fresh and cooked meat, retort pack, bakery and cheese packs and processed fruit
packs. These films are also used in medical packaging, e.g. for syringes and needles.
The majority of new equipment being installed for both blown- and cast-film
extrusion will be capable of coextrusion. The shift to coextrusion is being made because
the technology can meet a wide range of application needs, including the ability to
achieve specific performance properties, to reduce costs, to use fewer processes and to
reduce waste.
The advances in coextrusion equipment technology, the new polymers introduced,
and the market application development have made coextruded films attractive. But to
take advantage of coextrusion technology, companies must develop the techniques and
knowledge necessary to produce these sometimes complex film structures.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of polymers available for
extrusion. There are several to choose from, with attributes such as high barriers, selected
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permeation rates, adhesion, high-strength sealants, easy-opening (peelable) sealants, low-
temperature sealants, high hot-tack sealants, high-tensile strength, high-impact strength,
high-tear strength, high modulus, high-temperature resistance, low-temperature impact,
high clarity, abrasion resistance, chemical resistance, low taste and odour, high cling, low
slip, stabilised, degradable, antistatic, antifog, pigmented, thermoformable, the list goes
on. The performance attributes of polymers will continue to grow as new application
needs are identified.
Sometimes the requirement for specific performance properties cannot be met by a
single polymer, or even by blends of different polymer types extruded in a monolayer film.
Blending may not be desirable if the polymer types are incompatible. Coextrusion with a
high-strength polymer can allow significant downgauging while maintaining or improving
key properties. Heat-seal polymers can be incorporated into a film structure to improve
packaging line efficiency or speed.
Coextrusion can lower the cost to produce many films by reducing the amount of
expensive polymer used, increasing the amount of less costly polymers, using recycled
material, or reducing film thickness. Competitive advantages can be achieved for many
coextruded film structures, ranging from the high-volume trash bag market, to high
technology-barrier food-packaging films.
Coextrusion can reduce the number of process operations required when several
polymers are needed to obtain the desired properties. Combining operations into a single
process provides more space for other equipment and generates less scrap than multiple
process steps. Coextrusion can also eliminate the use of solvent-based adhesives. This may
provide some cost savings in raw materials. With increasing regulations governing the use
and disposal of solvents, the cost of incineration or recovery can be high. Eliminating the
use of solvents can also help to reduce these costs.
Coextrusion allows scrap or trim material to be recycled into the core of the structure.
The increased desire to reduce waste and use recycled materials makes coextrusion an
even more attractive option.
Laminated film Flexible plastics can be used in lamination with other materials. This is an important
application area because it can provide enhanced properties such as barrier performance.
In vacuum packaging, oriented PP (OPP) films laminated with PE are used to achieve
a tight vacuum, because OPP film is more resistant to gas permeation and effective at
maintaining high carbon dioxide and low oxygen levels inside packages as well as the
flavour of the products. Such multilayer film is considered to be an active packaging
film because gas concentrations inside packages reach desirable levels a short time after
sealing. At high temperatures, however, OPP-laminated film packages become
loose and inflate.
As government regulations to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions
become more and more stringent, film-laminating converters are faced with several
choices that enable them to comply with the new laws.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
First-generation adhesives The first solventless laminating adhesives developed were
polyurethane moisture-curing products. These adhesives are made from isocyanate
prepolymers, the product of a reaction between polyol and excess isocyanate. The
prepolymers are high in viscosity, which gives excellent initial bond strengths, but require
an application temperature of 90 to 100C. The adhesive is coated onto the primary film
and atmospheric moisture reacts with the excess isocyanate groups to crosslink the
adhesive after the secondary film has been mated to the primary film; slitting can usually
take place in 24 to 72 hours.
First-generation curing mechanism:
O = R-NH
+ CO
The problems encountered in the use of first-generation adhesives are bubbles in the
lamination, a cloudy appearance in clear films and the inconsistency of the cure rate. The
bubbles are produced by the by-product of the curing reaction, carbon dioxide, and can be
trapped when high-barrier films are laminated. The amount of atmospheric moisture that
comes into contact with the adhesive as it is coated can lead to a cloudy appearance in
clear films and inconsistency in the cure rate. Moisture is often added to the primary film
by means of a spray boom just prior to nipping the secondary film. This will increase the
rate of cure, but it also reduces the clarity of the laminated film by leaving a cloudy
appearance. This cloudy appearance is readily seen in clear laminations and in the clear
package window areas of printed structures.
Second-generation adhesives The next major advance in solventless laminating
adhesives was the development of two-part polyurethane adhesives. These comprised a
polyurethane prepolymer and a polyol, both low in viscosity. The components are mixed
together with a meter-mix-dispensing unit at room temperature and pumped onto the
coating station of the laminator through an inline static mixer. The meter-mix, in
combination with the static mixer, ensures that the proper ratio of adhesive components
is present and completely mixed to give a consistent cure rate.
Second-generation curing mechanism:
The problems encountered in the use of second-generation adhesives are low initial bond
strengths and the presence of high residual monomer. The low initial bonds are a result of
the low viscosity of both adhesive components, which means tighter laminator controls
are needed to prevent laminations from tunnelling before the adhesive has a chance to
cure. Slitting of the lamination can only take place after a 12- to 48-hour cure time. The
high residual isocyanate monomer causes a phenomenon known as anti-seal. This occurs
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
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when the isocyanate monomer migrates through a soft sealant film, such as PE, and
reacts with atmospheric moisture. This reaction creates a very hard and thermally stable
polyurea layer that renders the laminate unsealable. In addition to the anti-seal
problems, there are possible health risks from worker exposure to the high-residual
monomer. Finally, the presence of isocyanate monomer requires Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) documentation and reporting, which can be time-consuming for any
laminating converter.
To address the problems associated with using first- or second-generation solventless
adhesives, third-generation two-part polyurethane adhesive systems with a consistent cure
rate, low residual monomer and increased initial bond strengths have been developed.
Third-generation adhesives Typical third-generation adhesives are based on
moderate-viscosity polyurethane polymers that require a 50 to 70C application
temperature. The increased viscosity of the third-generation versus second requires a 12-
to 24-hour cure time before slitting. Third-generation adhesives are made using a process
that removes nearly all of the excess isocyanate monomer from the prepolymer
component, which consistently results in a blended adhesive system with less than 0.08%
free isocyanate. The low residual isocyanate monomer eliminates the anti-seal issue,
health concerns from worker exposure to isocyanate monomers and the regulatory
documentation associated with isocyanates.
Third-generation curing mechanism:
The majority of solventless laminators in the US still apply a second-generation adhesive
system. The meter-mix dispensing units are not generally equipped with heating
capabilities. In order for a laminating converter to begin using a third-generation
adhesive, capital expenditure is necessary to equip its meter-mix-dispensing unit with
heating capabilities. This capital expenditure can often delay the conversion to a third-
generation adhesive or altogether discourage a converter from changing to a third-
generation system.
To overcome this hurdle and minimise the equipment expenses associated with using
a third-generation adhesive system, a third-generation adhesive has been developed that
can be pumped and mixed at room temperature through existing meter-mix dispensing
units used for second-generation products. This system gives laminating converters the
many benefits of using a third-generation adhesive without the need to invest in
expensive meter-mix dispensing equipment upgrades.
Metallised film Metallisation involves the application of a thin layer of aluminium to a film substrate. The
process takes place inside a chamber, where heated aluminium is evaporated onto the
film as it is unwound and then rewound at high speed in a vacuum. The resulting film is
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
not only visually more attractive but also considerably more resistant to oxygen and
water-vapour transmission.
Mainly used in the packaging industry, metallised films can be used simply for
decorative purposes or as a sealer to prevent the absorption of moisture through
board. They can also be used in the lamination of fish boards and carton lidding for the
same reason. Metallised films can be overprinted with a colour wash to give the effect of
coloured foil board in any colour.
Metallised film is used in a wide variety of food packaging applications where either
high-barrier properties or a striking appearance is required. Examples include: crisp
packing (BOPP), bread wrap (PE) and sweets (CPP). The process is also used to metallise
BOPET for capacitors.
Polyester-metallised film is one of the most widely used plastic films in the world.
There is great demand for its lustre properties and it is used in highly diverse applications,
from industrial to decorative packaging.
UCB Films produces a range of metallised films, including Propafoil RVG, a high-
brilliance metallised film which is supplied in a range of thicknesses for use in lamination
or as a monostructure for products that require superior on-shelf aesthetics.
Another example is Propafoil RMC, which has a low heat-seal threshold acrylic
coating that provides an excellent oxygen barrier for biscuit products. RMC can also be
used as a single web or laminate.
The development of these films reflects the growing use of metallised film in the
packaging of confectionery and biscuits. UCB Films works very closely with confectionery
packers to ensure its research and development resources are concentrated on those areas
of greatest importance to them.
Intelligent film/ Intelligent or smart films are a variety of specialised films engineered for packaging
smart films requirements where the performance of standard film is not deemed good enough.
Patents are being taken out in the US on a film developed to provide temperature-
sensitive variable oxygen permeability. This coextruded film could have important
implications for packaging high-respiration foods such as fresh fruits. It works by means
of the differential expansion of two film layers.
The film is cut with a pattern of small U-shaped incisions, which curl at certain
temperatures to allow higher product respiration.
Another more sophisticated technology produces a film in which the permeability of
the polymer is modified at the molecular level by changes in temperature. Film converters
are also offering high gas-permeability micro-perforated films that will allow produce to
breathe, thereby helping to extend shelf life.
Food companies are also testing the potential of these films in bacteria detection.
Such detection tests could then be incorporated into food packaging. One possible
scheme under investigation is for film wrapping with an indicator that changes colour
when certain bacteria, such as E-coli, are present.
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Oriented polystyrene OPS films are now starting to be used for decorative shrink sleeves and tamper-evident
(OPS) neck seals for drinks bottles. OPS film is also used as a lidding membrane enabling
single material tub and lidding film to be used for easier recycling. But the general
consensus is that they are unlikely to make fast headway against existing materials used
for these applications.
Microwaveable films Food manufacturers are putting a lot of effort into developing microwaveable food
products, such as ready meals, soups and sauces. Results have been mixed with some
foods, such as microwaveable pizzas, proving disappointing. Problems include uneven
cooking and moisture build-up in product packs, which makes the food soggy.
Converters are attempting to address some of these problems by developing special
microwave films and rigid containers. Some of the films absorb the oils or moisture
produced during heating. The materials are manufactured from a combination of paper
pulp and non-woven PP, which traps the moisture in pockets.
But these technologies are relatively expensive and because the packaging is often
of multimaterial construction can contravene environmental initiatives to minimise
packaging. Nonetheless, they are likely to find acceptance in northern Europe where there
is a high household penetration of microwaves and widespread consumption of ready
meals, such as pizzas.
Edible and soluble films The trend towards minimising packaging and single-pack materials could, according to
Piras predictions, result in demand for edible and water-soluble films in the next few
years. These materials are particularly suitable for applications where plastic wrapping is
used, such as shrink-wrapped pizzas and frozen ready meals.
Edible films, such as those produced from cellulose, have been around for some time,
but these cannot be used as a moisture barrier because they are completely soluble.
New wheat-based gluten materials, on the other hand, do not break down when they
come into contact with moisture at normal temperatures. The material has high-
temperature solubility, which results in it melting away when heated in a microwave.
Soluble films are also being used in non-food applications.
Downgauging Downgauging of materials has been a key response to the ongoing need to maximise the
cost effectiveness of packaging, while maintaining functional performance through the
supply chain. Examples include: on packaging lines, achieving higher filling speeds and
reduced waste; in distribution, by using lighter materials; and for the consumer, improved
product protection, increased freshness and reduced waste.
This development has been particularly apparent in the barrier layers of laminates
(usually the most expensive materials). Today, aluminium foil is typically used at a
thickness of nearer six microns compared to seven, nine or even 12 microns a few years
ago. EVOH layers in extruded laminates have also been downgauged from 510 microns
a few years ago to two microns or less today.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
These improvements have been made possible through process development by film, foil
and resin suppliers, as well as by flexible packaging converters, allowing better web
tension control and more even layer distribution in film coextrusion. The barrier properties
of metallised films have also improved significantly. This is achieved by improved adhesion
to the base substrate, which allows the barrier performance to be maintained throughout
conversion, packing and distribution.
The European Commission (FAIR project) is examining the future of biodegradable
packaging film materials in high-barrier applications through research into film forming,
coating and lamination technology.
The aim of the project is to produce biodegradable polymer films using short-term
renewable resources for medium- and high-barrier flexible packaging applications which,
compared with the conventional polymers in present use, are:
Competitive in terms of functionality
Comparable in integral costs for materials, processing, use and waste management
Compatible with biological waste management strategies
An improvement in terms of environmental impacts over the whole product lifecycle.
Cellulose films are seen as offering good perspectives and have been selected for the
project. But as cellulose alone has neither sealing nor sufficient water-barrier properties,
further conversion steps compatible with the key targets of biodegradability and the
renewable sources of the materials are necessary to achieve the functionality profile
essential for packaging.
The European Commission expects the project will develop two groups of transparent
biodegradable packaging film laminates one with medium-barrier properties and one
with high-barrier properties based on:
Cellulose films with plasticisers from renewable sources;
Additional polymeric barrier/sealing layers, also from renewable sources, and thin
inorganic barrier films with sufficient gas and water-vapour barrier properties, also in
humid conditions and the applicability on typical packaging equipment.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
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Innovations in flexible
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The growth in the use of flexible packaging has been helped in no small measure by
the development of new and better film types which have increased the range of
applications. The development of new-generation films and polymers mean that in the
course of the coming months and years we can expect to see greater use of films
containing active ingredients, intelligent or smart films, anti-microbial films and
metallocene-based films.
Since the 1990s, the spread of metallocene-based films has transformed biaxially-
oriented polypropylene (BOPP) and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) packaging
films used in the wrapping of fresh fruit and vegetables, dry foods, meat and cheese.
Investment in this technology is proceeding apace in Europe and recently there have been
big improvements in availability.
There has been a rise in the use of active packaging, intelligent packaging and high-
barrier packaging, all of which has required new development in film technology or
adapting to the ways in which flexible packaging film is used.
Together with the development of new polymers it is clear that the use of flexible
packaging will continue to increase in the future as converters and customers alike find
innovative ways in which to package their products.
Modified atmosphere In recent years, the plastics industry has developed new catalyst technologies to
packaging (MAP) manufacture resins used in breathable films for modified atmosphere packaging (MAP)
systems, giving processors more options for keeping fresh-cut produce fresh.
The premise of MAP is fairly simple. After produce is harvested, it continues to live
and breathe, consuming oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide in the process of converting
glucose and oxygen to water and carbon dioxide. MAP extends the shelf life of fresh-cut
produce by reducing its respiration rate and the aging associated with it.
Designing a successful MAP system is a somewhat complex task involving multiple
variables. It is important to consider the produce being packaged. Lettuce, spinach and
cabbage, for example, all have different respiration rates and reactions. The dimensions
of the package (volume and surface area) and the weight of the produce in each package
are also important, as are control over storage conditions and refrigerated temperatures
from field to table.
A properly designed MAP system should reduce produce respiration, but not
completely stop it. A fine line exists between extending shelf life and creating an
atmosphere in which produce spoils. Care must be taken to maintain enough oxygen in
the package to allow limited aerobic respiration. If very little or no oxygen is present,
anaerobic respiration takes place, followed by rapid spoilage. For this reason, high-barrier
packages, which prevent most transmission of oxygen and other gases, are generally not
suitable for the long-term packaging of fresh-cut produce.
Packages designed with selective barrier properties that provide a controlled oxygen
transmission rate (OTR) and effectively control the oxygen concentration inside the
package are the key to successful MAP applications.
While oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations are important, temperature can be the
most important factor in determining the produce respiration rate. When produce is stored
at room temperature it ages rapidly. For this reason, many types of produce are
refrigerated at or below 40F.
Once produce requirements have been determined, it is important to select a film
structure that meets them. OTRs, optical properties, hot-tack initiation temperatures and
strengths, and heat-seal initiation temperatures and strengths should be determined. Each
should be appropriate for the product. Printability, machinability and toughness should
also be considered.
Historically, products such as ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) have been used for
packaging fresh-cut produce. EVA, however, has disadvantages compared with polyolefin
plastomers (POPs) and ultra low-density polyethylene (ULDPE) resins, which provide better
optics, better seal performance, higher hot-tack strength and much lower water-vapour
transmission rates (WVTR) at comparable OTRs.
POPs are a new category of polymer material that has found widespread use in
fresh-cut produce packaging and other high-performance applications. Because they
offer a unique combination of high oxygen transmission, relatively low WVTR, excellent
seal performance, excellent optics and low off-taste and off-odour contribution, POPs
are preferred for use as the sealant layer and high OTR structural layers in fresh-cut
produce packaging.
Once film selection has been made, it is important to ascertain that all minimum
requirements of the film have been met. Can the selected film thickness be easily
fabricated and formed into bags on high-speed vertical form/fill/seal (FFS) lines? How
easy is it to manufacture? Will the CO
concentration in the package ever exceed the
maximum acceptable CO
concentration? Does the package meet the legal requirements
for materials and labelling? Will the package meet the requirements of the grocer?
Changes in eating habits in the western world and more recently in parts of the
developing world are helping MAP to increase its market. One area is in case-ready and
fast-food outlets. Case-ready is the term normally used to describe meat products sold at
retailers, i.e. fresh meat that is already cut, packaged and labelled. It is similar to centrally
processed beef, i.e. meat that arrives already cut but which is then packaged and labelled
in-store. These can either be MAP or vacuum packed.
One company, Convenience Food Systems, expects ready-meal growth in areas outside
of the UK (which is growing by 11%), namely France (17%), Spain (8%) and the US (12%).
Growth is also forecast for Scandinavia and Germany, where the market for hermetically-
sealed chicken is taking off.
Forecasts over the next five years in the industrialised world include a greater move
towards: easy meal solutions, smaller portions and convenience packaging, marked value
chain considerations, fresh distribution and food safety. These trends will all have positive
benefits for MAP. In this emerging market sector, growth will be seen in fast-food
restaurants, modern retailing, increased exports and frozen distribution.
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Innovations in flexible materials
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There will be continued growth in portion packs with a rise in pack value of some 12%
a year and a rise in the tonnage packed of around 3% a year.
Commercial examples Prepackaged salad with tomatoes Ready-to-eat salads that include tomatoes and
feature an extended shelf-life are on sale in US supermarket chains. The product, branded
Salad for You, stays fresh for 1214 days using SunBlushs Maptek Fresh MAP. The
packaging circumvents the process whereby tomatoes naturally emit ethylene gas, which
yellows lettuce over time. As a result, salad ingredients can be kept crisp for longer.
According to SunBlush, the packaging construction includes a top web consisting of a
semi-permeable four-layer film laminate, along with a clear, thermoformed plastic tray on
the bottom, which has individual cells for the various salad products.
Using Maptek Fresh packaging, according to SunBlush, tomatoes can be processed
when their colour is slightly less than what would be considered optimum for eating and
will continue to ripen inside the package. Cut tomato wedges then have a shelf-life of 14
days at a storage temperature of 4145F. As ripening takes place inside the recyclable
package, according to SunBlush, flavour volatiles are not lost, and the texture of the
tomatoes is maintained with little deterioration during the storage period.
Pre-packed cheese with MAP Dutch cheese manufacturer Kaptein B.V. has improved
the texture and appearance of its pre-packaged cheese slices with MAP using Mapax gas
supplied by the gas-technology firm AGA. The MAP system has enabled Kaptein to
achieve superior product quality and consumer appeal, and extend the high-quality shelf
life of its packaged product. Kaptein supplies the Dutch market with millions of slices of
cheese annually in addition to its export activities.
Compared with traditional vacuum-packing technologies, which eliminate free space
around the packaged cheese, AGAs Mapax system is used to package cheese with an
optimal gas mixture that actually allows the cheeses aroma and taste to develop within
the package. Unlike the rubbery-looking cheese slices commonly produced with
conventional vacuum packing systems, AGAs Mapax produces attractive cheese slices that
are easier for consumers to separate.
For each dairy item that is to be packaged, AGA develops a product-specific mixture
of gases, using carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen as appropriate. This minimises
microbial growth while promoting the natural functioning of the food products. Mapax
technology can be applied to packaging for a variety of dairy products, including hard
or soft cheeses, cottage cheese, yoghurt and cream. Mapax can also be used with both
deep-draw and horizontal flow-wrap machines to meet a wide range of capacity and
product requirements.
Active packaging Active packaging refers to the incorporation of additives into packaging film, or within
packaging containers, with the aim of maintaining and extending product shelf life. There
are a range of technologies involved in active packaging. These include: oxygen
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Innovations in flexible materials
scavengers, carbon dioxide scavengers/emitters, ethylene scavengers, preservative
releasers, ethanol emitters, moisture absorbers, flavour/odour absorbers, lactose and
cholesterol removers, temperature control packaging, anti-bacterial films, MAP and
controlled-atmosphere packaging (CAP).
The market segments where this type of packaging is used include: meat and poultry,
fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, dairy products, dried foods, fresh pasta, snack foods,
biscuits, bakery products, beverages, ready meals, pharmaceuticals and electronics.
The main purpose of food packaging is to protect the food from microbial and
chemical contamination, oxygen, water vapour and light. Active packaging does more
than simply provide a barrier to outside influences. It can control, and even react to,
events taking place inside the package.
Fresh foods Immediately after they have been harvested or slaughtered fresh foods are still active
biological systems. The atmosphere inside a package constantly changes as gases and
moisture are produced during metabolic processes. The type of packaging used will also
influence the atmosphere around the food because some plastics are poor barriers to
gases and moisture.
The metabolism of fresh food continues to use up oxygen in the headspace of a
package and increases the concentration of carbon dioxide. At the same time water is
produced and the humidity in the headspace of the package builds up. This encourages
the growth of spoilage microorganisms and damages the fruit and vegetable tissue.
Many food plants produce ethylene as part of their normal metabolic cycle. This
simple organic compound triggers ripening and aging. This is why fruit such as bananas
and avocados ripen quickly when kept in the presence of ripe or damaged fruits in a
container and broccoli turns yellow even when kept in the refrigerator.
Active packaging offers a solution in this area where it is difficult with conventional
packaging to optimise the composition of the headspace in a package.
Processed foods The shelf life of processed foods is also influenced by the atmosphere surrounding the
food. For some processed foods, a lower oxygen level is beneficial. This slows down the
discolouration of cured meats and powdered milk and prevents rancidity in nuts and other
high-fat foods. High carbon dioxide and low oxygen levels can pose a problem in fresh
produce leading to anaerobic metabolism and rapid rotting. However, in fresh and
processed meats, cheeses and baked goods, carbon dioxide may have a beneficial
antimicrobial effect.
Active packaging Active packaging employs a packaging material that interacts with the internal gas
systems environment to extend the shelf life of food. Such new technologies continuously modify
the gas environment (and may interact with the surface of the food) by removing gases
from or adding gases to the headspace.
Recent technological innovations for the control of specific gases within a package
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Innovations in flexible materials
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involve the use of chemical scavengers to absorb a gas or other chemicals, which may
then release a specific gas as required.
Ethylene scavenging A chemical reagent incorporated into the packaging film traps
the ethylene produced by ripening fruit or vegetables. The reaction is irreversible and only
small quantities of the scavenger are required to remove ethylene in the concentrations in
which it is produced.
Films containing scavengers are already being used as a valuable means of extending
the export life of fruit, vegetables and flowers. These systems can involve the inclusion in
the package of a small sachet, which contains an appropriate scavenger. The sachet
material itself is highly permeable to ethylene and diffusion through the sachet is not a
serious limitation. The reacting chemical for ethylene is usually potassium permanganate,
which oxidises and deactivates it.
Oxygen scavenging The presence of oxygen in food packages accelerates the spoilage
of many foods. Oxygen can cause off-flavour development, colour change, nutrient loss
and microbial attack. Several different systems are in production or being investigated to
scavenge oxygen at appropriate rates for the requirements of different foods.
One of the most promising applications for oxygen-scavenging systems in food
packages is in the control of mould growth. Most moulds require oxygen to grow and in
standard packages it is frequently mould growth that limits the shelf life of packaged
baked goods such as cakes, crumpets and packaged cheese. Laboratory trials have shown
that mould growth on some baked products can be stopped for at least 30 days using
active packaging; significant improvements in the mould-free life of packaged cheese have
also been achieved.
Another promising application is the use of active packaging to delay oxidation of
and therefore rancidity development in vegetable oils. Discrete sachets containing oxygen
absorbents have already found commercial application. In this instance the scavenging
material is usually finely divided iron oxide. These sachets have been used in some
countries to protect the colour of packaged cured meats from oxygen in the headspace
and to slow down staling and mould growth on baked products, e.g. pizza crusts.
This approach of inserting a sachet into the package is effective but meets with
resistance from food packers. The active ingredients in most systems consist of a non-toxic
brown/black powder or aggregate which is visually unappealing if the sachet is broken.
A much more attractive approach is the use of a transparent packaging plastic as the
scavenging medium.
Carbon dioxide release High carbon dioxide levels are desirable in some food
packages because they inhibit the surface growth of microorganisms. Fresh meat,
poultry, fish, cheeses and strawberries all benefit from being packed in a high carbon
dioxide atmosphere.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Innovations in flexible materials
However, with the introduction of MAP there is a need to generate varying concentrations
of carbon dioxide to suit specific food requirements. Since carbon dioxide is more
permeable through plastic films than oxygen, carbon dioxide will need to be actively
produced in some applications to maintain the desired atmosphere in the package.
So far the problems associated with the diffusion of gases through the packaging,
especially carbon dioxide, have not been resolved and this remains an important area
of research.
Ethanol release Ethanols (or common alcohols) antimicrobial activity is well known
and is used in medical and pharmaceutical applications. Ethanol has also been shown
to increase the shelf life of bread and other baked products when sprayed onto product
surfaces prior to packaging.
A novel method of generating ethanol vapour, recently developed in Japan, is
through the use of an ethanol-releasing system enclosed in a small sachet; the system is
approved in Japan to extend the mould-free shelf life of various packaged cakes. Food-
grade ethanol is absorbed onto a fine inert powder which is enclosed in a sachet
permeable to water vapour. Moisture is absorbed from the food by the inert powder and
ethanol vapour is released and permeates the sachet into the food package headspace.
Other developments The examples given above are only some of the commercial and non-commercial
applications of active packaging. This technology is the subject of research in many
countries and rapid developments are expected.
Other systems of active packaging, already available or which soon could be, include:
Sachets containing iron powder and calcium hydroxide which scavenge both oxygen
and carbon dioxide. These sachets are used to extend the shelf life of ground coffee.
Film containing microbial inhibitors other than those noted above. Other inhibitors
being investigated include metal ions and salts of propionic acid.
Specially fabricated films to absorb flavours and odours or, conversely, to release
them into the package.
Active packaging has been around for many years in a variety of forms, but interest has
grown recently thanks to a rash of publicity about the development of newly-enhanced
oxygen absorbers, antimicrobials and ethylene absorbers.
Along with this interest have come new opportunities for food packaging, such as the
concept of applying indirect food preservatives from the package into the food.
Much of the initial work on active packaging took place in Japan, where oxygen
scavenger sachets were introduced in the late 1970s. These ageless iron-based scavengers
from Mitsubishi Chemical have been used in numerous Japanese food packages. While
they have never proved popular in the US, there are still many packages on the market
that use the sachets.
In recent years various films have been developed that contain iron. Many of these
are opaque and are not used widely due to initiation problems.
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Innovations in flexible materials
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Another vital area of development has been in academia, where many types of active
packaging concepts for foods have been introduced. There have also been sporadic
projects at film suppliers such as Cryovac Div. and Sealed Air, government organisations,
and research and development labs in Natick, MA, and CSRIO (Australia).
The rise of oxygen scavengers is evident. With a growth rate estimated at more than
50% a year for beer crowns alone, bottles for other beverages, fruit juices, sport drinks,
and case-ready meat also head the list. Other substantial markets include trays and
lidding stock for home-replacement meals and composite cans.
Projections suggest oxygen scavengers will be used in 3 billion packages by 2004 in
North America and more than 6 billion worldwide.
There has been a significant increase in the use of oxygen scavengers in PET bottles
for beer and other beverages. These include products such as Amsorb DFC from BP
Chemical. Aimed at the non-carbonated fruit juice market, the additive removes oxygen
that permeates the side walls of PET bottles.
In the flexible packaging area, Cryovac (Duncan, SC) introduced a range of OS
(oxygen scavenger) films with a polymer where the film itself is the oxygen scavenger.
These are multilayer films with the polymene scavenger incorporated into the film. The
film is initiated by UV light and is completely transparent. It is used by Nestl in its
Buitoni fresh pasta packages. Other films are under development by CSRIO, Chevron
Phillips (US), and CLP (Israel).
There have also been many developments in ethylene-gas removal in packaging.
Orega film has been developed to preserve fruits and vegetables. Its ethylene-absorptive
properties work through the addition of a fine porous material such as zlolita or carbon.
CSRIO has also introduced a compound that removes ethylene gas from around plants
ethylene gas causes leaves to turn yellow. An organic reagent that reacts with ethylene
and diffuses into the package has been incorporated into the film.
The diffusion rate largely determines the reaction rate and, preferably, the reagent
should be included in the more permeable layers of barrier films. Only small quantities are
required to remove ethylene at levels of a few parts per million.
In moisture control, developments have proceeded far beyond the use of silica gel
sachets. There have been attempts to produce desiccant combinations incorporated into
the packaging film. Although still fairly blue-sky, prospects look promising.
For flexible packaging converters, both cost and converting applicability are
important in the successful use of most active-packaging concepts.
Because the technology is so new, it tends to be fairly expensive. It is useful to
perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the extension in shelf life
overshadows the increased cost. But other factors should also be considered, including the
possibility of quality improvement, distribution changes and nutritional enhancement.
Only then can converters decide how advantageous it would be to include active
packaging in their product mix.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Innovations in flexible materials
Barrier films Current barrier packaging plastics are good, but there are a number of problems that
restrict their use or hinder their growth in many applications. These include:
High cost almost always higher than the cost of a simple monolayer plastic
package of, for example, LDPE or LLDPE.
Susceptibility to contamination or degradation, especially by moisture. EVOH is the
best example of this problem, since its hydroxyl groups give it good barrier qualities
but also make it susceptible to hydrolysis. As a result, EVOH can only be used as an
inner layer in a multilayer structure (MLS).
Disposal or recycling problems. Most MLSs, because they contain more than one type
of plastic, cannot easily be commingled and recycled with, for example, HDPE or PET.
Challenges from competing materials, some as old as glass, others new, such as
silicon-oxide glass coatings, which can provide a superior barrier.
Barrier packaging is taking on increased importance each year as both producers and
customers seek longer shelf lives, better product integrity, flavour, potency, etc.
Developments over the past few years have seen the introduction of more sophisticated
multilayer barrier packaging structures to solve the most difficult barrier packaging
problems economically. In the early 1990s, four basic barrier materials were developed:
PVdC, nylon, EVOH and metallised films. But consumer demand for foods with a longer
shelf life, higher quality, and excellent flavour and freshness retention has led to these
more sophisticated MLSs, which are often thinner than their less-efficient predecessors.
This is because there is a greater choice of barriers and structural layers in the MLS.
The types of barrier resins now available include EVOH, PCTFE fluoropolymer, nitrile
(AN-MA) copolymers, nylons, thermoplastic polyesters, PVdC, tie-layer resins and vapour-
permeable films. Of the three major application groups food, chemical and industrial
products, and healthcare products packaging food is by far the largest segment.
The use of vapour-permeable or selective barrier films that allow a relatively high
transfer of gases is important in food packaging. These are so-called breathable films
such as PVC for meat packaging and DuPonts TyvekR brand of spun-bonded polyolefin,
and CAP or MAP permeable films for food packaging.
A barrier resin has the following permeability characteristics:
Oxygen: a resin with permeability to oxygen (measured as oxygen transmission rate or
OTR) of less than 2ml/mil thickness/100in
)/24-hour day at one
atmosphere pressure. Standard metallised PET films have an OTR of about 0.3 or
lower. Any material with an OTR below 0.1 is usually considered to be a high-barrier
material; these include PVdC and EVOH. Others are called moderate barriers.
Water (moisture) vapour: a resin with a WVTR of less than 0.10mg/day. Very low
barrier films have a WVTR greater than 0.10, low-barrier WVTRs are 0.06 to 0.1,
intermediate barrier 0.03 to 0.06, and high-barrier films have WVTR values of 0.03 or
lower. The best current moisture-barrier film, PTCFE, has WVTR values lower than 0.03
for most structures and it is the only true high moisture-barrier film resin.
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Innovations in flexible materials
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However, gas permeability and other barrier properties can shift as a result of a number of
variables. These include ambient conditions (particularly temperature and humidity), exact
grade of barrier plastic, particular packaging structure (including other materials, tie
layers, adhesives, etc.), processing conditions and operations performed by the processor
or end user in, for example, retort or hot-fill packaging.
Intelligent packaging Intelligent polymers are one of a number of novel smart materials. They combine sensors,
actuators, information processing and energy storage/conversion functions into the one
material or composite material system. The smart material is capable of detecting a
change in its environment (e.g. the onset of corrosion) and actuates an appropriate
response (e.g. releases a corrosion inhibitor) autonomously and becomes self-powered.
There are a number of polymers that handle one or more of these functions and work
is taking place to develop truly integrated intelligent polymer systems.
Intelligent plastics The discovery in the 1970s that certain polymers are electrically conductive is leading
for packaging to practical applications in smart packaging. Research is underway at various locations
into improving these polymers and extending their range of applications.
Plastic memory circuits, for example, are found to be suitable for food packaging in
which integrated circuits made of silicon would be too expensive. The memory circuits can
carry information to help logistics, for instance.
Another range of applications is taking advantage of the light-emitting property of
conductive polymers. Finnish researchers at VTT Electronics have developed a processing
technology by which a thin, flexible polymer film can be made to produce light and
attached to products. This property can be used to produce signal lights or
advertisements, for instance.
The use of conductive polymers in a variety of products is in the first stages
worldwide. Displays based on light-producing polymers (LEDs), which compete with liquid
crystal displays (LCDs), have been developed by a couple of international companies.
In the UK, Disperse Technologies has been contracted by the Engineering and
Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to undertake new research into applying its
novel thin film encapsulation (TFE) technology in the packaging and printing industries.
The award is running for two years from 1 March 2002.
Antimicrobial film Combining antimicrobials with packaging films to control the growth of microorganisms
in foods could have a significant impact on shelf-life extension and food safety.
However, antimicrobial agents incorporated into plastic film must have several
important properties: they must be safe and approved by the authorities as either a
substance or a food additive; they should not be deactivated by ingredients in the food;
they should not impart any changes in the sensory characteristics of the food; they should
have controlled migration with activity at low concentrations; and they need to be
thermostable for extrusion if incorporated into a plastic.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Innovations in flexible materials
Many classes of antimicrobial compounds have been evaluated in film structures,
including organic acids and esters, enzymes, bacteriocins, plant-derived compounds and
essential oils from spices and herbs, lipids, and miscellaneous compounds, such as liquid-
smoke extracts, ethanol, triclosan, silver zeolites, and chlorine dioxide. Results from these
efforts show that antimicrobial packaging is an extremely challenging technology in terms
of efficacy, the level of antimicrobial activity needed and the mode of delivery. Ultimately,
one must weigh the benefits of releasing the antimicrobial from a film against adding it
directly to the food product.
Researchers into active packaging are also looking at the development of sterile films
capable of producing an antimicrobial effect for food and drinks. The first basic approach
to antimicrobial packaging consists of binding a reactant to the surface of the packs with
the aid of a molecular structure that is large enough to maintain the microbial activity on
the cell walls even if trapped in the plastic. The second approach involves the release of
agents into the food or drink or the localised removal of an essential nutritional
ingredient for the growth of the microbes.
Some of the latest developments include:
Mitsubishis antimicrobial film this technology is based on the integration of
particles of zeolite into the surface of laminates that come into contact with food.
Maxwell Chase Technologies this new technology is already on the market in the
US under the name Fresh-R-Pax. It promises to help protect consumers from e.coli and
salmonella, and is able to remove microorganisms from food (especially fresh-cut
The University of Kyungnam, Korea, has conducted a study using films containing
naturally occurring antimicrobial compounds derived from grapefruit seeds, which
perform better than LDPE films used to pack lettuce and beansprouts. The films used,
which contained 1% grapefruit seed extract, have been found to have particularly
good inhibition effects on e.coli and staphylococcus aureus.
Antimicrobial packaging Packaging materials can possess antimicrobial activity when subjected to radiation
films methods. These may include the use of radioactive material, UV light or laser-
excited materials.
The list of antimicrobial agents that have been incorporated into packaging
materials includes: propionic acid, peroxide, ozone, chlorine oxide, eugenol,
cinnamaldehyde, allyl isothiocyanate, iysozyme, nisin and EDTA. Sorbic acid and
potassium sorbate have been incorporated into a variety of food packaging materials
to improve product shelf life. Fungicides and antibiotics have been added to food
packaging films to delay mould growth.
Other antimicrobial film developments In the US, B.A.G. Corp. and its fabric
supplier BP are developing an antimicrobial Super Sack container. B.A.G. Corp. will offer
FIBCs (flexible intermediate bulk containers) constructed of PP fabric containing a
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Innovations in flexible materials
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proprietary silver-based additive. This inorganic additive is Federal Drug Agency (FDA)
approved for indirect food contact and remains effective for multiple trips. The fabric is
also registered with the EPA, which has authorised the antimicrobial for use as a
preservative to protect fabric plastics.
The silver-based antimicrobial compound does not affect the packaged products
taste, odour or appearance in any way. Silver has a long history as an effective inhibitor of
bacterial growth. People have used silver for centuries to prevent infections and to line
vessels intended for long-term water storage. Because silver molecules are inorganic,
bacteria cannot develop resistance to it. Silver Sentinel antimicrobial PE liners and film are
also being researched. Products in development stages include those for indirect food
contact for the food industry and film for non-food related applications, such as the
construction industry. The potential use of both the Silver Sentinel Super Sack container
and liner together would make a complete antimicrobial bulk package.
New enzymes Dr Joseph Hotchkiss at Cornell University has developed an enzyme in a
film material used to reduce the bitterness in citrus juice. Using naringanase, an enzyme-
derived fungus, the material was incorporated into the film liner of a juice carton. Since
the bitterness in grapefruits is primarily due to a common plant compound that has sugar
molecules attached to it, the enzyme clips off those sugar molecules, thus making the
juice taste sweeter.
Hotchkiss is also currently working with an enzyme called iysozyme, which is most
commonly found in a hens egg white. Iysozyme also occurs in human saliva and tears,
and is a fairly common antibacterial enzyme. The material has been successfully
incorporated into a film.
Other possible concepts include using a cholesterol-reducing enzyme in a packaging
film to reduce the cholesterol content of milk or dusting the inner surface of a film with
an antimicrobial powder spray.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Innovations in flexible materials
Flexible-based retail units
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Flexible packaging has made significant strides because it satisfies consumer demand for
attractive, innovative and user-friendly packaged produce. The variety of pack types and
end uses is increasing and flexible packaging is making significant inroads into all aspects
of packaging, particularly food and drink. Manufacturing processes are becoming more
cost effective and efficient and a number of next-generation technologies are showing
promise. This suggests that new flexible packaging applications will increasingly feature
in packaging in the years ahead.
Pouches The flexible pouch is showing real promise as a packaging solution for a range of
products from food and drinks to pet food (see Figure 5.1). An indication of the expected
growth in consumption of stand-up pouches (SUPs) in the three major markets of North
America, Europe and Japan can be gleaned from industry forecasts. These suggest that in
the six-year period from 2000 to 2006 the market share of pouches will almost double.
Europe is expected to see consumption increase from 57 billion pouches in 2000 to
1012 billion pouches in 2006; Japan will experience a jump from 4 to 6 billion SUPs; and
in the US consumption of flexible pouches with active-oxygen traps is already estimated
at 1 billion units.
In the member states of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) the
US, Canada and Mexico consumption is expected to grow from 4.8 to 12 billion pouches
over the same five-year period.
Beverages have already consumed 3.5 billion SUPs a year since 2000 in the NAFTA
FIGURE 5.1 Structure of the flexible spout pouch
Source: Pira International Ltd
Mouth for filling
Flexible spout
territory. By 2006, this figure is expected to double. Dry animal feed accounts for 300
million units and is expected to increase to 800 million by 2006. Wet feed is expected to
rise from 200 million to 2 billion, snacks from 300 million to 700 million, deep-freeze
pouches from 100 million to 500 million, and dry products and sanitary articles in SUPs
from, in each case, 100 million pieces to 300 million units (see Figure 5.2).
Around the world, major players are constantly endeavouring to improve the performance
of SUPs. Major flexible-pouch specialists have already committed a great deal to this
quest. The market capitalisation of the ten largest manufacturers, most of which are US
companies, is somewhere in the region of $14.5 billion (15.2 billion).
The ten leading European companies, which are also active worldwide, have a
capitalisation of around 3.4 billion.
Pouches commercial Single-use or refill pouches for liquids are a recent introduction. They have a combined
examples spout and reclosure. Refill pouches are mostly injection-moulded PP spouts with a screw or
plug cap. Tamper-evident devices, such as those for the plug stopper on a miso soup
pouch, have been introduced in the past year. Many of these pouches are bottom-
gusseted and are therefore self-standing (see Figure 5.3, opposite).
Packaging volume reduction has seen zippered standing pouches replace paper
cartons for non-liquid products. The pouch for Nescaf stick packs of instant coffee
powder is typical.
Refill packs such as pouches for liquid detergents are relatively new in Japan. Most
rely on cutting off one of the top corners of the pouch. Procter & Gamble was the first to
use a pouch designed to refill very narrow diameter bottles without spillage. Welded to
one inner face of the shaped pouring corner section is an injection-moulded short PP
strip. Its 1.5cm width is split into three hinged strips. Once the tip of the corner is cut off,
consumers are shown how to press the strip into a 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.5cm-wide pouring channel
(see Figure 5.4).
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Flexible-based retail units
Page 54 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
FIGURE 5.2 Dual chamber pouch
Source: Pira International Ltd
Easy-peel seal
Main chamber
Mouth for filling
Page 55 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
Spout Pack, by Cow Pack, is a self-sealing pouch for products such as liquid foods,
detergents and shampoo. A decade ago, this US-developed system was a major prize-
winner in Japans annual Good Packaging competition. It promptly disappeared. Now
it is back, but in upmarket form with hanging string attached to meet the needs of cash-
conscious consumers. An example of a resealable pouch and its unique structure are
shown in Figures 5.5 and 5.6 (overleaf).
Since 2002, predominantly new products were being packaged in SUPs, with many
food companies repackaging their existing products. Nabisco decided to go down this
route with its Ritz Snack Mix. This product moved from a typical bag-in-box application to
a stand-up, Doy-style pouch with reclosure. According to Nabisco, sales of the product
more than doubled just by changing the package.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
FIGURE 5.3 Structure of the dispenser pouch
Source: Pira International Ltd
Self-closing spout
Non-return valve
Cut line
FIGURE 5.4 The design of Procter & Gambles refill pack for liquid detergent
Source: Pira International Ltd
Nabisco wanted consumers to perceive the product as more of a hand-to-mouth snack.
The bag-in-box package is perceived as more of a cracker. According to the company, a
package change can influence the perception of products, particularly those positioned
between categories such as the Ritz Snack Mix. The product had an image problem
because it was placed between the cracker and snack categories.
The Ritz Snack Mix is packaged in a metallised oriented polypropylene film (metOPP).
The packaging, with its sharp metallic graphics, is louder than most Nabisco products as it
was designed to attract teenage consumers.
There are few products consumers will not accept in flexible packaging but, according
to Nabisco, there are some products consumers are less likely to accept in a flexible pouch
milk, for example.
However, the market for pouches for liquid products like sauces is growing.
Reclosable pouches UK-based Parkside Flexible has installed a US-made PDI machine
for stand-up and flat formats. Installed at Parksides Stoke plant, the machine can make
several types of pouches, including reclosable zipper and hanger punch applications, for
a wide range of end-use markets.
The plant will cater to the pouched soup market, along with pet-food sauces, food
mixes and a number of other products. A popular option for the company could be the
production of large reclosable zipper bags for multipacks of snacks. The usual bags split
and spill the smaller packs, leaving them difficult to store until needed.
Parkside is set to add a pouch sports cap unit to the PDI machine and is investigating
the benefits of flexo-printed pouches after adding a second Novoflex machine to enhance
its digital flexo process and offer gravure standard flexographic print.
The company believes that plants that fill more than 5 million units a year will
probably find in-house pouch making from printed reels the best option. But for less than
5 million units, they will seek to source outside. Milk, oil and some ready-to-eat
convenience foods offer growth opportunities for pouches.
Reclosability is the number one convenience consumers want, especially in larger
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
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FIGURE 5.5 A resealable pouchs unique structure gives easy peel and reclosure
Source: Pira International Ltd
Page 57 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
package sizes. An example of a resealable structure is shown in Figure 5.6. The fear is
that a closure device, such as a zipper, could hinder consumption rates so it is important
they are easy to open and close. Zippers are well known, simple to operate and most
often the closure device of choice. An example of an alternative adhesive closure is shown
in Figure 5.7).
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
FIGURE 5.6 Unique structure of a resealable pouch
Source: Pira International Ltd
PETP 36 microns
Adhesive (special)
PE 40 microns
Bottom web (from inside)
Top web (from outside)
FIGURE 5.7 An alternative adhesive closure
Source: Pira International Ltd
Fracture of special adhesive
Kraft cheese in a slider zip pouch Pechiney Plastic Packaging, Inc. won a Flexible
Packaging Association (FPA) 2001 award for its packaging innovation, which features a
shredded cheese pouch. Further improvements include a new slider package with laser
scored film, which replaces the conventional shredded cheese packaging with a header
strip or tear-tape and a conventional press-to-close zipper. The new package offers
consumers three important advantages: it is easier to open; easier to reseal; and provides
greater security due to its tamper-evident features.
Pechiney incorporates the laser score into the film during manufacturing to deliver
a built-in, easy-to-pop-off benefit without the risk of premature stress cracking along the
line of weakness. Employing a slider clip system from Minigrip/ZipPak integrated into
a Pacmac V form/fill/seal (FFS) machine, this package features a zipper body that is
enclosed in a shrouded header for tamper evidence. A unique and attention-grabbing
punch-out around the red slider gives consumers easy access to the slider, but prevents
it from moving freely back and forth. When the slider is opened, a peel seal incorporated
into the zipper flange is revealed, which provides a hermetic seal.
Tuna in pouches The first pouch-packed tuna was launched in UK shops in mid-2001 by
Princes Foods. The UK canned tuna market is worth some 170 million (111.8 million) a
year. The 85g single-serve portion is aimed at consumers who would typically buy Princes
113g canned product. Ready to Go Tuna has been given an easy-to-open tear-top and is
ideal for sandwich and salad making, or eating straight from the pack.
The pouch itself is printed and converted in Japan by Fujimori Sango using a
laminate construction of PET, ink, PA, aluminium and cast PP, and six-colour gravure print.
The producer and packer is B&M in Thailand, where local company LLH Printing and
Packaging manufactures the display carton. This is made of microflute board with a fluted
insert to allow the pouches to stand upright.
Artwork was generated by Tayburn Brands, Edinburgh, with repro by The Box Room
in Tayburn.
Dairy Crest milk pouch trial Dairy Crest is currently trialling a milk pouch system at
selected doorstep delivery depots and supermarkets in the UK. The company says that
although it is too early to talk of the death of glass milk bottles for doorstep delivery,
increasing environmental awareness among consumers means the time is right to
introduce a new form of green packaging.
The two-pint see-through bag invites less packaging, less waste and less landfill,
according to Dairy Crest. The three-layer coextruded bag is being made by Glopak,
Canada, where Dairy Crest says the technology was pioneered more than 30 years ago.
Milk is sold in 2 x 2 pint packs, which can be frozen. After opening the bag is placed
in a plastic jug specially sold for the purpose a more attractive proposition for the
breakfast table, suggests Dairy Crest.
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Flexible-based retail units
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The pouch-and-jug concept mimics a system that other countries, including India and,
most recently, Switzerland, have already adopted.
Sterile medical packs Sterile medical packaging demand in the US is projected to
grow by 5.4% a year to $1.7 billion (1.8 billion) in 2005, stimulated by an ageing
population, increasingly stringent infection-control standards and the convenience of
sterile packaging configurations. Pouches are expected to be a major beneficiary,
according to a study by US-based industrial market research firm Freedonia Group.
Pouch demand is expected to increase by 5.7% a year to more than $390 million in
2005, driven by the products versatility and low price compared with trays. Bags will
exhibit average growth over the same period. Pouches and bags offer the best
combination of cost and quality, says the report.
The fastest growing market for sterile packaging will be medical supplies and devices,
as disposables continue to gain market share over reusables.
Low- and high-density PE demand will present opportunities based on their
widespread use in bags and pouches. The strength of bags and pouches has been
enhanced by using multilayer film structures incorporating nylons, metallocenes and other
combinations. Nylon is increasingly used in the packaging of large, bulky procedural kits
and devices because of its toughness and abrasion and puncture resistance.
Lidding Lidding is an important growth area for a wide variety of flexible packaged products and
barrier lidding in particular is finding new applications in the packaging of foods. Barrier
layered PET/PE and OPP/PE films are the best solutions for sealing a wide range of MAP
(modified atmosphere) and CAP (controlled air) packaged foods for extended shelf life.
Barrier-layered PET/PE and OPP/PE lidding films give great mechanical protection for
packaged food products and guarantee:
Stable gas mixture composition
Stable taste and appearance
No weight loss of the packaged food product
Stable food quality.
Where a clear view through the lid is called for, anti-fog treatment eliminates vaporisation
from the top web and the food product, so enhancing its shelf appearance. Where
consumer ease of opening is required, easy peel top lids are one option; a reclosable
lidding solution is currently under development.
Lidding films can be used in combination with oxygen-scavenging systems to increase
shelf life and give retailers more sales time between receipt of the product and its expiry
date. This helps reduce spoilage-related expenses and also allows the manufacturer to
place the fresh food product in retail channels where sales are slower or more variable.
Most analysts predict growth of oxygen-scavenger packaging products in the US and
Europe will rise significantly in the years ahead and this will benefit trays and lidding for
ready meals and composite cans.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
Dupont Teijin Films has developed two films for packaging convenience foods, including
what is believed to be the worlds first opaque heat-sealable polyester film.
Mylar OL polyester film is resilient enough for seal strength, peelability and freezer-to-
oven convenience, claims DuPont, making it ideal for oven-ready meal tray lidding, salads
and fresh produce packaging.
This biaxially-oriented, self-venting polyester film can be used as a single web or as
part of a laminate, such as FFP Packagings Esterpeel SR, a triple laminate film which
replaces both sleeve and carton.
Meanwhile, Mylar WOL has all the benefits of Mylar OL but is the first film of its kind
to have a brilliant white appearance without the need for overprinting, claims DuPont.
This is hoped to overcome the problem of the unappetising appearance of chilled
convenience foods.
Another area to benefit from lidding is the market for self-heating coffee in Europe.
Supermarkets in Italy are selling more and more little coffee machines and Nescaf has
recently launched a consumer trial for its Hot When You Want It canned coffee.
Lawson Mardon Singen, the German company involved in developing Caldo Caldos
hot cup in Italy, says rising demand has created a sales hit from a niche product that was
previously only sold at sports venues and motorway rest areas.
The idea was developed for Chiari & Forti, the Italian food and beverage company, by
Nuova Bit, Chiaris manufacturing subsidiary, which called on Lawson Mardon to supply
the aluminium components of an otherwise all-plastic packaging format.
Lawson Mardon supplies the 60-micron aluminium heat-sealed lidding and the inner
210-micron lacquered aluminium strip cup that holds the beverage.
Chiari & Forti has also launched self-cooling Fredo Fredo, which reverses the
technology and gives Italians the chilled coffee they enjoy drinking in summer.
New lidding films from companies such as Cryovac are now being used for pasta
and dairy products. Nestls Buitoni brand fresh pasta uses Cryovacs OS films
effectively to remove residual oxygen and increase shelf life without altering the food
products appearance or taste. OS films contain a proprietary polymer component that is
included as a layer of the lidding material. Since the scavenger is part of the film, it is
invisible to the naked eye and does not alter the clear view of the fresh pasta product.
Cryovac OS films can be surface printed or trap printed depending on the application.
Cryovac worked closely with Nestl to design a lidding material that maintains the
Buitoni pasta brand image and existing look of the package, but also extends the
products shelf life.
The Cryovac OS films lidding material used by Nestl removes residual oxygen from
the MAP packaging and achieves in-pack oxygen levels of less than one-tenth of 1%. By
reducing the level of oxygen present, the active-scavenging process increases the shelf life
of the Buitonis refrigerated pasta by 50%. Through a patented process, the oxygen
scavenger is activated on demand, independent of the product in the package, by a UV
light triggering process delivered by the Cryovac Model 4100 system.
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Flexible-based retail units
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Metallised film can be used for lidding applications in the pharmaceutical sector. These
include the blister lidding supplied by companies such as Reynolds. These lidding
materials can be of a paper/film/foil structure that will not tear. Peelable metallised film
materials with high-barrier protection have also been introduced as an alternative blister
backing material.
There is continuing strong demand for paper-based lidding materials and some are
said to possess far superior properties to traditional lids. These include WalkiLids new
high-gloss printing paper and a multilayer polymer lidding with potential applications in
the packaging of dairy products, including yoghurt, ice cream and cottage cheese, and
other types of food such as jams, candies and syrup.
Bags The production of CPP or PE LDPE bags for textiles, foodstuff and hygiene products is
a significant flexible packaging sector. PP and PE bags have a number of uses in the
packaging of a wide variety of items, especially food.
An independent study conducted by Plastics Research Associates (PRA) concludes
that clear, square-bottom plastic bag technology is ready to penetrate the quick-service
restaurant (QSR) take-out bag market. According to the study, the stand-up plastic bag
will displace the paper take-out bag in this sector, capturing almost 60% of the market
by 2006.
Based on processors consumption of plastic packaging (by product) in western
Europe, sacks and bags already account for some 20% in terms of tonnage. PE dominates,
accounting for 56% by weight of all the plastic packaging produced. Five other plastics
PP, PVC, PS, EPS and PET account for the remaining 44%. Some 70% of LLDPE is used
in film for food and carrier bags.
The plastic bags used in many applications outside of food tend not to be made from
a mono-material. Instead, polymer multilayers are used to make bags such as PP big bags
with PE liners, blood/fluid bags and detergent refill packs. Plastics are normally combined
with other materials in the manufacture of bag-in-box packages.
Innovations continue apace in the case of plastic bags for food, particularly frozen
foods. A number of companies have introduced reclosable PE bags for food packaging.
One example of the reclosable PE bag used to package frozen vegetables has a sealed
hole placed in the top corner of the pack at the time of filling. The consumer can reclose
the bag by pushing the opposite top corner of the pack into the hole and pulling the
excess plastic through.
Other applications for reclosable PE bags include the packaging of ready-to-eat foods,
milk powder, fresh foods, fruits, vegetables, groceries, biscuits, pizzas, meat and seafood.
The bag is made from 100% food-grade virgin material. Features of the bag include:
hygienic with tamper-evident packaging; brilliant clarity; superior strength and toughness;
freezable; increases the shelf-life of perishables; and suitable for oily substances.
Vacuum shrink bags are increasingly seen as the perfect packaging medium for many
perishable food products, such as prime meat, smoked and processed meats, and cheese.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
These tough, multilayered bags offer excellent shrink properties, safe seals, high
mechanical resistance and good clarity.
Some vacuum shrink bags have high-barrier properties while others provide controlled
permeability rates. Value-added features, such as easy-opening and reclosing systems, are
also available from some manufacturers.
Heat-treatable shrink bags and casings are designed for vacuum cooking and
pasteurisation or cook-in/ship-in applications of processed meat and poultry products.
They significantly improve product quality, prolong shelf life and increase product yields.
Bag-in-box packaging Originally developed by German company Scholle nearly half a century ago as a
disposable container for sulphuric acid battery electrolyte, this unique packaging system
comprises a flexible spouted bag held inside and supported by a rigid outside container.
Bag-in-box packaging offers substantial benefits over traditional rigid containers such
as bottles, cans, pails, drums or tanks. Its benefits include:
Lower cost versus reusable rigid containers.
Disposable, so it eliminates cleaning and transportation costs associated with
returnable packages.
Packaging material source reduction: typically requires 20% of the weight of glass
equivalents and 50% of the weight of #10 can equivalents.
Collapsible, so empty bags take up less warehouse, truck and landfill space than
rigid containers.
Cleaner and safer to use because the product is sealed in until the bag is emptied.
Protects the product better through the use of high-barrier materials.
Connects quickly and easily to a variety of dispensing systems.
Bag-in-box technology is used in a range of food, beverage and non-food applications.
Stick packs Demand for stick packs in recent years has been growing in response to rising demand
from food companies for stick packs of sauces, mayonnaise and vinegar, in addition to the
more usual sugar, creamer and instant coffee. Companies are increasingly turning to stick
packaging for liquids as well as powders having discovered that they can make material
savings of up to 45% compared with traditional four-side-seal sachets. This has
established stick packs as the optimum single-serve pack for powders.
In 2001, Kraft Foods introduced Kenco Rapport coffee in stick packs in an attempt to
appeal to what the company describes as people on the go. The launch was backed by a
large-scale sampling exercise of 3.25 million households and a poster campaign.
The packs, which resemble an oversized cigarette packet, each contain 20 sticks of
individual instant Kenco Rapport coffee and are aimed at the younger consumer market.
The stick packs have proved popular in France where they were launched in 1996.
Kraft produces a million sticks a week at its Banbury plant on a high-speed stick-
packing machine. The product now competes with the other high-profile coffee product,
Nescaf stick packs from Nestl.
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Kenco Rapports target market is 1634 year olds. The company believes that it has
achieved great success in reaching younger consumers. More than 5 million was spent
on advertising in 2001 and a third advertising campaign is underway.
This was the first time stick technology mainly used to dispense sugar was used
to sell retail coffee. The potential for single-serve sticks in the coffee sector has been
compared to the arrival of new types of packaging in the soft drinks market.
The advantages of stick packaging are not only appreciated by food companies. There
are clear indications that pharmaceutical and personal care packagers are beginning to
recognise the many advantages of the stick pack. These include: superior quality liquid
seals, ease of use and end-user friendly shape, coupled with excellent film savings over
conventional pouches.
Reclosable devices Reclosable technologies are an emerging issue in the flexible packaging industry. There
has been a marked increase in customer demand for reclosable products and growth is
ramping up at a very high rate. The reason is that as consumers demand more user-
convenient products they are increasingly unwilling to switch from one container to
another during the lifetime of the product, preferring instead to go straight from first
dispenser through to disposal.
There a number of reclosable flexible packaging devices on the market although
EasyPack from Amcor Flexibles Europe is perhaps one of the better known. An illustration
of the EasyPack concept is shown in Figure 5.8. In 2002, the Finnish dairy Valio Oy
Vantaa chose the EasyPack system to keep its grated cheese fresh. EasyPack is a high-
barrier laminated pouch with an innovative resealing system developed by Danisco which,
together with Ackerlund & Rausing, was acquired by Amcor in June 2001. The high-barrier
three-ply laminate structure features an overlap that peels away easily and is reclosed by
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
FIGURE 5.8 The concept behind Amcor Flexibles Europes EasyPack system
Source: Pira International Ltd
Seal inside/inside
Peel outside/inside
Version: horizontal
means of an adhesive strip. The pack is reverse printed in eight-colour gravure on a
Windmller & Holscher press.
Other examples include multiple reclosing, self-adhesive sticker systems. One such
system is Pak-Seal, which is available from Di-EL Ltd. This patented technology is
applicable to flexible packaging (laminate, multilayer, polyetilane, etc.) in the food,
tobacco and other industries.
The main advantages of the system are that:
The customer cannot peel off the reclosing sticker although the bag can be opened
and closed throughout the life expectancy of the product.
The sticker size does not coincide with any other printed area on the bag and is
designed to fit into the sealing seam or any other desired location.
The sticker will not adhere to any other packing in the same box it is fully self
contained and includes the reading instructions for its use.
Reclosable flexible packaging is providing a much needed solution to on-the-go
convenience and is now finding its way into multipacks. In 2001, a multipack pouch for
Armour Big Ones meat snacks won an FPA award for its reclosable packaging. (Of the
seven winners in the Packaging Excellence category of the FPAs 2001 Packaging
Achievement Awards, no less than four had zipper reclosure features. Two are applied
inline by FFS systems and two arrive on pre-made pouches.)
Previously, meat snacks were available only in non-reclosable, single-serve wrappers or
in multipacks packed in high-barrier spiral-wound canisters.
The packages are designed for consumers who put a premium on portability. They are
made from an ultra high-barrier 6-mil structure that contains nearly every popular barrier
material except foil, necessary to achieve the high quality and long shelf life. From the
outside-in, the structure consists of reverse-printed, biaxially-oriented nylon coated with
PVdC. American National Can converts and flexo prints the film in seven and eight
colours depending on variety. Rollstock is shipped to Kapak for application of the zipper
and forming of the film into pre-made pouches. Zippers are supplied by Minigrip/ZipPak.
Although reclosable zippers are common in many flexible packaging systems, making
the initial tear can often be difficult. Often packages will not tear open, or the tear will
simply run in the wrong direction. One solution to this is laser scoring. Laser processing
delivers a well-focused laser beam to vaporise a narrow trough on the film, resulting in a
line of weakness along the score, which yields a directional tear. The scoring depth can be
precise, often leaving the barrier layer intact yet maintaining package strength. A laser-
scored tear line combined with reclosable packaging answers consumer demand for
convenience, the producers need to preserve food quality and the converters requirement
for package integrity. The process is repeatable, clean, fast and easy to adjust for a variety
of materials.
As an alternative to the traditional zipper reclosure, in 2001 SIG Pack introduced Easy
Snap, a new type of reclosable flexible package. Unlike a zipper reclosure, Easy Snap
consists of two rigid tracks that span the width of the bag. The tracks, which snap shut
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Flexible-based retail units
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when pressed together at any point, eliminate the need to run ones fingers across the
width of the bag, as is required on a zipper package.
According to SIG Pack, Easy Snap helps to maintain product freshness and reduce
infestation. SIGs Easy Snap module can be retrofitted onto existing vertical FFS machines.
Flexible cans Although much of the interest in stand-up pouches stems from their potential uses in
chilled cabinet applications, such as for fresh soups, another trend has been the
development of stand-up pouches for products with longer shelf lives. The characteristics
of these new stand-up pouches have led some in the industry to dub them flexible cans.
They present new branding opportunities for fillers and at the same time are retortable, in
the same way as cans, and often stackable or reclosable. They are also beginning to take
market share from glass and, in particular, metal packaging materials.
Perhaps one of the most significant applications of the stand-up pouch in the context
of long shelf life products has been the packaging of fish, especially tuna. Retort pouches
for tuna fish are expected to drive significant growth in the short- to medium-term. While
these heat-sterilisable flexible packages are more expensive than canned tuna, they
significantly increase product quality by reducing cooking time and the amount of water
involved. Pet foods and soups are also growing markets for flexible cans.
Pechiney Soplaril Flexible Europe is one of the leading suppliers of stand-up pouches
in Europe. Launched at Interpack 2002, the companys retortable flexible can is promoted
as an alternative to the traditional can and has a wide range of end-uses. These include:
soups and sauces, cooked vegetables and meals, seafood, pet foods and other products.
Flexible cans offer the following advantages:
They preserve flavour and texture due to faster retort times and the use of high-
barrier materials;
They have greener appeal due to their small size and weight;
Their thinner walls permit faster, more energy-efficient sterilisation;
There is more on-pack space for communication of the brand image;
Their practicality ease-of-opening, reclosability and microwaveability.
Another example of a flexible can is Amcor Flexibles Europes FlexCan, a six-sided stand-
up pouch developed in association with Rovema Verpackungsmachinen. An illustration of
Amcors FlexCan is shown in Figure 5.9 (overleaf). FlexCan is being marketed as a cost-
effective alternative to traditional cans, jars and bag-in-boxes.
As with many flexible can lines, one of the key advantages FlexCan has over cans is
that it gives fillers additional branding opportunities. Its unique, cuboid shape permits
printing on four sides, without any interruption of the graphics, which can occur with fin
seals, base seals and closing gussets.
The other benefits claimed for FlexCan include:
It can be stood upright on shelves and stacked one on top of the other
Reclosable version can be filled to 80% of its volume; the peelable one to 99%
It retains its shape at all times.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
In February 2002, Amcor Flexibles Europe announced the first commercial application of
the FlexCan by Borges in Spain for the packing of ten varieties of nuts. This was followed
in May by the launch of KP Foods Hula Hoops Shoks in the UK.
Shaped bags Specially shaped bags such as gloves, flower sleeves, round bottom bags and stand-up
bags with reclosable features are increasingly used, particularly in the gift sector.
Cosmetics is another important market for shaped bags.
Todays prestige fragrance and cosmetic packaging has little in common with the
humble cardboard box, and promotional shaped bags are a key marketing device for
cosmetic products. One packaging producer, PAK 2000, the prestige division of paper
producer Asian Pulp and Paper, works with a number of major beauty brands, including
Ralph Lauren, Este Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, LOreal, Shiseido, Cartier and Matrix. The
company produces bags with high visibility, strong brand recognition and low unit cost.
Consolidation within the cosmetics industry has had far-reaching effects on numerous
packaging providers and benefited major players like PAK 2000. These larger corporations
prefer to use suppliers that have the capacity to produce their entire worldwide
programme under one roof.
French luxury packaging specialist Araidena incorporates innovations such as PP,
textiles, non-woven materials and cardboard into its shaped packaging for Hermes and
Thierry Mugler perfumes. Trapezoidal and triangular bags are available in a number of
different colours.
Clarifoil, the specialist producer of cast acetate lamination for printing, packaging
and labelling, produces packaging for the personal care industry and has recently
unveiled a new line of shaped bags for the beauty packaging sector.
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Flexible-based retail units
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FIGURE 5.9 The Amcor FlexCan family
Source: Pira International Ltd
Reclosable Amcor FlexCan
Amcor FlexCan
Peelable Amcor FlexCan
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Sacks Plastic packaging alternatives are destined to displace multiwall bags in many
applications according to a new report by PRA and Industrial Handling Engineers of
Houston. Advances in plastic resins, plastic films and FFS technologies are opening up
new opportunities for plastic shipping sacks to displace multiwall bags in their existing
market strongholds, such as cement and pet foods.
Many of these advances arise from the enhanced performances offered by the resin
families of plastomers, metallocenes and high-molecular weight HDPE. New grades from
resin producers allow film producers to create tougher, faster-sealing and stiffer films. To
the plastic shipping sack industry, these enhancements offer opportunities to downgauge
films for packaging, create higher performance films for new applications and increase
operating rates for bag-making equipment and FFS lines.
Advances are said to be just the tip of the iceberg. For packers currently using
multiwall paper bags for 20- to 60lb (7.522.4kg) sacks in most of their packaging
applications, the switch to using FFS lines or pre-made plastic bags will reduce costs.
The economics of FFS are said by the study to be quite dramatic when compared to
multiwall bag lines. For example, the payback period for replacing an existing multiwall
bag line with an FFS line in one scenario is claimed to be only one year.
PE and PP woven sacks are already being widely used. Demand for paper and board
packaging is forecast to increase by 2% a year, but sustained losses of about 1.9% a year
are expected for paper used in grocery bags and sacks as plastic sacks gain market share.
The modern equivalent of the hessian sack, woven PP sacks are used today in a wide
range of commercial operations. They offer significant advantages over polythene and
paper sacks in terms of both strength and durability, and their cost advantage when
compared with hessian means that the PP sack market mainly the agricultural,
engineering, postal, document destruction and many other industrial sectors is healthy.
PE sacks FFS PE sacks offer substantial benefits for customers packing products on high-volume,
high-speed, fully automated equipment without active supervision. FFS is useful for the
packaging of: chemicals, dried pet food, mineral sands and plastic resins.
FFS is claimed to offer the following benefits:
Excellent protection against moisture sources and contaminants;
High pallet load stability with minimal load stabilisation methods required;
Highly efficient pallet loads which assist in maximising warehouse utilisation;
Superior film strength properties consistently meet the demanding requirements
of manual handling;
It is completely recyclable.
Heavy duty PE sacks Heavy duty sacks are designed to meet the demanding requirements of manual handling
and automated processes. These sacks are designed with enhanced impact and tear
resistance properties to cover a wide range of end-use applications. They are useful for:
chemicals, dried pet food, mineral sands and plastic resins.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
Heavy duty sacks are claimed to offer the following benefits:
Excellent protection against moisture sources and contaminants.
A transparent anti-skid lacquer printed on the film surface enhances the low-slip
characteristics providing added stability for the sack when palletised and transported.
Superior print surface when compared with paper and woven PP providing excellent
receptiveness for printed images to enhance product trademarks and company logos.
They are completely recyclable.
Multipacks Changing consumer lifestyles are contributing to the growth of multipacks for ready-to-eat
foods and snacks. Consumers are living busier lives and therefore going increasingly for
convenience products; snacking and out-of-home eating is on the increase, formal meal
times are declining and meal substitutes are becoming commonplace. All these changes
contribute to the steady growth in this market.
A recent initiative is the four-pack multipack of deli hams retailed by Sainsburys.
Premium honey-cured and smoked ham is filled into four adjacent perforated formings.
The 300g packs may be opened individually, preventing the remaining cooked meat
drying out and so encouraging larger pack purchases.
Confectionery packaging has also followed these trends resulting in the increased use
of opaque multipacks at grocery outlets. In the confectionery market, strip confectionery
multipacks, in which each strip contains a different product, are now becoming popular.
Multipacks are also increasingly being used in the nutraceutical market. As recently as ten
years ago, nutraceutical packaging usually consisted of nothing more than a plain label
glued onto a plain bottle. Now some nutritional supplement manufacturers are moving to
multipacks, blister packs and pouches, which, in addition to being more secure, can help
those who take several supplements every day organise their regimen. An example of a
blister pack is shown in Figure 5.10 (opposite).
Using multipacks also makes sense for the industry, because many consumers take a
few vitamins or supplements several times a day. Instead of carrying six different bottles
around, you can have one pouch containing multiple vitamins or supplements.
Although this type of packaging is increasingly popular in Europe and Japan, in the
US bottles remain the dominant packaging format. The move toward blisters by ethical
pharmaceutical companies is normally one of compliance. Nutraceuticals are less
encumbered by FDA regulations.
Another key market for multipacks is beverages. Sales of this type of packaging are
showing steady growth as supermarket sales of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks take-
off. However, sales tend to peak on special occasions. For example, multipack drinks sales
soared during the Millennium celebrations and again during World Cup 2002.
According to analysts, the competitive price of multipacks of canned beer in grocers
has led to a substantial increase in sales compared to single drink sales.
Multipack promotions have helped to increase sales of all drinks types, but in
particular designer drinks. One of the key reasons multipacks have won market share for
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Flexible-based retail units
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canned beer and carbonated soft drinks is because they are sold at competitive prices.
The biscuit market is one of the most diversified and fragmented in the fast-moving
consumer goods (FMCG) arena and is a major user of multipacks. Many types of
packaging materials are used for biscuits tin-boxes, paper cartons, PVC, PE, cast PP, etc.
but the three predominant materials are oriented PP (OPP), paper and carton.
OPP is the fastest-growing packaging material. Organic growth, substitution and
innovations are driving growth to around 46% a year. The biggest markets for biscuits
are the US, the UK, Japan, Germany and France, where snacking has become much more
common in recent years.
Companies such as Danone, United Biscuits, Bahlsen, Nabisco, Barilla and Griesson
have responded by marketing more single-serve packages or multipacks with single-serve
packages. Multipacks with individually packed biscuits as well as stand-up pouches made
of OPP are becoming increasingly popular.
Multipacks are also gaining in popularity in the US and Europe for the packaging of
dairy drinks such as liquid yoghurts. In France, Yoplait first introduced a multipack for
drinking yoghurt and in the US Parmalat has introduced an alternative to traditional
shelf-stable beverages that go into lunch boxes with its aseptic processing and packaging
technology. The company teamed up with Sesame Workshop/Columbia Tristar Television
Distribution to license the use of Dragon Tales and its logo on half-pint milk boxes.
The milk boxes are sold in three-packs, just like juice boxes, and are placed next to
them in grocery stores. Parmalat is exploring the use of larger multipacks for club stores.
Wrapping film Stretch and shrink wrap film is used for the manual and automatic wrapping of product
loads. There are a range of stretch films available to provide cost-effective load protection
and the stability required during storage and transit.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
FIGURE 5.10 Film structures for pharmaceutical blister packs
Source: Pira International Ltd
COC laminate
Aluminium foil
Shrink wrap packaging is a fast, inexpensive way of overwrapping any product in shape-
conforming, crystal-clear, strong plastic wrap. Shrink wrap is presently used to wrap a
wide range of products such as confectionery boxes, videos, giftware, hardware items,
toys and drugs.
There are two distinct steps to shrink wrap packaging: overwrapping the product in
the shrink film and exposing the film to heat to cause it to shrink.
True production shrink wrap packaging is accomplished using an L heat sealer and a
conveyorised shrink tunnel; for lower volume production a single arm bar sealer and a
shrink gun can be used to produce identical results at slower production rates.
When shrink wrap is manufactured basically it is stretched like an elastic band; when
heat is applied the film returns to its original size. Centrefold film is folded in half so that
there are two sheets with a folded edge along the back of the roll. This type is readily
available throughout the world.
Highly-resilient blown machine film is suitable for a wide range of core-brake
machine-wrapping applications, including operations in the paper industry or distribution
sector where film strength and load stability are of paramount importance.
Cast coextruded film has excellent tensile properties ideally suited to core-brake
machine applications in a wide range of market sectors. This film is designed for semi-
automatic turntable machines and possesses high-performance properties and power pre-
stretch capabilities of up to 150%.
Cast coextruded film has stretch ratios of up to 300%. It is ideal for semi- and fully-
automatic machines using a power pre-stretch film delivery system that increases film
economy and improves load stability. For low-volume applications, hand-held film systems
are available from a number of companies.
Shrink sleeves The shrink-sleeve market is growing at a significant rate with some forecasts predicting
growth of up to 20% a year. The range of end-uses is extending from just bottles and jars
into new areas like ready meals, dairy products and oral hygiene, among others. Much of
the growth is driven by the fact that shrink sleeves offer both tamper evidence and
heightened branding through metallised inks or UV printing. Sleeves are even used to
light-weight glass.
In short, shrink sleeves are becoming the answer to many innovative packaging
needs. They can provide 360, scuff-resistant graphics. The inside of the sleeve can also
be printed on to keep print distortion to a minimum. The characteristics of the films used
allow them to shrink, primarily in one direction, when heated, so the sleeve fits the shape
of the product exactly.
The benefits of shrink sleeves include:
Can provide 810 (or more) colours;
360, scuff-resistant graphics;
Custom designed to exact specifications;
Finished reel, cut or preformed;
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Accommodates perforations, tear tabs and tear tape;
A range of promotional or incentive uses multipacks, special offers, banding,
seasonal decorating, proof of purchase, etc.;
Security and tamper-evident seals;
Ideal as primary label.
The shrink-sleeve market is dominated by PVC, which has a 90% market share. However,
for a variety of reasons, including cost, environmental concerns and the introduction of
new and better film types, PVC is facing increased competition. Other significant film
types in this market include PETG, OPP and OPS. Polyolefin films are not used for shrink
sleeves as their shrinkage levels are low. However, they are used in non-shrink sleeve
label applications.
Full-body, shrink-sleeve labels for contoured PET and other containers have for some
time been popular with packagers because they increase retail shelf appeal and boost
brand impact. PVC shrink sleeves were previously considered ideal because their high
recoverable shrinkage permits application to complex contoured and severely tapered
containers with no adverse effect on graphics. But PVC shrink sleeves present recyclability
concerns, especially in Europe.
Separation of container and ink-containing sleeve material by flotation methods is all
but impossible in recycling operations because the specific gravities of PET and PVC are
similar. One company, Ticona GmbH, has addressed the issue by developing cyclic olefin
copolymer (COC) sleeve films with high recoverable shrinkage. Because COC sleeves have
a low density of less than 1, flotation separation from PET containers is achievable.
Blending with PE offers opportunities to reduce costs.
Although the EU has recently adopted a less hostile stance on PVC than it did in the
1990s chiefly in Germany and Scandinavia, which led to a clampdown on the use of
PVC in many end-use sectors OPS has taken market share from PVC. Oriented
polystyrene (OPS) films are now being used for decorative shrink sleeves and tamper-
evident neck seals for drinks bottles. They are also being used as a lidding membrane,
enabling single-material tub and lidding film for easier recycling. Use is growing in areas
where PVC films have traditionally been applied. Some 35% of PVC films are used as an
overwrap for meat with other uses including carton overwrap, confectionery twist-wrap
and medical packaging.
While historically PVC has been the material of choice for shrink labels and tamper-
evident banding, new materials such as amorphous PET, OPS and OPP are creating
vibrant, totally recyclable labels. OPS, the main label substrate in Japan, has recently been
introduced in the US.
Films such as OPP also cost less than PVC films, resulting in an estimated cost saving
of about 30% to the packager. Additional cost savings can be realised in the conversion
process of film to sleeves. One US company claims an overall saving of up to 2 cents per
16oz (498g) container can be achieved by switching to OPP and using the contour
decoration system.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible-based retail units
Label market Shrink-sleeve labelling is identified as the fastest-growing labelling method in Europe,
with growth put at over 20% a year. The major end-uses for shrink-sleeves are beverage
containers and tamper-evident label/seal applications.
European label demand is about 68 billion ft
(6.3 billion m
and heat-shrink labels
constitute about 1.8 billion ft
. The market for shrink-sleeve labels is growing at 15% a year
in coverage terms although the tonnage will grow at a lower rate due to downgauging of
substrates and lower-density films.
The primary market for shrink-sleeves is single-use containers and the major
geographical markets are the UK and France. Emerging markets include Germany, Austria
and a number of Mediterranean countries.
The full-body shrink-sleeve label, a technology that could be classified as a hybrid
label/flexible package, has found a strong niche on contoured bottles. The shrink sleeve
gives marketeers more options than a straight-sided label and significantly enhances
package graphics on the shelf. In addition, aerosol cans and coffee cans, formerly
composed of offset-printed metal now frequently sport wraparound plastic sleeves. This
development is expected to provide significant cost advantages to companies with varied
product lines and reduce inventory costs.
Packaging companies are increasingly relying on dramatic, intriguing packages to
enhance, differentiate and extend brand equity. Colourful shrink-film sleeve labels are
popular on soft drinks and other bottled goods, but the process is expensive.
The sleeve market is traditionally gravure based but flexo sleeves are becoming more
and more popular with manufacturers. However, new technology is enabling
manufacturers to produce gravure standard flexo.
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Flexible-based retail units
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Printing of flexible packaging
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In Europe, digital, flexography, rotogravure and lithography are all used in flexible
packaging. The factors that determine which is used are normally cost and application.
Lithography is ideal for printing short-run, quick turnaround, high-quality flexible
packaged goods. It produces at a quality similar to gravure but can have a much faster
ramp-up time and much cheaper tooling costs.
Digital printing is used where solutions to the difficult marriage between mass
production and mass customisation are required. This changing structure has seen a
tenfold increase in the number of digital presses installed in the past few years.
Rotogravure and flexography, meanwhile, are normally used for long runs that require
fewer graphic changes. Flexible converters using flexo and gravure tend to fulfil the high-
volume orders for long-established product lines. Traditionally, there are cost and quality
differences between gravure and flexo, but these are narrowing somewhat.
Gravure, sometimes called rotogravure, is a traditional process that has been around for
many years. The basic principle is that the image is engraved onto the cylinder or sleeve.
Until recently, the process of producing a printing forme was both costly and time
consuming. However, with the advent of the plastic sleeve the cost of prepress has come
down. Although the original investment cost is still slightly higher than that for flexo, the
cost of producing digitally-engraved printing forme is competitive.
The common perception is that gravure is only for top-quality, long-run work in
packaging. But while top quality remains a feature of gravure, in recent years European
gravure cylinder suppliers have either held or reduced their prices; thus, the process has
become more competitive while retaining its reputation for quality.
This is due to a combination of factors, including significant investment in the latest
technology by gravure cylinder suppliers. New, faster electronic engraving heads provide
FIGURE 6.1 Schematic of a webfed gravure printing unit
Source: Pira International Ltd
Impression roller
Doctor blade
Gravure cylinder
Inking system
Printing units (4+4 colour)
just one of the major process surface improvements of recent times. The latest cylinder
manufacturing facilities are fully automated with robotics replacing the labour-intensive
aspects of the process. Apart from making the whole process of cylinder making much
more automated lead times have also fallen to a couple of days.
Prepress costs are often cited as the reason for choosing flexo over gravure. When
comparing flexo with gravure, costings should include elements such as plate replacement
over the life of the design. Flexo appears to have the edge over gravure if a design is only
printed once, around 5000 metres, but opinion varies from printer to printer on where to
draw the line. Generally, most gravure/flexo printers believe that after the second
production run gravure is more cost effective than flexo. The same set of gravure cylinders
will last for the life of the design and give consistency of production.
Another important consideration is the number of colours required to produce the
design. More often than not, gravure will need fewer colours than flexo, which reduces
costs. Tones and bright, dense solids can be imaged onto the same cylinder with no
need to separate them. Higher press speeds and low wastage are other factors in
gravures favour.
Another advantage of the gravure process is its simplicity. Once the press is up and
running little can go wrong. This is why a number of printers are converting some of their
traditionally flexo-printed work over to gravure.
For added-value work inline operations are well suited to the gravure process. Cold-
seal, PVdC, varnishing, laminating and sheeting can all be done at high speed on press.
A number of new developments are expected in the not too distant future that
should have a huge impact on the gravure process. Laser technology is already available
to engrave gravure cylinders, although not suitable yet for all types of work. The high
speed of cell production will go a long way to making gravure even more competitive.
New polymer technology has produced the so-called plastic gravure cylinder
lightweight enough to be carried in one hand, yet extremely robust. The polymer also
eliminates some of the problems inherent in using steel.
These technologies will take some time to develop and have an impact on the
industry but one new and very important piece of news is that there will soon be a
gravure simulator for packaging on the market.
The future for the gravure packaging industry looks healthy with the traditionally
strong gravure markets of China, Malaysia and Japan continuing to grow. New digital
technology should enhance the gravure process and open up new markets and
opportunities for the process.
The gravure industry is set to unveil a host of new technologies, including the new
lightweight gravure cylinder. Following successful trials, production is underway for both
the European and US markets. The new lightweight cylinder typically weighs 910kg for
a 1m face-length cylinder, lighter than conventional cylinders by a factor of 10.
Several companies are currently marketing the lightweight cylinders, which are
already finding their way into printing plants. One of the successes is ROTAG (cylinders) of
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Printing of flexible packaging
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the US, which has processed 12,000 cylinders to date. A joint venture between Roller
Technology, Keating Gravure and Libra Gravure is working on enhancing the product.
Production is also underway in the UK where there has been excellent feedback
regarding weight reduction, storage, handling and consistency of printing. The time
required for a steel base to be manufactured and delivered before plating and engraving
can begin has been reduced as plastic bases are far more versatile and readily available.
The efficiency of the manufacturing process for plastic cylinders means it takes one to
two days, as opposed to one to two weeks for steel. This reduces lead times substantially.
In the case of flexo, a print job on a set of flexo sleeves will take longer to supply.
This is not the only area where gravure has seen new developments. Another area
is laser engraving. Laser engraving is currently installed at three locations, Illochrome
(Belgium), Bauer (Germany) and Keating Gravure (US).
Bauers installation is primarily for publication gravure, and recent results are
encouraging. The system at Illochrome is an in-house facility. The company has been
producing high-quality gravure packaging cylinders mainly label work for its own
printing presses at very high speed for the past four year.
The installation at the Keating plant in the US has now completed intensive testing
programmes and is ready to go into full production. Keating is a trade-house engraving
shop, capable of engraving cylinders for a variety of printers, and a large range of
specialty products such as stamps and cigarette packs as well as standard packaging
designs. The laser system is up to 34 times faster than current engraving machines.
It is not just speed that the laser brings to the market. The quality of tonal
reproductions and line work are also significantly improved. Cylinders laser engraved at
Keating Gravure and printed in one of Sonocos US printing operations have shown a
marked improvement over electronically engraved cylinders, especially in areas of
vignettes. This has eliminated the phenomenon known as chaining, which appears
between the solid and tonal areas where the solid breaks down into a series of dots.
Flexo Flexo has also made tremendous strides in the flexible packaging market, including what
has been described as a quantum leap in technology, especially with regards to the
computer-to-plate (CTP) systems currently available.
Images made by the flexographic process are the exact opposite of those produced by
gravure. In the flexo process, the plate or sleeve is in relief and made from photopolymer.
Plates are made individually and mounted using cushion backing tape either directly onto
the cylinder, via a tympan or through a recent innovation whereby the printing surface is
produced in-the-round.
While photopolymer printing plates with ink transferred to the plate by way of aniline
inking have been around since the late 1970s, it is only since the mid-1990s that the
process has become a formidable competitor to other processes. Unfortunately, those early
days of flexo gave the process a bad name and at the time it was considered to produce
an inferior quality product.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Printing of flexible packaging
But despite being long regarded as the plain, poor relation of the print industry, over the
past two decades flexo has slowly grown its share of the packaging market, largely at the
expense of litho and gravure. These processes have seen their share of global package
print spend drop from 75% in 1985 to 67% in 1995; over the same period flexos share
grew by a third.
The latest Pira market research suggests that by 2005 flexo will increase its share
of world package print (by value) to 41%. Europe is expected to be one of the fastest
growing regions for flexo. This is mainly due to the fact that the continent is at the
forefront of flexo technology changes, but also because it starts from a comparatively
low base; flexo accounts for 28% of the European market for package print compared
with 70% in North America.
Mid-web flexo presses and digital-imaging offset presses are opening doors for label
makers and commercial printers to become folding-carton converters. Meanwhile, new
electronic prepress systems, especially CTP for flexo, are drastically cutting turnaround
times and enhancing print quality for a growing number of package printers.
Such operations are making high-definition flexo printing competitive with offset
and gravure. End-user customers are demanding statistical-process-control quality data for
product manufacturing. Consequently, converters are applying greater use of process
automation (equipment and software) to achieve higher quality at lower costs.
Gearless presses, employing individually servo-motor-driven cylinders, are greatly
improving print quality and speeding changeover between print jobs. Revolutionary
coating methods, teamed with radiation-based curing, are also making high-speed
coating/laminating possible at more than 3000fpm.
Europe is some months ahead of the rest of the world as most of the developments in
plate-making and flexo presses is emanating from western Europe, particularly Germany.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Printing of flexible packaging
Page 76 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
FIGURE 6.2 A conventional flexographic printing unit
Source: Pira International Ltd
Ink tray
Printed substrate
Page 77 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
However, these gains still leave flexo far short of matching gravure in terms of consistent
quality. Its main advantage now, and one that has been talked up by the industry, is that
it is cheap. But print industry analysts say there is very little to choose between the two
on the first run and thereafter the advantage lies with gravure.
Although flexo is the fastest-growing process it is arguably a victim of its own success,
as more printing capacity has been added than is justified by expected demand.
New product development and technologies indicate that flexo will need to drive cost
out of its process. It has always been able to win market share from gravure because of
the high cost of producing gravure cylinders. But this is changing and the cost of
manufacturing gravure cylinders is now on a par with flexo. The development of flexo
plates, which do not require any aqueous washout, drying and all the other processes that
go into making plates, is welcomed.
But the biggest cost for flexo is that for polymer and this will have to drop
significantly if the market for the process is to continue to grow. As of the end of 2002,
the cost of polymers and crude oil looked unlikely to come down appreciably.
Changeovers also need to be reduced substantially as presses do not make money
when they are standing still. Suppliers and printers need to work more closely together to
achieve greater cost reductions.
Lithography Lithography relies on the principle that oil and water do not mix. The image is put onto
an aluminium printing plate using UV light shining through a negative. The plate is
coated in a chemical that makes the image area attractive to oil and therefore the ink.
Water is used to repel the oily ink where it is not wanted. Each colour is added to the
paper separately, using a different set of negatives and plates.
Lithography is currently the most popular form of printing. It is an expensive process
to set up so it is only used for long production runs. Lithography is a high-quality printing
method capable of reproducing colour text and pictures on paper or card. It is used in
packaging but its main uses are to print magazines, CD covers, posters and concert tickets.
Lithographic printing offers the same high quality as gravure but has a much faster
ramp-up and much lower tooling costs. Lead times can be cut by up to 50% and
lithography is recognised to be the fastest, most cost-effective way to:
Gang multiple items and multiple brands
Enhance and modify package graphics as needed
Afford short-run quantities
Keep inventories low
Minimise risk in introducing new products
Get products to market faster
Support line extensions
Address niche markets
Use couponing.
Bimetal litho plates are becoming increasingly popular as package printers are starting to
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Printing of flexible packaging
see them as a way to create the exceptional graphics their customers need to gain an
edge in competitive markets. This is especially true for folding cartons, pre-printed
corrugated cartons, flexible packaging and multiwall bags, particularly where long runs,
aggressive solvents, and abrasive substrates and inks are involved.
Bimetal plates, which print from a copper surface, are very durable and compatible
with a wide range of solvents and inks. They allow for long runs and can be sharpened
during processing to correct dot gain on many packaging substrates.
Printers are now using bimetal plates for pharmaceutical packaging, soft drink foam
wrappers and three-part cans. Recent bimetal plate trials have involved record covers,
cereal boxes and cosmetic packaging at runs up to 500,000 impressions. They also allow
printers to correct light or muddy colours by simply processing a new plate from film at
the proper sharpening level.
Beyond paperboard packaging, the plates have long been used in metal decorating,
especially for three-piece steel cans ranging from shaving cans to cookie tins. Printers in
this area often use specialised copper-on-stainless steel (rather than the usual copper-on-
aluminum) plates, which are extremely durable and able to be pulled off a press, stored
and reused many times.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Printing of flexible packaging
Page 78 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
FIGURE 6.3 The blanket-to-blanket configuration used on perfectors and
webfed offset presses
Source: Pira International Ltd
Paper pile
Page 79 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
Lithography with bimetal plates is seen as an excellent alternative to flexography and
gravure. Bimetal plates are prepared with far less effort and cost less than gravure plates,
but offer similar quality and durability. Bimetal plates also overcome many of the
chemical compatibility issues that arise with surface litho plates, because they do not
print from photopolymers that can be altered by solvents in flexo and gravure inks.
The durability of bimetal plates also means that they can be used with abrasive UV
inks. This is especially important for pre-printed corrugated carton stock and where UV
inks are used to gain rapid curing.
As packages are increasingly used to promote brand identity and carry essential
messages, package printing has moved toward the higher quality end of the market.
Lithography using bimetal plates has a role to play because it can often meet the
demands of even the most discriminating packagers and withstand even the most
aggressive printing processes.
Digital printing The term digital printing describes a collection of printing processes that do not use any
sort of pre-imaged printing plate. Instead, the image is constructed in digital form then
transferred to the print engine once for every print to be produced. It is therefore possible
to change part or all of the image to be printed for each successive print, enabling rapid
changes from one print run to the next or even personalisation of every print made.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Printing of flexible packaging
FIGURE 6.4 Typical layout of a sheetfed offset press
Source: Pira International Ltd
Swing grippers
Damping rollers
Inking rollers
Paper pile
Paper delivery
There are two distinct digital printing categories that respond to the market demands
required by packagers:
Electrophotographic systems where the surface on which the image is formed is in
direct contact with the substrate. These devices cover a wide range of systems in
which an electrostatic image is created by optical or electrical means on a drum or
belt and toner is transferred (or polymeric liquid toner in the case of Indigo) from
image cylinders direct to the substrate. The toner is generally a thermoplastic
material, which is heated to melt and fused to form the image.
Non-impact or inkjet systems where the print application is not in contact with the
substrate. These rely on the computer-controlled discharge of ink to form a sequence
of fine droplets, either via an electrostatically charged continuous flow, or a drop-on-
demand (DoD) process. These are fired at the substrate from a distance of a few
millimetres. There is no contact or pressure on the substrate, so fragile and non-flat
surfaces can be printed. Inks can be formulated to adhere to almost all surfaces,
allowing for a variety of substrates.
DoD inkjet technology is becoming the preferred technology for high-quality and high-
resolution printing systems, and has reached the stage where it could be used to develop
systems for package printing applications.
These applications can span the range from the printing of variable information to
full package printing. But issues such as the environment, user interface, manufacturing
integration and acceptance on the factory floor need to be addressed if implementation
of the technology is to be successful.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Printing of flexible packaging
Page 80 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
FIGURE 6.5 Multiple nozzle, continuous inkjet printing mechanism
Source: Pira International Ltd
Page 81 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
Digital printing has now come of age. Substrate manufacturers have seized the
opportunity by developing high value digital press-friendly substrates. Finishing lines are
also now designed to accommodate shorter runs and fast set-up changes. Also, the press
can match longer run quality with the same special custom colours and substrates.
But for digital printing to be successful in the label market, the technology needs to
include all the converting flexibility for which narrow web inline presses are well known.
The technology needs to be truly integrated into converting equipment that the label
industry currently uses. It needs to have the capability to lay down spot colours and
varnishes, diecut, strip the waste, foil stamp, etc.
A successful solution will treat digital printing just like any other printing process and
not have to run many offline operations to finish converting the label. The key is to
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Printing of flexible packaging
FIGURE 6.6 Continuous inkjet printing mechanism
Source: Pira International Ltd
FIGURE 6.7 Impulse (or drop-on-demand) inkjet printing mechanism
Source: Pira International Ltd
provide digital printing as added flexibility on current converting equipment, allowing it
to print an even wider range of labels. This eliminates the need for investment in offline
technology to provide the low-cost answer to short runs and variable information.
The digital trend is being driven by intensified global retail competition, which is
creating irresistible pressures for shorter life, higher impact and more varied packaging.
For brand managers, designers, printers and logistics managers this translates into shorter
runs of multi-design products, just-in-time delivery and the personalisation and
customisation of mass-produced consumer goods.
Another effect of global brand production is the need to integrate into common
packaging designs a mass of different and constantly changing local or regional
information. Examples of this include dietary information, regulations governing
hazardous chemicals and movements of goods across national boundaries, and
product disposal.
Digital workflows offer a potential solution to the seemingly paradoxical demands of
global brand management and the incorporation of local and regional information. As
brands go global it is vital that colour and design consistency are maintained in the same
way that manufacturing integrity is ensured by consolidating production units into centres
of excellence. Digital workflows allow companies to control global print production much
more closely, while reducing the cycle of design, origination and approval.
Digital printing technology can be categorised by production type, as well as by the
actual markets for which the technology is suitable. There are four major areas: print-on-
demand; short runs; distribute and print; and personalisation.
The packaging industrys response to these digital production capabilities has been
one of the most interesting. The label industry led the way into digital printing and is now
being followed by folding carton printers, particularly those producing pharmaceutical
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Printing of flexible packaging
Page 82 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
FIGURE 6.8 Dry toner electrophotographic (laser) printer
Source: Pira International Ltd
Page 83 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
cartons where the fairly small physical size, relatively short runs and higher added value
sit very well with the technology.
Experimental work is also being undertaken in the digital printing of metal cans,
plastic bottles and yoghurt cartons. At the May 2000 Drupa exhibition, inkjet presses
were launched which can handle corrugated and flexible packaging at industrial printing
application speeds.
Despite the strides being made by digital technology some drawbacks remain.
Compared with litho, flexo and gravure, digital printing machines are slow in order to
attain equivalent colour image quality. For many mass-production lines, the run speed
of typical digital print engines is too slow to offer economic benefits, despite savings in
prepress costs. In future, digital printing will need to be more productive and offer a
larger print surface.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Printing of flexible packaging
Flexible packaging machinery
Page 85 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
The machinery chosen to fabricate films depends on the characteristics of the resin and
the properties desired. For example, resins can be extruded from a flat, slit die, over a
chilled die, over a chilled roll or into a cold-water bath. Following flat-die extrusion, a hot
film can be oriented in either the machine and/or the cross machine.
Films can also be extruded from a circular die, formed into a tube and blown with air
to expand and thin the film walls. The die is rotated to even out plastic distribution. This
tube can then be slit to form a flat film. The film can also be oriented in this process.
Calendered films are formed by squeezing a quantity of molten plastic between two
nip rolls and a series of heated rollers. The resulting film has an exceptionally uniform
gauge and dimensional stability.
Extruding machinery is used in a packaging application for extruding thermoplastic
material either from pellet or liquid form to produce continuous sheets or film. These will
later be used as a package, container, material or other packaging application.
Calendering This method is used to produce continuous sheet. The plastic material is first softened by
heat and then passed between two or more rollers under great pressure. There are many
different types of calenders. They differ both in terms of the number of rolls, which varies
from two to five, and their arrangement. The arrangements of the bowls are usually
referred to as Z, L.
FIGURE 7.1 Four-roll inverted L calender coater
Source: Pira International Ltd
Steel rolls
The actual calendaring process consists of feeding a plastics mass into the nip between
the first two rolls where it is squeezed into a film. The film then passes round the
remaining rolls. The final thickness of the film is determined by the size of the gap
between the last two rolls. After it leaves the calender, the film is cooled by passing
it over cooling rollers, fed through a beta ray thickness gauge and then wound up.
The squeezing of a molten mass into a thin film means that very great forces are
exerted on the bowls. The pressures on the shafts can cause bending resulting in film
that is thicker in the middle than at the edges. To compensate for this, there are various
designs of calender.
Decorative effects are possible with calendering, with the type of film surface
determined by the last roll. Matt or glossy surfaces can be obtained, as can embossed
surfaces. Calenders can also be used as coating machines by passing paper, fabric or
some other substrate through the last two rolls. The high pressure exerted ensures good
contact between the hot plastic and the substrate and so gives good bonding.
Calenders tend to be massive machines, operating at high temperature and high
pressure, both of which have to be kept as uniform as possible. A large floor area is
usually required because of the associated plant, such as mixers, blenders, haul-off
equipment, temperature control systems and other ancillary items. This makes the process
capital intensive so calenders tend to be used for wide width film (around 1.8m wide)
because the cost is proportionately less.
Extruding The first step of several of the shaping processes for plastics, including plastics films for
food packaging, is often extrusion. Granules are fed from a hopper into the barrel of an
extruder where they are melted by heat and the mechanical action of the screw.
The action of the screw forces the molten plastic through an orifice called a die. The
shape of the die determines the type of product produced. For example, an extremely
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging machinery
Page 86 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
FIGURE 7.2 Schematic of a simple extruder
Source: Pira International Ltd
Simple extruder
Stock thermocouple
Back heat zone
Front heat zone
End detail dependent
on profile being made
Page 87 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
small orifice will spin a fine plastic thread, which can subsequently be woven. An
alternative die design will create thin plastic films of the type used for packaging food.
The extrusion process is normally used for thermoplastics, although thermosets can
also be extruded using special techniques. Extrusion is a continuous process designed to
convert plastics into sheet, film, pipes, rods, fibres and shaped profiles. It can also be used
for other materials such as aluminium.
Whatever the final product, the basic sequence of events is as follows:
Plasticisation of the raw material in granule or powder form;
Metering of the plasticised product through a die, which converts it to the desired
form (film, etc.);
Solidification into the desired shape and size;
Winding into reels or cutting into units.
The first two processes are carried out in the extruder while the third and fourth are
ancillary processes. The extruder itself basically consists of an Archimedian screw revolving
inside a close-fitting, heated cylinder or barrel. The plastics granules are fed through a
hopper at one end of the barrel and carried forward by the action of the screw.
As the granules pass along the barrel they are melted by contact with the heated
walls and by the generation of frictional heat in the viscous melt. The final action of the
screw is to force the melted polymer through the die, which determines its final form.
The most important component of any extruder is the screw and it is usually
impossible to extrude one material successfully using a screw designed for another
material. Screws are characterised by their length/diameter ratios and their compression
ratios. The screw is usually divided into three sections: feed, compression and metering.
The feed section conveys the material from under the hopper mouth to the compression
section. The function of the final section of the screw is to meter the molten polymer
through the die at a steady rate and iron out pulsations.
As the film is wound onto the spool, it is processed into finished or semi-finished
products according to purpose:
Flat products: the film is cut and delivered in one layer on a spool;
Tube products: the film is delivered as a tube with the option of side or middle cuts;
Tube with fold: if large tube diameter yet narrow role width is desired, all tube films
are available with an inlaid fold.
Extruded films range in thickness from 15m (0.015mm) to 300m (0.3mm) at thickness
tolerances of +/-5% or +/-10%, depending on usage and thickness. Flat films are
available in widths from 100mm to 6000mm. If necessary the film is folded because the
maximum roller width is 3000mm.
Most companies can add special additives to their film, including a UV stabiliser to
extend its operating life. Antistatic agents can also be added to the film as can corona
treatment and microperforation.
There are basically two different methods of extruding film: blown extrusion and slit
die-cast extrusion.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging machinery
Blown film extrusion In this case, the molten polymer from the extruder head enters the die from the side,
although entry can also be made from the bottom of the die. In the die, the melt is
made to flow around a mandrel and emerges through a ring-shaped die opening in the
form of a tube. This tube is then expanded into a bubble of the required diameter by
blowing air through the centre of the mandrel. The tube can be extruded upwards,
downwards or horizontally.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging machinery
Page 88 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
FIGURE 7.3 Schematic of a simple extruder
Source: Pira International Ltd
Air entry
Pinch rolls
Guide rolls
Page 89 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
Blown extrusions are produced through an annular die with concentric orifices. Originally
blown extrusions normally consisted of only two or three layers but increased demand for
high-barrier coextrusions has led to a great deal of development in the field of die design.
Blown film extrusion is a very complex procedure and there are a number of problems
associated with its production. Defects likely to be encountered include variations in
gauge, surface defects, haze, low-impact strength, block and wrinkling. However, once
these defects are overcome, the mechanical properties of blown film are generally better
than those of cast film.
Slit die-cast extrusion In flat film extrusion the melt is extruded through a slit die then passes into a water bath
or onto a chilled roller. In both instances, the essence of the process is rapid cooling of the
film within a very short distance of the die lips (2565mm). Rapid cooling prevents the
growth of large crystals and so gives the film high clarity (compared with blown film). In
the chilled roll casting method, the melt is extruded onto a chromium-plated roller, cored
for water cooling.
Coextrusion This is a process whereby two or more materials or colours are combined using multiple
extruders. The extruders are inline and multiple streams of melted material are combined
in a manifold. Coextrusion can produce profiles or films of multiple colours using similar
materials, a hinge effect or a gasket area.
Since all of the plastics start out as fluids and cool together, coextrusion eliminates
the multiple steps required in some of the other techniques.
Multilayer films produced by coextrusion provide desirable film properties difficult to
achieve with pure materials. In the multilayer film casting process, an important operating
variable is the tension in the molten film, as this is crucial to the quality and properties of
the final product.
The measurement of film tension in the film casting process is difficult because the
film is in a molten state, which requires the use of a non-contacting method of
measurement. Methods explored to achieve this measurement include using an air-jet
impingement device to measure molten film tension. The device produces a thin
rectangular air jet wider than the width of the molten film. The film tension can then be
measured because the amount of film deflection caused by the impinging air jet depends
on the tension of the film.
The growth in demand for metallocene films has also benefited coextrusion. In the
past there has been a trade off in the manufacture of blown films between the better
mechanical properties of impact strength, sealability, optics and tear resistance, and the
more difficult processing properties of higher viscosity at typical extrusion rates, greater
shear with the existing screws (which heat and push the plastic resin towards the
extruder) and the lower bubble stability.
These problems have been overcome by adjusting aspects of the blown film line and
by coextruding or blending the metallocene resin with a conventional resin. This second
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging machinery
option not only aids processing, but also reduces the cost of the final film by
incorporating a proportion of cheaper resin.
Thermoforming In reality this is a family of processes that can be adapted to make a wide range of
containers and provide a form/fill/seal (FFS) system. In thermoforming, a plastic sheet is
softened by heat and then formed into or around a mould. The various types of
thermoformed packages include skin packaging, blister packaging and formed primary
containers and closures.
Their common characteristic is that they start with flat sheet or film. The material is
heated until it is soft and pliable and then shaped by vacuum, pressure and dies or any
combination of these. The basic technique in thermoforming is to suspend a sheet of
plastic in a frame that grips it around its edges. The sheet is held until it softens then
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging machinery
Page 90 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
FIGURE 7.4 Thermoforming techniques
Source: Pira International Ltd
Thick flange
Thin dome
Thick dome
Male mould
Vacuum box
Female mould
Page 91 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
sucked down over a mould by a vacuum. Once it has cooled, it is stripped from the
mould and trimmed.
Vacuum forming The basic equipment for this process comprises a vacuum box with an air outlet coupled
to a vacuum pump, a clamping frame, a mould and a heating panel. The mould, which is
perforated, is placed over the air outlet. The plastic sheet is then placed over the top of
the vacuum box to create an airtight compartment. The sheet is heated and then forced
into close contact with the moulds upper surface where it is sufficiently cooled for it to
retain its moulded shape.
Pressure forming This is the same as vacuum forming with the exception that the heat-softened sheet is
forced into contact with the mould by positive air pressure applied from above. Because
the pressure is not limited to atmospheric pressure this gives a better reproduction of the
mould detail.
Nearly all the machines used for high-production work are pressure formers. After the
piece has been formed over the mould, cold air may be blown over it to speed cooling. As
an alternative to cold air, some formers use vapour spray.
Thermoform-fill-seal Two reel-fed plastic webs are used. The first is formed into a series of tray-like depressions
by heating and drawing a vacuum through the base of appropriately shaped moulds.
The formed sheet is then indexed under a filling head and the filled compartments are
lidded by sealing the second web of the material on top. The web of lidded and filled
containers is then cut and the individual packs separated. The web used for lidding is
often pre-printed. A thermoplastics-coated paper or aluminium foil may also be used in
the lidding operation.
The thermoforming process is well adapted to FFS operations. Thermoform-fill-seal
techniques are widely used for portion packaging of foodstuffs in liquid or paste form. The
many products packaged in this way include jams, marmalade and honey. UHT milk is
also packaged using aseptic filling techniques.
In aseptic packaging, both the base and lidding materials are sterilised using
hydrogen peroxide. Thermoforming is carried out using compressed sterile air, filtered to
microbiological standards and plug-assist. Filling is carried out in the sterile cabinet,
followed by presealing on each side of the web, thus creating an enclosed tube between
the base and the lid.
Lamination Lamination involves the bonding of a thin, transparent film, typically polypropylene (PP),
polyester, acetate or nylon, to the surface of the press sheet or other substrate (Figure 7.5,
overleaf). The film is applied via the wet method or the thermal method. The wet method
is more complicated and involves the use of solvents or water. The finisher applies the
adhesive to the film as the film is being applied to the substrate. This tends to be cheaper
than thermal but there may be environmental issues relating to the drying of the glue.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging machinery
In the wet method (see Figure 7.6) two or more webs are joined using adhesives. In the
figure, one web comes up from the bottom and is carried over an adhesive roller to the
left. A second web coming in at the top left meets the adhesive-coated web in the nip of
the two rolls, which are one above the other on the left. The combined layers pass around
the snub rolls to the right and are carried to the next operation.
The thermal method, which has become popular in the last few years, uses 250 to 300F
heat to meld film and substrate. The type of film used is pre-coated with polyethylene (PE)
adhesive and is more expensive than film without adhesive. The thermal method is the
dominant process in use today.
One drawback of the thermal method is that the heat involved causes polyester and
PP films to stretch while being applied, and this sometimes causes curling of the finished
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging machinery
Page 92 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
FIGURE 7.5 Cross-section of a typical lamination
Source: Pira International Ltd
Paper (stiffness)
Polyethylene (adhesive)
Polyethylene (heat-seal)
Foil barrier
FIGURE 7.6 Wet method lamination
Source: Pira International Ltd
Page 93 Copyright Pira International Ltd 2003
piece. To avoid this, curl-free films are required. Nylon film is generally more expensive
than other types. Of all the films, however, it is the most stable. Currently, it is only
available in a clear (gloss) finish; film manufacturers are working on a matt version.
The most popular film is PP. It comes in a gloss or matt finish and is the least
expensive. Polyester film, which comes in gloss or satin (i.e. not a true matt), has a harder
finish and is more resistant to scuffing and tearing than PP. Acetate film is the least used
because it is more brittle than other films and has a tendency to tear and scratch.
Films will normally adhere to virtually any paper or cardstock, as well as to cardboard
and cloth. Heavy paper stocks are better than lightweight ones, which tend to curl when
laminated. Occasionally films have trouble sticking to uncoated or heavily-textured stocks.
As with coatings, lamination yields the best results when used over wax-free inks and
varnishes. If wax is present in the ink or varnish the wet method of lamination, which will
permit the use of a very aggressive adhesive to bond the film effectively to the substrate,
can be used.
Lamination can be done in conjunction with diecutting, scoring, embossing and
debossing, but these processes need to be performed after the film is applied to the
substrate. If the product is embossed before lamination, the bump-up (height) of the
embossed area will be affected by the rollers that apply the film. If the job involves
deep embossing, a soft film, such as PP, which has greater elasticity than other types,
should be used.
For projects that are to be glued, such as presentation folders, bags and box wraps,
glueable film is normally specified. The cosmetic packaging, toiletries and pharmaceuticals
industries usually insist on glueable films.
Metallised film The metallising process takes place by evaporating aluminium in a high-vacuum chamber.
The very thin layer of aluminium that condenses on the film gives an excellent barrier to
Aluminium light, water vapour, oxygen and other gases. This layer is very thin (100250 ngstrm).
After lamination it guarantees top barrier properties because, unlike the foil, it is less rigid
and does not crack or break.
Barrier properties are guaranteed by the uniformity of the aluminium layer deposited
on the film and by the reduction of any microscopic defects, such as pinholes, on the
metallised layer. The fewer weak points and defects on the aluminium layer there are, the
better the barrier performance of metallised film for gas and light transmission.
High-barrier laminated materials can be an economical substitute for aluminium foil
in all kinds of applications, where Al-foil is used to guarantee a barrier effect.
Form/fill/seal There are a number of different types of FFS machines. These include: vertical, horizontal
and horizontal/vertical FFS. The choice of machine very much depends on the type of
packaging material and the characteristics of the product.
If the product is dry and free-flowing, a vertical FFS machine is usually the best
choice. Here, a single web of film or paper feeds down over a forming shoulder which
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging machinery
converts the flat web into a tubular shape around the product feed tube with two sides of
the web overlapping. Variations on this package fabrication method now include stand-up
pouches that can be made with bottom gussets or flat bottoms. A vertical machine that
accommodates two webs is usually preferred for liquids, as all seals are made through
only two thicknesses of materials and there is less chance of a leak occurring.
Another approach to pouch forming for both dry and liquid products is the
horizontal/vertical machine in which a single web is folded upward to make vertically
positioned pouches that travel in a horizontal direction through forming, filling, sealing
and cutting from the web. On these machines, pouch packages can be created at speeds
of up to 400 a minute.
A vertical FFS machine that overlaps a single film web around a filling tube can
handle a wide variety of liquid and solid products in weights up to 9kg. Some vertical FFS
machines can produce up to 60 bags a minute with lengths up to 15.5in. Some have a
small footprint and a table that pivots to drop sealed bags onto a pick-up conveyor.
Operating parameters are stored in memory and shown on an LCD. Temperature, film
length, film registration cut-off, dwell time and belt speed can be recalled instantly. The
stationary-width seal jaws use individual thermocouples for constant temperature control.
An intermittent-motion, vertical FFS unit can fill sachets and pouches with powders,
granulates, tablets, liquids and creams at speeds of up to 70 strokes a minute. Some
machines can also transfer and count pouches into predefined stacks and cartons. A
microprocessor monitors operations, a swivelling eye-level control panel displays functions
and a pneumatic system ensures optimum pressure and a tight seal.
Innovations in thermoform-fill-seal machinery aim to address issues such as
reclosability and resealability, providing choice of product in one pack, flexibility in terms
of shape, quick size changeover and reduced packaging costs.
Since market pressures increasingly demand a variety of bag styles for the same
product, machine builders are turning to modular designs to provide that variety from
the same machine.
Behind the race to keep one step ahead has been the tremendous take-up of
modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), which has seen a leap in demand for FFS. From
less than 2 billion packs in 1993, the UK volume for MAP packs shot up to 2.8 billion in
1998 and an estimated 3.5 billion in 2002.
One of the more obvious trends in the design of vertical FFS machines since their
invention some 70 years ago has been the shift away from reciprocating cross-seal jaws
towards cross-seal jaws that operate from a fixed position. Early vertical FFS machines
used a reciprocating cross-seal jaw assembly, which performed two functions: pulling off
the measured length of film from the reel and forming both the top and bottom cross
seals to produce the classic pillow pack.
These machines were used extensively in most industries where they worked
efficiently and reliably. Classic reciprocating-jaw machines dominated the market right up
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to the 1980s, when they started to be replaced by machines using belts to draw down the
film. There were three main reasons for this: draw-down belt machines can produce long
bags with no need to be very tall; they can be fitted with a series of attachments to
produce gusseted and block bottom style packs; and they avoid the problem of the bag
being pulled flat as it is being formed, which makes it difficult to fill lightweight products.
But machine builders are now looking again at reciprocating-jaw mechanisms. The
challenge for all vertical FFS machine manufacturers at the moment is to get machines to
work faster to match the 120180 packs a minute capability of modern multihead
weighers. Fixed position rotary jaw machines can match these speeds on light products
such as crisps, but for heavier products and films requiring a longer sealing time, a simple
rotary motion does not allow a long enough sealing time.
One of the great advantages of the reciprocating cross-seal jaw is that it gives a long
sealing time and, when combined with a draw-down belt mechanism for the film feed,
produces machines that have the advantages of both types of machine and the ability to
create heavyweight packs at high speed.
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Legislative issues affecting
flexible packaging
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The volume of legislation affecting packaging, at both EU and national level, has grown
and has been instrumental in the development of packaging options. Recycling has
affected virtually all sectors of the packaging industry with the introduction of the EU
Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and its application in member states.
Following the amendments to the key EU directives 89/109/EEC and 90/128/EEC
concerning materials that come into contact with food, the whole field of food packaging
hygiene has become of some considerable and growing concern to the plastic food
packaging industry.
The new regulations are designed to benefit EU consumers, but in terms of
compliance it is clear that, while the primary business sector affected will be
manufacturers of food contact plastics and the companies that use their products, the
burden will weigh more heavily on converters.
Work undertaken by the flexible packaging industry has been given added urgency
following allegations raised in Denmark that food is being contaminated by certain
laminating adhesives. These reports concerned the detection of aromatic amines in food
packaged in film laminates.
In the case of recycling, member states must comply with the Packaging and
Packaging Waste Directive (Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC), which seeks to
harmonise the various member states management of packaging in order to provide a
high level of environmental protection, while ensuring the functioning of the market.
The directive and subsequent member state legislation has resulted in a growth in
material recycling and heightened recognition within all sectors of industry of the need
to be environmentally accountable.
Food contact The EU has been working on the approximation of the laws of member states governing
materials materials and articles that come into contact with food for some 25 years. Currently only
two main categories of materials (regenerated cellulose and ceramics) are subject to fully
harmonised EU legislation; harmonisation of the next category of materials, plastics, has
yet to be completed despite the fact that the first directive on plastics materials was
adopted over ten years ago.
According to the regulations, if a directive applicable to a particular product is in
place at EU level and has been implemented in the member states national legislation,
then the use of that product must comply with the directive. If an EU directive covering a
particular product or application has not yet been promulgated, finalised or implemented
into national law, then the use of the product must comply with the appropriate national
laws of each EU member state, subject to the principle of mutual recognition.
But there is still some resistance to the application of the mutual recognition
principle in the area of food contact; this and the continued use of different regulatory
approaches by member states have maintained barriers to trade in food-contact materials.
The amendments to the framework and specific directives concerning food contact
materials (see below) are a step forward on the long road towards harmonisation. But
there is still a long way to go with more than half of the EUs member states having in
place national legislation over and above that provided for by the directives.
In Directive 2002/17/EEC, which was published on 21 February 2002 and which
amends Directive 90/128/EEC, the text clearly states that it is left to member states to
regulate much of the substances. It acknowledges that the directive establishes
specifications for only a few substances. The others that may require specifications
remain regulated by national laws, pending a decision at EU level.
The result for flexible packagers that continue to resist the application of the mutual
recognition principle is likely to be a continuation of unacceptably high barriers to the
trade in food-contact materials across EU member state borders.
Food-contact materials are defined by EU legislation as all materials and articles
intended to come into contact with foodstuffs, including packaging materials, cutlery,
dishes, processing machines, containers, etc.
To ensure the protection of the health of the consumer and to avoid adulteration
of the foodstuff, two types of migration limits have been established in the area of
plastic materials:
An overall migration limit (OML) of 60mg (of substances)/kg (of foodstuff or food
simulants). This applies to all substances capable of migrating from the food contact
material to the foodstuff.
A specific migration limit (SML) which applies to individual authorised substances
and is fixed on the basis of the toxicological evaluation of the substance. The SML is
generally established according to the acceptable daily intake (ADI) or the tolerable
daily intake (TDI) set by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF). To set the limit, it is
assumed that every day throughout his/her lifetime a person of 60 eats 1kg of food
packed in plastics containing the relevant substance at the maximum permitted level.
Food contact materials and articles are regulated by three types of directives:
The framework Directive 89/109/EEC sets up general requirements for all food-
contact materials.
Specific directives cover single groups of materials and articles that are listed in the
framework directive.
Directives on individual substances or groups of substances used in the manufacture
of materials and articles intended for food contact. These deal with substances that
have raised special concern for the protection of the health of consumers.
Current activities The Commission is continuing to examine the scientific background for a better
possible future estimation of exposure. This issue is in the agenda of the SCF and of the Mixed
Experts Working Group on Food Contact Materials, composed of government
representatives and representatives of consumer and professional organisations.
The Commission intends to re-examine Directive 85/572/EEC in order to take into
account new data and pertinent knowledge. A task force of experts is collecting the
scientific data, which should justify the amendments.
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The task force of experts is also continuing to examine other emerging issues such as
active and intelligent packaging systems, and recycling, in order to put forward possible
solutions for legislation.
Recycling Among the aims of the EU Directive 94/64/EC on packaging and packaging waste
(implemented in the UK through the Producer Responsibility (Packaging) Regulations)
European legislation are the harmonisation of national measures on packaging and the reduction of the
environmental impact of packaging. The current status of the directive is one of revision
between 2001 and 2008, delayed by the Council of Ministers at their meeting in June
2002 from the original deadline of 2006.
In the first five years in which the directive was in force 19962001 the following
targets were set:
Recovery of 5065% of packaging waste;
Recycling of 2545% of packaging waste with a 15% minimum for each material;
Ensure packaging is allowed onto the market only if it meets the essential
requirements, which include minimisation of packaging weight and volume, and
suitability for material recycling, energy recovery or composting.
The future direction of the packaging directive is to be decided during the current second
phase, 200108. The process is expected to agree an increase in recycling targets, a
tightening up of the definitions and possible new restrictions and ideas such as
a Packaging Environment Indicator.
Measures in the 2008 targets, agreed by the June 2002 Council of Ministers, include:
Overall recovery of 60%
Overall recycling of 5580%.
With regards to material-specific recycling, targets include:
Glass, 60%
Paper and board, 60%
Metals, 50%
Plastics, 22.5% (counting exclusively material that is recycled back into plastics).
In 2003 the process will go before the Parliament, the EP Environment Committee with
conciliation and there should be a final agreement by September.
New definitions will have to be agreed as there is already conflict between the
Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers over cling film. The Commission and
Parliament say that the packaging directive is not concerned with cling film while the
Council of Ministers says it is, provided it is aimed at filling at the point of sale.
The current directive prescribes the essential requirements packaging must achieve if
it is to be placed on the market. Compliance with these is ensured through harmonised
standards prepared by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN). The five
harmonised standards include:
Prevention by source reduction
Reuse of packaging
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
Legislative issues affecting flexible packaging
Requirements for packaging recoverable by material recycling
Requirements for packaging recoverable in the form of energy
Requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation.
National standardisation bodies and/or industrial associations have prepared guidelines
for the application of the harmonised standards in several countries, including Italy and
Germany. Although the CEN standards have already become legal requirements in the UK
and France, some member states declare that four of these standards do not entirely
satisfy the essential requirements of the directive and might conflict with national
legislation and therefore must be revised by CEN.
The definition of recycling is fundamental as it is directly linked to the revision of the
targets. However, according to the Commission: Experience has indicated that there are
some problems with its interpretation. For that reason the directive seeks to make a clear
distinction between recycling and energy recovery.
As far as prevention is concerned, the Commission acknowledges the difficulty in
setting up measures to ensure an effective quantitative and qualitative prevention of
packaging waste. Nevertheless, it sees it as appropriate to reinforce the fundamental
importance of the prevention concept in this directive by indicating the need for member
states to limit progressively the total quantity as well as the hazardousness of the
packaging waste stream.
With regards to reuse, the suggestion is to reinforce it in accordance with the
importance given to the reuse concept in the articles, in which the reuse of packaging
is mentioned as a fundamental principle.
The revision of the targets is the fundamental aim of the proposed revision of the
directive. The Commission concludes that the targets for 2001 were realistic and that
established systems can improve performance so it is justified to increase these targets
for the second five-year phase, as anticipated in the directive.
In terms of recovery targets, the Commissions experience suggests that setting up
high recovery targets results in the promotion of waste incineration processes. In order to
limit this, it has turned away from the fixing of recovery targets.
But the Commission has suggested the setting up of targets for the reuse of certain
packaging materials. These are combined with recycling targets to encourage alternatives
to incineration where available. It sees this provision as appropriate for all packaging
materials, where the amount corresponding to the reuse rate achieved could be taken into
account when considering the achievement of the fixed recycling targets.
National legislation France As of 1 January 2000, Eco-Emballages increased its green dot fees, in the process
increasing the costs to major multinationals such as Danone, Lever and Pechiney. Danone,
for example, estimates that its green dot fees have doubled in 2000 to around Ffr130
million (19.5 million).
The increase in green dot fees has given further impetus to the tendency for French
companies to reduce the weight of their packaging. Priority has been given to the light-
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weighting of beverage bottles, which account for a significant proportion of the average
households packaging waste.
Efforts are now directed towards a 10% reduction in the average weight of a plastic
bottle from its present level of 3132g. Some major distributors, such as the supermarket
chain, Decathlon, aim to reduce packaging to a bare minimum. The company is
developing all-in-one sales and transport packaging for its own brands.
As of 2002, some 40 million French citizens were expected to sort their packaging
waste, twice as many as in 1998. As of 2000, French companies are subject to government
checks to verify that their packaging complies with source reduction.
Luxembourg The Valorlux organisation coordinates control of Luxembourgs packaging
and packaging waste. But the countrys position on energy recovery through incineration
has caused some concern in Brussels. In October 2000, the government fell foul of the
European Commission, which decided to make an application to the European Court of
Justice against Luxembourg for the member states refusal to allow waste to be disposed
of in a French incinerator equipped to recover energy.
Finland The renewal of the Council of State decision on packaging and packaging waste
came into effect at the beginning of 2000. The obligations concerning both the recovery
of packaging waste and the responsibilities related to them do not apply to a packer or
any other business with an operating turnover of less than Fmk5 million (850,000) per
calendar year.
Local councils or firms subcontracted to transport packaging waste should be obliged
to monitor data only when the packaging waste recovered by them exceeds 100 tonnes.
Meanwhile, membership of PYR, Finlands packaging recovery organisation, reached
over 5000 in 2000 and members have been charged lower fees as of 2000. Compared
with 1999, these rates are down by 10%. PYR says the big increase in membership is the
reason for the reduced fees. According to PYR calculations, recovery fees in 2000 are only
a fraction of those of its closest neighbours. For example, its calculations reveal that for
plastics recovery, PYR fees are one hundred times greater in Germany than in Finland.
Despite the fact that the majority of firms have already joined, PYR increased its
marketing campaign in the first half of 2000. The aim was to get all firms with packaging
recovery obligations to take care of their share of the obligation, as stipulated by the
Council of State decision.
Germany German legislation remains the focus of attention when it comes to European
environmental issues. Ten years ago, the German Packaging Ordinance spawned the Dual
System Deutschland (DSD) and its green dot, and was the impetus for the 1994 Packaging
and Packaging Waste Directive and in turn the 1997 UK Producer Responsibility
Obligations Regulation.
The targets of the original 1992 Packaging Ordinance (a revision was submitted to the
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Legislative issues affecting flexible packaging
legislature in 1997) did not allow incineration as a form of valorisation. Under the revision,
this is permitted. Recovery and recycling targets have been revised downward since the
drafting of the original ordnance.
This is justified on the grounds that more time is needed to build up recycling
capacity in Germany. It became increasingly obvious throughout the 1990s that without
resorting to incineration the plastics industry would be unable to meet its targets. Under
the revised provisions, at least 40% of the recycling quota for plastics has to be met
through material recovery. The rest can be met through chemical recycling or incineration
with heat recovery.
The fundamental concepts of the packaging ordinance remain unchanged. These
include the take-back obligation on producers and distributors and their responsibility for
recycling, which can be transferred to a collective scheme.
The Commission believes that German legislation is undermining the functioning of
the single market, as the appropriate balance between free movement of goods and
environmental protection has not been struck. The environmental benefits of the present
scheme are cancelled out by its transport implications.
Against this background, the Commission considers that the German reuse scheme
amounts to a barrier to trade within the meaning of Article 28 of the Treaty as the
German rules impose a particular burden on those producers that import their products
over long distances. This is because producers that comply with the objective of the
scheme are forced, on the basis of the packaging directive and the German reuse scheme,
to ship the empty packaging over long distances back to source.
Belgium The countrys recovery and recycling targets are higher than those set out in
the EUs Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. Some 60% of packaging waste had to
be recovered in 1997, rising to 70% in 1998 and 80% in 1999. Recycling targets rose from
40% in 1997 to 45% in 1998 and 50% in 1999.
The government of Belgium has also adopted economic instruments in the form of
eco-taxes on beverage packaging, which will be triggered if the required reuse and
recycling targets are not met. In 1994 trade and industry set up Fost Plus to coordinate
the collection and sorting of household waste.
At the end of 1998, the European Commission decided to make applications to the
Court of Justice against Belgium for failing to respect the EUs Packaging and Packaging
Waste Directive (European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and
packaging waste). The Commission decided to make applications to the court for two
separate infringements of the directive.
Denmark The country has a variety of legislation covering packaging waste. The
governments Action Plan for Waste and Recycling 199397 set a recycling target of 55%
for all waste by 2000. Of the remainder, 25% is allowed to be incinerated and a
maximum of 20% can go to landfill.
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The recycling target for transport packaging is 80% for paper and board by 1998 and
80% for plastics by 2000. In 1996 the country notified three items of legislation for
national implementation of the EU directive. The first is a decree setting conditions for
packaging, the second is a decree on the disposal, planning and registration of waste, and
the third is the amended Beverage Packaging Decree of 1996.
Under this decree, beer and soft drinks may only be sold in Denmark in refillable
packaging. The so-called Danish can ban has generated a great deal of opposition and
pressure has been building to have the ban lifted because it discriminates mainly against
imported beer and soft drinks.
In July and August 2000, the European Commission referred Denmarks packaging
and packaging waste legislation to the European Court of Justice on the grounds of non-
conformity of measures incorporating directives into national law.
Italy From 1 January 2000, under Italys packaging waste legislation, all companies have
been able to choose how to meet their environmental obligations in parallel with the
current waste recovery system. The addition to the 1997 framework was made in order to
reduce the bureaucratic burden of fees on CONAI, Italys national consortium responsible
for the coordination of packaging waste management.
CONAI was created when Italy adopted its framework law in January 1997 to provide
a coherent structure for integrated waste management, including the management of
packaging waste. The text did not initially set out specific targets for the recovery and
recycling of packaging waste, but it set an overall target to increase selective collection
from its then level of 7% to 35% over six years.
Between January 1999 and the end of 2000 a target of 15% had to be made, rising
to 25% by the end of 2002. Local authorities that fail to meet the targets will be
penalised through higher waste taxes. The framework provided for the creation of a
mandatory superconsortium (CONAI) to group together producers and users of
packaging in order to coordinate waste recovery operations. Another goal of the
framework was to create a material-based voluntary consortium for the selective
collection of transport packaging.
The new system, in place since 2000, runs in parallel with the 1997 framework and
divides companies up into four categories based on the kind of declarations they are
obliged to make.
The Netherlands In 1991 the Netherlands established a packaging covenant between
industry and the government covering a period of 10 years. The Waste Law, which came
into force in 1994, gave priority to waste prevention.
The covenant sets out a target of a 10% reduction in packaging waste by 2001, from
its 1986 level. The target for recycling was an overall minimum of 40% by 199596, but
ideally with rates of 80% for glass, 75% for metals, 60% for paper and board, and 50%
for plastics and composites.
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Overall the Dutch targets have been met. The landfilling of waste has been banned since
the beginning of 1996. In transposing the EUs Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive,
the Netherlands has continued with its covenant concept (Covenant 2), which also
includes a prevention target.
Portugal The Sociedade Punto Verde (SPV), Portugals packaging recovery organisation,
reported a significant increase in membership in 1999 and 2000, and a corresponding
increase in its waste recovery and recycling activities. SPV now handles a growing volume
of non-reusable packaging with a recent estimate putting this at 590,000 tonnes.
There has been an increase in the amount of packaging actually declared by
companies as being placed on the market. Plastics and paper increased by 28%, steel by
27%, glass by 23% and aluminium by 14%.
In 1999 SPV announced a substantial reduction in its green dot fees for wood and
aluminium. Its rates for glass, paper, plastics, steel and other materials remained the
same. This reduction is hailed as the reason why SPV was able to increase its handling of
non-reusable packaging from 466,000 tonnes in 1998 to over 600,000 tonnes in 1999.
SPV was able to cut its fees because it had accumulated reserves. Out of the money
it has collected in license fees, SPV pays local authorities for every tonne of sorted
packaging supplied to reprocessors.
The biggest increase in the amount paid in 1999 was for plastics, up almost 40%
from Esc20 (0.1)to Esc33 per kilogramme.
Sweden Sweden is one of the countries at the forefront of European environmental
legislation. Producer-responsibility legislation makes producers responsible for attaining
certain government-set targets for recycled packaging materials. But a recent study,
Treatment of Packaging Waste: An Economic Analysis of the Swedish Producer
Responsibility Legislation, questions the countrys recycling legislation.
The study concludes that the legislation is extremely ineffective as costs are five to
20 times greater than the benefits. It argues that recycling policies assume that costs for
environmental damage are considerably lower for recycling than for other modes of
waste disposal.
The study indicates a total cost to society (including environmental costs) per tonne
of additional recycling of packaging waste of Skr34,000 (3740). But the cost to society
for burning or landfilling such waste, works out at less than Skr2000 per tonne.
UK The Climate Change Levy (CCL) came into force on 1 April 2001 and from 1 January
2000 revised regulations have governed the percentage share that is used to calculate the
recovery and recycling obligations of the packaging chain sectors. The change is one of
the outcomes of consultation on a review of the packaging regulations. It takes into
account the advice of the Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP) on the Changes to
Percentage Activity Obligations and Other Matters consultation paper.
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UK regulations on producer responsibility were first laid before parliament in early 1997.
These set interim targets for packaging waste of 38% recovery and 7% recycling for each
material by 199899. The target for 2000 was 43% recovery and 11% recycling.
Under the 1997 regulations companies were to be given the option of achieving these
targets either by themselves or by participating in a collective scheme, such as Valpak,
which was set up in 1996. Exemptions were granted to companies with sales of less than
5 million (7.6 million) for the period up to the end of 1999 and for companies with
sales of less than 1 million thereafter.
Spain A 1999 survey carried out by AC Nielsen on behalf of the Spanish green dot
company, Ecoembes, showed that some 85% of products sold through Spanish retail
outlets displayed the green dot to indicate that they are part of the integrated recovery
system for household packaging waste.
Ecoembes believes that some of the remaining 15% may also now belong to the
green dot system. However, this does not appear on packaging that might belong to older
stocks. The lowest penetration was found in DIY outlets and haberdashery stores. Here the
proportion of green dot packaging was just 5060% of the total.
The AC Nielsen survey covered over 500 outlets throughout Spain, representing 40
sectors of activity. At the time the survey was carried out some 22,000 products from
4500 manufacturers bore the green dot logo on their packaging.
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End-use markets
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Western European consumption of flexible packaging in the main end-use sectors baked
products, savoury snack foods, confectionery, medical packaging, dried foods, meat and
poultry, MAP systems, and tea and coffee totalled some 500,000 tonnes in 2002.
Combined annual growth is estimated at some 67%. Assuming growth remains at
that level over the next five years, western European consumption of flexible packaging in
the main end-use sectors will be 638,000 tonnes in 2006.
The flexible food-packaging sector has an increasingly important role to play in
meeting the demands of extended shelf life and hygiene.
Simple extrapolation of the historic growth of 8% a year since the late 1990s
suggests that consumption of MAP systems will be about 36,500 tonnes by 2006.
Fresh food The consumption of all flexible packaging in western Europes meat and poultry market
was 35,280 tonnes in 2002. Based on historical growth of some 5% a year, flexible
Meat and poultry packaging consumption in this sector could exceed 42,000 tonnes by 2006.
Industry estimates show that around 9000 tonnes of coated and uncoated polyester
films were used in the fresh meat, fish and poultry market in western Europe in 1998, with
strong growth in the use of MAP packaging witnessed in the UK, France, Germany and
the Benelux countries. Based on historical growth, western European demand is forecast
to rise to 12,200 tonnes by 2006.
Much of the growth in flexible packaging in this sector is a result of changing retail
patterns. With the growth of supermarkets in northern Europe, the preparation and
distribution of fresh food has undergone significant changes in the past few years.
From a flexible packaging point of view perhaps the most important change has
been the move towards centralised meat preparation and the distribution of meat by
most major food retailers.
The UK is at the forefront of this change. But in March 2001 a serious outbreak of
foot and mouth disease affected many farm animals in the UK and parts of Europe. The
public and politicians alike questioned whether it was the system that was at fault.
Nonetheless, the likelihood is that supermarkets will continue to play an increasingly
significant role in the supply of meat in Europe and centralised meat packing (CPM) will
grow, and with it the use of retail MAP and bulk MAP systems. In the UK, supermarkets
control over 60% of the retail fresh meat trade and the position of the high street butcher
continues to decline.
Typically, centrally packed retail size meat packs consist of expanded polystyrene
(EPS) or thermoformed polvinyl chloride (PVC) trays with film overwrap, which are
distributed in MAP bulk masterbags.
Packaging developments in the past few years include vacuum pack and lidded
trays and foamed PP trays. Retail pack meat trays manufactured from foamed PP have
recently been introduced as an alternative to EPS. Foamed polypropylene (PP) has a lower
density than EPS and can therefore help to reduce the amount of packaging material
used in each pack.
In the poultry sector most products are tray overwrapped. Standard non-barrier EPS trays
with clingfilm are used and this is likely to continue in the years ahead. But there are new
developments, particularly pouches, that are making their presence felt.
Vegetables Gauging the level of flexible packaging consumption in this sector is difficult as it is a
percentage of overall demand for controlled atmosphere packaging (CAP), MAP-packed
shallow thermoformed PVC/polyethylene (PE) trays with barrier polyvinylidene chloride
(PVdC)-coated polyester lids and BOPP films.
However, looking at the growth of PVC film a common wrap for fresh produce
consumption in western Europe, which has grown by less than 1% since 1998 from 52,000
tonnes to 54,065 tonnes in 2002 and to an estimated 57,200 tonnes by 2006, gives some
idea of the underlying trend.
Growth figures for western Europe as a whole disguise the fact that the flexible
packaging market for fresh fruit and vegetables is extremely healthy in northern Europe
but less so in southern Europe. However, as retail patterns in the south start to mirror
those in the north this could change.
Currently, one of the best opportunities for flexible packaging in the fresh food sector
lies in the developed northern European markets of the UK, France and the Benelux
countries. In recent years, the major retailers have devoted a much larger area of shelf-
space to fresh produce and this is expected to increase over the next few years.
Special films have been developed that modify normal moisture-resistant polymers,
such as BOPP, with minute holes to produce a microporous film. These are particularly
valuable in the wrapping of fresh produce as they have a level of permeation, which can
be tailored to the respiration rates of specific fruits and vegetables and the temperature
of storage. Tonnage figures for these films are not known but consumption is expected to
take off in the years ahead.
In line with customer demands for greater availability of convenience packaging, the
development of new flexible packaging products for the packaging of fresh and frozen
foods is picking up apace with the unveiling of new vegetable packaging, which can be
placed directly into microwaves.
Frozen foods In the late 1990s frozen food consumption rose by around 11% over a four-year period with
2002 consumption estimated at around 7.81 million tonnes in western Europe. Growth in
consumption over the next five years is expected to chart a similar course as the market
for frozen produce grows in line with the increase in out-of-town shopping centres, home
freezers and the number of frozen food products available.
Overall, though, western European demand for polyester packaging films for frozen
food is small. The industry forecasts the consumption of polyester packaging films in this
sector to grow by some 60 tonnes a year over the next five years. Frozen meat and poultry
are experiencing static or slow growth in most of western Europe.
However, the increase in demand for convenience foods has helped maintain demand
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growth in western Europe as new instant meals, frozen desserts, etc. are introduced.
Indeed, frozen ready meals are forecast to be the fastest growing fast-food sector in the
years ahead.
Typical packaging formats and materials in the frozen food sector include: low density
polyethylene (LDPE) films for fruit and vegetables; PE film for frozen meat; flexo-printed
LDPE film for potato products; and a number of combinations for ready meals.
The frozen food market as a whole is seen as an important sector by the flexible
packaging industry and one that will grow over the next five years. Historically growth in
polyester packaging for frozen foods has been over 2% a year, suggesting consumption
could well exceed 3280 tonnes by 2006.
Frozen potatoes This a new area for packaging and a stand-up/reclosable bag developed by Printpack for
Heinzs Ore-Idaw frozen potato products and available since August 2000 is believed to
represent the first major structural departure for frozen potatoes in decades. The bag
replaces a layflat or pillow-style package widely used in the frozen vegetable aisle.
The stand-up, zippered bag structure resolves what Heinz describes as the single
biggest customer complaint with frozen potato products a lack of resealability.
So successful is the new packaging that Heinz has installed 56 vertical form/fill/seal
(FFS) bagmakers from Bosch Packaging Machinery that produce the four-corner-sealed
bags and apply the zipper inline.
Soup Soup packaging has moved on a long way from the familiar tin can. The popularity of
pouches looks set to increase in the foreseeable future. Soup also comes in dried form
and the dried food sector as a whole is an important area for flexible packaging.
Stand-up pouches in a variety of shapes and sizes are being developed and in 2000
United Signature Foods unveiled a 20oz trapezoidal flexible package for Kettle-Rich fresh
soups. The packages distinct tapered shape is aimed at supermarket deli departments.
The 20oz package narrows towards the top to allow for convenient pouring into a
microwaveable bowl or saucepan for heating. Alcan-Lawson Mardon produces the pouch
material, a coextrusion consisting of a rugged 5.5mil polyester/linear LDPE/ethylene vinyl
alcohol (EVA) that can stand up to freezing and hot filling. A proprietary barrier allows
the film to maintain product freshness.
Brand identity is enhanced by the reverse-printed eight-colour graphics. Alcan-Lawson
Mardon prints the film on a Windmller & Hoelscher eight-colour flexo press at its
Charlotte, North Carolina, facility. The pouchs resealable zipper closure is applied inline
during pouchmaking. The pouches are produced by Valley Packaging Services.
An attractive viewing window means the fresh soups show through the pouch.
Product copy on the back panel recommends that the soup be kept refrigerated and used
within two days of opening. The soup has a shelf life of 60 to 90 days from date of
production, says Mercer Miller, United Signatures general manager of refrigerated foods.
The package advances the use of flexible packaging by providing an alternative to a can,
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
End-use markets
box, bottle or jar. Its environmentally friendly, offers a source reduction, is collapsible
after its used, and takes the stand-up pouch to a new consumer market, according to the
company. A 40oz pouch will be available soon.
In the UK, the New Covent Garden Soup Company produces a line of trendy soups.
The company test marketed a 450ml pouch format in Co-op and independent stores in
the Midlands in 2000.
Also in the UK, RPC Blackburns new range of Thor tamper-evident pots has been
selected by leading food manufacturer Geest for the fresh soup ranges it supplies to
Waitrose and Somerfield. The 500ml containers are injection-moulded in natural PP and
feature a removable tamper-evident tab to ensure product security and a snug fitting,
resealable lid to maintain product freshness after opening.
Cheese Total western European demand for cheese was put at over 4 million tonnes in 2002, with
growth in demand estimated, based on historic trends, at less than 1% a year. Hard
cheeses account for roughly 60% of consumption and soft cheeses 30% with the balance
mainly processed cheeses. Consumption of soft cheeses in 2000 was estimated to be over
1.11 million tonnes.
The largest markets for soft cheese in western Europe are Italy and France which
between them account for some 62% of consumption. Consumption is rising by 12% a
year and the fastest growth is forecast in Belgium and Finland.
Typical packaging formats and materials in the cheese and dairy sector include: a
PA/PE thermoformable base web and top web for hard cheeses; PS- or PP- thermoformed
pot with foil lid for cottage cheeses; PS-thermoformed pot and aluminium foil lid with
clear PS overcap for cream cheeses; and thermoformed tub with aluminium foil-sealed lid
and PP-thermoformed overlid for dairy spreads.
New developments are taking place and Pechiney Plastic Packaging Inc. has
developed a packaging upgrade for Deli Deluxe cheese which was showcased at Pack
Expo in November 2000. The new package reformats the conventional single stack of
cheese slices in a 16oz, 24-slice twin-pack that places two stacks of deli slices side by side.
Pechiney developed a laser-scored, easy-opening feature at the top of the package
that provides clean, efficient exposure to a reclosable zipper. Replacing a cold-sealed pack
with no zipper feature, the new easy-open/reclosable pack employs a hermetic heat seal
to offer superior product protection.
Baked products With 160,286 tonnes consumed in 2002, this sector is the largest consumer of flexible
packaging in western Europe and growth, based on historic trends, is forecast to be
around 7% over the next five years. Baked products cover a wide area, apart from bread,
and include cakes and biscuits which have experienced significant growth in the main
western European markets.
Bread Bread consumption in western Europe as a whole is largely static but there are significant
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national, cultural and consumption differences. In the UK and Germany sliced bread
is popular, but in countries such as France and Italy, bread is not pre-packed.
In theory this presents a large potential opportunity for converters and film
manufacturers but only to the extent that the major supermarkets are able to win market
share away from independent bakeries, in particular in Spain, Italy and France. This
growth will be helped once southern European countries adopt the retail patterns in
vogue in northern Europe, where large out-of-town retail centres have largely brought
about the decline in the numbers of small independent bakers.
But while the outlook for bread in western Europe is static, the consumption of baked
goods as a whole is growing, assisted by the big rise in consumption of baked cakes, etc.,
which are popular in the main markets of Germany and the UK.
Spain is forecast to show the fastest growth in BOPP film consumption to 2006, with
a rise of 8% between 2000 and 2006.
Meanwhile, the purchasing of baguettes to heat at home in the microwave is
becoming more popular and providing new opportunities for flexible packaging. One new
development is the Wave Wrape self-venting wrapper material for UK-based MSO
Cleland/Baguettes individually wrapped microweavable baguettes. Launched in 2000,
the paper/film-laminated wrap is distributed to Rye Valley Foods in Ireland by MSO
Cleland of the UK for retail baguette products available in England and parts of Europe.
Consumers do not need to open or vent the package before placing it in the
microwave oven. Stored frozen, the baguette can be defrosted, heated and eaten straight
from the wrap after microwaving.
Formulated to resist moisture damage throughout freeze/thaw cycles, the wrap
consists of an adhesive lamination that Phoenix produces by combining an outer layer of
bleached, fluorochemically treated grease- and moisture-resistant kraft paper from Crown
Vantage with a non-heat-sealable polyester, metallised by RollVac. Phoenix then applies a
registered, proprietary heat-seal adhesive coating to the polyester (the wraps inside layer)
through a gravure process. The proprietary inner heat-seal coating later forces the filled,
finsealed package to vent automatically after heat and steam build pressure during the
cooking cycle. The release of moisture during heating enhances the breads crispiness.
Another distinctive aspect of the wrap lies in the demetallising of the polyester layer
to accommodate the particular food application. The demetallising pattern acts as a
susceptor to achieve the proper heat profile. The metallised film is demetallised by
applying a caustic solution that oxidises the metal when exposed to infrared heat. The
finseal is also demetallised to prevent browning of the kraft paper layer and prevent
overcooking of the ends of the bread.
While the demetallising takes place on a separate line, Phoenix adhesive-laminates
the two kraft and polyester materials, one-side flexo-prints the finished web and coats the
other side using rotogravure cylinders in a one-pass operation on custom equipment
designed and built in-house. The flexo-printed graphics provide cooking instructions and
line art illustrations.
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
End-use markets
Snack foods Consumption in of snack foods in western Europe, based on historic trends, is expected to
grow well above GDP levels and approach 135,000 tonnes by 2006. Snack foods is a well
established market for flexible packaging and their popularity in western Europe
continues to grow as new brands of crisps, nuts, etc. are introduced. The market is forecast
to grow by some 8% a year and is largely immune to external macroeconomic pressures
such as an economic downturn.
The annual growth forecast for flexible packaging in this sector is therefore forecast
at 10%. This would therefore suggest a 2006 consumption level of over 150,000 tonnes,
compared with the 135,000 tonnes forecast based on 8% historic growth.
Biscuits Biscuit consumption in western Europe is on the increase, with the UK followed by France,
the largest markets. But the highest growth rates are being seen in Spain, Italy, Austria,
Norway and the Benelux countries.
New designs are creating increased opportunities for flexible packaging in the biscuit
market, particularly with the development of twin packs, multipacks and demand for a
greater variety of pack sizes. Multipacks increasingly use BOPP/pattern cold-seal although
a significant proportion still use heat-seal films where very high packing line speeds are
less important.
Up-market premium or fragile biscuits increasingly use thermoformed trays with
BOPP/cold-seal overwrap on horizontal FFS flow pack-type wrapping.
Cakes This baked product sector has witnessed considerable growth, particularly in northern
Europe where the demand for industrially produced cakes has grown substantially. Typical
pack formats and styles in the cakes sector include: whole cakes packed in paperboard
cartons with cast PP transparent windows; cake bars/pieces packed in white opaque
cellulose or BOPP; American-style cakes packed in aluminium foil trays with a paperboard
carton outer, the latter with a cast PP transparent window; up-market products packed in
thermoformed plastic trays with sealed lids.
Coffee and tea Consumption growth in this sector is expected to rise in the years ahead with flexible
packaging consumption forecast to increase by some 5% in the next five years. However,
the growth rate is marginally down on the mid-1990s when it averaged about 6%.
Nonetheless, tea and coffee consumption is being helped by innovative new products.
The growth in specialist coffee brands and coffee houses has been a recent phenomenon
in many large western European cities and this growth in coffee chains is expected to
continue. Consumption indicators suggest consumption of around 9500 tonnes in 2006.
Depending on the market, a number of different packaging types are employed for
both coffee and tea. These include metallised PET/PE, PET/foil/PE and OPA/foil/PE for
both vacuum-packed and loose-packed ground coffee. Instant coffee is normally packed in
glass jars with a lidding membrane under the screwcap. Tea is also normally sold in
paperboard cartons with coextruded OPP film overwrap.
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But the European coffee consumer is becoming more sophisticated in his/her tastes and
premium products are selling well so placing new demands on packagers. A new product
from Coffee Masters, Bella Crema Cappucino in the packet, has been launched.
This powdered gourmet mix comes in a 0.75oz packet that uses clear polyester/white
resin/foil/clear resin/LLDPE heat-sealant film. The material is surface-printed in six
colours (including a spot colour) using water-based EB-curable inks and a proprietary
ultra-high-gloss EB lacquer.
Confectionery The European confectionery market is huge, although there are indications that it is
maturing so high growth rates are unlikely. Nonetheless, some 3.1 million tonnes of sugar
and chocolate confectionery are consumed in the region, with chocolate accounting for
around 2 million tonnes.
Some 73,034 tonnes of flexible packaging was consumed in the confectionery sector
in 2002 and with the market growing historically by around 6% a year, this will rise to
92,200 tonnes by 2006.
The largest consumer is Germany, which accounts for about 30% of all the chocolate
eaten in western Europe. The next biggest market is the UK, with just under 30%,
followed by France with over 10%. Over 50% of all sugar confectionery is accounted for
by Germany, the UK and France.
The main packaging trends in the confectionery market include the widespread and
increasing use of pattern cold-seal adhesive for confectionery countlines. These enable
faster packaging line speeds than is possible with heat-seal films. Developments are
focusing on cost savings through downgauging or the use of alternative film grades.
Premium products increasingly use laminate structures such as reverse-printed BOPP
and BOPP with pattern cold-seal. Waxed paper and aluminium foils are still used to wrap
individual sweets in conjunction with cellulose, PVC or cast PP film twistwrap.
As with biscuits, multipacks are becoming increasingly widespread as is the use of
innovative flexible packaging for premium products.
Dried foods Western European consumption of flexible packaging in this sector in 2002 was 37,782
tonnes. It is a clear growth area and with growth forecast at 7% over the next five years,
consumption could approach 50,000 tonnes by 2006.
The increase in dried food consumption and with it the increase in flexible packaging
use in this area is helped by changes in retail patterns, which in turn are being pushed by
changes in lifestyle, family structures, etc.
Consumption increases are being seen in areas such as pasta, which has grown in
popularity in northern Europe over the past few years. There are also increases in the
consumption of products such as dried packet soups, cake mixes, instant beverages,
instant meals and sauce mixes.
A major benefactor of the increase in dried food consumption is film. BOPP film
usage in the western European dried foods sector was estimated at around 39,657 tonnes
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
End-use markets
in 2002 having grown by an average of 8% a year in the mid- to late-1990s. Annual
average consumption growth to 2006 is forecast to be slightly lower at 7% a year to
reach an estimated 48,500 tonnes.
An important growth area within the dried foods sector is pasta, where consumption
is on the increase and not just in Italy. Packagers are switching from cartons with paper
inner bags to BOPP free-standing bags. These bags are becoming increasingly popular for
a wide range of dried foods, such as lentils, dried peas and cracked wheat. The
advantages of flexible films over traditional paperboard cartons include weight reduction,
cost savings, material savings, superior moisture resistance and product visibility.
Pharmaceuticals Consumption of flexible packaging in the medical sector in 2002 in western Europe was
around 57,222 tonnes. Growth, based on that seen in the 1990s, is comparatively low at
2%. Consumption is projected to rise to 62,000 tonnes in 2006.
However, it is a very important area for flexible plastic packaging, although there is
competition from rigid plastics, paper, glass and aluminium foil, and a number of new
products have come on-stream in recent years. Plastics now account for around one-third
of the market, having eroded the market share previously enjoyed by other materials.
Consumption is concentrated in the UK, Ireland, Germany and France, which are believed
to account for around 60% of European medical packaging demand.
Medical device packaging is used both by medical products manufacturers and also
in hospitals for re-sterilised and reusable medical instruments. Syringes, needles and
dressings account for the largest proportion of packaging requirements, although other
end-use applications are growing in importance, especially catheters, drapes and gowns,
procedure packs and other products.
Overall, packaging for single-use, disposable medical products is believed to account
for some 60% of all European medical packaging usage and its share is increasing.
Pharmaceutical packaging has witnessed the most spectacular gains with the
introduction of blister packaging, which has provided opportunities for aluminium foil and
flexible plastics. New tamper-proof containers and easy-open sachets have changed the
face of pharmaceutical packaging over the past few years. This change is expected to
continue for the next few years.
New products continue to be developed, particularly in the area of child-resistant
reclosable easy-open (CRREO) medical packages. The Pactech division of US company
HAL Baggin recently introduced a new package called Medi CRREO, which is a
transparent stand-up flexible packaging structure for medical applications.
The packaging is designed to be used by pharmaceutical companies, pharmacists
and clinical trials companies that want to continue packaging oral medications in
blisterpacks and add the Medi CRREO as a secondary or overpackage. The reclosable
Medi CRREO is said by Pactech to be the only package of its kind thus far to pass
the Child Protocol/Senior Friendly Testing required by the US Consumer Products
Safety Commission.
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The zippered package is a clear, side-sealed pouch and is produced using a 6.5mil
extrusion laminate from Cello-Foil. The proprietary five-layer structure incorporates an
outer heat-resistant layer, a sealant layer and blown HDPE film.
Typically filled by hand, the pack provides moisture- and tear-resistance and protects
the blister-packed medications inside from damage. The Medi CRREO can be made to
order and sized to suit specific customer requirements.
After about six months in development, the pouch opens up a host of possibilities for
pharmaceuticals manufacturers that want to continue to use blisterpacks, which
themselves ensure accurate dosing and allow consumers to view contents without opening
the package.
Smurfit-Stone Containers flexible packaging arm has also introduced a stand-up
reclosable pouch for medical packaging. The zippered polyester/blown LLDPE stand-up
pouch displays graphics in blue and black. The pouch material is made by Smurfit-Stones
plant in Milwaukee and then shipped to its plant in Schaumburg, Illinois, where it is made
into pouches.
Another development is a flexible packaging product from Rollprint Packaging
Products. FlexForme F is a flexible press-formed container adopted by Biosite Diagnostics
for point-of-care, hand-held, diagnostic, cardiac marker test kits.
The new container has a nylon/aluminum foil/PE-based sealant bottom web that is
press- or cold-formed into a contoured shape with recessed compartments that allow for
consistent, secure product placement of kit contents.
Rollprint manufactures the web from a proprietary structure on its Egan extrusion
coater/laminator. The container is covered with a peelable, heat-sealable barrier top web.
The container can be formed and filled automatically by Biosite, instead of by hand,
Rollprint says, and can also be heat-sealed automatically.
DIY The explosion in the popularity of DIY in the past few years in northern European markets
has provided flexible and other packaging with new opportunities. However, it is difficult
to establish a figure for flexible packaging in this application as the market is relatively
new and DIY packaging covers a wide range of tools and equipment.
The annual flexible packaging consumption growth rate in this sector could be as
high as 12% to 2006.
Household detergents Rigid plastics have a particularly strong hold on this sector as the rigid plastic bottle is
a common packaging medium for a whole range of detergents. However, there is some
growth in the use of smaller size sachets made of flexible plastic and further growth can
be expected as demand from single-person households for smaller packs takes off.
Annual percentage growth to 2006, based on responses to a Pira survey, is 6.7%.
Labelling Labelling and print packaging is increasingly important to the flexible packaging industry.
In 2002, the European labelling market amounted to around 7.96 billion m
of paper and
Introduction to Flexible Packaging
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plastic-based materials. The UK and Germany are the two biggest label consumers in
western Europe, each accounting for about 25% of the market.
The market is growing by some 5% a year and in 2006 consumption is forecast to be
about 8.96 billion m
. This represents a big growth opportunity for BOPP and PE plastic
film. In the 1980s, most volume usage of label materials were made out of paper or paper-
based label stock.
Now, over 20% of pressure-sensitive labels, all sleeve labels, most in-mould and
some glue applied labels are made out of BOPP or PE plastic films. The rapid increase
in the growth of packaging using plastic materials, such as plastic bottles, pots and
plastic flexible packaging, have benefited labelling technologies to the disadvantage
of paper labels.
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