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Q: Explain in novice terms what raw materials and resins are, and what they can do for the quality of flexible packaging films.Bunker: Resins are one component of the final package, but they are extremely important as they form the base of the overall package. Using high performance sealants, abuse-resistant resins and barrier resins give the package the quality it needs and differentiate performance from lower-quality products. However, not only are the resins and adhesives important, a converter’s expertise and abilities in film fabrication, printing and laminating are also enormously important in determining the final quality of the packaging.
Q: How are resin & raw material prices affecting the state of the industry?Bunker: As in any industry, trends in pricing will create a ripple effect throughout the supply chain. Such is the case in the flexible packaging supply chain, due to the ongoing price volatility of propylene monomer and more consistently favorable cost position of ethylene. As a result, polyethylene (PE) has become the more attractive choice over polypropylene (PP). Consequently, we have seen a shift in the marketplace toward more PE-based products rather than PP-based products.
Q: Are you seeing new resin/raw material blends that are dropping off in popularity and use - if so, which ones? Are you noticing specific resin/raw materials that are becoming more in demand?Bunker: The price volatility of propylene and more consistently favorable cost position of ethylene has helped make polyethylene the more attractive choice over polypropylene. In fact, the market dynamics in the petrochemical and energy industries have caused contract refinery grade propylene prices to swing more than 12 percent in a three-month period, making for challenging business decisions.
Over the last couple of years the pricing of Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) resins disconnected and increased from the other polyethylene polymers. Thus, converters were more serious about optimizing blends of linear low density with LDPE. This trend inspired Dow to develop both LDPE and Linear Low Density polymer types that give flexible packaging producers the ability to use less LDPE to achieve higher output, better optics, and potentially tougher films through incorporation of one or both of these new materials in their blends.
Q: How can a converter maximize their resin/raw materials? (i.e. using reclamation services, ensure a great film in the first place, etc?)Bunker: There are three ways a converter can produce high quality results from their raw materials. First, we recommend that converters always use good quality resins as a base. It never surprises us to learn that flexible packaging producers struggling with their products’ quality use formulations that incorporate large amounts of offgrade or secondary market resin with unknown “heritage.”
Secondly, never neglect preventative maintenance. Proactively servicing equipment and ensuring that all parts of the line function well can have big impacts on scrap rate and film quality.
Lastly, it is important to stay aligned with resin and adhesive suppliers who push the boundaries and limits of these materials. Resin producers, such as Dow, continuously develop new resins that exhibit better sealing, toughness, optics, and other properties that would potentially enable production of the same performance with fewer materials.
Dow Flexible Food and Specialty Packaging
(800) 258-2436; www.dow.com