As FP reported in January, demand for converted flexible packaging is projected to increase 3.8 percent annually, until 2015, according to a recent study conducted by The Freedonia Group. Continual growth for flexible packaging is expected to be maintained. With such promise for growth, now is the time for innovative ideas.

There have been a few new products and technologies emerging so far this year. All of these innovations are key in continuing the evolution of the flexible packaging industry.

New Film in Flexible Packaging

This year, ExxonMobil Chemical has introduced a new Bicor MB866 OPP film, which delivers outstanding gas barrier properties for modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) applications. This 21 micron Bicor MB866 OPP film features a polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) coating on one side and an acrylic coating on the reverse to provide all-round performance for oxygen-sensitive dry products requiring MAP such as fruits and nuts, cereals, snacks, roasted coffees, pet foods.

Typically the PVOH coating is reverse printed and adhesive laminated to a sealant film, such as blown polyethylene (PE) or cast polypropylene (PP), to provide high oxygen protection for prolonged product shelf life. With an oxygen barrier level below 1cc/m²/day, this film delivers a barrier performance at the level of metalized polyester (PET) and typically higher than most other clear barrier solutions such as polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC) or ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer (EVOH) coated or coextruded films. The surface energy of the PVOH coating helps ink receptivity and its good chemical barrier contributes to reduced solvent retention.

This clear barrier film uses solvent-free and chlorine-free coatings and provides protection from external contaminants and secondary packaging.

“The film’s excellent flavor and aroma barrier properties keep dry products tasting and smelling fresh,” says Laurent Chantraine, international market segment manager, ExxonMobil Chemical Films Business.

Exhibiting high clarity, gloss and stiffness, Bicor MB866 OPP film provides aesthetic benefits that help promote customer “pick-up” in retail outlets. Laminated to an acrylic OPP film, the structure can be lap sealed and side gussets sealed for stand-up packaging.

Fully Renewable, Biobased PET Polymer

Toray Industries, Inc. in partnership with Gevo, Inc., a leading company of renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels, has succeeded in producing laboratory-scale samples of fully renewable biobased PET and its films.

Gevo succeeded in converting isobutanol, produced from biomass by employing its own highly effective production method that uses genetically modified microorganisms, to para-xylene using conventional chemical process for commercial operations.

Toray used terephthalic acid synthesized from Gevo’s biobased para-xylene and commercially available renewable mono ethylene glycol (MEG) as raw materials, and successfully produced the PET samples by applying a new technology and PET polymerization, and film production technology. This biobased PET has exhibited properties almost equivalent to petro-based PET in laboratory conditions.

Commercially available PET is currently produced from terephthalic acid and mono ethylene glycol (MEG), both of which are derived from petroleum.

The success of this trial, albeit under laboratory conditions, is proof that PET can be industrially produced from fully renewable biomass feedstock alone. This is a significant step that would contribute to the realization of a sustainable, low-carbon society.

New Offset Printer Technology Available

Comexi Group has presented the Comexi Offset CI8, the company’s latest printer that extends all the benefits of offset printing to printing on plastic films and flexible materials, marking a turning point for the sector.

After five years of work, the company’s R&D&I team has developed an offset printer with a central impression drum and variable format that uses solvent-free inks – characteristics that make it a market first.

With the Offset CI8, Comexi Group is providing a response to the main challenges encountered in the flexible packaging printing sector: Enhancing print quality, minimizing time to market, reducing costs and protecting the environment. The new printer is equipped with cutting-edge printing tools and processes, guaranteeing the quality levels demanded by today’s packaging market. It also overcomes the drawbacks of this type of printing on non-absorbent and stretchable media.

One of the new machine’s most striking innovations is its sleeve and servo motor technology. By means of light sleeves made from aluminum or PU composites, the continuous process typical of this type of printing becomes highly repeatable and the job changeover process is streamlined. A run changeover can be performed in a matter of minutes as the sleeves can be prepared with the plates and blanket cylinders in place.

For their part, the servo motors on the individual printing cylinders, combined with the central impression drum CI technology, make it possible to rapidly configure color-to-color registrations and to maintain registration accuracy throughout the entire run.

Another feature that helps to minimize time to market is faster pre-press, thanks to the offset lithographic plates, which takes just a few minutes. The pre-press elements for flexo and gravure printing, technologies widely used in flexible packaging printing, offer production times of between 1 and 2 days and 1 and 2 weeks, respectively.

Having this type of printing technology at your disposal reduces both production time and costs, thereby minimizing the overall cost of printing. The Comexi Offset CI8 reduces cost per m2 by some 30 percent for short runs and increases annual production by 50 percent.

The printer delivers a highly sustainable conversion process thanks to the elimination of solvents and its low energy consumption, resulting in a reduced carbon footprint that is perfectly in keeping with the company's environmental protection philosophy, in addition to improved safety and working conditions for printing professionals in the field of flexible packaging. The new press by Comexi Group was developed by the Catalan company's R&D&I team, and heralds a turning point in flexible packaging printing.

Continued Innovation in Digital Flexo Printing

Combining CDI digital flexo imagers with HD Flexo technology, EskoArtwork has driven flexo printing to a new quality benchmark, which is comparable to gravure and offset, delivering customers the high quality print results they demand. Worldwide, hundreds of HD Flexo certified customers, digital flexo partners and vendors benefit from accurate sharp imaging quality combined with greater consistency and full tonal range.

Jürgen Andresen, VP flexo business at Esko, says, “HD Flexo Certification is not only a qualification process, but also an improvement process supported by Esko’s vast expertise in the field of flexo plate making. With this positive adoption, the industry reaffirmed the importance of quality improvement and print standardization.”

Esko's solutions create value for converters and trade shops with a highly automated flexo plate making process integrated with the prepress workflow. This helps flexo professionals speed up production and to drive down costs. Key enabling elements include the JDF connection to the Automation Engine (prepress workflow integration), that communicates plate production data to and from production workflow and ERP systems.

This high level of integration and automation serves the needs of an industry that is challenged to produce packaging cheaper, faster, better and greener.

Pushing the partnership model further, Esko releases Pixel+, an optical, electronic and screening enhancement for HD Flexo imaging to support flat top dots creation, a solution for those customers that use partner technologies for the oxygen-free curing of imaged plates. The benefit lies in the combination of Esko HD Flexo screening and flat top dots support for DigiCorr, DigiFlow, Lux and Next, the flat top dot solutions of other digital flexo plate vendors.

As you can see, the flexible packaging industry has been hard at work in the R&D lab to bring these innovations to market. And an active flexible packaging industry’s innovations can mean a better outcome for your product. Jump in and get innovating!

ExxonMobil Chemical
www.exxonmobilchemical.com

Toray
81-3-3245-5111; www.toray.com

Gevo Inc.
(303) 858-8358; www.gevo.com

Comexi Group
www.comexigroup.com

Esko Artwork
www.esko.com