Q: Explain in novice terms what laminating is, and what it can do for the quality of flexible packaging films.
A: Lamination is the converting process developed to improve the characteristics of a flexible substrate in general and for packaging in particular. Technology is based on joining additional layers of film to the primary structure by means of an adhesive agent. Improvements achieved with lamination include, but are not limited to: protection of the print layer; enhancement of the mechanical properties; enhancement of the barrier properties.
By adding additional layers of substrates, it is in fact possible to trap the print layer between two films, protecting the surface from scratches. This also enhances the mechanical characteristics by improving puncture resistance, abrasion resistance, cut resistance, as well as enhance the protective characteristics by means of improved gas barrier and improved UV barrier. Number and characteristics of additional layers is functional to the final packaging target.
A state of the art laminator has to be able to handle a comprehensive list of substrates, including films of all natures, paper, foil, foams, non-wovens, etc.
Q: Where does laminating fit in the flexible packaging film process?
A: Lamination, in general, comes immediately after the print process and requires, in order to finish the roll, to be followed by a slitting process. Lamination fits within a flex pack conversion process as the step characterized by the highest value added to the finish product, with the laminator being the capital equipment with the quickest ROI in the industry.
Q: Are all flexible packaging films laminated? In what applications would laminating be ideal?
A: Not all flexible packaging is laminated. Nevertheless, the tendency in the industry is for a steady growth of lamination. In fact, even for the simplest application may require at least a two-layer structure, primarily to protect the print.
In general it is to be considered that there are always solid technical objectives behind every lamination application. Those objectives, regarded on a case by case basis, will impose lamination and will determine the complexity of the process.
Nowadays, three layered lamination is undergoing constant growth on a global scale in general, and in North America in particular. A multilayer structure (at least 3-ply) comes into the equation to comply with the highest demanding applications in the industry, when a high barrier package has to comply with other requirements, like the mechanical protection of the packaged good.
Q: Are you seeing any new developments or new techniques in laminating? If so, what are you noticing?
A: In North America, it is remarkable the growth of adhesive lamination. Adhesive lamination is designed around a number of characteristics targeted to the evolution of the present-day packaging industry, including minimal scrap, quick start up, low energy consumption, low capital equipment expenditure.
Among technologies available for adhesive lamination then, it is 100 percent solid adhesive lamination (solvent less) that is gaining a stronger market share. The simplicity of the process, the high productivity, the size of the investment and, of course, the incredibly low energy consumption has captured the attention of converters.
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