2014 Emerging Innovations and Trends in the Flexible Packaging Industry
Previous Mid-Year Insights & Innovations
The flexible packaging industry is growing, and with more growth comes new, innovative products. Flexible Packaging has collected a handful of interesting products to present to the industry in this year’s annual Mid-Year Insights & Innovations cover story.
- Labels Reveal Temperature for Food Packaging
- Resealable Films Keep Products Fresh, Provide Convenience for Consumers
- Electron Beam-Curable CI Flexo Ink Technology
- New Product Reinvents How Wine is Packaged, Served and Enjoyed
- The Case for Narrow Web in Flexible-Package Printing
- Fresh Packaging Provides Convenience for Consumers
In 2009, Thinfilm achieved a huge milestone in the history of printed electronics: announcing the first rewriteable memory product and demonstrating the printing process for its manufacture.
Thinfilm memory can store digital data on a label thinner than a human hair, and at a significantly reduced cost, when compared to traditional electronics. This rewriteable memory is the core foundation component that makes many printed electronic product applications possible. In 2010, Thinfilm announced its first commercialized product – a printed memory component utilized for brand protection and rewriteable memory for games and toys that enables interactive play.
Thinfilm’s recent distribution agreement with PakSense is the first announcement in which a printed electronics temperature-monitoring label will be available for commercial use in the food markets. PakSense currently designs, develops and manufactures a full line of temperature-monitoring labels based on conventional electronics, and has an established customer base and distribution network. Offering this first-generation printed electronics label through this agreement is a natural extension of the existing PakSense technology and product line. By joining forces, PakSense and Thinfilm will help ensure only the freshest and safest products reach consumers.
To achieve the printed electronic temperature-monitoring label, Thinfilm has developed an ecosystem of partners to provide other components, which include printed thermistors from PST sensors and printed electrochromic displays from Acreo. A prototype of this next-generation, temperature-monitoring label has been demonstrated, and Thinfilm is in the process of fine-tuning the manufacturing and printing process. The label will display if certain temperatures ranges have been breached and is positioned as an alternative to chemical indicators. Product availability is expected in early 2015.
“By introducing Thinfilm’s printed electronics technology to the perishable foods space, PakSense will provide another tool to help ensure overall product integrity and reduce unnecessary waste, while arming producers, retailers and consumers with the information they need to make smarter decisions,” says David Oster, CEO of PakSense. “We’re delighted to pass this value along to our customers and look forward to working with Thinfilm on additional technology developments in the future.”
Südpack USA Inc. has extended its range of film-packaging applications for food products on the U.S. market with its product family, Multipeel.
Company officials say the multilayer packaging films run smoothly on all packaging machines, and provide easy opening without a knife or scissors. They can be reclosed multiple times without any quality loss, keeping perishable products fresh for a longer period of time. The films can also be stored and presented directly in the package.
Multipeel films can be equipped with different barrier properties, ranging from low to high oxygen barriers. Thanks to many years of experience in coextruding film layers, Südpack holds the required expertise in-house.
“All our Multipeel products come in a consistently high quality,” says Tom Wilde, sales director at Südpack USA Inc. “That is crucial for our customers, as any variation in the material could cause a disruption in the production process and lead to machinery downtime.”
Convenience for Consumers, Functionality for Producers
Multipeel packaging products offer a number of convenient options: they open smoothly and can be resealed many times; consumers can store and present meat and cheese products on the dining table directly in the package, without any extra box, platter or plastic wrapping.
Besides their easy handling, Multipeel films are highly functional and work smoothly on all common packaging machines. “Südpack is one of only few European manufacturers who coextrude their seal layers in-house,” says Wilde. “We test various options at our development center in Germany to make sure that the film runs perfectly on our customers’ machines, without any need for retooling. That saves time and is a real advantage for the production process. Our customers in the U.S. receive their customized packaging solution, precisely adapted to their individual requirements.”
Resealing in Top- or Base Films and Tubular Bags
The different Multipeel package solutions work with a resealing layer in the top- or base film, and come in both transparent- and white-colored films. Transparent films are an effective eye-catcher at the point of sale, as they offer consumers a direct view of the contents. Colored films, on the other hand, are an ideal solution for eye-catching full prints or light-sensitive goods. Südpack prints its films in-house with rotogravure printing in up to 12 colors, or high-quality flexographic printing in up to 10 colors. Pattern-matching printing on front and back, in-line lamination and printing on intermediate layers are also part of the portfolio.
Multipeel is mainly used for modified atmosphere packaging processed on deep drawing machines. It keeps products safe for a long period of time and opens very smoothly. With a resealing feature in the base film, “Multipeel Base” offers easy opening with an especially high crack force for higher safety in case of mechanical stress. When looking for an extra strong reclosing system, “Multipeel High,” with a re-sealing layer in the top film, is the right choice.
Multipeel flow wrap in turn is a resealing solution for tubular bags. It works without any aids such as zipper or adhesive strips, which makes the film suitable for all common tubular bag machines. The film’s oxygen barrier makes Multipeel flow wrap suitable for both cooled- and uncooled foods, such as cooked meat, confectionary, snacks, cheese, cereals, nuts and bakery items.
“Reclosable packages are not very common yet on the North American market, which is why we believe that our solutions will bring true benefits both for consumers and producers in the U.S.,” says Wilde.
A new EB-curable flexo ink technology platform has arrived to the printing inks market: Gelflex-EB from Techno Solutions. This new product promises to offer the marketplace both an economic and an environmentally sustainable alternative to current solvent systems.
GelFlex-EB ink is a high-solids ink, which helps achieve a smaller and more consistent print dot. This allows for the use of an expanded gamut inks system, further reducing both the number of colors used and the number of ink color changes. The result is higher uptime, more consistency and productivity. Consistent with energy-cured inks, the EB inks can be left on press between runs, shifts and even weekends, decreasing the clean-up time and again, increasing uptime and productivity. Furthermore, with about 90 percent reduction in solvent emissions, the use of abatement equipment is significantly reduced; further reducing utility, compliance and insurance costs.
Company officials say GelFlex-EB ink consumption will be about 2.5- to 2.8 times less than conventional inks, due to the high solids content and ink formulation permitting higher pigment loading. Thus, using Gelflex-EB inks is actually lower than the cost to print with conventional solvent or water-based inks.
A GelFlex-EB installation will use up to 80 percent less energy, with a typical EB using only 30-40 kilowatts of electricity. GelFlex will also use 60 percent less color ink laydown and 65 percent less last-down white ink.
The most effective use of GelFlex-EB occurs when looking to print and coat in-line; print and adhesive laminate in-line; or print and crosslink in-line. The formulation of the GelFlex-EB inks allows for all of these in-line processing options with just one EB machine located at the end-of-press. The GelFlex-EB inks can be applied on various substrates including various papers, films, heat-shrinkable film tubes and foils.
Miravante Brands LLC and Kretek International have unveiled Nuvino, a new line of premium, single-serve wine in a pouch. Nuvino is designed to meet a growing consumer demand for convenience, quality, ease of use and eco-friendly packaging.
“Nuvino goes anywhere, anytime – one glass at a time – from intimate settings such as picnics, poolside and golf outings to larger gatherings such as outdoor concerts, sporting events and tailgating,” says Jason Carignan, president of Miravante Brands LLC. “Our research shows that today’s discriminating consumers – in particular, a skyrocketing number of Millennials – are seeking wines that allow them to experience unique varieties from around the world, but with the simplicity of a convenient, single-serve format.”
Expected to retail for $3.99, Nuvino is launching with four premium varietals: Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s Maule Valley; Chardonnay from South Africa’s Cape Winelands; Malbec from Mendoza’s Maipú wine region in Argentina ; and Red Blend from Australia’s Swan Hill wine region.
“Nuvino is not only convenient for individuals on the go, but is also ideal for the hospitality and travel industry, sports and entertainment venues and other recreational facilities that are always seeking for more ways to capture and grow on-premise wine sales,” says Carignan. “For servers and consumers, the Nuvino wine pouch is a safe, unbreakable, lightweight package that doesn’t require a corkscrew to open. This allows hotels, casinos and resorts to offer premium wine throughout their facilities (pools, tennis courts, in-room) safely and in single-serving size.”
Miravante and Kretek are already receiving strong interest from distributors and retailers and are actively seeking new wine distributors across the country.
Mark Andy Versa Max
Wider-web machines, which have historically dominated the flexible packaging market, have proven to be extremely profitable when it comes to longer runs. However, their wide widths, larger minimum repeat and longer job changeover time lead to poor profits on short runs.
Mark Andy Versa Max is an efficient, productive mid-web flexographic printing press ideal for short runs. The in-line machine is able to print a short-run job at a lower cost than any other press in its class, with a combination of the fastest job setups and changeovers, consistent high-quality production at increased speeds and reduced material, waste and labor costs.
Versa Max’s exclusive architecture incorporates a rock-solid cylinder stack, an upward web path, flexible drying solutions, quick-change inking components and a 10-inch minimum repeat. Valuable time is saved by incorporating a variety of converting options (laminating, curing, slitting, etc.) in-line, without relying on multiple offline processes. And the easy-to-manage tooling and ergonomic profile of the Versa Max have resulted in 40 percent shorter changeover times than that of a CI press.
The Rise of Short Runs
There is a powerful case to be made for using narrow-web presses in flexible-package printing, especially given the growing tide of short-run jobs.
This means that there is a lot of opportunity for label makers to enter the market of short-run flexible packaging. At the same time, printers that specialize in flexible packaging need to recognize the increase in short- run jobs. If they want to continue doing these jobs profitably, they might need to invest in narrow-web equipment to maintain their margins.
Shorter Runs are the New Reality
The market for value-added flexible packaging is a huge and growing one, projected to reach $99.6 billion by 2018, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 5.1 percent from 2013 to 2018.
If current trends are any indication, much of the growth in this market is in short-run jobs (that is, jobs running 200,000 or fewer items). The market forces behind this growth are not likely to go away soon. Such market forces include:
- Customers wanting to control overall costs. Shorter runs, though more expensive per unit product, can still be less expensive overall.
- Customers adopting lean- manufacturing initiatives. This leads to customers wanting to store less inventory, and get more product “on demand”.
- More varieties of products. Each variety often needs its own unique packaging, but in lower quantities.
- Smaller private brand labels/companies
- Increasing use of promotional packaging (which cannot be used over and over).
The rising tide of short-run flexible packaging will force the industry to shift. Short-run jobs are not profitable on larger central impression (CI) web presses. But they can still be profitable on smaller narrow-web presses. This means that manufacturers with smaller presses (e.g. label printers) can break into the market and service the jobs that CI printers don’t want to run on their larger machines. At the same time, some CI printers could do well to capture more market by investing in a smaller web press.
Narrow Web Does Short Runs More Profitably
There are several features that make narrow-web presses ideal for short-run flexible package printing and converting. When taken together, these features can reduce the cost of shorter print runs, increasing profitability.
Just how much more profitable is a narrow-web press over a wide-web press? Assuming that the price of the job to the customer remains constant, the profitability of a job depends solely on the cost to produce said job. Job costs are certainly lower on a narrow-web press for shorter runs.
If one were to move these smaller jobs to a narrow-web press, it would account for a significant percentage of the capacity of a typical wide-web press, depending upon the job mix of the converter. In other words, a portion of the jobs run on a large press can be done in more cost-effective manner. Making some basic assumptions about materials cost, speed of the run and the job mix, a smaller web press could amount to several hundred thousands of dollars in savings over the course of a year.
What Makes Narrow Web Ideal for These Shorter Runs?
How can a narrow-web press manage to be so cost-effective? This seems counter intuitive, especially since run speeds tend to be slower, and more linear feet of material are needed per job. But there are several “hidden” benefits of using narrow web that bring down costs and make for a more efficient (and more operator-friendly) process:
The ability to convert in-line. Many narrow web presses can be fitted with stations for laminating, curing, slitting and more, all in-line. This means that product does not need to be moved from machine to machine, saving transport time and setup for additional machines. Less inventory in process and less lead time means better cash flow overall. Less manpower is needed too – a single operator can run a machine and create product, rather than having several machines with several operators.
Less plate cost. Plates and plating can be as much as 40 percent of the production cost of a short-run flexible packaging job. A smaller press will have half the width (or less) of a typical CI press, and can be one around versus two around, which would mean only ¼ of the plate cost compared to a CI.
Less set-up/changeover time. The changeover time for a narrow-web press is much shorter than for a wide press. Even with the automated wash-up systems on wide-web presses, all components need to be wiped down after the rinse cycle and the doctor blades and seals may need replacing. With smaller components ergonomically located on narrow-web presses, the general practice is to swap components that are clean and ready for production. The components of these presses are also smaller and easier to handle, which means that changeovers can be done much more comfortably and quickly. These factors add up to 40 percent shorter changeovers compared to what is required for a CI press. If this is applied to all jobs and accumulated over the course of a year, the narrow-web press could save 430 hours in non-cycle time.
Less waste. Narrow-web presses use less substrate and less ink in their make-ready. In fact, a narrow press can have less than 20 percent of the ink waste of a larger press over the course of a cycle. Converting in-line further reduces the waste that comes with multiple setups and human error.
More flexibility. With curing processes that can happen in-line, there are more options with regard to the inks used with a narrow press. For example, UV inks can be used, providing a quick-drying, environmentally friendly option to solvent-based inks. And with the advancements in low-migration ink technology combined with the trend toward more global acceptance of the use of UV inks in flexible packaging, this gives an advantage to narrow-web presses. Narrow presses can also print to a back side more easily, making some traditionally difficult projects much more cost effective.
More operator-friendly. A narrow press has smaller, more accessible parts. Those parts are typically positioned in a way that is most comfortable for the operator, leading to less fatigue. Less fatigue, along with fewer stations and less set-up, mean a large reduction in human error.
Getting Into the Market Niche
Given the above, why aren’t more printers getting into the short-run flexible packaging niche?
Part of the reason is psychological: in the minds of many professionals in the industry, there is still a separation between wide web used for large flexible packaging runs, and narrow web used for the label market. But, when one thinks it over and crunches the numbers, there is no fundamental reason why flexible packaging runs have to be large, nor why shorter runs have to be done on a larger press.
For the narrow-web converter, getting into the flexible packaging game is relatively easy, with low barriers to entry. For some applications, there would be no additional equipment needed to modify existing presses used for labels. And for applications that did require additional equipment, capital investment could be relatively minimal. Some training on the new equipment would be needed; but your typical press operator could easily acquire the needed skills and begin running flexible packaging runs just as easily as labels.
Larger web machines are still more profitable with larger runs around 250,000 items or more. They are also indispensable for running larger products that exceed the maximum width of narrow-web presses, or for running more extensible materials, like linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE). Thus, there is still a large market that is served by these larger machines. The market that is not being serviced efficiently is the short-run market. Printers with larger presses know that they cannot do these jobs profitably. The converters that realize this and use narrow-web presses to pick up the slack will be able to profitably capture a growing market.
Schur Star Systems worked together with Direct Produce Supplies PLC – a provider of a variety of fruits for a British grocery retailer – to develop the new Fresh ‘n’ Go bags, which are mainly focused on providing a higher degree of convenience for the consumer. The fresh packaging was designed by Schur Star in efforts to help DPS create an innovative package to replace the conventional, netted-punnet-and-label combination.
A case study was conducted by Schur Star and DPS to determine if the new package design would attract more customers. The package was tested on kiwi fruit, and the result was a significant increase in sales. The benefits that were found through Schur Star’s packaging concept include:
- Unique selling proposition
- Fresh design
- New branding possibility
- 40 percent lighter material
- Reduction of transport costs
- Efficient use of shelf space
- Easy pick-up from shelf
- Higher consumer attention
- Attractive packaging designs
- Great visibility of product
- Fast and easy filling
Officials say this packaging concept offers superior shelf presence; higher consumer attention; handle for ease of purchase; and reseal strip for convenient multi-use.