Nick Nigro
Product Sales Manager, Extrusion Systems
Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp.
7 years with the company
(401) 333-2770

Vijay Shankur
Vice President
Mamata Extrusion Systems
17 years with the company
+91-99798 64273

Steve DeSpain
Vice President
Reifenhauser Inc.
10  years with the company
(316) 260-2122

Carl Johnson
President, OEM Division
Gloucester Engineering Co. Inc.
20  years with the company
(978) 281-1800


Q: Considering global sustainability efforts in this industry, what benefits can extrusion equipment offer?

Nigro: There are many opportunities for extrusion processors with the right equipment. Film down-gauging, improved energy efficiency during process, use of “green” resins, and potential new film solutions by replacing other less recycling friendly materials with more favorable film options.

DeSpain: Today’s extrusion equipment is helping with sustainable film production in many facets. From the ability to process recycled or biopolymers to technology that improves the efficiency of the equipment itself.

Shankar:  An extrusion line can offer films which can be used as it is unprinted; surface printed or; as a lamination film to be bonded with other substrates like BOPET, BOPP, aluminum foil, paper, etc., with or without adhesives. The applications listed above are not recyclable and hence likely to be replaced with something that can be recycled, as it is a big concern from the environment’s and society’s point of view towards sustainability goals.

Here are two possibilities which will also help to bring down the cost and help on the economic aspect of sustainability: try to convert a composite laminated structure with an equivalent multi-layer blown film structure (i.e. a 9- or 11-layer structure using high-barrier resins) or; to make both the substrates out of multi-layer film.

Also on the economy side of sustainability, the resource reduction technologies for resin cost and energy cost have already been addressed. It needs to be refined further. The ultimate effort of sustainability will be, for example, to pack milk in a pouch made out of resin generated from milk itself, and then processed through new-generation extruders customized for that purpose.

Johnson: For sustainability, Gloucester Engineering’s extrusion equipment offers significant improvements from the past, such as enhanced gauge control, in-process measurement and adaptive control technology. Our extruders also reduce film thickness and improve thickness tolerance through machine direction orientation. MDO increases tensile strength and stretches the film, giving our customers a final product that uses less raw material. Thinner film and less raw material enables our customers to lower shipping costs and reduce their carbon footprint because they can ship more bags or film per truckload.

Many of our customers are committed to reclaiming post-consumer waste and reusing it in their products, but this can cause problems, as it increases raw material variation and places more demands on their machinery. With Gloucester Engineering’s light-grooved feed sections and Optiflow dies, our customers can recycle materials at higher rates to produce a consistent, reliable product.

At Gloucester Engineering, we constantly improve our extrusion equipment by building them with more efficient motors, screws and thermal insulation. Today, it takes far less energy to make a kilogram of plastic than in the past.


Q: What sustainability developments or improvements are on the horizon in blown film extrusion?

Shankar: We see many developments in blown film technology to address sustainability issues. With monolithic (all plastics) substrates, the challenge is to ensure further process ability in terms of printing and laminating at high speeds due to stretch-ability. Such issues can be resolved by: adopting machine direction orientation on blown film lines; if needed, the process of double bubble or triple bubble TD orientation can also be done to reach nearer to BOPET and BOPET substrates.

There will still be issues on pouches with the above substrates. Such issues can be resolved with new-generation pouch making and packaging machines or blown film can be customized to process the skin and core layers with a temperature difference of 30 degrees Celsius. Here, there will be issues of curling of film, which can be resolved as making a structure with balancing layer and online annealing process in blown film line.

The use of post-consumer recycle waste in core layers for non-food applications is another area supporting the sustainability efforts. The related issues mainly on the extrusion side can be resolved with use of customized screws and barrels with continuous screen changers and suitable dies to handle layer ratios where the core is 80 percent using the majority of recycled materials.

The issue of energy saving through blown film lines is already being addressed. All the machine manufacturers are using energy-saving devices, higher productivity and lowest possible down time.

Finally, to get the real results towards sustainability, we need to make economically viable co-extrusion blown film lines to let the entire value chain of flexible packaging to contribute to the cause. To do this, blown film technology can be developed as customized, entry-level lines to replace obsolete, non-viable monolayer lines across the globe. Globally, there are more than 80 percent mono-layer lines, which need to be replaced or upgraded with 3-layer first.

Nigro: More overall line efficiencies, increased energy savings and higher output capacity per kilowatt of energy are already provided on W&H extrusion lines. W&H can also include energy monitoring with the capabilities to inform an operator of efficient or inefficient running operation.

Johnson: Many developments in sustainability in blown film extrusion and extensions of current trends include: lower energy consumption, increased energy efficiency, improved processing of recycled materials, light weighting, reduced scrap production, quicker startup and transition times, and faster bubble stability and gauge uniformity rates.

We see many new trends, too.  Many manufactures are turning to renewable resins, such as biopolymers, that have netter properties and a wider process window.  Another trend is the move toward new spiral die designs, which allow for lower and shorter purge rates, decreasing the amount of waste.  Lastly, there has been a significant increase in interest for foaming of thin films, also reducing the amount of raw material consumption, and lowering transportation costs.

Perhaps the most significant trend Gloucester Engineering has seen is the customer interest toward reworking older machines.  Our customers realize that extending the lifetime of their machines by retrofitting and/or rebuilding them to today’s standards saves the material and energy needed to build new machines. Their existing factories become more efficient and their carbon footprint doesn’t increase.  Not only does rebuilding extend the useful life of the equipment, it also helps benefit the environment in many ways. Energy is saved by both outfitting older machines with more modern drives and motors, as well as more using efficient mechanical components, like air rings and dies.  This improves the line’s efficiency and reduces energy and raw material consumption.  Overall, the repurposed machine becomes more efficient and more environmentally friendly without having to use the energy and produce the waste that creating a new machine would.

DeSpain: Reifenhäuser – not only in our blown film group, but within all of Reifenhäuser – participates in what we call “Blue Extrusion,” which falls in line with the European Blue Efficiency program. Things like higher-efficiency motors and drives, improved insulation of our extruders, the ability to take no trim during production, as well as many other things enables the end user to produce film more effectively and efficiently.


Q: Has your company made any recent upgrades or enhancements to your extrusion equipment? If so, please elaborate.

DeSpain: One of the most recent product launches we had is our Ultra Flat system. Ultra Flat is, for lack of better terms, a flattening device or iron that eliminates the natural tendency of baggy film or cambers that happens in the collapsing of the tube purely from a geometric aspect. We incorporate Ultra Flat into our oscillating haul-off, helping to minimize cost and footprint of the unit but more importantly, allowing us to use what we call the “first heat” of the film, making it very energy-efficient to use. Independent testing of films made using Ultra Flat reported increased printing and laminating speeds and dot gain reduction up to 35 percent. We also have seen up to a 49 percent improvement in bond strength leading to reduction of adhesive required in the lamination process.

Nigro: W&H recently introduced the second generation of our Varex flagship blown film lines called Varex 2 at the 2013 K-Show in Dusseldorf, Germany. The revolutionary design incorporates many energy-saving features including ergonomic design, insulation and other modules to assist an operator for more efficient production while using less energy.

Shankar: We have done many upgrades to match the sustainability efforts of the industry. Some of them include upgrading the screw technology to increase the specific outputs up to 18 percent. This has helped to reduce the energy consumption with almost double the life of the screws and barrels. We have been able to achieve up to 2.09 LBS/hr/mm of die diameter cooling with air-ring technology up-gradation (IBC adds further 30-50 percent increase in cooling). This is possibly the best in industry performance for any non-IBC lines.

To match the increased cooling capacities, we have increased the die capacities accordingly. We can now offer up to 4.4 LBS/hr/mm of die diameter. To avoid trim wastages, or for that matter, extra energy consumed for recycling them, we have developed technology to make trimless film by developing special slitting devices (no edge build up) and customized auto-width control systems integrations. This is big support for the industry to meet the sustainability efforts.

Last year the LLDPE consumption worldwide crossed LDPE consumption. To match the future requirement of using 100 percent LLDPE in all the layers, we have already developed the extruders, die and cooling systems. We have developed the entire blown film technology to make films up to 12-micron films. We are trying for 9-micron for films in 3-layer films. We are also trying to introduce entry-level 7-layer lines to support sustainability.

Johnson: Gloucester Engineering has been heavily focused on innovation, particularly by accelerating the development rate of new products that are designed to significantly improve the performance of new and existing extrusion lines. We have recently launched an advanced bubble cooling upgrade (UltraCool III) for blown film extrusion lines.  It’s designed to maximize efficiency by delivering up to 20 percent throughput improvement by optimizing the cooling rates and minimizing raw material requirements by enhancing  thickness uniformity. The system can be retrofitted onto existing air rings, or installed as a total solution on new blown film systems. 

Gloucester Engineering also has a long history of leadership in blown film line controls. Our new advanced line control system is called ExtruTouch.  ExtruTouch is based around a 24-inch touchscreen display and utilizes the latest hardware architecture and some unique and innovative software technology. The system is designed to maximize line uptime, and improve production efficiency and quality of the extruded film. The system is designed to provide advanced reporting and data management to integrate with factory-wide data management systems or provide standalone data reporting.

Other improvements include our 100 Series and 1000 Series winder rebuilds, our patented annular spiral design and our new driven layon rolls. The 100 Series and 1000 Series winder rebuilds include the full system, controller, HMI, drives, mechanical rebuilds, roll resurfacing, and more. Our new spiral design die patent was originally developed for processors running extremely thin EVOH layers of 3uM or less. Our new streamlined design extends runtime, minimizes changeover time, down gauges the barrier layer thickness, enhances layer-to-layer uniformity, and saves money.


Q: How have the latest trends in blown film extrusion influenced your company?

Nigro: W&H has always been a company to meets the needs of changing market demands. In many cases these new or changing trends are investigated and perfected in our technology center. So, we are constantly interested in and actively pursuing solutions to the changing environment.

Johnson: Our customers demand data integration. Knowledge is power, and they want more of it. This includes controls-side shop floor management, which leads to more efficient manufacturing. Another trend we see is an increased demand for larger roll diameters to minimize changeovers in both the extrusion and converting process, as it results in more uptime and less waste.

No one wants to hold inventory anymore so we have seen more interest in faster changeovers, as they push their lines to produce multiple jobs. We have improved our changeover speeds consistently in recent years, from less time to bubble stabilities to easier reconfiguration and production of complex recipes. Increasingly sophisticated resins, blends and product structures demand more flexibility in today’s extrusion machinery to process these formulations. There is increasingly more consumer pressure on the processor to improve sustainability throughout the entire conversion chain; starting with minimizing virgin resin use and running all the way through to the final transformation into energy at end of life. Lower resin prices, driven by the promise of shale gas – particularly here in the USA – has led to some significant reshoring and increased efforts to produce less waste including a need for less time to bubble stability, faster setups and enhanced uptimes. At the management level, we see an increased focus on machine utilization and overall plant efficiency, which includes investment in rebuilding/upgrading existing machines to minimize capital equipment cash outflow and maximize profitability

The societal drive to increase sustainability demands greater efficiency and less waste throughout the entire conversion chain. Gloucester Engineering has been actively helping our customers to meet the challenges brought about by these trends in the industry by supplying innovative equipment, rebuilds and retrofits solutions. Our enhanced spiral design is a leader in quick purge dies. We have improved our customer changeover speeds with faster time to bubble stability and intelligent and adoptive line controls. As mentioned earlier, our sustainability goals are high and we consistently strive to improve them. Additionally, with our acquisition of Future Design and our partnership with Pearl Technologies, we have been able to better serve the aftermarket and provide exceptional value to our customers by significantly improving existing and new line performance and efficiency, regardless of original manufacturer.

Shankar: One of the latest trends in the industry is moving from 3-layer to 5-layer for non-barrier applications. To be sustainable on energy costs and cost of equipment, we have found a better solution with customized layer ratios from 1:1:1 towards 1:8:1 through any ratio in between.


Q: Have you witnessed any changes in your customer’s demand in terms of products and services? If so, explain how your company is responding to these changing demands.

Shankar: Yes. As per our understanding, the industry has understood that it is blown film, which is contributing to 70 percent by weight and 50 percent by cost in average for any flexible packaging substrate. Hence the thrust area is now blown film over other converting equipment. This fact has generated a demand for customized lines globally.

Now almost every third customer asks for a customized line. In fact, we had launched M_CAT during K2013. It is a customization app based on critical analysis of the customer’s needs and expectations. It can help to derive the customized configuration and also calculate the conversion cost per kg to decide project viability. It has been appreciated well by the industry.

To understand and explain the significance of various blown film applications, we are probably the first blown film machinery company who shares the real film samples (not lab line samples) in the booklet form made out of the machines supplied by us. This has also been appreciated well by all.

Nigro: Relative to sustainability, as mentioned; output, gauge and energy efficiency are very important. Therefore, there are opportunities for producers to gain improvement by retrofitting components and modules to attain those advantages. W&H has been very successful in supplying these features to customers with older lines.

DeSpain: Many changes. Customers today are more conscious than ever on increased uptime and efficiencies, as it is a very competitive world and little things make the difference. At Reifenhauser we have made plenty of changes and have plenty more planned. For instance, in partnership with our sister company, Reiloy USA, we are scheduled to move into our new 60,000 square-foot facility in Wichita, Kan., in July, where we will have state-of-the-art screw and barrel manufacturing, a much larger presence of spare parts and people to support our customers. In addition, we have already hired one new service technician to support our growing business, and we will also be adding another technician in July from our German team who will move to the US to help bolster our technical support even further.

We have also set up our Reifenhäuser diagnostic center, which offers 24/7 support for our customers. The RDC allows any of our technical support teams from around the world to log into a customer’s machine and guide the customer on trouble shooting what may be wrong including ordering parts for them. We also have our web shop, which allows customers who have registered the ability to go online and order parts directly without any direct interface if they choose, sort of like Amazon. The end user can immediately see what parts are in stock in real time, simply place their order online and their part will ship the next day. Of course we are always there to support them with live personnel if questions arise while using the web shop.

Johnson: Customers consistently want more data, faster. This is becoming a common request from blown film manufacturers. Integration into existing data management systems and standalone reporting capabilities are highly valued by customers who require fast and accurate feedback coupled with meaningful, reliable performance metrics.

Additionally, the benchmarks for quality and tightened tolerances are raised on an almost daily basis. Customers need better equipment to meet these new demands if they are going to compete. Many companies have adopted a run to failure business model so they need parts and service faster than ever before. Gloucester Engineering has responded to this by significantly investing into our stock parts program by implementing online catalogs and online ordering capability. This online capability improves our already extensive parts inventory, leading to faster times and providing exceptional and knowledgeable customer service. Our stock parts program consequently saves our customers time and money and increases their efficiency and productivity from their production equipment.