Laminating Continues to Spur Packaging Innovation
Giancarlo Caimmi, commercial director for Nordmeccanica Group, talks reasons for lamination, purchasing considerations and the next big thing.
Q: What’s new in the world of laminating? Is there anything new that Nordmeccanica is working on?
A: Nordmeccanica is the company that brought to the lamination industry an incredible list of innovations in the past 25-plus years. Let me just mention a few: the compact, fully modular 3-ply dry bond laminator; the 5 rollers coating head for solventless adhesives; the compact line of coaters and laminators, the Simplex family of machines; the gear pump-driven meter mixer dispenser; One Shot, the innovative 3-ply laminator for solventless adhesives only; the innovative high-efficiency drying oven for dry bond adhesives… At Nordmeccanica, we strongly believe that a good part of our success in the industry can be explained by the amount of innovation we have been able to generate, and it is our strong determination to keep promoting innovation and evolution not just in our product line but in the industry at large. This short preamble allows me to introduce what is next. Our idea is that the next level in the lamination field will not be based off the effort of the machinery manufacturer alone. Technology has reached such a level that the next big thing requires the combined effort of multiple players: the machinery manufacturer, the manufacturer of sub-components; the adhesive manufacturer; the substrates manufacturers and, obviously, the converter. It is the converter with their own needs to trigger the quest for the next level, and it is the result of the combined efforts of a quality team to generate the reply. We have multiple lines of R&D currently open. Just to give you a preliminary idea, I can say that there will be a new lamination technology that will bring significant advantages to the converter, there will be the ability to laminate incredibly thin substrates, there will be news on the energy side of the conversion process, and there will be news on how electronics and mechanics will work together even more efficiently.
Q: It’s said that print protection is the primary reason to laminate — can you talk about a few other good reasons regarding lamination?
A: Print protection still represents a large share of the lamination conversion industry, nevertheless nowadays the attention is significantly shifting toward product protection. One of the revolutions brought to the lamination industry with the introduction of Nordmeccanica’s Simplex family of machinery has been to expand the number of converters involved in lamination. With a larger number of players, the marketing triggered a faster trend in packaging innovation. The effect is that nowadays converters are focusing on alternative targets, and are finding it increasingly interesting to develop new solutions to extend shelf life of packaged food, increase protection of non-food product and so on. Extended shelf life implies higher barrier and higher barrier implies the use of specific webs and the proper combination of them into a laminated compound. Therefore R&D on higher barrier materials is continuously developing, and on the other side converters are implementing new mixes of webs to configure the perfect solution for what the brand owner needs. We’re involved in this on at least three alternative directions: the continuous implementation of reliable multi-ply laminators to allow for the ability to laminate multiple web structures in the lowest possible number of passes, the ability to efficiently handle thin webs and the development, through our vacuum division, of metallized webs with better barrier performances.
Q: What should be some key considerations for those looking into purchasing a laminator?
A: I think that we can consider two cases here. The first is the case of converters entering the lamination business. For those companies, the selection of the proper hardware (i.e. simple to use, reliable) is paramount. Nevertheless, it will be also important to have access to training on a technology that is supposedly new to them. Lamination is a very profitable conversion process for converters, which is the real motivation behind the investment in a new machine. But is that technology simple to learn as well? We can in fact say “yes, it is easy to learn.” There are important aspects of the technology and specific procedures that need to be properly understood for a quick and safe start up. We have trained literally thousands of startups in lamination over 25 years. We’ve provided them with the proper hardware and instructed thousands of operators. In the case of companies new to lamination, the recipe for success is definitely to select the proper supplier, one who is trustworthy and knowledgeable. It is an easy selection — check the records.
The second case is the one of a company with experience in conversion in general, lamination in particular. For those companies, the preliminary screening, while evaluating an investment on new hardware, goes through a technological checklist. The first step is understanding the target for the laminated compound (i.e. final application for the compound; mechanical characteristics required; barrier characteristics required; nature of the product to be packed; shelf life required; thermal treatment). This first level of analysis will instruct on the selection of the webs to be laminated, their thickness and the lamination process that may better do it. It is of primary importance to take into consideration the length of the average run. This analysis will instruct on the selection of the proper level of automation of the laminator. This will help them to understand the better unwind and rewind setup, and will definitely allow setting the target production speed. Evaluation on local emissions restrictions will also help to properly identify the laminator setup and the relevant adhesive technology.
The checklist will definitely have to take into account other factors and a few savvy considerations about machine setup. In a capital equipment selection today, a big role is played by the modularity of the design and the integration of components. It will have beneficial influences on machine reliability, performance, safety, and ease of maintenance.
Q: Can you explain a situation where a flexible packaging film should be laminated, opposed to a situation where one shouldn’t be?
A: It is always related to the final target. Lamination definitely comes in for a reason: from the simple print protection to more complex cases where specific technical reasons will call for it. If you do not have such targets then it is easy — no lamination. Forcing lamination will involve higher costs and this will automatically eliminate the player from the game. There are really few cases left out there for non-laminated compounds. In all others, it is all about converting in the most efficient way at the best quality level.
Q: Is there anything else that you think is noteworthy to add about laminating?
A: The market is definitely rewarding successful converters and success is all about selecting the proper products, getting the most efficient lamination technology and selecting the most reliable hardware and partner with knowledgeable suppliers. Investment on capital equipment is a one-time effort, profit is a repeat benefit generated by savvy investments.