Flexible Packaging recently caught up with Sebastian Huennefeld, technical sales manager, extrusion equipment, Windmoeller & Hoelscher, for an update on all-things extrusion.
Q: With sustainability increasing in importance, how is extrusion equipment playing a role?
A: Extrusion equipment can have a significant impact on the overall sustainability of a flexible packaging business. When you think about blown film production, it is the startup and the changeovers that are simply waste. A lot of material is generated that might end up as trash (or hopefully can be reprocessed) and also energy that is wasted, since it is not directly used to produce a needed product. So minimizing the amount of time an extrusion line needs to achieve the desired film profile on production quality after startup, shortening resin changeover and purging times and also optimizing format changes has a huge impact on the environmental and economic aspects of sustainability.
Q: One trend that seems to have been highlighted regarding extrusion equipment is making such machines more user-friendly. Can you explain the importance of this?
A: In my opinion, the most interesting challenge in operating an extrusion line is managing the balancing act between automating the process while keeping operators highly educated. There is always a slight risk of over-engineering. While format and product changes can be almost fully automated today, there is still a tremendous amount of process knowledge required to design film structures and understand details such as needed temperature settings. Therefore, I believe the combination of modern, intuitive technology that makes the life for the operator easier with good process engineering, is the best formula for successful film production.
Q: What’s one important thing that people might not know about extrusion equipment, but should know about?
A: It’s hard to say what people do or don’t know. What is getting more and more interesting, however, is the monitoring of utilities being used on an extrusion line, such as measuring real-time water flow rates and temperatures as well as compressed air and power. In many cases, the cost of compressed air for an entire plant is underestimated. So think of a few small valves that are leaking and compressed air constantly escapes. Wouldn’t it be great to collect data that shows you peaks in the use of compressed air so that your maintenance team can identify the location of those leakages and save the company money?
Q: When it comes to the development of new extrusion equipment, can you explain the importance of research and development?
A: As an equipment supplier, research and development is the foundation for success. The flexible films for packaging and the resins used for that get more sophisticated every day. So it is absolutely necessary to provide the right technology that can keep up with these demands. Just thinking about the very temperature-sensitive materials for recloseable layers in food packaging films: without the right technology (e.g. water-cooled screws), those materials cannot be processed successfully.
Windmoeller & Hoelscher