The entire flexible packaging ecosystem — converters, co–packers, brands, extruders — is experiencing a rapid technology shift toward sustainability, and so many consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are looking for flexible packaging material testing. Recently, many printers, converters and associations have unveiled research and development (R&D) and innovation centers to meet those demands. Below are some recent announcements.

VOID Technologies, a material sciences company based in Neenah, Wis., recently announced the official opening of its first U.S.-based plastic reduction research labs and compound manufacturing facility catering to brand owners transitioning to more sustainable plastics and packaging.

The facility provides R&D services and toll compounding for customers interested in developing flexible polyethylene packaging based on the company’s VO+ technology. The VO+ packaging technology includes nano- and micro-scale air pockets into plastics to create a high-performance product with a range of thermoplastics, including polyolefins and polyesters (PE).

The technology is known in white Machine Direction Orientation (MDO) PE films, and can achieve lower density and down gauging, high opacity without TiO2, and improved recycling.

The new VOID Labs facility offers R&D Services that provide demonstrations with company’s equipment, including services that focus on pilot-scale blown film extrusion with inline MDO, lab- and commercial-scale twin screw compounding, as well as a range of testing and analytical equipment.

“VOID is combining VO+ plastic reduction technology with R&D Services to help manufacturers and brand owners accelerate their commercialization programs for MDO PE films and flexible packaging.” says James Gibson, CEO of VOID. The company reports that it is already working with a range of companies with applications in laminates, wicketed bags and frozen and expects initial product launches in the second half of 2022.

Another big player in the converting segment is Paper Converting Machine Company (PCMC), and the company recently announced the opening of its new Packaging Innovation Center located at its headquarters in Green Bay. The PCMC multipurpose space is more than 4,700 sq. ft. and will serve as a hub for demonstrations, training, education, industry trials, and research and development.

The center will offer demonstrations of its Fusion C flexographic press, Hudson-Sharp’s Ares 400-SUP — a Meridian Elite laser anilox cleaner, an ELS-MAX inline press and the ION digital printing platform. Besides demonstrations for converters, printers and brand owners, the equipment will be used for hands-on learning and training opportunities.

“We’re excited to be able to welcome printing and converting customers into our facility to experience our innovations firsthand,” says Rodney Pennings, director of sales–printing, coating and laminating at PCMC. “Our new Packaging Innovation Center is a vision that we’ve had for several years, and it’s rewarding to see it finally be completed.”

Also in the works is the Flexo Xperience Center (FXC) in Atlanta that’s a collaboration between MacDermid Graphics Solutions (Atlanta) and SOMA, (Czech Republic) with the mission to move flexo forward. The facility will include multiple equipment partners, and SOMA’s Optima2 printing press will be a centerpiece for the facility that will offer “both hands-on and virtual visits for a "one-stop-shop" for the package printing industry's entire workflow to experience the latest flexographic printing innovations.”

Much like the other innovation centers, the FXC will host industry training, collaboration, research and experimentation while being open to printers, converters, CPG companies, industry associations and other players in the packaging industry. According to the press release, the FXC is expected to be open in 2022.