K 2016: Packaging materials trends to watch

Behind the scenes preview of highlights at the fair

This month the trade fair K 2016 will open its doors on October 19 to 26 in Düsseldorf, Germany, showcasing the latest in innovations. The entire exhibition grounds, more than 170,000 square meters, is fully booked and attendees can expect to discover a plethora of solutions to meet their plastics processing needs.

When it comes to packaging, ultimate product protection with the lowest amount of materials, decorative design to trigger shelf appeal, and resource efficiency in production, storage and transport—these are all requirements that are very diverse.

In its most recent report “The Future of Global Packaging to 2020,” market research firm Smithers Pira (Surrey, UK) said that reclosable convenience packages, extended shelf life, easy-to-open packages and on-the-go packages as the outstanding trend themes of a sector that continues to show overall growth.

The world market will grow, Smithers Pira claims, by 3.5% from $839 billion in 2015 to $998 billion in 2020. Growth in the packaging market is being propelled largely by Asia but also by Western and Eastern Europe, with growth being stimulated among other things by urbanization and sustainability.

The food industry is still the reigning king within the packaging sector. In Europe countries alone, some 60% of foods still spoil, and this figure could be reduced significantly with appropriate packaging. What is more, according to a publication by packaging market researchers Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung (GVM; Mainz, Germany), product protection is always also climate protection. The carbon footprint for the production of a new food to replace one lost due to inadequate product protection is typically larger than that for the production of a suitable package that thwarts spoilage.

Showgoers can expect to discover innovations in design, equipment and applications for a variety of packaging materials. Here are some that caught our eye in advance of the event.

Right off the bat, health is still a major concern. Protective packaging benefits consumer health by safeguarding the food from external influences. In the beverages sector, there is a trend towards adding health-promoting substances to drinks that need special protection. Examples of this are fruit juices with high vitamin contents and sports and fitness drinks that have dietary supplements in them.

KHS Plasmax GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) has developed its Plasmax technology so that these drinks stay fresh in bottles for a long time. In a low-pressure plasma process, a roughly 50 nm layer of pure silicon oxide, i.e. glass, is deposited on the inner wall of a PET bottle. The drink thus keeps for longer, is protected from external influences and its vitamins and additives are prevented from escaping. Unlike the rival multi-layer bottle, the Plasmax technology is slightly more elaborate, but the cost of materials per bottle at about 1 cent per bottle is significantly lower. The main benefit of the Plasmax process is that the bottle can be fully recycled.

Another trend it look for in the beverages sector is healthy drinks containing chunks, such as chunks of aloe vera in milk and fruit smoothies. Not only is it vital for the matching bottle geometries, but also for bottling technologies capable of cleanly and precisely metering solid particles.

As one of several specialist machine manufacturers in this area, Krones AG (Neutraubling, Germany) is offering under its Dosaflex label special metering systems for lumpy products up to a size of 3x3x3 mm with a metering accuracy of ±0.3%. And on the subject of milk and yogurt drinks, there is a distinct trend here to an expanding product spectrum. However, since dairy-based drinks have an only limited shelf life, Holland Colors NV (Apeldoorn, Netherlands) is presenting at K 2016 its new Holcomer III solid additive that permits the production of PET monoloyer packaging solutions for UHT milk as it yields 100% protection from UV radiation and up to 99% protection from visible light. The obvious advantage of this solution is its monolayer structure which lends itself better to recycling than the multi-layer equivalent.

Light weight packaging is also a reoccurring trend. The weight of each package solution continues to be an issue. Several advances have been made in last few years. The concepts and cost savings are spread across the board: the omission of package outers, flexible rather than rigid or semi-rigid packages, new designs and the reduction in wall thicknesses

To optimize the bottle base, Creative Packaging Solutions Ltd. (Balcova-Izmir, Turkey) has developed its Mint-Tec process in which, after creation of the preform, a ram extends into the latter—without touching the neck—and gives the base its desired shape.

In the film products arena, there is also a trend towards thinner and more functional solutions. Functionality can be achieved with suitable additives, although most commonly with multi-layering. The demand for more and more layers has thus culminated in so-called nano-layer arrangements of 33 layers and more. Today, 3- and 5-layer films are standard products, not least so that less expensive materials can be used for the middle layer.

At K 2016 this year, Hosokawa Alpine AG (Augsburg, Germany) is showcasing an 11-layer film-blowing line for high-barrier films which also has an extra-compact design. Due to functional layers, multi-layer films usually have the advantage of being less thick than mono-products. While retaining its functionality, the film’s thickness can also be reduced by stretching. Especially for this, Reifenhäuser Blown Film in Troisdorf will be showing at the trade fair the Evolution Ultra Stretch unit that is installed right on the blowing tower. Thanks to the stretch unit, compression bag films for nappies can be produced 50 rather than 70 µm thick and silage stretch films with an unchanged range of properties 19 rather than 25 µm thick – a thickness reduction of 30%.

In the production of injection-molded packaging materials, thickness reduction and savings of material are also major standouts, as well as optimizing cycle time and increasing efficiency.

This will be very apparent at this year’s K when Netstal Maschinen AG (Näfels, Switzerland) is highlighting a high-performance injection molding machine with an electric welding unit that outputs over 43,000 round lids per hour with a weight of 7 g per item. In-mold labelling (IML) has long been one of the well-known decoration methods for injection moldings. Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Plastics Machinery GmbH (Schwaig, Germany) is showcasing its El-Exis SP 200—quite possibly the fastest machine for the production of decorated cups with a cycle time of less than 2 seconds.

A process for making injection-molded packaging items even thinner and lighter is injection compression molding (ICM), which is gaining attention in the industry. This process differs from typical injection molding in that shrinkage is compensated for without injecting added material in the holding-pressure phase. Instead, the ICM process uses a compression cycle. This increases savings of material up to 20%. At the fair, Netstal will be demonstrating the production of a PP margarine package weighing just 10.7 g.

 

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