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Bucking the trend of little positive news coming out of Belarus, a former USSR republic situated between Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, one plastic processor there has seen high success at a greenfield plant that started up in early 2006.

Robert Colvin

February 19, 2009

5 Min Read
Packaging developments prove winner for styrenics processor

Bucking the trend of little positive news coming out of Belarus, a former USSR republic situated between Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, one plastic processor there has seen high success at a greenfield plant that started up in early 2006.

Multipack (Gomel, Belarus), a division of Germany's Alcopack (Koblenz) that processes oriented mono-and bioriented polystyrene (MOPS, BOPS) web, has skillfully carved a niche in markets often flooded with bioriented polypropylene (BOPP) or polyester (BOPET) film.

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Sergey Stepanov (left) and Craig McAllister see a big future in supplying oriented polystyrene processed at their plant in Gomel, Belarus.

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Lidding using cavitated, oriented polystyrene gives strength, insulation, and light weight.



Craig McAllister, project manager at the site, says the facility is running at capacity (more than 25,000 tonnes/yr) to meet BOPS thick-film demand split 60/40 between packagers in Russia/the Ukraine and shipments to Eastern and Western Europe. Local Russian packagers tend to use the film for thermoforming chocolate trays while in other markets multinationals are the main customers. “The basic savings packagers are seeing coming from use of BOPS compared to PET or vinyl is material savings of up to 15% due to downgauging,” says McAllister. Since the plant is located in a duty free zone, Belarusian demand is almost negligible.

He says demand for BOPS has grown annually by 9% in his markets due to larger disposable incomes and changing food-purchasing habits. More pre-packed deli products are being consumed along with bakery goods.

“Styrenics remains our main focus. We believe that OPS offers the greatest advantage to customers over the longer period,” says Sergey Stepanov, general manager at the facility. “In the styrenics packaging industry, development has not been taken to its limits and our goal is to find new and better ways to capitalize on the strengths this resin offers.” He says styrenics produce lower-cost, higher-performance packaging products than competitive polymers and Multipack expects to capitalize on its strongest features.

Multipack is not without competition, says McAllister, having to contend with BOPS imports from China which he says are dumped on the market at prices that are “crazy.” Labor costs in Belarus have increased by about 30% since the €20 million plant opened three years ago but as the main equipment (tenter frames from German supplier Brückner Maschinenbau, Siegsdorf) is highly automated, the effects have been softened. McAllister also says the Western European working conditions offered by Multipack tend to limit worker turnover. The company’s main products today are 3-layer BOPS in thickness ranges from 200-600 µm and metalized BOPS in tolerances from 150-300 µm, while this year’s target is the introduction of shrink OPS.

Another product the company is testing with potential customers thanks to its high recyclability, reducing bulk, and weight savings is bioriented, cavitation polystyrene (BOCPS), based on the company’s oriented PS web but taking the density down to between 0.6 and 0.7. This is achieved by creating voids in the film that, once oriented, impart additional strength in every axis. “In BOPS you have two planes to work with, while we now have three in BOCPS, allowing the orientation to build a structure like bone where you have an outer layer but inside a supporting structure giving durability,” he says.

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The economies offered by Multipack’s BOPS and the new BOCPS products can provide packagers with increased profitability.



The company ran tests to thermoform BOCPS on Kiefel (Freilassing, Germany), Illig Maschinenbau (Heilbronn, Germany), and GN Thermoforming Equipment (Chester, NS) equipment with what Multipack says has been good success with little demand to modify tooling. Rigidity, dependant on package design, is often better than standard HIPS. However, McAllister says that if tools were designed specifically for BOCPS, “We think that the same thickness could be used to replace PET or HIPS and still gain a density reduction. Those [packagers] who look at BOCPS as something new and find where it is best suited will obtain much more than the thermoformer who just sticks it on the machine to replace an existing product and takes only a small part of its full advantage.”
At the moment the company has more than a 100 tonnes of BOCPS on order from Russian customers interested in replacing existing HIPS products. BOCPS development plans at Multipack foresee initial product offered to replace polyester and HIPS, then addition of a sealing layer to allow it to be used in FFS applications “while hoping at the same time to design in barrier properties in the seal layer.”

Multipack’s distribution from Gomel, near the Ukrainian border, is, according to McAllister, a double-edged sword since the company is ideally positioned to supply both Russia and the Ukraine. Yet obtaining the best raw material supplies is a problem since Asian delivery can take up to four weeks and sourcing from Europe means higher costs over far eastern suppliers. Film distribution to Western Europe has in the past been hampered, but improved roads in Poland and increased competition among Russian logistics companies are helping to even out costs, he says. As a result, 2008 saw material deliveries to Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary as well as Multipack gaining a foothold in the Middle East.

Poland is being targeted by the company for higher growth this year, and Stepanov says that as cost pressure grows on thermoformers, “We see BOPS offering them a chance to hold margins.” [email protected]

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