Since its startup at a greenfield plant in early 2006, Multipack (Gomel, Belarus), the packaging arm of Germany’s Alcopack (Koblenz), has found that its concentration on oriented mono- and bioriented polystyrene (MOPS, BOPS) web has helped it develop some solid demand from thermoformers based in markets often flooded with bioriented polypropylene (BOPP) or polyester (BOPET) film.
Sergey Stepanov (left) and Craig McAllister see a big future in supplying oriented polystyrene processed at their plant in Gomel, Belarus.
Higher incomes and more pre-packaged food purchases in Russia and the Ukraine are driving demand for thermoformed BOPS produced by Alcopack’s Belarusian packaging subsidiary, Multipack.
Craig McAllister, project manager at the site, says the facility is running flat out (maximum output +25,000 tonnes/yr) to meet demand for BOPS thick film, with that 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 negligible.
McAllister says demand for BOPS has grown annually by 9% 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.”
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 affect has been manageable. McAllister also says the Western European working conditions offered by Multipack tend to limit employee turnover. The company’s main products today are 3-layer BOPS in thickness ranges from 200-600µm, metalized BOPS in tolerances from 150-300µm while this year’s target is the introduction of shrink OPS.
BOCPS runs well on thermoform tests
Another product the company is testing with potential customers 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 lower density 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,” McAllister says.
The company ran tests to thermoform BOCPS on Kiefel (Freilassing, Germany), Illig Maschinenbau (Heilbronn, Germany), and GN Thermoforming Equipment (Chester, NS, Canada) equipment with what Multipack says has been good success with little need 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 adding a sealing layer to prompt its use in FFS applications “while hoping at the same time to design in barrier properties in the seal layer.”—[email protected]