Bruce Lee said “To change with change is the changeless state.” In other words, change is inevitable, so in order to even remain in the same position and not be left behind, you must be prepared to change with the change, to ‘be water’. This is one of the main principles in business sustainability.
With the current focus on sustainability, many packers are looking for quick and easy solutions however even a ‘drop-in’ replacement material traditionally requires extensive line validation trials. One way to minimise trial time is to install new equipment which has been developed with the new materials in mind, for example new Bosch machinery with BillerudKorsnas coated paper, this has specifically been developed so that the paper packs produced can be directly recycled using conventional paper waste streams, a great development for your free-flowing dry products. This is fine if you’re happy tying yourself in to long-term agreements, even better if you have a business of a size to enter a partnership deal. What about the smaller business with need for supply chain flexibility, or if you want a material for wet or fatty product, or need it to run on your existing equipment? This is where the concept of Performance Defined Packaging comes in – this is a science-based methodology – which efficiently determines the best solution (or solutions!) for your current challenges. It’s this approach which will save you time and ultimately cost in any circumstances where dynamic changes occur.
Materials to look out for are the fully sustainable, bio-based, biodegradable alternatives; Floreon have taken the concept of PLA and developed blends which perform under a variety of conditions, from flat film to injection moulding, thermoforming and FDM additive manufacturing. The flat film has not been marketed for form, fill, and seal but there’s every reason to consider it as an alternative to PE packs and potentially PET packs with some validation work. For a market-ready LDPE replacement, PTT MCC Biochem are producing BioPBS based film which is produced directly from diverse plant sources, such as cassava and corn, and decomposes into water and CO2.
Other innovations in form, fill, seal are made possible with advances in controlling heat seal strength and sealing temperature range; notably a system whereby holes are punched in flat film prior to entering the forming tube, allowing a doy pack to be formed from double-layered film which saves costs and waste versus the usual triple-laminate solution for generating stand-up pouches in vertical machines. This allows greater flexibility for the same film types and opens avenues for the aforementioned bio-based materials which may currently be higher in cost due to smaller scales of production, to be combined in simpler forms and used in place of conventionally structured films. In using the same film type, internal logistics and changeover times can be reduced – running speeds are dependant on equipment setup, with more recently designed machinery more suitable to the newer film formulations.
Modular packing machinery which makes use of advanced Industry 4.0 automation can increase manufacturing flexibility, making use of the thermal properties of the new modified versions of bio-films to form many pouches at once, or multi-compartment pouches, sealing closer to the edge of each side; up to producing multiple bag lengths in the same run by use of intermittent motion, combining the thermal latency with the controls made possible using the decentralized interoperability of modern automation.
The sustainable material solutions are more commonly seen so far as simple monolayer forms or used as sealant layers in more complex laminate packs. The option of combining sustainable materials or blends of the same type of material to form a pack fully in keeping with the circular economy, as Mondi are showcasing will become ubiquitous – the next trending opportunity will surely be one of greater flexibility, with the fourth industrial revolution taking hold and edge computing decreasing the cost and latency commonly associated with the cloud computing technology conventionally used for late stage and mass customisation. The mass customisation of not only print but the structural shape of packs is the next big opportunity, to allow any form of pack to be applied to any product; soups can be pourable for one small batch, opening out to a stable container for the next, in single or family servings according to live demand data. As with recent and previous step changes, this will require extensive and intimate collaboration between material and equipment manufacturers who can change with the change to be in the changeless state!
Developing the structural flexibility also takes quite some understanding and independent thinking….thinking that puts the Supply Chain/Consumers/Manufacturing together in a holistic and effective way…….digitised technologies are here to stay, we just need to get our “heads” together!
* Chris Waterhouse is Managing Director of iDi Pac Ltd and former Chairman of the Packaging Society. iDi Pac is a specialised Packaging and Supply Chain Consultancy aspiring to “Solving your product and supply chain challenges through effective design and pragmatically engineered packaging solutions” email firstname.lastname@example.org