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8 August 2016

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Coating and laminating continue to be mainstays of packaging production. With consumer demand pushing the development of new form factors, how can converters remain relevant to their customers? Dave Howell reaches out to industry experts to find out more

Often overlooked, coating and laminating technologies have been a staple in the converters armoury for decades. Today, coatings and laminating techniques are finding new markets, as consumer taste changes. A good example here is the massive growth seen in the flexible packaging sector typified by the standup pouch.


Indeed, the growth seen across the pouch market is forecast to reach US$10 billion by 2020 across the US according to Freedonia. With converters reacting to consumer demand that is seeing them switching to this form factor, new laminating and coating techniques have been developed.


A good example is AmLite Ultra the latest addition to Amcor's existing line of AmLite, metal-free packaging. It offers an even higher barrier, using Amcor's Ultra SiOx coating, with oxygen barrier levels comparable to that of aluminium.


Marco Hilty, vice president of strategy, marketing and R&D at Amcor Flexibles EMEA said: "There is a move toward more minimalist packaging designs, while at the same time providing consumers more information to verify that products are fresh and healthy. Metal-free packaging also links to the desire for more sustainable packaging solutions."


Many products that are highly sensitive to moisture and oxygen, however, remain hidden from view inside opaque materials. "Traditionally, products needing a very high barrier were packaged in aluminium-based materials, considered the gold standard of high barrier packaging," said Hilty. "With the launch of AmLite Ultra there is now another option that can meet our customers' marketing needs and barrier performance needs for sensitive products."


Looking at the cosmetics and beauty sectors, the partnership between Albéa and L’Oréal has yielded a new barrier laminate. The product of six years of development, in the past hair colourants have required aluminium tubes to prevent their active ingredients reacting with oxygen. The new tube removes the need for metal tubes using instead a proprietary O2 Wall Tube technology.


And in the food sector, Cascades Sonoco, a joint venture of Sonoco Products Company, one of the largest global diversified packaging companies, and Cascades, a leader in the recovery and manufacturing of green packaging and tissue products, introduces a water-based barrier coating to replace the standard polyethylene coating used on folding carton grades to make traditional food take-out containers. Incorporating the new FlexSHIELD Barrier Coating makes the take out box compostable when applied to recycled paperboard, without compromising critical barrier performance.


“Given the increasing demand for paper-based take-out containers, and in light of many cities banning expanded polystyrene containers (the white Styrofoam food containers you see so often), FlexSHIELD offers a unique, functional and viable option for making paperboard take-out containers much more environmentally attractive given their compostability,” said Sandy McArthur, director of sales and marketing, Cascades Sonoco.


All these developments illustrate that coatings and laminating technologies that converters and their partners are developing are crucial for brands, as they innovate to maintain their lead within specificmarket sectors. And with more bio-based packaging finding immense favour with environmentally conscious consumers, new forms of lamination in particular will be needed. Here, the new lamination used in Aardse Droom’s organic Sapana Delibars developed by Innovia Films and Bio4Pack is a great example.



Materials matter


As packaging form factors continue to evolve, converters have been tasked with developing new substrates that have high performance and deliver new innovations to brands that continue to push the envelope with their demands. One clear area on the battlefield is recycling and composting materials that consumers continue to see as differentiators in the marketplace when choosing which brands to patronise.


Parkside is the first flexible packaging company in the world to successfully produce a range of barrier laminates that have completed the rigorous disintegration and eco-toxicity testing for home composting with recognised European laboratory, OWS. The duplex and triplex laminate structures have attained full accreditation under Vincotte's OK Compost Home and Seedling certification after achieving a high-degree of compostability even at ambient temperatures.


Developed under the brand Park-2-Nature, the compostable laminates are manufactured from sustainable sources whilst remaining aesthetically pleasing, offering excellent graphic shelf appeal for retailers and brand owners to drive sales.


Steve McCormick, new product development director at Parkside, said: "Our compostable solutions have taken more than four years to develop to ensure they meet the demanding testing standards. They demonstrate Parkside's advanced packaging expertise and are a major step forward in the industry.


"Our success in this area means that environmentally aware brand owners, retailers and consumers have a choice of barrier packs that can be disposed of in a composting environment. The Park-2-Nature compostable range is disposable through both composting and anaerobic digestion, offering a viable end-of-life solution for non-recyclable packaging and avoiding disposal in landfill."


At a recent Institute of Food Technologists Conference, the development of intelligent coatings was a highlight. Julie Goddard an associate professor in the department of food science at Cornell University said: “We have designed new polymer coatings that can be applied to food processing surfaces that resist microbial adhesion and can actually inactivate any microbes that do adhere, preventing them from growing and potentially contaminating our food supply.” The coatings will initially find a market across the food preparation sector, but could be applied to customer facing products from converters such as food containers at some point in the future.


There is little doubt that the future of coating and laminating materials is for more multifunctional materials that can be applied to an even wider range of substrates. Intelligent coatings in particular across the food packaging converting sector will massively leverage these coming materials to offer brands a wide range of choice.


Richard Burhouse, commercial director at API told Converting Today: “Whilst using laminates and coatings to produce multi-functional packaging products is very well established, more demanding production environments and more discerning buyers continue to drive development in this area for manufacturers and converters. Tight registration of lenses and patterns are an increasing trend and this is allowing packaging to be tuned to be more specific to brands needs and enable greater consumer interaction with the final pack solution.”



Future developments


Concluding, head of R&D at Achim Grefenstein Constantia Flexibles said: “The traditional environmental advantage of the very high resource efficiency of flexible packaging will be combined with easier recyclable laminate structures. Based on that, the flexible packaging industry, which is the main user of laminating and coating technologies can easily gain further market share from rigid packaging. Also the already good resource efficiency can be further improved. Constantia Flexibles is actually introducing CompresSeal, a technology which allows to reduce the weight of PE-sealants by 20-30 per cent. And with an even better processing behaviour.”


Brands then are increasingly asking their converting partner for more innovations with packaging design. As API’s Richard Burhouse explained: “As Brand Managers invest in their brands and seek to understand their consumers’ interactions better through further segmentation and differentiation of their markets, the launch of high-end “Super Premium” products have really taken off. Some brands have chosen to differentiate by using paperboard film laminates to add a premium high-end finish right across the pack/box others choose to add a more-subtle, but specifically placed ‘touch of class’ through a metallic or pigmented foil.”


Burhouse continued: “There will be a continued focus on providing higher performance coatings and lamination to deal with packaging lines getting faster and also to drive production and environmental efficiencies for our customer’s benefit.


“Increasingly product development will be led by innovations in board and materials which will provide an increased number of board options, including hybrids which will be processed by manufacturers and converters. The demand for high-end luxury finishes to packaging will continue, with laminates and coatings helping to add texture and interest to packs and meet the trend for more sophisticated ‘haptic’ packaging that enhances brands through its sensory impact.”


The focus on coating and laminating technologies continues, as converters become increasingly involved in the packaging design process. The future will see a number of innovations that will raise the bar especially across the food and luxury packaging sectors.





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