15 February 2017




By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments


Wander round any superstore at the moment and one thing is very apparent, the number of new product ‘novelty’ items that have made their debut. For instance: in the chiller cabinets at up-market superstore Waitrose, new beverages include white and traditional bamboo waters, juice from the Madagascan Baobab tree and flavored wheat germ and flax seed juice. It could be argued that the items introduced all claim health benefits and are aimed at those aspirational half marathon upwardly mobile browsing consumer. However, all of these newbies are competitively priced and should appeal not only to the health conscious but those who are looking for something different – a novelty. They are all attractively presented in 360 degree full content wrap around labeling; alternatively bottles feature the no-label look with minimal graphical content, allowing the vibrancy and colour of the fruit/vegetable/water content to stand out in the clear beverage container and serve as the ultimate differentiator.

Waitrose is not alone in broadening their product range to tempt consumers with novelty products – retailers in the UK and Europe including Aldi, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Lidl, Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc have all bought in products in the first month or so of 2017 to tempt even the most jaded taste buds.

It’s worth remembering that the food and beverage sectors and indeed much of printing packaging and converting are grounded in novelty. Many of the products and processes at one time or another were regarded as a novelty, that is until they became accepted, became commonplace and then of course lost their novelty value. That is not to say that the consumer will accept new and novel products, many products do fall by the wayside and are quietly withdrawn. Despite brand owners/marketers and packaging focus groups products may fail to catch on because of timing or due to unforeseen and unfavorable economic conditions.

With regard to the processing and developing of materials and the adoption of a substrate and/or consumable it could take many years for an industrial sector to find a use for it. Take plastics and plastic films for example. These materials have been subject to many developments particularly in relation to the packaging of food and drink. Polyethylene (PE) was one of the first plastics to be widely used for food packaging. Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) of Great Britain first developed low-density polyethylene or LDPE in 1934. ICI obtained a patent for the production of a material that involved compressing ethylene gas and heating it up. As with many product innovations to reach its full marketing potential it had to await a marketing catch up and it wasn’t until 1955 when the first sandwich bag on a roll made of LDPE made its debut that the potential began to be realized. By 1966 more than a quarter of all bread sold was packaged in LDPE and despite the advent of other materials LDPE is still widely used.

The one constant in life is change, and that is especially so when it comes to packaging. Change was initially slow due to the lack of a defined consumer market, people bought most of their food items from market stalls and in any case the money was not around to experiment in novelty. Packaging, which for the most part was confined to paper bags and sacks, functioned largely as a containment device, graphic adornment, if any was restricted to simple graphics.

Military requirements have driven some of the key packaging developments over the last 200 years, one example being the canning of food to feed Napoleon’s armies; another example is aluminum foil. The Royal Air force Bomber Command dropped foil to confuse enemy radar. Another war, this time Korea and then yet another, this time Vietnam led to the development of the retort pouch for K-rations.

Foil was used as a barrier material in these quickly heatable retort pouches, which became commercially available in the 1970’s. However, market forces, pent up consumer demand and a quickening pace of life has resulted in changes being required more often than in the past. The widespread adoption of the microwave oven in the 1980s meant that alternative alu-foil like materials were needed as microwaves couldn’t penetrate the foil and heat the pouches. Polymer films with thin metal oxide coatings such as (SiOx) silicon oxide and (AlxOy) aluminum oxide soon made their retort pouch debut, Apart from being microwaveable, they allow for lightweight structures that permit freedom for product design and shaping.

Aluminum foil and metalized papers/film of course have key roles to play in modern day packaging. The shimmering and glittering effect of a metallic surface is attractive and provides a degree of barrier resistance. Aluminum is often an important laminating layer, which usually bonds to co-extruded layers of polyamides, polyesters or polystyrene films. Good looks, strong puncture resistance and a good seal are essential for the increasingly fast moving packaging markets. Aluminum does not seal well and is not puncture resistant, but by combining alu-foil with a polyester (PET) layer and for example a polypropylene layer we have a laminated structure that offers good barrier resistance (foil) and good looks, puncture resistance, the PET layer and sealability/puncture resistance provided by the PP layer.

Developments seldom occur in isolation, especially in a world where everything is interconnected and many brands are global. As mentioned earlier, product development and innovation was slow until incentives such as the post war consumer boom of the 1960s, better economic conditions and baby boomer aspirations created the right conditions for product development and brand marketing to take off.

Innovations in substrates, inks/coatings could not have taken place without systems in place to test, trial and monitor performance and quality. Equally the same applies to other areas of operation, pre-press technology, presses and converting machinery. In a digital information driven world where automation, machine control protocols have made machine speeds faster but also magnified the possibility of errors being costly if not found in time the need for devices such as pilot coating/print and laminating systems, colour communication devices such as the FlexiProof has become apparent to all.

Systems such as the Rotary Koater designed and developed by RK Print Coat Instruments is a pilot coating/print and laminating machine that helps speed up product development. It is available as either a single or two station machine, enabling the manufacturer; the lab chemist, the printer and others to undertake R & D on an economical scale and under precisely controlled conditions. It can be used to test different formulations, substrates, and processes. It is also highly effective as a production machine for the small-scale production often of specialized materials. With nearly two-dozen print head and coating system technologies as well as wet and dry laminating the system offers hot air, infrared drying or UV curing. The Rotary Koater is used by many of the leading blue chip companies and is in operation in countries as diverse as the USA, China, Australia, Germany and India. It is ideal for those faced with frequent product changeovers.

The VCM on the other hand is for those organizations with specific manufacturing/testing/research requirements that cannot satisfactorily be met by a standard off the peg commercially manufactured machine. All machines are designed and manufactured under conditions of close commercial security. The customer bespoke VCM is very much a machine concept for the 21st century, many of the purchasers of the VCM are themselves at the cutting edge in their chosen operating sector.


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