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Although produced by an apparently mature packaging technology, cartons continue to offer innovation to brand owners and consumers, writes Pauline Covell

Latest reports from Pira International and Euro-Data Analysts put a global value of $45 billion on cartonboard. In the UK Pira indicates steady growth for folding cartons. The 2001 value was put at $2,196 million; they were worth $2,307m last year and are forecast at $2,365m in 2005.

No business can afford to sit still and cartons are no exception. Cartonboard producer Stora Enso, for example, has chosen to partner with first division converting and packaging equipment builders to meet the demands of packaging users. In one such development it has announced a new on-demand production line for CD and DVD packaging with partner Xeikon International. Launched during drupa, the automated online solution for printing, die cutting, assembling and filling packs provides disc producers with shorter lead times, greater cost efficiency and personalised packs made from board, said the companies. It is understood that the CD print and packaging concept is just the first of several in the pipeline between the two organisations.

In the integrated line, Stora Enso Activation’s DBS Pac Master is combined with a new DBS Converter, which enables online production of packs, and a Xeikon 5000 digital colour printing press. “Xeikon 5000 is the first digital printing press that can be used for quality colour printing on high-grammage paper and board up to 350gm/m from the reel,” said Frank Jacobs, marketing manager at Xeikon. “End users are disc producers in the software, music, movies and games industries. Personalised packs are particularly valuable in direct mailings,” added Juha Lehtola, vice-president at Stora Enso Consumer Boards. “Being web-fed, the Xeikon 5000 offers smooth and seamless integration with third party solutions. Its 500 mm width and the possibility to add a fifth colour to support spot colours make it ideal for this application and for packaging in general,” says Jacobs.

The agreement between the two companies was signed in April. “We believe it is a good solution for the music industry,” commented Jacobs. “It is a cost saving and the user doesn’t have to purchase the machine as it is pay per click for the whole concept.”

During a seminar it organised for pharmaceutical brand owners and carton converters recently in Amsterdam Stora Enso Oyj also announced a global strategic alliance with Robert Bosch GmbH (see panel overleaf).

Reasonably priced robots could herald change in carton design, believes Graham Hayes, chairman of Bradman Lake. “End loading is still predominantly the style of carton used in Europe,” he said. But he believes this will change. “Previously there was no way to automatically top load cartons around,” he reasoned. “Robots were just too expensive.”

“But those buying new machines today should look at top loading. The cost of robots has come down and it is easier to load into the carton. The robots are friendlier too. In the past those that bought the top loader did it on sufferance.” Now that could change. After all “end loading is like posting through the letter box rather than top loading, which is aiming through the whole open front door,” he said with an apt analogy.

“If you are putting two products say in a carton – for example a trayed product or a tube of toothpaste then end loading is clearly the route, but if it’s 10, 12 or 20 then my advice would be to look at top loading.”

There are other advantages both for converter and end user. “A flat carton blank doesn’t warp if it is a top load design. And you can get 10,000 on a pallet without packing in corrugated outers,” he pointed out. “However, with end load cartons, the blanks are glued and double the thickness. They need corrugated protection and therefore you get fewer on a pallet.”

For the same reason the top load cartons take up less space, whether at converter or end user’s warehouse. “And without the glue they are less expensive to produce. And they don’t ‘go off’ or deteriorate over time,” added Hayes.

Top load cartons are proving popular in the USA where Graham Hayes believes the split is in their favour 60% to 40%. This side of the Atlantic the style usage is reversed with 60% being end load cartons. “I think people accept change more readily in the USA than here,” he explained. “I also believe that where we have more flexible packaging, they use more cartonboard there. We have seen confectionery bars packed at 800 pieces per minute and flow wrapped garlic chicken pieces put into cartons at 600 pieces a minute. The opportunities for high speeds with top loading are enormous.

“We have an example in the far north of Norway where the customer changed to top loading cartons simply because of the cost of transporting the end load carton blanks from the converter.” Will we see a reversal in styles this side of the Atlantic? “I guess things will change in Europe, but we will see it happening as new lines are installed” he concluded.

Field Group’s innovation and quality served to sweep the board at this year’s Starpack awards where it picked up seven stars including a Gold award as well as winning both Pro Carton Special Awards for the best in creative cartonboard packaging in food and non-food categories. The Gold Star was presented for a distinctive bevelled edged cigarette carton for Gallaher’s S T Dupont brand. Designed to strengthen brand awareness the pack is litho printed in five colours plus varnish and incorporates a foil blocked security holographic strip. The board used was Invercote Albato and eight micron special bright silver foil laminated to Invercote GT.

Innovative cartons featured strongly in this year’s event with Coors Brewers also taking a Gold for a Grolsch Home Entertainment System pack, which, by containing an in-fridge rack, complete with six Grolsch glasses, was aimed at increasing consumer loyalty for the brand. The tuck in end carton was converted by DS Smith Cartons – using 370 gsm Frövi Carry for its high strength/weight ratio. The high tear resistance of the Frövi material allows a plastic handle to be fitted through the apertures in the board and polypropylene layers to provide a suitcase style carrying feature.

R A Jones has recently launched a new line of mid-priced, large centre cartoners. The Meridian metric-design range is claimed to be flexible, cost-effective and reliable. Mark Logan, R A Jones vice- president sales said: “The name Meridian, meaning high point of the middle, exactly defines where the new line will be positioned in the marketplace. Great attention was given to affordability and value during its development. The mid-tier price makes our machines accessible to a much broader customer base.”

Meeting trends toward shorter product life cycles and accelerated product development, the cartoners are available with either 9 or 12in centres, both right hand and left hand configuration, with small footprints. Featuring a smooth and efficient rotary carton feed, they can reach speeds of 200 cartons/min with a 9in centre, says the company.

Meanwhile, for the erection, loading and sealing of carton boxes, Kosme Packaging says its Formapack and Combipack range of machines can provide a solution for most applications, particularly those within the pharmaceutical, wine, spirits, food or chemical industries.

The machines also have the ability to seal the lower and upper carton flaps using PVC tape or hot melt glue and case lengths can be accommodated from 200 up to 800mm, while widths between 150 and 600mm can be accepted. Heights ranging from 150 up to 500mm are also within the Formapack specification. Throughput ranges from 500 up to 2,100 boxes/hr for high volume production operations.

Kosme can also supply its Combipack robot system – which picks and places any form of bottle, jar or container and automatically loads them into carton boxes – and the Insertpack machine for placing separating pads or dividers into the boxes.