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Almost 47 000 visitors from 92 countries at Pack Expo International in November were seeking quotes with a multi-billion dollar estimated value from 2007 exhibitors occupying more than 1 296 925ft square, according to the organisers, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI). Pauline Covell reports from Chicago on news and trends

Pack Expo earned its international status for sure this year as the globalisation trend was reflected in countless tie-ups and partnerships on both machinery and materials fronts. With visitor attendance down by only 1000 over the 2000 show and an exceptional conference programme drawing a record 830 registrants, PMMI was more than happy.

Show committee chairman Mark Garvey was convinced that visitors found innovative packaging solutions that they were they ready to buy? The answer on both counts was a resounding yes. “I’m confident the exhibition played a vital role in reinvigorating the global packaging marketplace,” he said.

Bird’s eye view trends were more and more flexibles, pouches including retort, down gauging materials in films and containers, clever labels and sleeves, machinery to match those trends tied with flexibility, quick change, smaller footprints and good line integration.

Cool 2 Go beverage wrap, previewed at the show, is a first offering from a new DuPont technology platform for insulated packaging. It was also shown by Trine Labeling Systems who ran roll material (converted by Salem Label) on a modified labeller. The wrap is claimed to keep beverages cold up to twice as long, depending on heat, humidity and consumer handling.

The material is made by laminating DuPont Thermolite Active thin insulation between layers of Melinex polyester film. Using a DuPont pro-prietary patented process, the label can be used for insulating plastics, glass and metal beverage containers.

As the material is heavier than conventional stock cut labels, Trine modified the 4500 labeller to include an auxiliary air-shoe which blows air on the cut labels to assist their remaining on the drum. In addition, it has put individual vacuum heads on the cutter as well as the drum. First application is understood to be for Turkey Hill Iced Tea containers.

Sonoco unveiled Sonotort retort pouches, billed as “the fresh alternative to metal cans” and driven by the call for consumer convenience. The company introduced three versions – a foil-based 4-ply, a foil-based 3-ply and a clear foil-free structure utilising barrier film. The 3-ply foil pouch is a less expensive format. Eliminating the foil also makes the pack microwavable.

“One of the fastest growing food segments is ready to heat meals,” says Jeffrey Schuetz, Sonoco’s director of flexible packaging technology. “Our customers are looking for new ways to deliver speed and ease of preparation through packaging. The pouch offers consumers an entirely new level of convenience for products ranging from soups and stews to sauces.

Wet pet food represents a strong market,” says Mr Schuetz. “As much as people love their pets, they don’t want to share their utensils with them. With retort pouches, the consumer tears off the top and squeezes the contents into the pet’s bowl.” Sonotort pouches can also be made with a re-sealable zipper.

Also innovative on the materials’ reduction front is its Sonowrap single-wrap pack debuted at Pack Expo. Said to be the only hermetic shaped package of its type in North America, Sonoco unveiled two sizes – the single serve oval and the 401 taper.

It is “a high barrier, cost-competitive shaped paperboard package,” says Sonoco market manager Floyd Needham. “It gives companies a cust-omisable shaped package due to its inherently simple structure. In addition, it’s very quick to commerc-ialise without steep development and equipment costs.”

The single laminated structure combines a body wall, liner and label into a single ply that is then die-cut to the proper shape. A special tape that continues over the lip seals the structure.

A base of the same laminated material and an opening system such as a peelable membrane and, maybe, a dome lid is added to complete the pack. Currently being made in Charlotte, USA and test marketed for cookies, the company could ‘crate the line up’ if the need was there in Europe.

Z-flute is a non-fluted carton said to provide a cost-effective alternative to microflutes, miniflutes and heavy-weight folding cartonboard. Launched by Riverwood International, the material is engineered by strategically laminating paperboard strips to the interior of a carton to provide the strength needed without overpack-aging.

“It is designed with supply chain optimisation in mind,” says general manager for Z-Flute Mike Roman. First application was an outer for a major US retailer’s own brand pouched juice drink where previously a corrugated case would have been used.

The pack is said to offer the comparable strength of corrugated, vibrant graphics of paperboard and the run-ability of folding cartons.

“It offers increased opera-tional efficiencies and intelli-gent strength that improves throughput and minimises product damage,” adds Roman.

Exciting technologies resulting from tie-ups that don’t just span materials and machinery companies but also stretch the partnership hands across the Atlantic could be found in most halls. A development that was initially seen on a small table on the Krones booth and in AET’s Rob Carter’s briefcase at Interpack earlier this year was receiving a far greater profile.

TOppCure is a labelling system that applies AET’s transparent, metallised or white opaque films as die-cut labels using modified cut and stack labelling equipment.

Neither traditional wet glue nor pressure sensitive, this labelling alternative involves transfer of the 100% solid adhesive via an anilox and pallet to each label that is then cured in a special unit in the labeller. AET is partnered with German major Krones to design a simple retrofit to existing equipment.

Since its May German debut things have moved on. The 500-bottles/min speed has been raised to 600 and watch out for even higher speeds as the technology rolls out next year.

” We are in the final throws of the beta testing we began in August,” says Mr Carter. If all goes well we should have a commercial application in the spring.”

It is believed that this is likely to be for a glass bottle in the brewing industry. “It is not just for glass containers that we are seeing the interest,” adds Rob Carter.

“In the last three months much of that interest has been for plastics bottles. The partnership with Krones has worked really well. They have a world-wide leading position and their interface with customers is second to none.”

Chairman of the Bradman Lake Group Graham Hayes is clear about the great advantages of partnering with companies in areas outside their fields of expertise to produce a line that offers the “best from all sides”.

The British and USA based cartoning machinery spec-ialist entered into a manufacturing and mark-eting agreement with Propack Processing and Packaging Systems of Ontario, Canada to pro-duce its vertical racetrack robotic loading systems earlier this year.

It used the show to announce a partnership with Klockner Tevopharm to offer complete lines integrated by Bradman Lake. On the booth was the first completely integrated line incorporating an LJ Series Robotic Top loader fed by a Tevopharm Pack 200 wrapper.

Amcor PET Packaging unveiled the next generation of multi-serve, hot fill PET bottle designs. Under the Ultimate trade name, it introduced seven stock options designed to offer performance benefits including weight reduction and top load improvements and eight custom alternatives. Typical applica-tions will be beverages such as juices, sports drinks and teas.

Since its acquisition of Schmalbach-Lubeca’s PET packaging business earlier this year and with 48 plants in 18 countries, Amcor now claims to be number one producer of PET packaging in the world.

Pack Expo 2004 will run from November 7 – 11.