To the victors the foils
To the victors the foils
Films and foils may not be the most glamorous stars of the converting world but they have an important role to play. With impressive technology and processes available to make them thinner, faster and clearer, Emma-Jane Batey shines the spotlight on films and foils by giving them a profile of their own.
The supporting role performed by films and foils across the converting and packaging industries means that most of us need them in one way or another. In a world where innovation is everything, the often unseen developments in films and foils are hard to pinpoint, so Converting Today decided to speak to a few industry drivers to learn more about their motivation.
Derek Vandevoorde, managing director at PDC Europe in France, is deeply entrenched in the world of sleeving machines. Here, he and his team are really passionate about films and sleeving solutions. A family-owned company, Vandevoorde is the son of the founder and runs the company with other members of the family.
With its headquarters in Montdidier, PDC Europe develops and manufactures sleeving systems that can apply enhanced or super-stretch sleeves to containers of all shapes and sizes. The company’s dedication to staying true to its family values and creating innovative solutions means that its customer base is loyal. “We are always moving forward,” Vandevoorde says. “Our latest generation of sleeving machines apply sleeves as thin as 20µm at various speeds on a single-head machine with up to 600 cycles a minute. That is unique in our industry and something we’re incredibly proud of.
“This machine is the PDC R400, and it makes it possible to have a continuous sleeve in feed; we don’t have to stop the sleeve to cut it. For all our competitors’ machines, and all of our previous machines, the machine had to be stopped to cut and apply the film. Obviously, not having to do this saves lots of time and means you don’t have to speed up too fast either, which can break the film. It’s great for converters: our continuous in-sleeve system can now work with very thin films. So, sleeves can be much lighter, saving cost per ton and transportation costs.”
Stretch the limits
UK-based manufacturer Quality Films is pushing boundaries when it comes to producing stretch films. An independent manufacturer of pallet stretch film for more than 25 years, it uses prime raw material to make sure its films are the best possible quality and reliability. A manufacturer of a range of standard, high-performance and pre-stretched films, its products include cast and blown hand-machine stretch film, shrink films and packaging accessories including pallet hoods, covers and tapes.
“We are proud to innovate when it comes to stretch films,” says sales and marketing manager Sonia Griffiths. “All our stretch films are produced from linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE), introduced in the 1970s, but since then advances in polymer resin technology have created a range of LLDPEs that can be stretched over 300% while still retaining excellent puncture and tear resistance. These advances have enabled manufacturers like us to produce innovative stretch films that are suitable for a wide range of applications.”
In June 2015, Quality Films added a brand new machine to its state-of-the-art facility in Wolverhampton, or “the heart of the Midlands”, which has further boosted its capabilities. “We are now producing on the newest co-ex extrusion line in Europe,” Griffiths says. “It’s all part of our on-going focus on developing thinner films that are cost-effective and environmentally sound, without compromising on performance.”
With food, personal care and household products requiring films and foils, it is interesting to note the views of one of the UK’s major supermarkets. Sainsbury’s is the second-largest chain of supermarkets in the UK, with a 16.9% share of this hugely competitive market. Stuart Lendrum, head of sustainable and ethical sourcing and previous head of packaging, is vocal in his support for more sustainable packaging solutions across the chain. His initiatives have included stocking the supermarket’s ‘basics’ cereal in plastic film bags. “Cereal boxes are an iconic item on UK breakfast tables, but by ending our use of boxes for basics, we can save a huge amount of cardboard and, thereby, reduce the carbon footprint of the weekly shop,” Lendrum says. “Feedback from our customers on our Rice Pops, which have been sold in bags for past year, has been really positive. This is why we decided to convert the whole range.”
Sainsbury’s overall packaging-reduction mission focuses on cutting small amounts of packaging on high volumes of products, with hundreds of changes made to its ranges in the past five years. One of these changes has seen heat-seal lids used on its soft fruit lines, which has saved over 440t of packaging each year. “Reducing cardboard outer sleeves and introducing thin yet robust films have played an important part in our strategy,” Lendrum says. “We have also worked hard to introduce compostable packaging for all of our own-label ready meals and organic food, which will save over 400,000t of fossil fuel each year. Compostable packaging has been called the friendliest form of packaging by the Women’s Institute, and it’s certainly key to our environmental revolution in packaging.”
Indeed, Sainsbury’s previous CEO, Justin King, has also been vocal in highlighting the supermarket’s use of innovative films as part of its commitment to more responsible packaging. In a statement, King said: “Our customers tell us that food packaging is extremely important to them and can determine what they buy, so our packaging team has been looking at ways to address these concerns. We’re now confident that putting over 500 types of our food, from ready meals to organics, in compostable packaging will significantly help to reduce the packaging that most threatens the environment.”
For RecycleNow, part of the UK environmental responsibility charity WRAP, highlighting how various packaging materials such as films and foils can be recycled is a key element of its aim. RecycleNow is a UK-wide recycling information service and campaign used by over 90% of local authorities, giving information to councils and the public about how and where to recycle waste.
RecycleNow acknowledges that, until recently, the majority of plastic films could not be recycled as part of most local authority’s domestic recycling schemes. However, with compostable film increasingly available, and greater access to centralised recycling points at leading supermarkets, plastic film is not considered a negative component in the packaging recycling cycle. Foils are far more widely recylcable in standard household recycling collections. RecycleNow stresses that foil must be clean of food to be recycled effectively.
Scent of success
Polyprint is one of the UK’s leading flexographic packaging printers, specialising in packaging film for the food sector, and the printing and production of mailing films for magazines and direct mail. Polyprint’s production of films for food and direct mail has earned it a reputation for service and speed. Managing director Jonathan Neville says this approach ensures its customers “enjoy the best lead times and lowest costs”.
Founded in Norwich in 1988, Polyprint has nearly 30 years of experience and is accredited with the BRC/IoP Global Standard for Packaging, which means it can undertake the printing of primary food packaging materials. “We’ve found that it’s not necessarily about being innovative with films, but rather it’s about being reliable, fast and honest,” Neville says. “If customers tell us they need something quickly, we can turn a project around in 24 hours. If our customers ask for the earth, we give them it.”
Neville says that food packaging industry faces challenging demands beset by the “complication factor”, which has become more prevalent in recent years. “It used to be about getting products from A to B at the cheapest price,” he says. “Now, there are higher expectations and greater technology available to deliver more process work. We produce literally millions of wraps and films, and it is our job to make sure we deliver exactly what our customers want. We are finding that high-density films are more popular now, with CPP also increasingly used as it is more forgiving, even though it can cost a little more. OPP is popular in food packaging but it can be brittle, which isn’t always good for consumers or brand-value perception. So it’s a juggle, but a juggle that we can do admirably thanks to our decades of experience and our excellent facilities.”
In terms of trends in films, Neville says that Polyprint is being requested for smaller quantities, particularly for its direct-mail films. “I believe that direct mailing and magazine mailing is more targeted now, thanks to better software, so our customers want smaller runs,” he says. “We work with customers such as Mercedes-Benz and Car magazine, so we know that the quality of the film plays a part in the brand image.”
Another twist available with Polyprint is scented films. “We can make our film smell of anything, for really not very much more money,” Neville says. “So a home decoration magazine could be posted out to subscribers with the smell of fresh coffee, for example, or a sports magazine could smell of half-time oranges. There’s not really been a big interest in it, but I can’t help thinking it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity.”