Historically, solvent-based coatings have maintained the largest share of protective and speciality coatings. However, they are projected to be surpassed by water-based coatings by 2020 as regulatory concerns continue to impact the protective and speciality market. Demand for water-based coatings in this market is predicted to expand at an annual rate of 2.5% to 85 million gallons in 2020, supplanting solvent-borne coatings as the market leader. Packaging & Converting Intelligence investigates these developments and the variety of factors that influence them.
In the paper and paperboard industries, Smithers Pira forecast growth of 4.9% year on year to $5.18 billion by 2022 in functional and barrier coatings. The report determines that future growth will be driven by a resurgent global outlook and greater penetration into transition economies.
The Asia-Pacific market will represent more than 54% of worldwide functional and barrier coatings use by 2022, up from 46% in 2012, with Japan being the only major economy in the region expected to have a reduced demand. China leads the way with 34.2% of world consumption.
The food and beverage market will continue to dominate demand for paper and paperboard packaging, and the need for functional and barrier properties. Aseptic packaging continues to expand the use of aluminium foil as a barrier coating for paperboard packaging, while water-based and other high-barrier coatings, and biopolymers are expected to make inroads into more traditional petroleum-based wax and plastic-laminate paperboard products for fresh food, bakery, frozen food and takeaway applications. Novel water-based alternative solutions to silicone in baked-goods markets and safer solutions to replace fluorochemicals will continue to be active.
Cost will continue to drive the market to search for innovative approaches to replace fibre content. Paper converters are under pressure from consumer brands to reduce waste, emissions, volatile chemicals and any hazardous processes. This is putting pressure on companies to provide products with safer and more sustainable functional and barrier coating options.
This growth is leading to the development of a number of intelligent technologies that are designed to support the new packaging formats demanded by consumers, while meeting shortened production times.
Alison Keane, president of the Flexible Packaging Association, says, “We’ve seen material advancements including increased barrier properties, innovated laminations and co-extrusions, which enable flexible packaging manufacturers to tailor their packaging to a specific product or need. Films can now provide better product protection, contamination prevention, extended freshness, puncture and tear resistance, tensile strength and seal strength. One of the leading areas of interest to consumers in flexible packaging and pouches is to be able to remove all of the product from the pouch, tube or pack, which is something that the right coating can ensure.”
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.
Another recent development in coating technologies was highlighted at last year’s drupa show, when ebeam Technologies displayed its EID compact ebeam curing system. Previously available only in the form of huge, expensive systems, ebeam Technologies has made its electron beam curing (EBC) technology accessible for use with inks, varnishes, coatings and laminating adhesives. As a world first for inkjet applications, ebeam completely removes the need for photoinitiators. When used to cure contactless inkjet inks, food safety concerns are eliminated, making the inkjet process suitable for food packaging.
Karl Swanson, vice-president global sales at ebeam Technologies, says, “At drupa, we demonstrated a pioneering CI Flexo press with inline laminating. It was the first time ebeam technology had been used to simultaneously cure the ink and the adhesive in a single process – all of which takes place at print speeds. A laminating adhesive is applied on the still-wet inks, then a plastic film is laminated onto the adhesive. This enables the material to be printed, cured, laminated and then slit on a single streamlined production process.
“If you look at the status quo, even though both operations are typically under one roof, the printing and converting lines stand alone. You rewind the print run then take it to the laminating line for further processing. Solventless laminating then requires at least one day under controlled conditions after which the packaging can be slit or further converted as required. This can now be achieved with new ebeam technologies in a single line with instant curing and no wait before converting.”
This focus on efficiency and reducing the number of steps in the process is shared by Cycle4Green. A passionate advocate of environmentally responsible solutions for the global packaging industry, Finland-based Cycle4Green offers a recycling solution for release paper liners with its collection service, available directly to label-converting companies, label end users and various selected partners in the waste management business. A welcome growth in understanding the importance of recycling laminated products has seen Cycle4Green further develop its ‘closed-loop recycling’ across Europe.
Managing director Petri Tani explains: “Liner recycling is a hugely important issue as over 50% of release liner waste still goes to landfill. Coated and laminated liners can very often be recycled, which is far better for the environment than incineration. There is no reason not to make your coated or laminated liners as environmentally sustainable as possible, while still delivering excellent performance to the customer.”
Consumers make snap judgements at the shelf and breeze through information to make decisions, all the while being governed by limited time. As a product or brand, one of the easiest ways to be overlooked is to have errors or a poor-quality finish. For example, thick laminate that cannot be seen through or has smudged the label, or coating that has not sealed in the liquid. Consumers choose the clean, crisp product. They are not impressed with misaligned labels, spelling mistakes or bad packaging. And they are quick to vent on social media when they don’t get what they believe they deserve. This can be embarrassing for any brand, and can potentially lead from one missed sale to a collective and viral distrust.
For Ian Schofield, own label and packaging manager at Iceland Foods, demand for quality packaging is increasing, even in the budget sector. “Our customers are known for being value conscious, but they are also aware of food quality and provenance,” he says. “The same goes for packaging. Recycling awareness is increasing for consumers and businesses on a corporate level. Research shows that consumers appreciate the information on packaging, as long as it’s not patronising. We have a powerful tool in packaging.”
Schofield says that by using better board and more innovative materials, Iceland Food’s packaging quality has improved without the price increasing. “Everything is driven by keeping the customers happy. Our prices can’t go up, but we have to meet our sustainability targets. By ensuring we maintain a tight control over materials and their performance through careful, regular testing, and delivering accurate nutritional and recycling information, we are being as effective as possible with our resources.
“Our policy requires that all own-brand packaging is minimal, but with laminating in particular we can’t afford issues with poor-quality drying that leads to problems like marks and tears. We’re always balancing quality control with material reduction and automation processes.”
Stuart Blyth, principal scientist for global packaging at Mondelez, is focused on protection. “Product protection is king for us. While cost and fit with other products and sustainability are considerations with any product, protection is the number one factor for us,” he says. “We are always looking at the next big thing in this field due to the impact it has on our final product.”
This can be anything from curing or laser coding to remove the possibility of smudging or poor label quality, to multilayered coating and film use to extend shelf life and improve food safety.
As a result of a twin approach to making packaging more reliable while minimising environmental impact, there have been many developments in materials. The rise of aluminium/plastic laminate, which is used as packaging for consumer goods such as food, drinks, pet foods, toothpastes and cosmetic products, is an example. Laminated packaging is a concern for recycling because it is light, has a low value and is considered unrecyclable. Because collection and recovery of recyclates are driven by weight-based targets, they will not be highlighted as an issue until heavier packaging options are replaced. However, because it makes a significant positive impact on the environmental performance of the packaging product, its use is increasing rapidly.
The low weight of the laminate improves the ratio of product-to-pack weight, and reduces transport costs and environmental impacts. Ultimately, the weight of material that has to be disposed of after the product has been consumed is reduced, which mitigates the effects of landfill taxes. But the problems with recycling the materials used to fabricate these pouches, bags and tubes negate some of the benefits, especially for the consumer who cannot find any environmentally satisfactory method of disposal.
For clarity, there are two other highvolume packaging formats that use aluminium as a barrier but which are not target materials. They need to be considered, but the aluminium content may bring them into the same recyclable waste category as laminated packaging:
- Aseptic beverage cartons: predominately fibre-based with aluminium inner linings, which serve as a barrier to oxygen, aroma and light. The fibre material is the major element of the pack with the aluminium content being less than 5%. Used beverage cartons are being collected from household waste streams in increasing numbers for recycling because of their fibre materials.
- Crisp packaging: predominately plastic with a thin aluminium inner coating, which is deposited on the base material. The aluminium is too thin to recover economically and these packs are not recycled.
“Finding ways to reduce food waste levels is of the utmost importance to us,” says The Co-operative Group’s environment manager, Iain Ferguson. In a packaging cost-benefit analysis, the food-loss savings are the prime factor, rather than packaging, as the cost of the disposal of packaging “is likely to be significantly less than the value of the food”.
“The Co-operative’s aim is to look at all of the impacts of packaging, including, how well it protects the product inside,” continues Ferguson. “To this end, we are exploring several avenues to extend the shelf life of perishable goods. We are doing this in conjunction with reducing the waste of the packaging that is required to protect these goods. It is a fine balance to provide the protection and quality needed to ensure our products are first class in quality and value, and can be easily or efficiently disposed of after use. The right barrier or coating technology or laminate is one of the critical tools we use in this endeavour. We have seen successes; for example, reducing waste on steaks by using skinpacks, which extend the shelf life and improve product quality, and we are always looking to improve.”
The Co-operative extends the scope of its waste-saving ambitions into homes by educating customers using on-pack advice. “We are constantly looking for the best ways to provide value for our customers in a responsible way,” says Ferguson.
But packaging changes have financial impacts, so information is captured by running live trials and gathering empirical data.“We take into account the value of the [food] waste,” he adds. “We also try to assess the environmental impact of the change.”
With all the developments taking place in the packaging sector, it is perhaps fitting that the final words would go to AIMCAL, the association that globally represents coating, laminating and vacuum metallisers. Executive director Craig Sheppard says: “AIMCAL has a wonderful opportunity to be part of a strong converting industry and to contribute to the bottom line of end users with packaging that protects and adds value to consumers through innovative coating and laminating technologies. AIMCAL will continue to support our members in their efforts to deliver sustainable, innovative value to their customers.”