Canadian Plastics

Packaging Prognosis

By Mark Stephen, associate editor and Umair Abdul, editorial assistant   



In their desire to service a growing population of North American consumers demanding ever more convenience, value-added packagers are turning to in-mold labeling (IML) — and the plastics industry is responding.

While the process still remains immature by European standards, IML is clearly on a growth trajectory in North America. Jordan Robertson, general sales manager for StackTeck, estimated the growth for North American IML packaging at 30 to 50 per cent annually. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in inquiries for IML,” he said. “We’re regularly being asked for quotes for IML because machinery suppliers have proven we can deliver systems that can handle the volumes in North America.”

An indication of the growing popularity of IML is the newly-formed In-Mold Decorating Association (IMDA), based in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Manufacturers of plastic products are either unaware of the benefits of IML or consider the process to be too complicated or too expensive,” Ronald Schultz, the organization’s founder, said. “One of the primary goals of the IMDA is to help manufacturers understand that IML can produce a better product at lower costs.”


Auxiliary Industry Invests

IML is getting no shortage of attention from auxiliary suppliers, and easing the transition of some of the suppliers is the relative sameness of the technology. “In the IML market, we’ve benefited from the fact that we’re using technology we know,” said Christian Weiss, technical sales, robots and automation, for Wittmann Canada. “There have been components added that are specific to IML, but the servo drives and the general workings of the robot are based off a standard platform.” During the recent Chinaplas 2007 event, held in May in Guangzhou, China, Wittmann spotlighted a new ultra-high speed IML system for the production of two-cavity containers with an overall cycle time of 2.5 seconds.

Despite its growing popularity, the newness of IML in North America still shows through in the expectations of some molders. “North American manufacturers have production requirements that can be very different than in Europe,” Wittmann Canada’s Weiss said. “They typically want high cavitation with fast cycle times but the technology, at least in Europe, has been focused on smaller cavitation and more frequent product changeover.”

Still, given the increasingly competitive nature of today’s plastics industry, North American molders who resist IML are doing so at their own peril. “The days are gone where an injection molder can afford to have labels manually inserted onto the product,” said Brad Lemieux, sales manager at En-Plas Inc. “IML is something that every molder must entertain to be competitive.” According to Lemieux, interest in establishing IML turnkey operations is also growing, as evidenced by the large crowds drawn to the complete turnkey cell that En-Plas showcased at Plast-Ex 2007.

Fortunately, North American molders debating whether or not to jump headlong into the IML waters can dip a toe in first. “Low cost cavitation systems are available for a manufacturer to test the market without making a huge investment, in order to see how it works for them and what specifically they require,” Wittmann Canada’s Weiss said. “Because much of the automation is based on standard robots, they can easily integrate these robots elsewhere into their existing production lines should their intended direction or product requirements change.”

Resource List

En-Plas Inc. (Toronto);; 416-286-5961

StackTeck (Brampton, Ont.);; 416-749-1698

Wittmann Canada Inc. (Markham, Ont.);; 888-466-8266


Two things on which almost everyone in the blown film industry agree is that multilayer applications — combining anywhere from three to nine layers of film — are complex, and have a steep learning curve. Why, then, should a plastics packaging manufacturer invest in multilayer machinery? Because it can make films with property and cost benefits impossible to obtain with fewer layers.

“To be profitable in this industry, multilayer films are the future,” said David Beddus, extrusion product manager for Canada at Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation, headquartered in Lincoln, R.I. “With the technology available today, multilayer films offer greater consistency than monolayer film.” In September 2006, Windmoeller & Hoelscher installed a three-layer Varex blown film extrusion line for Montreal-based Nelmar Security Packaging Systems. “It was apparent that in order to be more cost efficient, we would need to have greater consistency in the films we were using,” Neil Freder, Nelmar’s president, said. “Controlling the process in-house enables us to use and maintain the best resins without incurring change without notification.”

Putting Up (Flexible) Barriers

An easily identifiable advantage of multilayer blown film is the barrier properties that can extend the shelf life of refrigerated products. “Barrier opportunities are an obvious reason for selecting multi-layer film,” said Jim Campbell, vice president of sales at Hosokawa Alpine American. “Even three layer films offer the converter significant versatility in terms of being able to customize the barrier of a film for a specific food packaging application.”

In addition to high barrier, flexibility is another advantage sought by today’s packagers. Multilayer equipment manufacturers stress that multilayer films, in particular nine-layer films with thin nylon layers, offer much greater flexibility than cast film.

Saving Money, Scrap & Time

Modern multilayer film applications also offer the cost savings demanded by today’s accounting departments. In 2005, for example, Brampton Engineering Inc. installed the first commercial application of its AquaFrost downward blown water-quenched process, which can enable the manufacture of seven to 10 layer film. According to Jim Stobie, the company’s vice president of sales, the unit film manufacturing cost is up to 20 per cent lower than cast film. Processors can also realize significant scrap savings over conventional films because they can run AquaFrost without trim, he continued.

Indeed, saving scrap is one of the most critical components to successful multi-layer packaging. “Most of the materials used in blown film are very expensive — particularly EVOH and nylon, which cannot be recycled,” said Mirek Planeta, president of Macro Engineering & Technology Inc. “This means that any scrap savings is money in the bank.” According to Pleneta, Macro Engineering has recently made available a new die for multi-layer processing featuring an automatic gauge control that not only reduces scrap but also reduces the thickness of the barrier film itself, thereby offering a further cost saving.

Additionally, multilayer film can offer a more efficient production process. Hosokawa Alpine American’s side-fed, seven-layer X series die was designed with perfectly round ports — instead of the traditional “D” shape — that prevent material hang-ups and provide self-cleaning, according to Jim Campbell. “The design makes die maintenance easy and enables the absolute minimum residence time,” he said.

Resource List

Brampton Engineering Inc. (Brampton, Ont.);; 905-793-3000

Hosokawa Alpine America (Natick, Mass.);; 508-655-1123

Crowther Machinery Ltd. (Dorval, Que.);; 450-677-1166

Macro Engineering & Technology Inc. (Mississauga, Ont.);; 905-507-9000

Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation (Lincoln, R.I.);; 800-854-8702

International Converting Equipment Inc. (Mississauga, Ont.); 905-569-7727


Wine and beer connoisseurs may turn up their noses, but polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are definitely the shape of things to come for the bottling sector.

“Glass has become an oligarchy in North America, and is either unwilling or unable to service mid-markets,” noted Dave Birkby, president of Calgary, Alta.-based Westbridge PET Containers.

The growing demand for a better alternative has allowed PET bottle manufacturers to carve out a niche market. In addition to offering greater design flexibility, PET allows beverage companies to reduce bottle weight. Plastic containers also help companies enter markets and venues where breakability is a major factor.

Not Just a Novelty

The novelty of a plastic bottle, particularly in the wine business, has garnered a lot of attention over the last year. More recently, Mississauga, Ont.-based MPI Packaging Inc. made a splash at liquor stores with its eye-catching 750-mL bottles for French winemaker Boisset Vins & Spiritueux’s Yellow Jersey wines. Thanks to the added design flexibility of prototype molding, the bottle and shoulder are embossed with a definitive and unmistakable pattern: yellow jerseys. “They are making their wine bottles very special, and they are making a unique package that stands out on the shelf,” explained MPI’s director of operations Shawn Talebpour.

Oxygen ingress and barrier protections have been the biggest challenge for bottle makers. “[In PET bottles] barrier properties are very important because you have to protect the wine,” explained Talebpour. MPI overcame the challenge by using Monoxbar, a monolayer preform with active oxygen scavenger technology from Philadelphia-based Constar International Inc., that has the potential to provide a shelf life of approximately 18 months for the Yellow Jersey wines.

Some PET manufacturers are also watching the evolution of plasma coating, where a layer of silicone oxide — in some cases, only a few nanometers thick — can provide glass-like properties. Although silica could combine PET’s flexibility with glass’s cellar-friendly impermeability, oxygen scavengers are still the most commonly used barrier technology.

Smaller Shops Jump in

Packaging companies are wining and dining the major players in the alcoholic beverages business, but many smaller and homegrown businesses are also finding a use for PET. Black Fly Beverage Company, a London, Ont. company that operates the province’s first micro-distillery, sells its vodka-based coolers in 400-mL resealable bottles. The PET packaging allows Black Fly to reach its main target markets of outdoor and recreational venues, and convenience-based buyers.

The design of the bottle, which is embossed with the company’s logo, was facilitated by Cambridge, Ont.-based Hallink, and the bottle caps were provided by Mississauga, Ont.-based plastic supplier Ampak Inc. Black Fly’s bottles are currently produced in batches by Maple Ridge Plastics, a new blow molding operation in Dundalk, Ont.

According to co-founder Rob Kelly, PET offered a less expensive alternative than glass for creating a unique and stylish bottle. “Because we were developing a proprietary bottle, it was about 25 per cent of the cost to design a bottle [compared to glass], and that was important for a startup company,” he said.

Black Fly’s success has led the company to use plastic packaging in an innovative new product. The company’s ready-to-freeze Black Fly Vodka Infused Spiked Ice employs a specialty tri-laminate film, consisting of a metallized barrier, a layer of PET and a printable nylon layer. “These soft packs and PET bottles all meet our company mission to be progressive about our packaging,” said Kelly. CPL

An irony of plastics packaging is that, even as it protects a food product, it can alter the smell and colour — important “red flags” for grocery shoppers. Two of the newest weapons in the battle for consumer approval are active packaging, and intelligent — or smart — packaging.

Easily confusable, active packaging and intelligent packaging are actually two distinct concepts. According to the Guelph Food Technolgy Centre (GFTC), headquartered in Guelph, Ont., active packaging maintains or enhances food quality and safety by interacting with the package content or its environment; intelligent packaging, by contrast, senses the quality and safety of packaged food and transmits that information to the outside world.

More importantly for plastics processors, both represent areas of significant opportunity. According to Wellesley, Mass.-based market research firm BCC Research, the U.S. market for “active, controlled and smart” packaging for foods and beverages will reach US$54 billion by 2008.

Already, inroads have been made. According to the GFTC’s Carol Zweep, Pasadena, Calif.-based consumer goods manufacturer Avery Dennison recently introduced an active package for grocery store raspberries. “An anti-microbial label inside [the] container releases chlorine dioxide gas to suppress microbial activity,” Zweep said.

At present, intelligent packaging applications incorporate functional films with embedded sensors and radio-frequency identification tags, and plastics packagers should prepare for more breakthroughs in the near future. “The functional films that Bayer MaterialScience is developing could be exploited in a number of new intelligent packaging applications,” said Ramesh Prisipati, senior project development manager with Bayer MaterialScience in Pittsburgh, Pa. “For example, I can imagine meat spoil indicators — cards that change colour when exposed to bacteria — being incorporated into the packaging films themselves.”


1. If possible, push the addition of the smart packaging feature back to the packaging supplier.

2. Carefully match the smart packaging functionality to the application. When packaging fresh produce, for example, an oxygen transmission rate (OTR) suitable for one type of vegetable may not work with another vegetable.

3. When adding a smart feature on the packaging line, determine whether it can be done via simple adjustments, retrofit of an optional module or installation of new equipment.

4. If new equipment is needed, floor space, line integration and infrastructure issues come into play.

5. Consider the impact of smart packaging on cycle time and throughput.

6. Be aware of how long it takes and what tooling is involved to change between smart packaging and standard packaging if both styles will be run on the same line to avoid excessive downtime and/or tooling costs.

7. Does the solution need to be scalable and repeatable across many lines and/or many facilities? If so, can it be standardized?

8. Weigh the advantages of centralized versus distributed control.

9. Be alert for quality problems that could be introduced by the smart packaging feature such as seal integrity issues.

10. Balance long-term labour requirements versus the capital investment required to move to the next level of automation.

Source: Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Insitute


Canadian municipalities and businesses are looking for new ways to be green, and trashing plastics seems to be an emerging trend.

The anti-plastic sentiment has recently become most apparent in the film and bag sector, with many municipalities proposing bans and taxes on single-use grocery bags. In March 2007, for example, the town of Leaf Rapids, Man. became the first North American municipality to introduce a bylaw banning retailers from distributing single-use bags. In other Canadian districts, however, bans and bag taxes have been defeated. “Bans are not a solution. They have the complete opposite effect from what is intende
d and can actually generate more waste,” said the Canadian Plastics Industry Association’s Cathy Cirko. “Canada already has a strong recovery system for bags and we just need to work with municipalities and retailers to expand it.”

The plastics consumer packaging industry is entering a similar stage of increased environmental consciousness. However, unlike the bag sector, the call for a change in packaging is coming from major retailers.

Wal-Mart Canada, for example, has announced the goal of reducing packaging on products by five per cent by 2013. Unlike the outright bans on plastic bag products, Wal-Mart’s packaging initiative takes a life cycle view of the product. “When we use less packaging, we spend less on materials, ship less weight, and require less space in our stores,” explained Guy McGuffin, Wal-Mart Canada Corp. vice president. The company cites the example of the reduction of the cardboard box for a line of toys by one square-inch, an adjustment that saved approximately 300,000 litres of fuel.


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