Each geographical zone, whether it be Asia, Europe or North America, dictates its priorities based upon consumer habits, the weight of state in the economy and how much the companies invest in innovation. The packaging industry is no exception; each zone pushes the industry to progress in specific directions. Often a zone is a trend setter, encouraging its neighbors to follow in its wake.
Innovation on the North American market
Starting with the pharmaceutical area, which is a big part of packaging industry in North America, there is a strong push for unit dose packaging to replace standard high density polyethylene bottles. Wal-Mart had made it very clear that they would like the industry to align themselves with other consumer goods and introduce blister packs containing unit doses.
Staying in pharmaceuticals, serialization is also an emerging request, meaning that every package should have a unique code. There is legislation coming out of California that will spread across the whole country. That is an opportunity for any company with an expertise in track and trace and serialization technology.
Lastly compliance prompting technology and calendarization are introduced in drugs, meaning that packs remind patients that they did or did not take their medication at the right time.
Generally moving out of the pharmaceutical area, stand-up pouches have not been that popular in the States. We have lagged behind Europe. But they are gaining market share as filling speeds are almost matching those of rigid containers. The applications for stand-up pouches are expanding. The one-quart high density polyethylene bottle for motor oil is now displayed alongside the stand-up pouches in the outlets. For granular products like sugar the pouches can also replace the bag-in-box cartons.
In the controls area, information technology is impacting packaging machinery and complete lines. Real time visibility into packaging operations is becoming crucial. The main goal is asset utilization. If manufacturers cannot see and get data from their packaging lines in real time they do not know if their assets are properly used. These new software and data acquisition technologies are being pushed heavily.
Full-wrap shrink sleeves are increasingly popular for bottle labeling, largely because of the quality of their graphics. The solution is however encountering a setback. Napcor, the National Association for PET Container Resources, stated in a March 2012 position paper that when the shrink sleeve labels reach the PET reclaimers, the label materials sink to the bottom along with the PET flakes, contaminating them.
As a result Napcor is strongly recommending a switch to stretch sleeve labels, the ones that don’t need to be shrunk at all, because the new materials, many of them PE, float in the float/sink process and don’t contaminate the PET flake when they reach the recycle stream.
The 2012 edition of the Tokyo Pack unveils Asia’s technology focuses
In the field of permeability control for fresh respiring produce, there are new laser technologies that operate at ultra-high speed and accuracy on flexible films.
In a separate development,Toyo Seikan introduced a laser technology that instantly eliminates the bubbles off the surface of carbonated drinks such as soda and beer. The presence of the bubbles has always been a drag on filling speeds, so this innovation could pave the way to faster speeds.
Asia food market specifics
The Japanese food industry is unique in more than one way: the vending machine is everywhere in Tokyo. One estimate suggests one vending machine for every 23 citizens. The other phenomenon is the convenience stores: there is one every five blocks in any urban center. Also, most of the raw materials needed in Japan are imported, so material recovery and resource planning are national priorities.
The Western consumer packaged goods companies are very active in China, but as Chinese labor costs and wages have risen they have begun to develop what one of my fellow journalists has named “China + 1” strategy. That is, stay active in Chinese markets, but turn to South East Asia (Thailand, Vietnam etc.) for manufacturing.
Printing innovations are featured worldwide : wider web, electronics integration
HP Indigo unveiled two new digital presses at the Drupa show, the 20000 and 30000. With their digital technology HP used to be limited to narrow web, mostly label production. These two machines transform package converting because they perform 30 inch wide web printing for folding cartons and flexible packaging applications.
Ink is now conductive, which means RFID tags may no longer be required in some applications where they are currently used. It’s packaging that you can read and write to. The joint agreement signed between ThinFilm Electronics (Norway) and Bemis flexible packaging converting (USA) is a tangible example of how this new breakthrough could pick up momentum.
Smart printing is an integral part of the shift towards Near Field Communication, or NFC. It intertwines itself with the consumers’ daily life. The package becomes its own data device. It can recognize the consumer, it can sell itself, it can even supply content.
Sustainability is here to stay in North America
Sustainability is not a roller coaster trend any longer, where interest would peak and drop over 5 year periods. It is level and won’t go away any time soon. PET recycling, one of the most successful materials in the recycling world, is becoming simpler: the flake used to be re-extruded and turned back into a pellet. Now, Germany’s Krones make it possible to go directly from the flake to the injection molder and skip the intermediary processing step.
A milestone was recently reached in sustainability: the Austrian company Starlinger Viscotec has received FDA approval for their decontamination dryer to make food grade flakes from post-consumer recycled high density polyethylene milk bottles.
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