‘Game-Changing’ Resin Stands Tough

Toughness and stiffness may be synonymous in body builders, but not necessarily in packaging. That is until Dow Chemical Co. has perfected the combination in a new resin it has designed for flexible pouches and bags.

Called Innate, the new resin introduced this fall will be a game changer in performance, company representatives say. “It’s focused on abuse resistance balance between stiffness and toughness,” said Nestor de Mattos, marketing director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. “What we are bringing to the table is different.”

The resin was developed for converters and food manufacturers who wanted a film that is tough, but not necessarily thick. “It comes to a point when the customer cannot downgauge because the package starts to become weakened and integrity is at stake,”  de Mattos said.

“We are [giving them] the ability  to downgauge and still have superior resistance abuse.”

The resin is an ethylene-based. It was developed with a new catalyst in combination with process technology that gives scientists the ability to tailor the molecules in a way that hasn’t been done previously.

De Mattos said packages using Innate should be in production next year.

Creative Applications for Lasers

LaserSharp FlexPak Services LLC has been employing lasers for 20 years, so what’s it doing in a special report about innovation? The fact is that lasers are coming into their own as a means for converters to add value to packaging.

A small industry in packaging–LaserSharp just has one sizable competitor in the U.S.—lasers are increasingly being used in all segments, from folding cartons to produce bags. The reason? Lasers make life easier for the consumer.

Laser are being used to create the scoring that enables the top of pouch to tear off straight, to make holes in plastic bags so they breathe, and to create tamper-resistant markings on pharmaceuticals.

“Most of the applications we’re seeing are in ways to use the technology to enhance, create and add value to flexible packaging,” said Juan Carlos Tinoco, LaserSharp general manager.

The Minneapolis area-based company focuses on flexible packaging (its sister company Lasx Industries Inc. focuses more on paperboard and electronics, and labels). Going forward Tinoco sees the sweet spot for lasers in packaging unlimited only by creativity.

“The way I see lasers get more applications is to come up with new ways to use the tool.”

Popular services LaserSharp performs today are scoring film for peel-and-seal openings, as well as for tear strips. One of the new products it sells is called PrimeVent, which is scoring on  a microwavable bag to create a vent. The laser etched pattern is covered by a label and when it is pulled off, opens so that steam can be expelled.

Microwaves Sterilize Food from Within

A new sterilization technique using microwaves is being introduced to food manufacturers. Called microwave assisted thermal sterilization (MATS), it is being piloted with two food manufacturers, according to the only U.S. licensee of the process, Denver-based 915 Labs LLC.

MATS was patented in 2006 by food engineering scientist Juming Tang, Ph.D, at Washington State University in conjunction with a consortium of food packaging and equipment companies.

It is an alternative to conventional food processing or retort, in that the packaged food is sterilized from the outside in a pressurized water bath and heated from the inside with 915 MHz frequency microwaves. Conventional thermal processing—invented more than a century ago—uses high steam heat of about 240 degrees Fahrenheit. MATS can be used for rigid plastic trays and cups as well as pouches.

Matt Raider, COO of 915 Labs, said MATS systems are in place with Wornick Foods and AmeriQual and a third has been delivered to a major consumer packaged goods company. “We have several small production-scale machine orders pending with a food company, co-manufacturer, and military customers,” he said, and will begin building a large production-scale machine for a major CPG customer in the first quarter of next year.

Among the advantages of MATS is that it maximizes the natural quality and flavor of foods. “First you take out 50% of the sodium,” he said in a talk at the recently concluded Global Pouch West.

Because in a typical retort process involves a long cook time at a very high temperature, the food can lose flavor and become dull-tasting. “Food companies have to add a significant amount of salt back into the product in order to raise the flavor profile to something that consumers will accept,” Raider said. “Since MATS is a much shorter and gentler process, it doesn’t cause the same heat damage and the food retains the distinct flavor or each ingredient so food companies don’t have to add all of the salt.”

Another advantage is that MATS can save energy. On the minus side, it can’t be used for metal food packaging.

Clearing a Way for Center of Store Foods

In its move to more consumer packaging (as opposed to industrial), Sonoco Products Co. (NYSE: SON) earlier this month unveiled a see-through plastic can. The company is the second in as many years to introduce an alternative to the metal can.

Called TruVue, the can is made with a multilayer plastic substrate (that the company declined to describe). It incorporates a metal bottom and lid with a pull ring. It is designed for retortable food and high-pressure processing and contains no BPA.

“We have developed a revolutionary alternative to the traditional metal can that provides our customers the unique opportunity to reinvent their brand, without reinventing their production process,” said CEO Jack Sanders, in a statement. He added that that a clear can helps processed foods such as soups and vegetables stand out in the store.

Spokesman Brian Risinger said in addition to a marketing lift, the can “helps fill demands from a new generation of consumers and shoppers who are looking for what we call fresh and natural products, while also looking for trust, transparency and authenticity from brands.”

Sonoco is competing with Klear Can, developed by Kortec Inc., a unit of Milacron Holdings Corp. (NYSE: MCRN). That product has inner and outer layers of polypropylene with a layer of ethylene vinyl alcohol  barrier film.

Both cans can run on existing machinery made for  metal cans. However, neither is fully in the market yet.

Risinger said the product is a “very promising addition” to its line-up of consumer packages. “When you consider there are approximately 30bn metal cans produced each year, if the TruVue can can displace a fraction of that total  it presents a significant growth opportunity for us and  our customers.”

The company is aiming to increase its revenue from consumer packaging to 75% from 55%, according to analyst Mark Wilde of BMO Capital Markets. In a research note, he said: “This is apt to entail a large consumer acquisition and disposal of some industrial operations.”