As Pack Expo, the premier event for packaging equipment, kicks off in Chicago on Oct. 28, makers of packaging equipment might well feel their business is on a glide path. “Business is still up but only by 2 or 3% over last year,” says PMMI market development Vice President Jorge Izquierdo. “Things are gradually slowing down. It’s the same for new orders and proposal activity.”
Izquierdo says PMMI companies are still hiring, but at a slower rate than at the beginning of the year. And some areas of the packaging industry are seeing more action than others. “Durablegoods packaging is holding up reasonably well,” he says. “Food and beverage are both in slowgrowth mode, and pharma is in extremely slow-growth mode.”
Flexible packaging is one of the technologies seeing a lot of interest in several corners of the industry. “The trend toward flexible packaging has been accelerated by economics,” says Izquierdo. “Some companies are shifting to flex to keep costs down. Brand-name producers are pushing back against private labelers, sometimes. They are trying to maintain the same price level, and one of the ways they sometimes do this is by finding ways to cut down on the packaging,” says Izquierdo.
Innovative ideas that minimize packaging materials not only cut costs, they also promote sustainability by reducing the amount of energy expended on handling and the material sent to land fills.
An example that will be up for discussion at Pack Expo comes from Pack Flow Concepts LLC, Pittsford, N.Y. It consists of a reusable outer container holding a pouch: To refill the container, buy another pouch. The pouch dispenses practically all the product it holds, unlike existing designs. “The problem with existing dispensers like those for hand lotion is that between 7 to 15% of the product remains in the container when you are finished with it. You don’t have that problem with our design,” says Pack Flow Concepts Marketing & Sales Director Gene Eckert.
The beauty of this approach, says Eckert, is that the pouches can ship to their filling point as flat material. This saves a lot in shipping, he says. “The unique thing about the pouches is that they connect as a group to a piece of chipboard at their top and bottom,” he explains. “A pallet that might hold 4,000 plastic bottles could hold 15,000 of these pouches.” Thus, their packing is volumetrically more efficient than that of empty plastic bottles.
Pack Flow Concepts points out that blow-molded bottles typically stack in layers on pallets or in random containers mounted on pallets (which requires machinery to sort and orient for filling). The cost of transporting empty bottles is determined by the volume required rather than weight, so the cost per pound can be steep. The machinery to sort and orient bottles uses multiple hard tooling fixtures for each model of bottle.
The company says so far it has seen interest in its packaging concept from makers of hand lotion. It is also looking for machinery makers able to fabricate the equipment needed for handling the pouches. “We need a device to unload and feed them onto a line, a device to open them so they can go to a fill station and then a seal station,” says Eckert. “We have talked to people about the pouch making. How you do that depends on what the end user wants. Attaching the pouches to the board needs to be worked out.“
Eckert says there are several options for making the pouch. For example, it could be created as a cylindrical bottom bag on a mandrel with the bottom plate affixed via hot-melt glue. The top plate could be affixed by heat sealing the bag opening to a lip on the underside of the top plate. Alternatively, it could be created as a cylindrical tube with bottom and top plate heat sealed to lips on both the top and bottom plate.
Another approach would be to create a gusseted pouch and heat seal the pouch opening to the lip on the underside of the top plate. The bottom plate might then be affixed with hot-melt glue. This option keeps the pouches attached at their sides to provide more structural integrity. The pouch sides have perforated cuts that facilitate tearing one pouch from its neighbor.