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      Post published on 14/05/2021

      Interview with Nicola Krieg: Packaging materials, cup shapes and the innovation process of sustainable packaging materials

      What materials can generally be processed for a (thermoformed) cup?

      The variety of material combinations used is large. The majority of rigid packaging, i.e. cups, is made of PS, PP or PET. In addition, there are often barrier layers that provide greater product protection against oxygen or water vapour. By combining a main component and barrier layer(s), a packaging material can be optimally adapted to the product to be filled and the machine (hygiene level).

      Currently there is an increasing interest in bio-based and biodegradable packaging materials such as PLA, PHA and cellulose.  

       

      Can any packaging material be thermoformed and processed on IMA DAIRY & FOOD’s FFS machines?

      In principle, we can process any material which is in line with prevailing market standards. Each machine is designed and optimised for the packaging material and the filled product. Fluctuating packaging material quality can be compensated for via numerous variable parameters.

      If a customer wants to process a different packaging material on his machine than originally intended, it is sometimes necessary to adapt the machine to the new packaging material.

      Thanks to the equipment we have available in our application test centre, we are able to test packaging materials in advance, for example, for thermoformability. This also allows us to define basic processing parameters.      

       

      Are the cups, the label and the lidding foil always made of the same material? If not, what combinations are there? Are there combinations that are not suitable for all products?

      Some of our customers already produce the so-called mono packaging on our machines, where all components are made of the same material.

      The situation at the moment is, for example, a lid foil with aluminium content is sealed onto a PS cup and a paper-based label. This combination has some advantages in terms of processability, packaging material costs for the customer, product protection and application for the end consumer. In order not to compromise on any of these advantages, we are continuously working on the implementation of mono-material on all packaging formats and machine types. This is because packaging made of mono-material such as PP, PET or PE is considered recyclable.

       

      How fast is the innovation process of sustainable packaging materials and how do you assess its importance?

      The public and political perception of packaging is strongly driving the innovation process. The EU’s «Green Deal» has set a concrete time frame for the implementation of sustainable packaging. The design of these legal requirements from the EU is already very advanced, especially in Germany. This has the advantage that our customers, packaging material manufacturers and we as machine manufacturers know exactly where the journey will lead in the next few years.

       

      How does the cooperation with institutes or packaging material manufacturers work in the development of packaging materials?

      Institutes, especially from the university environment, are working on many innovative packaging material and machine concepts. We support them and contribute our knowledge and the market requirements to their development work. We maintain a close exchange with the packaging material manufacturers and regularly conduct joint tests. By working together, we create a mutual understanding of the requirements on the packaging material and machine side and can thus quickly make the necessary adjustments in the face of the challenges in everyday work.

       

      Can the different foil materials be used for all hygiene levels?

      The higher the hygiene level, the higher the barrier properties of the packaging material must be. For example, if a product is filled aseptically, the product could spoil more quickly due to a low oxygen barrier of the packaging material.

      Depending on the germicidal process, thermal and/or chemical influences affect the packaging material, which also have an influence on the processing procedure.

      It is therefore an interplay of: 

      • type of packaging material (thermoforming foil, sachet foil, sealing foil, cut lid, preformed cup), 
      • packaging material properties
      • hygiene level
      • processing technology

      which defines the suitability of a packaging material to a hygiene level of the machine.  

       

      What are the advantages and disadvantages of particularly sustainable materials in the manufacturing process?

      Sustainable materials are usually mono-materials. Regardless of the type of packaging material, this usually means lower stiffness than with multi-layer foil. Furthermore, the processing windows are often smaller. In summary, it can be said that mono-materials place higher demands on the processing machine. In particular, the packaging material feed, thermal influences during sterilisation and the temperatures during sealing must be kept as stable as possible in the production process.

       

      Have there already been tests on packaging materials or cup shapes that failed or were even aborted? If so, for what reason?

      If you want to substitute the existing packaging material with another one on a machine, it can happen that this does not work right away. Besides the adjustable machine parameters, there are mechanical conditions that cannot be adjusted within a trial. Thus, even an initially negative result provides information about the necessary adjustments.

       

      How do you see the future of packaging materials and what possible opportunities and risks can you weigh up?

      Plastic packaging has a negative reputation due to environmental pollution. However, this is due to incorrect disposal. Our waste management/recycling must be more oriented towards material recycling. In order to make this possible, mono-packaging is necessary, as this enables material recycling (= circular economy). Furthermore, biodegradable plastics make sense for regions without a proper waste disposal system. Due to the high demand for biodegradable plastics, their development is experiencing a new dynamic.

      Development in all areas of packaging — raw material sources, production, processing, use, recycling — is moving very fast. Sustainable solutions will lead to greater public acceptance.

      The shelf life and product protection of food, which packaging makes possible, are indispensable for our constantly growing society.       

       

       

       

       

       

      Nicola Krieg

      Application Engineer at Hassia Verpackungsmaschinen GmbH