Digital Magazine

Breakin' Bounds in Barrier Films

New materials, including new barrier films, can be found at pffc-online.com/mag/converter_new_materials

According to research firm Kline and Company's comprehensive report, “High-Performance Barrier Packaging Films 2004: Business Analysis and Opportunities (klinegroup.com), “With a US market volume of more than $2 billion in 2003, innovative plastic films used in barrier flexible packaging have made significant gains against metals, paper, and glass. During the last five years, industry growth has prevailed despite relentless pressures for higher performance at lower cost, volatility in resin feedstock prices, globalization effects, and changing consumer preferences.”

Suppliers of barrier films have worked diligently to meet the challenges of these “relentless pressures.” However, the first step is for converters to understand the barrier requirements of their customers.

Explains David Marotta, business manager, Americas, ExxonMobil (exxonmobilchemical.com), “Understanding the barrier requirements is paramount. It's not enough to say ‘protect’ or ‘extend the shelf life’ of the food. Converters should be concerned about the distribution or point of sale of that package, because there might be some other barriers that package needs, like keeping bad odors out as opposed to keeping the freshness in. Understanding the barrier means the preservative needs as well as the protection from other products that may ride in the same truck or be sold in the same location.”

Adds Chris Voght, product manager at Toray Plastics (America) Inc. (toray.com), “Once you determine what barriers are required, you need to understand what level of barrier is required. Pending that and other package requirements — seals, puncture resistance, heat stability, et cetera — you have several different options.”

Adds Voght,“Often there are other requirements beyond barrier that require the converter to produce several-ply laminations, such as puncture resistance, heat stability, and sealant requirements such as weld seal, peelable seal, et cetera.”

Once the barrier requirements are established, converters will find several low-cost options available today. As Marotta explains, there is new technology that allows polypropylene (PP) to deliver ultra-high barrier. “Polypropylene tends to be a low-cost polymer, but up until the last few years, it hasn't provided strong barrier. You had to alter it. This new technology allows polypropylene to deliver ultra-high barrier, both in terms of oxygen and moisture — a foil-type barrier.”

In addition, Marotta says, “In the last 12 months, there has been the advent of multi-functional, low-cost barrier films. This means not only can polypropylene deliver the oxygen or moisture barrier, but these films can produce very strong seals, 1,800 to 2,000 grams per inch. That's a significant number when you compare it to the average seal strength of 400 to 600 grams per inch. [These films] can replace two- and three-ply structures in the marketplace. So it's not only replacing the foil, it's replacing the foil and the foil sealant or the polyethylene with one single structure.”

This structure simplification, Marotta says, reduces the cost — the number of substrates in the package — which allows the brand owners to reduce their costs by reducing the amount of converter “value add.”

Marotta urges telling brand owners and converters this type of multi-functional barrier film exists. “It's not going to take any capital change or capital upgrade, it's simply education.”

Voght suggests other changes impacting the barrier film market are coextrusions using a polar barrier layer (i.e., ethylene vinyl alcohol), which is being done with biaxially oriented PP and blown polyethylene; resin blends to replace coated films; barrier durability of metallized films; and innovative high-barrier coatings such as alumina for clear high barrier.

As for the future, the Kline report suggests there is no slowing down the popularity of barrier films, even with the obstacles the technology still faces. “Although the industry has sustained decades of strong growth, the future experience of successful industry players will be shaped by a keen awareness of where products are in their life cycle, the changing competitive landscape, and timely execution of sound business practices.”

Restrictions of time and space limit the number of companies, products, and trends that we can discuss in these reports.

For additional information, see PFFC's features and departments each month, consult the June Buyers Guide, and check pffc-online.com.

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