These days, people often are asked to do more with less. That charge also applies in the secondary packaging world, as suppliers, manufacturers and retailers expect materials to be more sustainable and multi-functional while being made with less material and having lower costs.

One such way to add value to a product is by developing retail-ready secondary packaging, experts say. Previously, corrugated boxes were used to distribute a product, which had to be taken out of the boxes and then placed on retail shelves, explains Mike Wilcox, vice president of sales, marketing and after-market sales for Delkor Systems, Minneapolis.

“Today, retailers are driving a strong push for secondary packaging that can be easily adapted and placed right on the product display shelf for picking by the consumer,” he says.

Retail-ready packaging can inspire product lift, or purchase, by shoppers, enabling retailers to sell higher quantities more easily, Wilcox says. For example, retail-ready packaging presents an opportunity for a shopper to purchase a six-pack of drinks instead of just one or two bottles, he says.

In terms of shelf impact, many customers are seeking secondary packaging with decorative enhancements, such as a glossy or metalized appearance, says Roxanne McSpadden, director of global marketing for Marietta, Ga.-based Graphic Packaging International Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Graphic Packaging Holding Co. These embellishments can supplement a beverage’s primary packaging and help to catch the shopper’s eye at the shelf, she says.

Graphic Packaging International works primarily with paperboard and also provides fully enclosed, basket- and wrap-style packaging machinery.

“One of the best things about paperboard is the premium appearance that it gives at the shelf; you get a nice large billboard effect from the paperboard [and] a good surface for printing graphics,” McSpadden says. It also is a good substrate for adding functionality, such as handles and opening features, she adds.

When it comes to high-impact graphic display packaging, Proactive Packaging & Display, Ontario, Calif., prides itself on providing customers with the best value and strategy-relevant solutions. This is accomplished by combining the “eye and science” of printing according to President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Hartog. “Our customer success is based on listening to customers, understanding their strategy and objectives and listening again,” he says.  

Once objectives are understood, Proactive works on a four corners approach: size, structure, design and graphics. Complementing design solutions is Proactive’s assortment of equipment featuring its eight-color Bobst Masterflex, which is the only direct print flexographic press that prints up to 200 line screens in North America, according to the company. It also has a seven-color press, a two-color press, and a variety of finishing equipment. In addition, Proactive maintains a fully equipped digital department, ideal for short runs, enabling beverage-makers to market test with low-entry cost, according to the company.

Proactive was founded in 1994 on Hartog’s belief in sustainable packaging and giving customers a high-end alternative to lithography. Proactive’s customers have the choice between lithography and flexography. Flexographic printing offers the greatest flexibility and value, he says. Taking graphics one step further, the company’s advanced, high-quality printing abilities enable packages to have cross-functionality, Hartog notes. Today, packaging also functions as a marketing tool informing shoppers about other products or sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, he explains. Proactive prints both the quick-response (QR) code and Microsoft Tag formats as well, he says.

Sustainable options

In addition to capitalizing on the consumer appeal of secondary packaging at the shelf, sustainability remains a sought-after attribute throughout the packaging cycle. Although the decision to “go green” might be easy, selecting the appropriate option isn’t always simple. Sustainability comes in multiple forms, including reduced material, energy savings and efficiency.

Proactive offers Eco-Board in a variety of fiber content ratios and base weights, produced on environmentally friendly cold-set equipment. Eco-Board packaging has resulted in cost savings for national brands and retailers in the areas of freight, warehouse space requirements and fuel leading to better margins and product recyclability.

The company uses organic inks free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Its clear coats also are VOC-free and provide the high-gloss appearance of coatings containing VOCs. Proactive also uses ultraviolet (UV) curing which consumes less power. All considered, Proactive’s impact on the environment extends beyond packaging. Being sustainable is the right thing to do, Hartog says, benefiting society in the areas of health and the creation of new industries and jobs. For the last nine years, during the summer months, Proactive has split its shifts and is dark during peak electrical consumption hours.

Douglas Machine’s customers oftentimes select its gas-heated secondary shrinkwrap tunnels instead of electric heaters to be more energy-efficient. The Green Machine gas-powered heat tunnel saves as much as 75 percent energy, depending on local energy costs and machine type, the company says. It also offers reduced heat-up time, from 24 to 15 minutes, while utilizing the same proprietary laminar air flow to produce high-quality multi-packs, it adds. Douglas Machine’s heat tunnel technology also allows for improvements in graphics on shrinkable polyethylene films for a low-cost retail package alternative as well, says Mary Ellen Kerber, marketing services manager for the Alexandria, Minn.-based company.

Using sturdy secondary packaging materials both for distribution and retail placement also enables companies to cut down on a layer of packaging, which is one of many ways that sustainability can be implemented, Delkor Systems’ Wilcox says.

“Of course [sustainability] also can be traced back to equipment and the footprint of the equipment, the utility requirements and energy use of the equipment, [and] the materials that are used that can be recycled or reused down the road,” he explains. “On a capital equipment side, sustainability really gets into what happens with a machine once it’s not being utilized anymore.”

Other sustainability options include running thinner-gauge films for shrinkwrapping, and using end-load wrap-around cases, which often require less corrugate than top-load cases used for drop-packing, according to Douglas Machine.

Like primary packaging materials, the industry is seeing a trend toward reducing materials and using increased recycled content, when possible.

“Packages that utilize less materials and, most importantly, can be visually identified on the retail shelf as utilizing less material, should have an advantage,” says Scott Smith, vice president of global marketing and development for Hartness International Inc., Greenville, S.C. “This type of packaging is common in Europe and Asia, but seems to be becoming more widely accepted in the United States.”

Minimalistic packaging, such as plastic rings, often is found in the U.S. market, he notes. This type of packaging puts the focus on the primary packaging, providing mainly a functional benefit, Smith says. Plastic rings also can provide sustainable attributes as well as support and enhance the primary package through color.

PakTech, Eugene, Ore., offers injection-molded bundling handles that are applied at the top of bottles or cans to complement and showcase the primary package, and offer convenience for shoppers.

“The injection-molded process allows the handles to be really comfortable for the consumer,” says Amie Thomas, sales and marketing manager for the company. “The design allows the handles to be easily applied and removed.”

Available in 15 stock colors, the handles are made with No. 2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and almost all of the company’s can carrier handles are made with post-consumer-recycled (PCR) material, Thomas says. The company currently is in the process of transitioning its stock handles into PCR material, she adds.

“We hope to be, as a facility, 100 percent PCR in the near future,” Thomas says.

Furthermore, the company sends all of its scrap material to a reprocessor, which sells the plastic pellets to make composite lumber products, thus eliminating waste, she says. In addition to using sustainable materials, the company is responding to customer requests for lightweight plastics and reduced costs.

“About five years ago, we started the process of redesigning our stock handles to be nested, which removes about 40 percent of the plastic material in some cases, and then you can ship about twice the amount of handles per pallet and shipment, so that’s the freight and material savings there,” Thomas explains.

PakTech has not skimped on the technological side either. It recently completed the installation of RoboFeed technology, which is an automatic loading system for PakTech’s high-speed lines. Similarly, the company has sold more than a dozen of its CCA120 semi-manual can carrier applicators, which run 120 cans a minute.

“It’s a simple plug-in model for our craft brewing customers, and they just love them,” Thomas says. “We keep making them because it really helps to streamline their process in a simple, cost-effective way.”

Keeping up with the lightweighting trend, Graphic Packaging International recently launched a new basket-style carrier that contains less fiber than the previous offering, McSpadden says. Reducing materials also decreases the costs of shipping and storage, it notes. When it comes to sustainability, the main pillars to consider are material reduction, recyclability and use of renewable resources, McSpadden summarizes. Customers in Europe, however, most often request to switch from shrink film to paperboard in order to be more sustainable, she says.

Efficiency and flexibility

Retail-ready packaging and sustainable attributes make an impact on the end-user, but the machinery behind the scenes also must meet customer demands for efficiency, flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

“Our producers today are demanding very high line efficiencies and line operations such that any amount of downtime is very significant,” Delkor Systems’ Wilcox says. “If you can maintain a smooth line operation [and] keep it running, even with defective product coming into the stream, you’re going to save considerable amounts of money.”

Delkor Systems, which manufactures carton and case formers, loaders and closing equipment for paperboard and corrugated materials, works to manufacture equipment that is modular, easy to utilize, and can be redeployed for different products, he explains. Redeployment can involve the machine’s ability to create new line configurations, or easy changeovers, that enable it to run a variety of packages or materials with only simple change parts, without having to rebuild or replace the machine, Wilcox says. This fits into a trend in the secondary packaging industry toward flexible, versatile machinery, he adds.

The company also uses a Vision Inspection System which scans products coming into the case packer, as well as the products going into the cases, to ensure that defective products are gently guided out of the stream without shutting down the line, Wilcox explains. This enables the company to maintain optimal up-time and minimize the amount of product that influences down-time as well as contributes to rework, he says.

In addition to efficiency, producers are requesting equipment that offers package flexibility, reduced corrugated material usage and short changeovers all in a compact machine footprint, says Julien Claudin, key account manager for beverages at Norcross, Ga.-based Cermex, a subsidiary of Sidel and a division of the Swedish group Tetra Laval. As a result, the company introduced its new VersaFilm seamless shrinkwrapping line. Featuring a clean, modular design, the VersaFilm range offers a reduced maintenance cost, user-friendly human-machine interface (HMI) and energy-efficient shrink tunnel, the company says.

The VersaFilm range runs at speeds as fast as 120 cycles a minute and has the ability to handle trays, pads, u-board, bricks, and one of the company’s newest and most popular offerings: honeycombed packs. Instead of aligning products in a straight line, honeycombed packs arrange them in a staggered configuration, which makes the packages safer to palletize, more stable and more efficient with space, says Nellie Yorgova, North American sales and marketing coordinator for Cermex.

The honeycomb arrangement also allows more product to fit into one pack and enables beverage-makers to remove the supportive pad that is usually used beneath the product, she says. As much as 20 percent more product can be added on each pallet layer because of the honeycombed packs, which, in turn, reduces the cost of pallet storage, the company says. The alignment is able to accommodate cylindrical bottles and cans ranging in size from 8 ounces to 1.5 liters in the packs, according to the company.

Both honeycombed packs and traditional packs can run on the same VersaFilm machine with a changeover time of approximately 15 minutes, it says. Depending on the honeycombed pack’s exact shape, a machine can run 30 to 100 packs a minute, it adds.

Also demonstrating its versatility, Graphic Packaging International’s TwinStack double-layer machine is a fully enclosed line that can work with various diameters of packaging, McSpadden says.

Responding to the need for quick changeovers, Graphic Packaging International recently upgraded its QuickFlex line of machines to QuikFlex G3.

“We’ve done a lot to make common parts across the lines so that if people are keeping their own inventory of parts, they work across multiple machines, additionally you’ve got a real easy changeover process,” McSpadden says.

Douglas Machine notices customers seeking flexibility, high speeds and package aesthetics, Kerber says. Its machines have the ability to package using only shrink film as well as shrink film with pads or trays, she says.

“Higher speed demands resulted in our development of higher-speed product grouping and film-wrapping technology,” Kerber says. “Other features such as Douglas’ multi-stream capability and three-sided tray technology run smaller pack configurations without reducing the overall line speeds.”

As the number of beverage SKUs increases, flexibility in production equipment also must adapt in order for suppliers to remain competitive, Hartness International’s Smith says.

“Like most machinery manufacturers, we are also working to reduce changeover times in our equipment,” he says. “Toolless changeover, repeatability in the changeover process and training are all areas of focus for us.”

 The company also designed its machines with as much modularity as possible to ensure that future packaging changes would require as few alterations as possible, he says. BI