Flexible packaging has now become popular in various industries ranging from consumer products to industrial applications. Technological advancements have led to high demand of recyclable products & hence resulted in product innovations.
Recently, we caught up with Alexander Madl, a leading industry expert, to get his quick view on latest trends, technical challenges & impact of regulations on flexible packaging adhesives industry.
Dr. Alexander Madl is an expert for VAE emulsion polymerization and chemistry innovation. He graduated as PhD in Polymer Chemistry from the Chemnitz University of Applied Technology in 2000 and took roles with increasing responsibility in global polymer emulsion industry over more than 10 years before he started his freelance consulting business. He developed wide range of innovative VAE emulsions for adhesives, paints and engineered fabrics applications for markets all over the world, and holds several patents in that field.
Since 2014 is a freelance consultant, helping the chemical and process industry to focus their innovation towards future growth and to reach a new level of innovation performance: Transform Chemistry Innovation. Alexander offers strategic consultancy and innovation workshops. He is also engaged as speaker on conferences, as author of publications and teaches a course on innovation at PROVADIS University of Applied material Science in Berlin.
What are the latest innovations in the Flexible Packaging Adhesives segment?
Technology disruptions and changes in consumer patterns, the general trends for higher sustainability as well as an ongoing effort to increase manufacturing efficiency whilst reducing cost demand innovations in the flexible packaging segment.
Recyclability of Flexible Packaging
Higher sustainability in packaging means:
- Less undesired substances, such as solvents or residual monomers
- Minimized waste
- Reduced packaging weight (transport cost), and
Flexible packaging inherently brings with it a number of these environmental advantages when compared to other packaging types.
A very general trend is towards enhanced recyclability or even bio-degradability of the flexible packaging, which also includes the corresponding demands towards the adhesives. Even low in total amount compared to other packaging material, such as paperboard of polyethylene foil, the adhesives often cause specific issues in the recycling facilities. Due to their tackiness, they cause build-up on the equipment used for recycling, leading to production time loss and waste material. More innovative solutions from the polymer binder producers are needed to address this issue at the very end of the life cycle of a packaging adhesive.
Liner-less labeling is one of the most recent innovations in packaging and labeling, which will help to:
- Reduce waste
- Improve weight efficiency, and
- Fvorably influence packaging cost
For this type of labeling, the entire back is coated with a particular release coating so it can be wound up like a roll of tape. The adhesive needs to be strong enough to bond to various substrates including highly recycled content and low energy surfaces but not be too aggressive, as it can pick the release coatings and result in print voids and variable unwind properties, which needs a careful balance in the adhesives formulations as well as innovations at the polymer binder’s end.
Adhesives for Food Packaging
From a customer end, there are even higher demands to maintain the freshness or product shelf life of the products within the package with same time more long and complex delivery chains. “Fresh to Table” stands for higher standards of brand differentiation, shelf appeal and consumer convenience which meet the needs of a rapidly evolving society.
For the packaging adhesive this trend translates into new materials and surfaces to bind, partly direct food contact demands and also new application methods to adapt to. As customers also demand re-closable packaging for their convenience, adhesives formulators need to develop low-tack adhesive that securely seal repetitively under greasy or fatty conditions.
Ecommerce Demands Advanced Adhesives
As a second example of changed consumption patterns that influence the flexible packaging market, Ecommerce as a growing market brings new opportunities but also new demands towards the packaging material and adhesives because of the different distribution method, that is, small parcel versus pallet-load shipping. There is an increasing need for abuse-resistant films and film adhesives, that protect products switching from rigid to flexible packaging or shipping through the rough-and-tumble ecommerce small-parcel environment.
From a flexible packaging suppliers perspective, the relevant demand is for the use of high speed running machines resulting in higher manufacturing efficiency at the packaging line. Same time, less adhesive should be applied more precise, to reduce waste. Thinner, stronger, faster running describes sought after adhesives film characteristics, which sets higher demands for the packaging adhesive in terms of rheology and high shear stress resistance.
Failing these demands causes not only loss of production time (cost) but also additional waste, as the adhesive builds up on the applicator’s cutter and within the print engine. Recently, the adhesives raw material suppliers focused their innovation effort towards this problem and provided the adhesives formulators with new polymer raw materials, optimized for this application.
How do you view the impact of regulations on the selection of materials?
There is an increasing demand for regulation towards recyclability or bio-degradability of the packaging material, including the packaging adhesive besides the traditional regulations for selecting direct and indirect food contact packaging materials, such as:
- Regulation (EC) No. 1935/2004
- FDA Sections 175.105, 175.300, 176.170, 176.180, or
- respective regulations in China and many other regions in the world
For instance, EN13432 stipulates that 90% of biodegradable packaging must be converted to CO2 within 180 days, as well as also including requirements on heavy metal content and the inhibition of natural plant growth.
Therefore, many adhesives formulators have now developed high-performance adhesives, which also conform to these biodegradability and compostability requirements. Very often, this requires them to sources new types of adhesive base raw materials, such as bio-based polymer binder instead of the traditional oil based polymers that are in use today.
Also, when seen the increasing regulatory pressure as opportunity not as threat, new business models can be developed, transforming the adhesives formulators from materials provider to solution provider, with value created not by selling more chemical based adhesives to the market but by providing the most sustainable, so to speak “lean” solution satisfying the customers demands for convenience and the worlds need for sustainability same time.
What is the main technical challenge faced by today’s formulator?
The main technical challenge for adhesives formulators is – and always has been – to find the right formulation balance solving the customers or end users need for the right performance under the imperative of cost efficiency and the constrains increasing regulation puts on the raw material variety.
Therefore the adhesives formulators need to find new ways to cooperate not only with regulators but also with raw material suppliers and academia institutions to identify the right molecules to build on for the new demands at the flexible packaging markets. The solutions for tomorrows world with higher customer’s demand for convenience and freshness and same time much higher awareness for sustainable products will only be possible in an cooperative, open network of open research and knowledge exchange.