David Baker, Commercial Director at RPC Promens, explains why plastic is your real flexible friend…
Rigid plastics’ versatility in being able to reconcile a variety of packaging requirements has been a critical factor in the material’s adoption across a large number of retail markets. Thanks to the different polymers and manufacturing techniques available, plastics can provide solutions for many applications, with its user-friendly benefits such as light weight and easy handling and its flexible design capabilities all key factors in its suitability.
Convenience food provides just one demonstration of how plastics’ versatility has contributed to the creation of a variety of attractive and practical packaging formats such as squeezy bottles, trays, snack pots and microwavable containers.
Just as important as convenience is the need to maintain product quality and ensure effective protection and preservation. With the introduction of high-performance barrier technologies, plastics are now able to offer many different types of products an extended ambient shelf life of up to 24 months and beyond. From soups to ready meals, dairy products to desserts, and nuts to pickles, this has enabled food manufacturers to develop new products and market sectors.
Different plastic manufacturing processes can meet different consumer requirements. At RPC we provide thermoforming for tubs and trays,
blow moulding for bottles and jars, and injection moulding for reclosable pots. Baked beans, for example, can be packed in a family-size barrier blow-moulded jar or thermoformed individual microwavable pots.
The cosmetics and personal care sectors have also benefitted from plastics’ design flexibility in the creation of many different eye-catching shapes for maximum on-shelf impact and consumer appeal, which are combined with user-friendly features such as easy opening.
Equally important, new advanced manufacturing and decoration techniques can help to create the luxury, premium image that is so essential for products in this sector. For example, special cooling systems have permitted a reduction of cycle time inside the moulds, without any shrinkage, and this helps to create a superb smooth finish on materials such as PET-G.
Cream jars can be manufactured using a dual-layer construction. The outer container is injection moulded in a type of polystyrene to achieve a thick-walled effect that conveys luxury while remaining lightweight and easy to handle. The inner jar is then manufactured in polypropylene, which can be produced in a range of colours to suit the product and create a compelling visual effect.
In terms of decoration, advanced technologies such as silk screen printing, hot stamping, labelling, embossing, vacuum metalizing, spray lacquering and electroplating all help to create a distinctive and individual appearance on shelf.
A particular challenge in developing packs for retail markets is their fast pace, with brands continually being revised and relaunched to
match new trends and changing consumer demands. For established brands, any changes or improvements have to ensure that new consumers are attracted without alienating existing customers. Plastic packaging can be highly effective in retaining the core of an original design and re-imagining or enhancing it with a modern twist. Plastic is also an ideal material for the creation of family ranges with one design in a variety of different sizes.
However, for the pack manufacturer, the challenge can sometimes be more than simply creating a new look pack; the characteristics of the product can also be a factor in the pack design. In the cosmetics sector, for example, airless dispensing technology has supported the successful introduction of numerous products of many different viscosities with technical innovations and enhancements that enable the systems to cope with small particulates or continue to operate smoothly even if air is trapped in the container.
This combination of attractive design, convenience and functionality has delivered a wide variety of packaging solutions in numerous other markets as well, including paint, surface coatings, DIY and garden care, lubricating oils, pharmaceutical, and household chemicals.
At the same time, in today’s more environmentally conscious world, the plastic industry has also done a great deal to point out the sustainability benefits of plastic packaging. The on-going lightweighting of containers, for example, saves on raw material usage; lighter packs help reduce the carbon footprint of transportation; and reclosable packs and barrier containers for extended shelf life do much to help reduce food wastage, now widely acknowledged as being a far greater on-going problem for sustainability than packaging waste. Most important for the majority of consumers, plastics can be recycled.
Rigid plastics continue to demonstrate how they can adapt to the needs of our changing world and it is this versatility will stand the material in good stead to deal with the next set of challenges from the retail sector.
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