Thin walling delivers the whole package

Demand for thin walling is rising as manufacturers look for lighter, cheaper and more sustainable packaging

Thin walling has long been a practice in primary food and medical packaging to save material, showcase brand quality and maintain manufacturing standards. Nigel Flowers, UK MD of Sumitomo (SHI) Demag, examines the emerging trends in this fast and ever-growing packaging segment.

GLOBAL forecasts for the thin walled plastic packaging market is rising significantly. According to a report released by Smithers, the packaging market will be worth an estimated USD 1.2 trillion by 2028 expanding at a CAGR of approximately 3%. Food and beverage, and more widespread adoption of thin walled packaging in developing economies, will drive this growth. PE is projected to be the largest-growing segment during this forecast period. Light-weighting and consumer convenience are important factors in this expansion, with the combination of environmental pressures, improvements in recycle rates and high polymer prices placing increasing pressures on packaging manufacturers. Wider adoption of bio-based and recycled materials is also expected to boost market growth.

For several decades now light-weighting and consumer convenience have given packaging manufacturers the strong commercial incentive to do more with less. No strangers to responding to demographic and lifestyle changes and balancing a wide range of variables, including cost, increased strength, recycle rates and functional requirements, lightweight formats have become the industry norm. Especially in food and medical packaging. More recently, the market has been moving more towards novelty solutions that improve performance, functionality and shelf impact.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced yet another re-think to our way of living and future reliance on packaging. While food and medical packaging saw rises in demand, other categories softened. As public health concerns gradually ease, the general consensus is demand for reusable and sustainable solutions will swiftly resume. The exact timings will be very much determined by consumers. Understanding how people interact with packaging and the channels they purchase through will be a clear driver, ensuring consumer safety, product security and future sustainability are evenly balanced.

Brand story telling

It’s a fast and ever-growing segment, offering multiple benefits over traditional and thermoformed packaging materials. Thin walling packaging can be applied to tubs, cups, posts, trays, clamshells and plastic jars and are used in everything from margarine, yoghurt, meat, bakery, fresh fruit, vegetables and microwave, freezer and over-proof ready meals. Food is by far the largest thin walling market. However, there are also a number of non-food applications, such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paint and adhesives.

Research by Smithers in The Future of Packaging: Long-Term Strategic Forecast to 2028, indicates that protecting against fake or counterfeit goods using technological innovations will be among the critical trends. Most moulded containers today use in-mould labelling to provide simple indicators of product tampering. Incorporating RFID labels and smart tags can also help to protect against counterfeit goods.

As sustainability continues to become a key motivator for consumers, packaging materials, designs and recyclability and will form a critical part of future brand storytelling and consumer unboxing experiences.

Staying sustainable

Packaging manufacturers continue to invest a great deal of R&D in improving barrier performance to cut waste in supply chains.

Plastic is inextricably linked with energy and resource savings. Its low weight makes it both cost effective and flexible to use, adding to the sustainability score when measuring Environmental and Social Governance performance.

As packaging changes, so do packaging processes and equipment. Speed and light-weighting remain probably the most dominant trends. Efficiency and throughput are inextricably linked.

From a machinery performance viewpoint, thinner wall sections bring changes in processing requirements. Among them, higher pressures and speeds, faster cooling times, and modifications to part-ejection and gating arrangements.  These process changes need to be factored into the mould, machinery, and packaging component design.

Worth $1.2 trillion by 2028

Far from reaching its limits, the Smithers packaging report predicts that the global market will expand by almost 3% a year between now and 2028. Much of this growth will come from less developed economies and the acceleration of e-commerce. As urbanisation continues to grow alongside increased consumer incomes, shopping patterns and brand engagements will continue to shift.

Always aligned to the market trends, the latest generation of EL-Exis SP’s are specifically designed to withstand the higher stresses and injection pressures that are so critical in achieving repeatability in thin walled packaging products.

The latest generation of EL-Exis SP’s are specifically designed to withstand the higher stresses and injection pressures that are critical in achieving repeatability, particularly in thin walled products

Capable of delivering a cycle time of less than two seconds, the El-Exis SP remains the fastest injection moulding machine series for packaging manufacturers on the market today. The series also offers exceptional process consistency through acceleration, mould movement and deceleration. Having this additional control during the manufacturing process saves moulders and converters money by lowering operational costs and delivering energy savings of around 15%.

Being able to adjust the accumulator charging to the injection pressure required for the exact moulding process not only lowers energy usage, but also reduces wear and tear on parts. Additionally, to help factories make informed and conscious energy consumption decisions, the machine now includes an integrated energy monitor as standard. This data can be used by companies to help demonstrate sustainability in annual CSR reports.

The new generation of packaging El-Exis machines are all equipped with an OPC Unified Architecture (OPC/UA) interface, offering broader scope for connectivity.