Flexible packaging is a general term for product packaging that uses a flexible material. As per the Flexible Packaging Association, it is any packaging or component that, when filled or closed, can readily alter its shape. It is designed to hold liquid, powder, or solid products that are flexible in format and don't have any shape.
Flexible packaging has been used in many industries for over 150 years and is now the fastest-growing plastic packaging segment in the United States.
According to a study, 71% of the respondents showed an inclination towards flexible packaging. Out of that number, 79% knew the packaging alternatives and were ready to pay an extra 14 %, mainly because of hygiene and practicality.
Flexible packaging can adapt to various product types and sizes. Industries like food, personal care, pharmaceuticals, consumer retail, and industrial agriculture all use flexible materials for packaging their products.
Benefits of flexible packaging
- Not much energy and resources are required to manufacture flexible packaging. It is a cost-effective approach for logistics, shipping, and warehousing. It enables businesses to save money throughout the supply chain process, and less greenhouse gas is produced during the manufacturing process. Effective use of materials results in less negative environmental impact during disposal.
- Flexible packaging provides better shelf life by reducing direct contamination by setting up a layer against oxygen, moisture, light, and microorganisms. This protects the product from getting spoiled, oxygenated, and discolored. Hence, it minimizes waste, preserves the quality, and prevents deterioration.
- Additionally, it offers endless customization and branding options. There are various options available in the market. Vibrant colors, eye-catching graphics, adding brand logos and brand messages are done on packaging to attract the target customers. Flex packaging can leave an eternal mark on consumers based on the product requirements and marketing potential.
Factors to Consider
Now that the benefits of flexible packaging are fresh let's understand some important factors while you start planning.
- Since packaging is the initial point of contact between the product and the consumer, it should be designed to attract attention and convey the brand's value. Brands use color and graphics to convey a desired message and attract targeted customers.
- For selecting proper packaging forms, it is essential to have a proper, in-depth understanding of the product and its requirements. Transportation, product freshness, and shelf life determine the right packaging form. Sustainability to maintain an eco-friendly environment is also an important consideration.
- Getting an expert opinion regarding the design and manufacturing of packaging is strongly advised. They have the experience and industry knowledge to guide the material, structure design, and user-friendly features. Packaging designers analyze consumer behavior, market trends, consumer preferences, features of packaging, and functionality to meet the requirements.
Here's an important question. What material needs to be used to make flexible packaging to maintain this balance? Let's look into some of the popular materials available in the market.
Choosing the right flexible packaging material
The choice of material determines the overall performance and sustainability of packaging. The main factors are the product, barrier quality, and the impact it will have on the environment. Different kinds of materials have different properties. Several popular options are available on the market, depending on the industries in which it will be used.
- Food and snack sections use bioplastics, plant-based materials made of biodegradable plastics. It prevents oil and air from getting inside the container. Polymer plastic has good durability and flexibility and is widely used in the food industry.
- Another well-known material is cardboard. It offers protection against moisture and prevents the product from getting damaged during transportation.
- Trays or lids are made of Aluminum foil. It can be molded into various shapes. It protects against moisture, light, and oil.
- Many chemical, food, and consumer goods-related businesses prefer to use craft paper for elasticity and strength.
- The food industry also uses Ultraviolet protection films to retain product quality and shield against harmful ultraviolet radiation.
- Brands looking for eco-friendly packaging material can use post-consumer recycled material. Another option is paper or plant-based materials, which are renewable. Polylactic acid (PLA) film can be added as a commercially compostable alternative.
Navigating through types and applications of flexible packaging
The two types of flexible packaging are twist and shrink packaging.
- Twist packaging
It uses a plastic film wrapped around the product and secured, often by heat sealing. The plastic bag is molded to take a certain shape before the product is put inside or sometimes while the product is put in.
- Shrink packaging
This packaging is preferred in industries where two or more goods are bundled. Industries of food, pharmaceuticals, toys, and beverages use shrinking packaging as it requires less energy, provides greater protection, and is more economical. It wraps the product tightly to shield it from dirt, moisture, and tearing. When heated, the shrink film molecules return to a relaxed state and tightly wrap the product. LLDPE and LDPE are the most used materials for shrink packaging.
Flexible packaging pouches have smaller packages that are completely sealed. Bag sacks have open tops and are created by sealing multiple sides of plastic films, forming a hole for holding the product.
Different processes are involved in manufacturing packaging.
- Printing techniques
There are many printing options available in the market. Printing and curing technologies will add color, text, and graphics to design packaging. Various advanced printing techniques, like flexography, digital printing, and rotogravure printing, help to add high-quality images, colors, and fonts that align with the product's brand and identity.
- Plate-making process
This method uses a printing plate to transfer ink to the packaging material during printing. These plates are important for creating the color and design of the original image on the packaging material.
- Ensuring safety and quality in packaging
The product goes through various tests and measures to maintain integrity and performance in the quality control process. Quality inspection machines check out the partially finished products and discard them. It is a crucial step, as it reduces production loss. Various tests, like Pressure Decay, Instron, and Bell Jar Test, are done at this stage. By going through these tests, manufacturers can identify weaknesses and deficiencies in the design.
Two or more substances are blended to form the integrated material in this compounding stage. This process maintains the characteristics of a single layer and minimizes the shortage of respective substances. There are various categories of compounding processes- dry compounding, wet compounding, extrusion compounding, and solvent-free compounding methods.
- Curing process
This stage involves the primary and curing agents in a composite film undergoing a chemical reaction. This reaction is necessary to ensure the adhesive layer is set properly. Curing can be done at room temperature, where the reaction happens naturally. Or it can be done by heating where a specific temperature is applied.
- Slitting process
Slitting is the process of cutting the laminated or printed film into the desired width.
- Bag making
This stage involves converting composite film into bags by heat sealing. These bags are manufactured as per required customer specifications. There are two main bag-making methods- back seal and side seal bag making. The back seal bag-making process is a split-type method.
- Form fill seal (FFS)
This method adds the substance to horizontal and vertical FFS machines to create a bag. Then, it is filled with the product and sealed nicely. This is a cost-effective method in cases where mass production is required.
- Premade pouch packing machine
This system typically consists of a pouch feeding machine and a weighing machine. The operational concept of this machine includes a manipulator handle, opening, sealing, and then covering premade pouches under microcomputer control. The packaging is used in the food, agriculture, and medicine industries.
Successful packaging design involves maintaining a balance between sustainability and functionality. Flexible packaging helps achieve this balance. Flexible packaging is on the rise due to its eco-friendly nature. It offers adaptability and practicability, enhances the user experience, and promotes sustainability.