Good things come in all kinds of packages.
If you're looking for a way to package your disposable hygiene product then you're probably in the market for a pre-made, coextruded, multi-layered polyethylene bag with eight-color flexographic printing capabilities. Maybe you'd even like your economy, ultrathin, deluxe, maxi, super, mega, mini, winged, ultra, premium or jumbo product to be packaged in a wicket, drawstring, top-folded, strap handle or flip-over bag.
Obviously, long gone are the days of straightforward packaging decisions, thanks to the introduction of highly automated extrusion and production machinery - not to mention recent advances in flexographic printing that have literally revolutionized the disposable hygiene product packaging market. The proliferation of different sizes, styles, product types and package counts has also helped to make the once comparatively simple business of marketing disposable hygiene products an increasingly complex undertaking. Proof of this phenomenon can be found in just about any grocery or superstore baby diaper aisle, where the consumer is treated to dazzling, if not daunting, evidence of today's state-of-the-art packaging capabilities.
In most cases, end product manufacturers are supplied by a regional network of packaging producers. In the U.S., the market is lead by several large packaging suppliers, with a plethora of smaller ($8-15 million) companies left to focus on a very steady store brand sector. Because of the growing variety of size and product options in both the branded and private label markets - as well as frequent changes in styles, counts and graphics - small production runs are common. Similarly, Western European suppliers range from small to large in size and also supply growing regions such as Japan and South America.
The Packaging Process
So what's actually involved in supplying film packaging materials to hygiene end product manufacturers? Good question. It begins with the packaging film supplier, who-depending on size - may either focus exclusively on disposable hygiene markets (including baby diapers, feminine hygiene materials and adult incontinence products) or serve other household-related and technical markets as well, as is the case with many larger suppliers.
Packaging manufacturers generally extrude their own film through a mono- or co-extrusion process and, while the vast majority of hygiene products are packaged in some form of polyethylene, some - for instance, wet wipes - may be packaged in a polyester/polyethylene laminate material. Across the spectrum of hygiene products, a similar base polymer is the starting point, although films may be processed to take on different thicknesses, strengths or weights to meet specific product packaging demands. Polypropylene is generally used for single or individually wrapped product applications.
Many high end packaging materials are multi-layered, with a high friction outer layer to preclude slipping and an inner layer with low friction values for easy product slide-in. Another purpose of multi-layered films is to achieve strength in baby diaper packaging, where a 50% compression rate is standard. Three layers are often used, with two outside polyethylene layers surrounding a middle layer, which offers strength and anti-elongation properties.
After casting the film, packaging suppliers then print, slit and convert the bags, which are shipped to end product manufacturers where they are filled online. Depending on the packaging equipment involved, materials can also be supplied in the form of roll goods rather than as finished pre-made bags.
In terms of printing capabilities, suppliers typically offer printed - as opposed to unprinted - packaging, almost all of which is produced through flexography. While this printing method represented only about 30% of the hygiene packaging market in the 1980's, today-due to various equipment improvements and decreasing prices over the last five years - flexography competes directly with the older rotogravure (metal plate) method. Digital - rather than analog - printing capabilities, which transfer information directly from computer to plate, have also been added by many suppliers.
Discussing the advantages of flexographic printing was Rainer Mohrmann, head of business development and marketing at Kobusch Folien, Warburg, Germany, which - along with sister company Sengewald Verpackungen GmbH - is part of U.S.-based Tenneco Packaging, a $7 billion company. "The vast majority of premium quality packaging materials are printed with six or more colors on high resolution flexographic printing systems. Aside from uniform text and graphics, these machines are capable of isolating colors so that the exact tone of a baby's skin can be consistently reproduced on a flexible polyethylene surface, regardless of package size and additional colors," he said.
Packaging Design And Materials
Most sizable film packaging suppliers agree that the process of designing a package - from an initial "executable" concept into a store shelf reality - is a collaborative effort between several parties, some of whom may include the end product manufacturer, an outside advertising agency, the packaging printer/supplier and a reproduction house (plate maker). Smaller packaging companies, on the other hand, may be less involved in the actual design of the package, concentrating instead on keeping up with packaging trends initiated by market leaders. Commenting from this perspective was Salvador Belda, export manager for Gaviplas, S.A., Valencia, Spain. "Our role in the design area is very limited," he said. "As is the case in most competitive industries, the leading companies establish design trends, which other suppliers then follow."
In the largest segment of the disposable hygiene market - the baby diaper sector - the evolution away from cardboard boxes toward their easier, less expensive and more attractive counterpart, polybags, took place more than a decade ago. Today most suppliers predict that polybags will retain their dominant position in the market, which is also attributed to the fact that polybags allow for universal packaging (i.e., bags can be made to look identical on any package size or style).
Jeffrey Zeber, general manager for Edison Converting, Newport News, VA which, like its sister company Edison Plastics, is a supplier to private label and branded disposable hygiene product manufacturers - pointed to the continued popularity of polybags. "About 15 years ago there was a shift away from boxes. Now the whole market is basically polyethylene bags with the exception of corrugated boxes, which are offered in warehouse-type stores."
Indeed, cardboard has not fared well in the baby diaper arena, despite its success in the significantly smaller tampon and sanitary pad markets. For the most part paper has also failed to compete against resins due to comparatively volatile, less reliable pricing. Although a trend towards paper began to take shape in the early 1990's in Europe, the movement was ultimately unsuccessful.
Robert van der Laan, sales and marketing manager for hygiene disposable packaging at Delo & Mediane International BV, Maarssen, The Netherlands, looked back on this trend. "Despite the initial environmental appeal of paper, consumer testing showed a negative response to brown paper wrapping with black text and the project never took off," he said. "Polybags offer high quality to a market that demands a wide range of colors, shapes and products. In the hygiene market, and particularly in baby diapers, each manufacturer wants to be identified by a unique color scheme, picture, logo or theme, and polybags make that possible," he said.
Kobusch Folien's Mr. Mohrmann agreed. "With compressed products, more paper would be needed to match the strength performance of polymer film and - gram per gram - paper cannot compete. There would actually be neither an environmental nor an economic benefit," he said.
Less Film, Higher Performance
Another significant trend - across various bag types and hygiene product areas - is the continual development of thinner films with equal or improved strength values. "In general, the hygiene industry is looking to reduce the amount of film used as much as possible," said Mr. van der Laan. "Suppliers and manufacturers will continue to push for higher yields until the technical barrier is hit where you really cannot get much lower without the packaging starting to look flimsy," he said.
Edison Converting's Mr. Zeber concurred. "There are still advancements being made to polyethylene packaging and resin technology; we are working on making stronger films, reducing gauges and lowering costs. We're not at the threshold yet, there are still a lot of developments happening."
RELATED ARTICLE: Packaging Suppliers Upgrade Capabilities
Following its debut four years ago in the hygiene industry, packaging film supplier Delo & Mediane International B.V. has purchased four flexographic printing systems in the last three years. The company's most recent expansion is planned for November, when the company will acquire its seventh eight-color flexographic press. Further extrusion capacity is expected to be added during the first quarter of 1998. Key geographic markets for Delo & Mediane include Western and Eastern Europe, the Russian Republics, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Plans are also underway to augment flexographic printing capacity at packaging supplier Kobusch Folien. The company will introduce its eighth flexible printing machine in October, which will offer a total often colors and will have the capability of printing up to two colors on the inside of the packaging film (for printed instructions or product information).
In other Kobusch Folien news, a three layer, combination HDPE/LDPE coextrusion machine was introduced last month. The company has also recently patented and launched a new cross band handle for carrier bags in the European market. The new handle may potentially hit the U.S. market in the future.
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|Title Annotation:||disposable hygiene product packaging|
|Author:||Wuagneux, Ellen Lees|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1998|
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