The Technical Challenge of Sustainable Packaging
By 2030, all plastic packaging within the EU will need to be recyclable or reusable. This; It will concern all types of packaging for primary and secondary packaging where paper-based materials are frequently used.
The trend is clear and irreversible. In terms of plastic pollution, the consumer’s environmental and sustainability concerns and the rise of awareness of circular economy principles are pushing the packaging industry to more ethical packaging. This means using materials that are easier to recycle, such as single-layer plastic or paper, and reducing the amount of material used. Moving towards sustainable packaging presents packaging machinery with technical challenges. What’s more, achieving higher sustainability goes through higher efficiency. How? Keep reading.
By 2030, all plastic packaging within the EU will need to be recyclable or reusable. This; It will concern all types of packaging for primary and secondary packaging, where paper-based materials are often used: blow molding plastic bottles, injection molding products, packaging or any bag with flexible plastic material.
Many countries do not have the necessary recycling systems and processes
Conventional multilayer composite films are complex and expensive to recycle due to the need to separate the different film layers. Polymer-based multilayer packaging materials are widely used to combine the respective performance of different polymers, and the advantages they bring to packaging are many. However, due to their poor recyclability, most multilayer materials are often incinerated or landfilled. This renders efforts towards a circular economy ineffective. In addition; many countries do not have the necessary recycling systems and processes for recycling complex plastic waste. In contrast, single-material films are fully recyclable. Because all layers are made of the same kind of plastic.
The transition from multi-layer to single-material includes some changes
Concerning the manufacturing process, the transition from multi-layer to single-material involves some changes. Operators today have to manually set up their processes and do some testing before starting the whole batch. It should be noted that operators need real know-how, as there is no modeling tool that enables parameters (time, temperature, pressure…) to be adjusted according to material properties. Even process modeling may be impossible as materials will vary from one batch to the next. After all, the purpose is; recycling and reusing plastic. But as you mix different sources, sometimes directly at the factory, the composition changes and the more a plastic is recycled, the more it breaks the carbon chain and material properties. These setups are complex and time consuming and can vary from batch to batch depending on the material, even for very similar productions!
Another particular issue to consider with mono materials is the required sealing technology, especially in the high speed range. Operators need to set parameters such as sealing time, temperature or pressure. While providing the sealing integrity of the inner layer for a film; The heat seal must be precisely aligned to prevent damage to the heat sensitive outer layer.
What about paper-based solutions?
Another superior sustainable alternative is paper-based solutions. The higher environmental friendliness of this alternative lies mainly in the end-of-life perspective. Once in the environment, paper-based packaging can degrade within months. However, it can take tens or even centuries for plastics to break down. Most of them make their way to the sea. According to the European Environment Agency, 82 percent of the litter collected on European beaches is plastic; only 2 percent is paper or cardboard. In addition, the paper recycling rate in Europe is currently around 80 percent.
In terms of the process, sealing is of course a challenge as it also includes the right adhesion technologies. However, the biggest problem may be cardboard particles that can cause malfunctions and loss of performance.
Less plastic in total
The third trend in sustainable packaging involves redesigning the packaging to reduce the amount of material. Here, production tolerances are smaller and more precise, repeatability is essential. In summary; The move to sustainable packaging will involve better precision to anticipate problems and better control of processes. It will also require acceleration in production changes. What’s more, meeting ethical packaging targets can generate 30 percent or 40 percent extra costs. This is our recommendation to overcome this challenge.
General equipment effectiveness (OEE) is a very practical way to prepare and mitigate the challenges of the next 10 years. Sustainable packaging will definitely put OEE in the ropes. All this will increase production losses, as setting times are longer and product quality is more difficult to maintain. This issue will affect machine manufacturers as well as end users who often upgrade or refurbish their machines rather than investing in a new production line.
E.g; If the sustainable packaging alternative is paper-based, this includes compromising product quality, covering pollution and the associated risk of failure. E.g; Requires the installation of oil-trapped cylinders to retain a film of grease on the piston rod surface and prevent the ingress of dust or other contaminants. These cylinders increase the number of working cycles by 4 times. We recommend the use of vacuum systems with built-in inline air filters and locking mechanisms or clear bowls. Also, an adequate selection of vacuum pad material can reduce line downtimes. A final alternative to ensuring quality in a paper powder environment is to switch to vacuum technology products with blowing capability, where a positive pressure is applied to the ejector side of the vacuum tip effector to blast the powder. However, there are other non-sustainable related packaging issues associated with product quality that, when addressed, can increase OEE and help reduce the extra cost and hassle of the production process of ecological alternatives.
Considering overall product quality-Some examples:
Plastic wrap, foam packaging, or labels adhere to attracting dust and dirt, causing misapplication or contamination of pharmaceutical and food packaging. Industrial ionizers are primary tools for static elimination, neutralization and control. They are available in bar, nozzle and fan types to better adapt to various production areas that have static electricity accumulated in the manufacturing processes.
Temperature control for blowing and sealing plastic bottles is one of the key parameters to maintain quality and facilitate setup time. When it comes to cooling plastic or sealing after production, SMC will provide a full range of solutions to tackle this. They can be controlled digitally.
Improve performance with digital control
The best solution for addressing performance is digital sensors and connected devices. We rely on our broad product portfolio to digitize all equipment, streamline production changeovers, reduce setup time and save configurations. Sensors and switches that help implement effective predictive maintenance and control overall system performance in real time.
Every detail is crucial to reduce downtime and maintenance parameters, thereby maintaining precision and quality:
– High quality sealing.
– Flow or pressure switch providing real-time monitoring to prevent unplanned maintenance and ensure the performance of work elements.
– Metal-sealed elements with less wear, offering maintenance-free operations and stable performance.
– The hose can be enhanced with a CAD tool to minimize cable length and associated pressure and sensitivity losses. In addition; colored hoses will reduce potential errors and facilitate installation and maintenance.
– Before marking, rotating work elements can be used for perfect positioning and blowing with air carriers to prepare the surface provides a great return on investment.
– Standard magnetic switches that can be adapted to any of our work elements.
– With speed regulating valves, maintenance or adjustments can be made much faster: forget the screw to adjust the flow and use the user-friendly indicator and adjustment knob to display the value clearly.
– SMC also provides valve systems that allow a valve to be replaced without interrupting the operation of the valve terminal (hot swap).
– On top of that, practical training will enable operators to quickly solve simple problems.
An issue that all members of society should address
Plastic pollution is an issue that all members of society must address. As consumers and producers, we are sustainable conscious. But this will involve many production challenges in the next 5 to 10 years. These challenges arise in machine modifications, higher costs, and manufacturing uncertainties that can be mitigated by addressing OEE as discussed. At SMC, we rely on our local packaging trained teams ready to support our customers in the transition to sustainable packaging.
News Source: Machine News