Meeting the huge demands on industrial packaging – smaller carbon footprint, sustainable, minimal resource input but still strength

Electricity and resources are becoming more expensive and the shortage of freight capacity is pushing up the cost of transport. So how can high-grade packages be marketed under these difficult conditions without appreciable price rises? The manufacturers of industrial packages are showing that this is possible – by using low-cost recycled materials, participating in the development of logistics strategies and generating their own renewable energy.

Manufacturers of industrial packages are being hit particularly hard by price rises resulting, in part, from rising energy costs. Their containers, pallets, technical components and work-piece carriers are usually made of plastics. Although they are light and robust, a lot of energy is required for the injection-moulding of plastics packages. Furthermore, the manufacturers need granulate for this, which is in big demand and no longer available in limitless quantities.

“In the long term, this not only means increases in the price of all load carriers, but availability will also become a crucial factor sooner or later,” says Udo Schwabe, marketing manager of the German branch of the Swiss Utz Group, a container specialist. Rising transport costs are exacerbating the situation. The problem is that large industrial packages on their way to the customer by trucks and train take up a good deal of space. “In this situation, cost savings are pretty much out of the question,” Schwabe claims.

Users are becoming more demanding

While the financial leeway for users is declining, users are becoming more demanding. Whatever the sector – the wholesale trade, food industry or pharmaceuticals industry – they all want to shrink their carbon footprint and are insisting on sustainable packages produced with minimum resource input but without compromising on strength. Companies are also resorting to highly automated conveying technologies to ensure trouble-free materials flow. And this raises the bar significantly for packaging.


Intermediate Bulk Containers are great for hygienic applications

If large intermediate bulk containers are to be filled with foods, high standards of hygiene apply in production. (Image: Schuetz)

“Like other packages, industrial packages also have to protect the product while using less material. Less material also means less space taken up by the packaged product,” explains Vera Fritsche, specialist of the Food Processing and Packaging Machinery Association in the German Engineering Federation.

In addition, the containers have to become identifiable so that they can be controlled by different logistics systems. “Coding plays a very important part here, particularly as regards the traceability of the product over the entire distribution chain as well as the entire in-plant logistics,” Fritsche explains. Novel in-mould labelling technology is making rapid inroads, as it produces durable and easy-to-clean labels, although it is more elaborate and more expensive than the currently widespread barcodes. These are simply stuck onto the packages in a downstream cycle, while in-mould labelling is integrated in container production. Pre-printed labels are inserted in the injection mould and fuse with the plastic melt on its injection into the mould.

Packaging suppliers are also expected to offer space-saving containers. “Freight and storage space is becoming not only scarcer, but also costlier,” Fritsche continues. Companies pass on the pressure to the packaging industry in the form of demands for volume-reduced containers, be they folding, conical or stackable/nesting.

The biggest challenge facing packaging manufacturers is to deliver the required innovations without loss of quality and at as little extra cost as possible.

No package like any other

Using extra-safe packages to keep the customer coming back is the approach pursued by the Schuetz packaging company in Germany. Its innovations include Foodcert packages for the food industry, which are based on the latest industrial standard FSSC 22000 (Food Safety System Certification). This standard calls, among other things, for high cleanness precautions during production to minimise the risk of contamination. Schuetz also manufactures its Foodcert packages exclusively just in time, ie, to meet actual demand in response to individual customer orders. Long storage and contamination are thus avoided.

“Schuetz is the first manufacturer of intermediate bulk containers and drums worldwide to subject all of its production plants to this audit,” the company claims. Intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) are among the most widely used large packages. These cubic plastic containers are used in industry mainly as collection and transport containers.

Another Schuetz strategy to attract customers in the long term is sustainable package solutions. The company’s latest developments in this area include a plastics IBC pallet that is made by reprocessing used IBCs. Schuetz is thus killing two birds with one stone. It is firstly satisfying growing demand for carbon-footprint-reduced and ecologically produced, recyclable products. And, secondly, by reprocessing scrapped IBCs, Schuetz is making itself less dependent on expensive supplies of raw materials. And without loss of quality, the company insists, for the recycled material is highly resistant to chemicals, deformation and damage, Schuetz claims.


Materials are being recycled into containers and pallets for a new lease of life

Raw materials for plastics are in big demand and expensive. More and more often, materials are being recycled into containers and pallets for a new lease of life. (Image: Schuetz)

One of the focuses of Utz is also on the sustainable, cost-effective production of its plastics load carriers. At the company’s own recycling centre, boxes and pallets are processed into granulate. Alongside this, the company is developing new packaging materials like wood-plastic composite as well. To supply itself with eco-friendly electricity, Utz has also invested in its own photovoltaic installation and a combined heat and power plant. “These are initially large investments, but they will make us more independent of electricity exchanges and government price interventions in the long term,” Schwabe explains.

In addition to sustainability and cost reduction, Utz accords a key role to flexibility in production and to delivery readiness. “One thing is certain: the search is on not for the universal solution for multiway packages, as was perhaps on the agenda a few years ago, but for solutions geared to specific industries and customers,” says Schwabe. In cooperation with meat processors and the global standards organisation GS1, it has thus developed a new, e-performance meat container whose enhanced base geometry and corner design makes it extra strong. It also bears an in-mould label on all four sides for easier identification within the supply chain.

For a chemist’s chain of stores, Utz has also developed a transport dolly that can be moved on casters without great effort to its in-plant destination. The basis of this dispatch tower is a dolly that has four recesses on its upper surface to accommodate the casters of the next dolly. The dollies can thus be stacked one on top of the other to save space in the warehouse. Utz also serves large industrial enterprises.


Stackable transport dollies

What’s the best way to move as many containers as possible with minimum effort? Special stackable transport dollies are the answer. (Image: Utz Group)

So that it can supply industry with its many packaging solutions, Utz is constantly investing in the extension of its machine park. The Swiss production plant in Bremgarten alone now has 29 injection moulding machines. “We don’t have any products that would warrant a mono-product system,” the company claims.

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Date / Fecha: 19/03/14

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