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Flexibles pass the technology test

Technical achievements cited in FPA awards include a barrier pack for shipping welding electrodes, a mixer for two-part adhesives and a peelable suture package.
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FILED IN:  Sustainability  > Strategy
     

Virtually all of this year's Flexible Packaging Association award winners could boast of their package's particular technical achievements. Three winners stand out as especially unusual: one is a vacuum-packed hermetically sealed barrier package that protects welding electrodes in shipment while guaranteeing their arrival at the welding site with a low level of ambient moisture. The ElectroPak (electrode packaging) System (1) is used to ship four pouches each containing 5 kg of electrodes within an outer corrugated carrier box. This system is believed to represent the first use of flexible film used to pack these sharp rod-like electrodes which are used by welders in industrial construction projects such as buildings and oil platforms. Traditionally electrodes are packed within cellophane-wrapped corrugated shipping cases that can allow the entrance of moisture that reduces the effectiveness of the weld itself. Large orders tend to be shipped in metal canisters that provide adequate moisture protection but can be both expensive to purchase and difficult to dispose of. ElectroPak functions as something of a portion pack and is estimated to provide material savings of 57% compared to metal. The structure combined with separate thermoformed end caps provides puncture-resistance during transit. Vacuum packaging and hermetic sealing virtually eliminate moisture difficulties even in the harsh environments common to industrial construction sites. The approximately 13-mil pouch structure is adhesive-laminated by Georgia Packaging (Columbus GA) in two passes on a single machine. From the outside-in the structure includes 48-ga polyester/10# polyethylene/0.0003 aluminum foil/7.5# PE/3-mil Valeron®/37# PE. Valéron Strength Films (Houston TX) Valéron film provides the structure with most of its muscle. Often specified for military applications the Valéron lamination comprises two separate 1.25-mil webs of high-density PE. Each roll is spiral-cut on a 45-degree angle during rewind. The two films are then laminated together with a 1/2-mil layer of PE. Valéron describes the finished structure as a "cross-laminated" material that provides the superior puncture- and tear-resistance needed by the sharp welding electrodes. Individual pouches are fabricated by James Dawson Enterprises (La Chine Quebec Canada). ElectroPak was first used for electrodes packaged by Montreal Canada-based Air Liquide/ Canadian Liquid Air for construction of the Hibernia Offshore Drilling and Production Platform. Limited quantities were used as early as 1992 though more extensive use has come within the past two years. Electrodes are used to fuse metal pieces together. Each coated electrode is approximately 15" in length shaped much like a sparkler. A welder clamps a lead onto the electrode. At the other end of the lead is a transformer. Upon contact a current creates an arc (hence "arc welding") that uses the electrode to fuse the pieces together. "Electrode packaging requires a very strong material able to resist abrasion in transit" notes Elise Lecompte-Marmo a process management technical chemist for the company's Electrode Business Unit. "Additionally electrode packaging presents a dense volume in a relatively small package which furthers the requirement for strength puncture and abrasion resistance. "We only use it for a small percentage of our customers (welders) who request it for very special orders because it contains a relatively small quantity of electrodes" she notes. "This package is very economical for our customers in that it uses less material than do more traditional paper plastic and corrugated combinations." Weight savings are estimated at 57% for the new package compared with canisters. "Ultimately Canadian Liquid Air's customers are benefitting from the premium-grade product and packaging application" says James Dawson marketing manager Andrew Gustyn. "This package is ready to be used and circumvents the need for the end user to take several hours to allow drying time for the electrodes." Glue proves 'smart' A new flexible package from Polymeric Systems Inc. (Phoenixville PA) is said to have impressed FPA judges with its efficient design that turns a burstable-seal package for two-part adhesives into its own mixing and dispensing kit (2). Traditionally using flexible packaging for epoxies and other two-part reactive solutions meant kneading by hand the two solutions within the package a process that doesn't always guarantee a 100% mix. The new patented flexible package dubbed SUM PAK(TM) (Single User Mixer Package) contains a unique series of mixing chambers with pre-cut holes. The holes break up and recombine a two-part epoxy as the two streams of material are forced through a 5" L mixing section on the way to the pre-cut dispensing tip. Itself a manufacturer of sealants caulks and epoxy adhesives PSI contract packages the epoxy for Tipton PA-based New Pig Corp. which debuted the item in September '95 under the Pig Clear Epoxy name in its industrial supply catalog. (Although the films can be printed New Pig's package is blank white on one side clear on the other. Decoration of this package isn't a priority for the marketer which conducts its business by mail order.) PSI president Ted Flint says the main advantage of this package is its abilty to "mix at the molecular level." The single-use package containing 3 g of two-part epoxy adhesive streamlines the process of mixing and applying glue with minimal waste and no cleanup. Measuring only 1 1/2" W x 8 1/2" L the package consists of three separate film layers that separate the two product components. From the outside the package consists of white low-density polyethylene/component one/metallized polyester/component two/clear LDPE. According to Flint the films were chosen to match the oxygen and moisture barrier needs of the product and provide a one-year shelf life. There's nothing exceptional about the materials themselves that's specific to the packaging concept; rather it's how the films are put together. In the product containment section which occupies the first 2 1/2" of the package's length the two formulations occupy the same area of the pouch but are separated by the middle ply. The mixing section separated from the containment section by a burstable interior seal consists of a series of 10 heat-sealed chambers arranged sequentially. The middle ply of film has a series of holes that vary in size and pattern. As the two components are squeezed through the package product flows underneath the web in one section and above it in the next passing through the holes from chamber to chamber. This separates and recombines the two streams a number of times until they're thoroughly mixed. "Based on the number of times that a stream is broken up and recombined you can calculate at what point you'll have molecular mixing meaning molecule A is next to molecule B" explains Ted Flint PSI president. Since the face layer is clear the user can watch the streams break up and recombine as they're forced through the package and out the pre-cut dispensing tip. The pouch is formed filled and sealed on a custom horizontal machine where pouches are filled and sealed in a vertical fashion. The machine was built to PSI's specifications by Creative Technology Systems (Bear DE). One of the central challenges in developing a machine to create the package was in achieving two different strengths of heat seals on one package. (The chambers in the mixing section must be completely heat sealed while the seals that contain the product must be burstable.) In addition to complete mixing benefits include ease of application small size single-use application fast mixing and minimal disposal requirements. Unlike packs for other two-component reactive products that require mixing the SUM PAK requires no other accoutrements; others use a special syringe or cartridge. Plus there's no mixing tools to clean afterwards. The design of the package also reduces the chance for the user's exposure to the contents. Product trapped inside the package is said to be minimal. In addition to selling packaged product to New Pig PSI plans to market the product/package combo under its own Smart Glue brand in order to drum up interest in the packaging concept. Sutures add a peel The emergence of the peelable two-part suture package (3) has been well-received by the medical community for the convenience and time-savings it brings to the operating room (See PW January '96 p. 46). Medical device manufacturer Ethicon Inc. a Johnson & Johnson Co. has taken the concept one step further with a new peelable suture package that eliminates the outer wrap. It won an award in the FPA's medical packaging category. "We used to have a polyolefin film/Tyvek® pouch that peeled open" says Michael Pohle director of packaging development at Ethicon. "Inside was a small vinyl/foil lamination that you had to tear open. What we've done is eliminate one step and one layer of packaging for operating room nurses--that's less time-consuming for them and it reduces their waste." Even so Ethicon had to approach this change carefully as nurses had become comfortable with the two-step process. "The secondary wrap did not add sterility" maintains Pohle but merely protected the foil package against any rough handling. Steps were taken so that the new material replicated the same tactile qualities as the two-part package with the addition of the peel-open feature. The new package exposes no sharp edges unlike the tear-open foil so any cut fingers in the operating room are eliminated. "We did a large numbers of nurse evaluations before we introduced these" says Pohle "and they've been received well." Ethicon declines to identify the material used but says that the new single-layer package offers improved moisture barrier properties and shelf life over the vinyl/foil lamination. From the environmental side the new package is said to reduce package waste 10% by weight and 15% by volume compared to two-part packages. It's provided by American National Can (Chicago IL). The company used the packaging change as an opportunity to simplify graphics. Although still color-coded the use of color has been minimized to aid legibility. The new material also allowed Ethicon to switch from solvent- to water-based inks. The company prefers not to specify the printing method. Sold in packs of twelve the sutures are distributed nationally and internationally. They were introduced in April of 1995.

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