WestRock, in collaboration with Atlantic Packaging, has introduced a new machinery and materials solution—Canopy Equipment and Canopy Wrap—for tray bundling that eliminates polyethylene in favor of an extensible, curbside-recyclable paper material.
According to John Perkins, vice president of Packaging Machinery & Automation for WestRock, several years ago, longtime WestRock partner Atlantic suggested they work together on developing a replacement for shrink film. “In this particular case, we worked with them across the entire solution,” he says.
Canopy Wrap is made from Atlantic’s FibreShield extensive kraft paper, which provides containment with flexibility to withstand supply chain rigors. As Perkins explains, the stretchiness of the paper is built into the material during the manufacturing process. “It’s got some give to it, versus a normal wrap like a grocery sack, where the moment you start to tear it, it starts to fail.” Demonstrating the sturdiness of the paper, at PACK EXPO Las Vegas, Perkins held a standard, 24-ct multipack of bottled water by the paper wrap with one hand, without any tearing of the bundle.
According to WestRock, Canopy Wrap has passed rigorous ISTA 3 testing, is coated for moisture and abrasion, and provides a printable surface. As for recyclability, it notes that up to 77% of the fiber in the wrap is recoverable, based on industry-standard pulping processes.
As for the machinery, the Canopy Equipment, Perkins shares that WestRock it’s a standard tray wrapper/shrink system with a modification at the end of the line, whereby the machine wraps the paper around the bundle, bypasses the shrink tunnel, and is then lifted by a patented mechanism from the conveyor so that the wrap can be glued on the bottom.
According to Chip Bennet, senior manager vice president Equipment Division and Technical Service for WestRock, who provided some background on the development of the system in a WestRock video, the last step in the process was where the innovation happened. “The challenge was that there’s existing equipment that we can actually put paper onto that’ll put a loop of paper around a product and replace the plastic, but we could not find a way to adhere it,” he says.
The goal was to take the upstream-applied paper package and come up with a downstream solution in a small format. “So we sat around, we brainstormed, and we developed this first prototype that will allow us to take that pack from that tensioning conveyor, move it on to a mechanism that lifts that package up where the paper is overlapped … open that flap up, traverse across some glue guns where a stream of glue is applied, then close the flap back, and set the multipack down.”
WestRock can retrofit to existing tray packaging machines to add the lifting mechanism. Canopy Equipment will also be available as a dedicated, high-speed bundler, with some modifications to the tray possibly needed. As it exists now, the system leaves the ends of the bundle open. “We’re trying to really be mindful of putting the most minimal paper that we can in the solution. So that’s why we’re starting with applications that are open ends, and if we have to raise the tray-wall height a little bit for certain applications we’ll do that,” explains Perkins.
Among the aspects of the project that speak to new trends in the industry, primarily brands’ call for more sustainable packaging material, is the replacement of plastic packaging with paper and the resulting need for designers, materials suppliers, and equipment manufacturers to collaborate to create these new solutions. Says Perkins, “At WestRock, we’re really doubling down on taking the machine designers and the packaging designers and co-locating them. It lets us bring together material scientists, coating specialists, packaging designers, machine designers, and others. That’s where the secret sauce is—it’s the interaction of our structural designers and our machinery designers to figure out the smartest, most minimalist solution that hits all the marks.” PW