Eye-popping news for sustainable, 3D paper packaging

Highly tactile and sustainable, new paper-based embossing, thermoforming and f/f/s technologies based on FibreForm, from BillerudKorsnäs, are now available in North America.

Fig.1 FreeFormPack detail
Fig.1 FreeFormPack detail

A new paper-based material — and technology — made its North American debut at PACK EXPO 2014 that opens new application possibilities for those seeking to replace plastic packaging with a high-density paper product called FibreForm, from Sweden’s BillerudKorsnäs.

Derived from FSC-certified managed forests, the material is recyclable, renewable and biodegradable, explained Gary Robinson,business development manager for North and South America. “For every tree cut from one of the managed forests, we plant two new trees,” adding that the company’s managed forest volume has doubled in the last 80 years. Turning from technology to applications, he explained that the material has a “unique mechanical capability to be 3D stretched and 3D formed,” and this allows for three "technology pillars" of applications for FibreForm: embossing, thermoforming and a new FreeFormPack. (See Figs.1-4 and 6)

First, embossing applications provide a “unique mechanical capability to be 3D stretched and 3D formed," said Robinson, which allows for embossing depth that offers some eye-popping attention for applications that range from labels to thermal wraps for hot coffee cups with embossing Robinson explained is "so deep, that you actually trap air and get a thermal barrier" for both decorative and functional benefits. (See Fig.5.) The material runs on existing flatbed, rotary or clamshell die-cutters and embossing machinery with the addition of custom tools.

Second, thermoforming applications have proven very successful in Europe for replacing plastics with paper, and are now available to U.S. companies. The thermoformable paper has a smooth sealing surface that can be used for various products including, with a coextrusion coating, high-barrier and Modified Atmosphere Packaging of fresh meats and cheeses. The first commercialization of this technology was in 2010 with lunch meats at UK retailer Marks & Spencer (story here) and currently in Swiss supermarket chain Micros where Micarna, that country's leading meat producer, has expanded from one to seven tray packed products over the past several months. (See Fig.7) The trays reportedly have reduced plastic content 60% over conventional tray packs. (Story here.Various formats such as one-sided thermoforms, clamshells and dual-cavity packs, can be made on existing form/fill/seal equipment "with less energy and faster than plastics," according to Robinson.

With a stated goal of getting the consumer "to stop in the aisle, reach out, touch, and interact with the product in a very real and tactile experience,” Robinson presented the third technology pillar: FreeFormPack. This consists of FibreForm with a proprietary form/fill/seal system that can create jars, tubes and canisters on a single machine, and impart a new tactile experience. Robinson demonstrated how large macro-formed patterns as well as smaller micro- formed shapes and patterns can be used to create 3D logos to detailed textures on rigid containers. (See Figs 3, 4, 5 and 6 for details of FreeFormPack shapes and textured surfaces.)

In addition to the paper's sustainability, he explained that eliminating traditional third-party blow molding can produce significant savings over shipping, using extra materials and labor and taking extra steps (depalletizing unscrambling, etc.). Instead, a company wishing to use the new technology would receive rolls of FibreForm paper — pre-printed to eliminate labeling — and run the rolls on a single form/fill/seal machine. 

At present, the solution is offered for dry goods applications. In a Q&A session, an audience member asked whether this technology could be used for direct food contact packaging. Evan Arnold, co-presenter and product development manager at Glenroy, Inc. BillerudKorsnäs preferred North American extrusion lamination partner, said the company had the R&D capabilities to address such applications with interested parties.

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