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How Do You Choose the Right Flexible Packaging Materials?

How Do You Choose the Right Flexible Packaging Materials?

Selecting the right flexible packaging materials is a lot like going to the doctor. To find your solution, you need to answer a barrage of questions. Whether you’re a food manufacturer or a pharma company, picking out the right materials can be a complicated task.

That’s why we turned to flexible packaging materials manufacturer Glenroy to get a sense of the essential questions to ask – as well as the key mistakes to avoid.  

Flexible Packaging Definition: What is Flexible Packaging?

As Glenroy notes on their website, flexible packaging involves non-rigid packaging structures used to package and protect products. Flexible packaging, as defined by the Flexible Packaging Association, is any package or any part of a package that can be readily changed.

The flexible packaging industry itself is extensive.  The Flexible Packaging Association estimated 2015 US sales to be $31 billion.  An industry this large requires a significant amount of materials.

Illustration courtesy of Glenroy.
Illustration courtesy of Glenroy.

Here are some common materials (and their abbreviations):

Polyethylene – PE
Low Density Polyethylene – LDPE
Linear Low Density Polyethylene – LLDPE
Medium Density Polyethylene – MDPE
High Density Polyethylene – HDPE
Polypropylene – PP
Cast Polypropylene – CPP
Oriented Polypropylene – OPP
Metalized Polyester – METPET
Metalized Oriented Polypropylene – METOPP
Polyester – PET
Nylon – NYL

That’s a sizable list. So how do you find the right one for your project?

Four Big Questions: Helping Flexible Packaging Converters Find the Right Materials

Mike Foy, Regional Manager of Glenroy, helps customers define their objectives and select the right materials. He’s adept at playing the 20+ questions game. “It almost gets annoying because we ask so many questions,” he said.

Mike Foy. Photo courtesy of Glenroy.
Mike Foy.  Photo courtesy of Glenroy.

Here are the areas Foy and his team focus on, and the questions any materials provider should be asking:

1.What is the flexible packaging function? (Containing the product)

What is the function of your flex packaging? Is it designed to contain a liquid? Does the product need to be sterilized? The compatibility of the materials to the products is essential. “It’s definitely more challenging when you’re working with a liquid,” Foy said.

2. How long does it have to last? (Shelf life)

Do we have to tailor the materials to specific distribution lifestyle?  Is there an expiration date with the product, and is it susceptible to temperature changes? Barrier properties come into play, as the liquid may need to be sealed from oxygen.

3. What visuals will appear on your flexible packaging design? (Display graphics)

The sky’s the limit in terms of graphic capabilities. But what are the branding or instruction requirements for your packaging, and does that fit within your cost structure? Are the graphics complex or simple?

As Foy notes, the printing surface for flex packaging like a stand-up pouch is larger than a plastic bottle. There’s a lot of potential with this added space — but what truly needs to be communicated?

4. What will you use in the manufacturing process? (Flexible packaging equipment)

Understanding the flexible packaging machine that will be used in the process is critical. The capabilities of the equipment will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so you have to determine if the output is even possible under the constraints of the machinery.

An Example of the 4 Flexible Packaging Attributes

Photo courtesy of Glenroy.
Photo courtesy of Glenroy.

How do these flex packaging design decision-drivers look in real life? Foy shared some requirements of a hypothetical stand-up pouch for snowmobile engine oil.

-The stand-up pouch had to hold 48 ounces of oil, and it had to be able to withstand cold weather, as it would be traveling with the snowmobile.

-It had to be flexible enough so it could fit in the seat compartment of the snowmobile, yet durable enough so it could withstand being jostled with other tools.

-From a graphics standpoint, the pouch had to look attractive on the store shelf and aligned with the brand.

-And perhaps most important, the materials needed to work with the flex packaging company’s machine.

With those objectives defined, Glenroy can begin finding a solution.

Mike Foy, Expert Interview
Photo courtesy of Glenroy.

What Can Flexible Packaging Manufacturers Do to Ensure They’re Choosing the Correct Materials?

As a flexible packaging materials supplier, Glenroy deals with all types of companies — from large corporations to small, family-run businesses. Each business faces similar challenges when choosing materials, but there are some strategies that will make the process more efficient.

Think in Terms of Quantitative Measurements

Choosing the correct material can be like finding a needle in a haystack. You can narrow your search by thinking quantitatively.

A statement like, “It’s got to contain the liquid” or “it contains a validatable medical product” isn’t enough. What are the properties of the liquid? What requirements does it have in terms of heat and cold that it needs to withstand?

Or for shelf life — How long does the product need to be on the shelf?

Specifications and measurements drive the materials.

Consider How the Product Will be Used Along the Entire Supply Chain

Evan Arnold of Glenroy notes a big mistake companies make is over-designing or under-designing the product for the end user. “They don’t always consider how the consumer is going to use it,” he said.

Evan Arnold of Glenroy. Photo courtesy of Glenroy.
Evan Arnold of Glenroy. Photo courtesy of Glenroy.

That consideration extends throughout the whole supply chain, including understanding how the materials will impact every touch point. You want to go to the consumer, yes, but you also have to ensure the approach is feasible within the big picture.

Put Costs Into Perspective — The Customer’s Perspective

Companies may not switch from rigid bottles to flex packaging because the costs are higher.  But is that what customers want?

“If the consumer experience is being improved, will that justify the switch in the end?” Arnold noted.

Often the impact on the supply chain is also overlooked. What are the transportation costs? What are the storage costs per square foot? Moving from bottles to pouches might have a significant impact in both of those areas.

Innovations in the Flexible Packaging Market

We asked Glenroy for some insights into flexible packaging trends and new innovations in the marketplace.  Here are a few highlights.

Moving toward stand-up pouches.  For a variety of reasons, including environmental benefits, cost-savings, and branding possibilities, companies are moving from rigid containers to stand-up pouches.

New innovations in sterilizable packages. Medical devices and pharma industries are highly regulated, which translates into extensive information that needs to be communicated to consumers. Clients are always looking for ways to get more information onto their packages.

Express web films. Glenroy touts their own lines of ExpressWeb films, which include 7 to 10 structures. These can be slit down to custom widths and shipped within 3 days.

ExpressWeb films
Photo courtesy of Glenroy

Like any endeavor in the converting industry, matching these new developments to your current product and processes will involve more questions and more probing. It’s the quality, and not quantity, of those questions that will lead you to the right answers.

To jumpstart your imagination on the possibilities flexible packaging holds for your products, visit Glenroy’s interactive flexible packaging gallery.