As the focus on sustainability continues, many flexible packaging manufacturers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are looking to incorporate more sustainable options into their packaging. These options may include incorporating post-consumer recycled content, using biodegradable or compostable materials, transitioning to a mono-material structure versus a multi-layer structure, and switching from a plastic structure to a paper structure. Incorporating these changes often requires a transition between flexible materials, which may result in operational challenges.
To help identify the key challenges experienced by CPG companies when transitioning between different flexible materials, the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) partnered with PMMI Media Group Custom Research to develop best practices to address these challenges. The project’s main objectives were to uncover the key operational challenges and barriers to switching between flexible materials in CPG company production lines; and to create a best practices document as an industry guide for CPG companies, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and materials suppliers/ converters on the most effective way to transition between flexible materials.
The research project’s results were presented during the FPA Annual Meeting (March 29–31), and what follows is a brief overview of the key findings.
Transitioning Flexible Materials
Transitioning flexible materials may refer to a variety of processes, such as changing the type of packaging material used for a product, altering the design or shape of packaging, or modifying the equipment and machinery used to manage and package the product.
One consideration when transitioning flexible mate rials is the compatibility of the new material with the existing equipment and machinery. A new type of film or pouch may require adjustments to existing equipment. It is important to thoroughly test and evaluate new materials and equipment before implementing them in production to ensure they are effective and efficient.
Another consideration is the impact of the new material on product quality and shelf life. Different materials have varying levels of moisture and oxygen barriers that can affect the freshness and shelf life of the product. It is important to carefully assess these factors when choosing new packaging materials.
Transitioning to new packaging materials can have implications for sustainability and environmental impact. Some materials may be more eco-friendly than others, but they may have different end-of-life/disposal requirements or limitations.
The transition of flexible materials requires careful planning, testing, and evaluation to ensure the new materials are compatible with existing equipment or whether new equipment is needed and if the materials meet product quality and shelf-life requirements and whether they align with sustainability goals.
CPG Company Goals for Transitioning Flexible Materials
When CPG companies transition flexible materials, they want to accomplish the following goals:
- Cost reduction: One of the primary goals of transitioning flexible materials is to reduce costs. This is achieved by using less expensive materials, reducing waste, and improving production efficiency.
- Improved product protection: Improving the protection of the product during storage and transportation is important. This is accomplished by selecting materials that provide better barriers against moisture, oxygen, light, and other factors that can degrade the quality of the product.
- Enhanced sustainability: Many companies are increasingly concerned about their environmental footprint and are seeking to transition to more sustainable materials. This can involve using biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable materials that reduce waste and lower carbon emissions.
- Meeting changing consumer preferences: Consumer preferences and expectations are constantly evolving, and companies may need to transition their packaging materials to meet these changing demands. Consumers may be looking for packaging that is easier to open or resealable or provides portion control.
- Regulatory compliance: Companies may also transition their packaging materials to comply with new regulations or guidelines related to safety, labeling, or environmental impact.
By achieving these goals, companies can improve their changing needs and expectations of consumers.
Best Practices Document
The best practices document that was developed can be used as a tool to educate customers on how to use the OEMs’ products or services. It can provide guidelines and tips on best practices for installation, operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting. By using the document, OEMs can ensure their customers are using their products or services in a standardized and consistent manner, which can help to reduce errors and improve overall quality and performance.
The sponsors of the best practices document include FPA, Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI), and the OpX Leadership Network. PMMI is a trade association of more than 900 member companies that manufacture packaging, processing, and related converting machinery in North America, including machinery components and packaging containers and materials. Facilitated by PMMI, the OpX Leadership Network is a community of manufacturing, engineering, and operations professionals dedicated to operational excellence. Through open dialogue between CPG manufacturers and OEMs, the OpX Leadership Network provides a forum to identify and solve common operational challenges and apply best practices and innovative solutions to the real-world context of manufacturing.
The “Transitioning Flexible Material Best Practices” document is available at www.flexpack.org.
Dani Diehlmann is FPA vice president, communications.