Whether you are in operations, brand management or sales, consider this likely pouch packaging scenario:
Imagine a new customer has come to you because they want to launch a new SKU in a flexible pouch packaging format. Since the customer has very little knowledge of pouch packaging, they have placed their trust in your hands. Therefore, you need to do a thorough effort of planning and executing their project. If you make mistakes, the confidence they have bestowed on you will quickly turn negative and create distrust. An unsatisfactory result will hurt more than your company; it could also give the flexible pouch packaging industry a black eye.
Let’s review some key practices that will help ensure success:
Your customers expect that the pouch packaging project will be accomplished without a hitch. They also expect that lead time and price won’t change. So before you provide a price or expected completion date, you must consult with them thoroughly at the start. Achieving a high level of understanding relative to your customers’ product as the project begins is critical in establishing the correct requirements. Therefore, you need to do the following up front:
By minimizing ignorance and ambiguity, you will be better able to manage the expectations of the customer and your own team.
When establishing pouch packaging, the chemical make-up of the product must be thoroughly understood. PH level, filling temperature, sensitivity to oxygen, oil or surfactant content, head space requirements, product weight and organoleptic consideration are just some of the factors that need to be known for film component and adhesive choices. In worst cases, certain components within the liquid may score or migrate through the film’s sealant layer attacking the adhesive used to bond the sealant layer to the other film layers. Therefore, when choosing your film, you must perform a product compatibility test to determine if you need a special film adhesive, a coextruded sealant layer or an extruded tie layer to ensure that the film doesn’t delaminate after the package is filled.
You must also pay close attention to film, ink and adhesive component choices to determine the best materials to use that meet your product’s shelf-life requirements and withstand the rigors of your downstream pasteurization or sterilization processes; i.e., hot water both pasteurization, retort sterilization, etc. Especially if the product is expected to withstand transportation in hot and humid climates where EVOH barriers break down and leave your customer’s product less protected from oxygen. In addition, your film and adhesive choices correlate to drop/impact strength. Take no shortcuts during this phase, even when your customers beg for a quicker completion date. Protect the product!
The appropriate pouch packaging design is based upon the product composition, weight, dispensing needs, the filling process and your customers’ graphic presentation requirements. Be very careful when the chosen package design is one that you’ve never manufactured previously. Validating the process prior to an actual production run is critical. Never assume that because the package looks easy to make that it will be!
Sizing the package correctly is also an iterative process. It may take several attempts to get the correct head space volume if it’s allowed. When the packaging engineers want no head space at all, remember that the product inside the package expands when exposed to warmer temperatures. During transport, a filled pouch may be exposed to temperatures of 120°F and higher while inside a truck trailer. If the package has been incorrectly sized, the seals may creep while under the strain of expansion. The same is true when the package is transported over mountains and has to adapt to altitude changes.
Drop tests and shipping tests should be performed prior to and throughout a production run. The forces that filled pouch packaging endures upon impact during a drop test cannot be replicated any other way. A drop test will reveal weak seals, weak lamination bonds, miss-registered seal impressions and defects in package geometry. Therefore, in addition to using practices such as pressure degradation, die penetrant and bursting, drop testing is critical to proving that the package will withstand the rigors of handing through a distribution chain.
A successful project is rarely an accident. More often, it is the result of a commitment to upfront, intelligent planning, and asking the right questions first. If you stay mindful of these four actions, whether as engineers, brand managers or salespeople, you’ll get pouch packaging production right the first time, and your customers can reap the benefits for a long time.
Want more on flexible packaging?
Access the recording of our free webinar, covering key considerations that every company should know before making the move to flexible packaging. We’ll also go over specifics based on our own experiences with clients.
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