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IHS Annual World Symposium on Performance Films tackles key business, tech issues

Plastics film processors, converters and users gathered in Düsseldorf on June 20–21 to listen to experts from materials and technology suppliers, as well as key customers, discuss the latest business and technology trends in the sector. During the two-day Annual World Symposium on Performance Films (SPF 2012), organized by global information group IHS, they also had the opportunity to hear expert market analysis from IHS experienced researchers.

SPF 2012 saw the introduction of a new technology developed in Switzerland for the production of high-strength, high-barrier films made from a liquid crystal polymer, using a novel extrusion die incorporating technologies from fiber and film production. The technology was described by Jan Giesbrecht, the CEO of a new company, Taenia Tec, spun off from the ETH research institute near Zurich.

In the same session on technical films, Tomasz Czarnecki, the technology manager at Belgian company EconCore, described a novel technology licensed by the company for making film-based honeycomb structures in an integrated in-inline process.

These two talks were complemented by presentations on formable polycarbonate films for functional displays, and ETFE fluoropolymer films for architectural and industrial applications, from Bayer MaterialScience (Dirk Pophusen, head of business development, functional films marketing) and Nowofol Kunststoffprodukte (chief executive Robert Hodann).

The technical film presentations were preceded by an analysis of supply and demand in high-performance film materials by IHS researcher Andrea Borruso; a discussion by fellow IHS researcher Mark Morgan on the growth of renewable materials in film production; and an overview of fluoropolymer films and applications by Sebastian Zehentmaier, an application and product development specialist at Dyneon, part of 3M.

Adhesion technologies for use in multilayer films were well covered during the conference, with presentations from LyondellBasell (technical and market development leader Maged Botros talking on new Plexar tie-layer technologies), from Dow Performance Plastics (Eva-Maria Kupsch, Performance Plastics TS&D covering application-specific routes to enable barrier packaging through effective interlayer adhesion), and from DuPont (research fellow Karlheinz Hausmann) described numerous high performance adhesive and peel polymers for food packaging, including easy-peel systems that can be resealed after the pack has been opened).

Andrea Colombo, in business development for styrene block copolymers at Styrolution, had an opportunity to present the new company, a joint venture between BASF and Ineos, and to describe the various ways SBCs can be used for polymer modification and compatibilizing. Styrenics also formed part of a talk by Martin DeBaets, sales and marketing manager at Sidaplax Speciality Films, which produces novel oriented polystyrene foils for packaging applications.

Sidaplax also makes oriented films in polylactic acid, PLA, the biodegradable polymer made by NatureWorks. Stefano Cavallo, business development manager at NatureWorks, complemented DeBaets’ presentation with an analysis of the performance challenges that PLA faces in the marketplace, and how they can be overcome through material modification and innovative film processing technologies.

Further film innovation was the subject of a talk on soluble films by Sumeet Kumar, senior manager in technical marketing at film maker MonoSol. This company has for some time been making soluble films in polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), for such applications as monodose sachets containing washing powders. More recently, it has been developing films, based on an unidentified polymer, intended for packaging foods. He demonstrated how a sachet of coffee dissolves almost instantaneously when hot water is poured over it.

Will such a technology find success in food packaging? That was the subject of a discussion between Kumar and fellow panelist David Maxwell, a senior technologist for global chocolate packaging R&D at Kraft Foods. The jury is still out.

Solubility is a key feature of another PVOH-based polymer, G-Polymer from Nippon Gohsei. This polymer also has very high barrier properties, and in some cases could be preferable to another barrier resin, EVOH. Key features of G-Polymer were described by Takuya Sugimoto, director for global marketing and sales, Advanced Polymers.

Also in the session on barrier technologies was a talk by Sven Sängerlaub, in materials development at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Technology & Packaging. He talked about how common salt can be incorporated into films to modify humidity in packages containing various types of food. He also introduced a new relatively low-cost permeation cell for testing the oxygen transmission rate in films.

A session on PVC in sheet and film involved presentations from a converter (Klöckner Pentaplast), a materials supplier (Vinnolit), and VinylPlus, the industry-supported group charged with a tackling the sustainability challenges for PVC and also in establishing a long-term framework for the on-going sustainable development of the PVC value chain. Stefan Eingärtner, general manager at VinylPlus, described how the PVC sector over the last 12 years has made important steps in developing programs to increase the sustainability of PVC in various areas, and in demonstrating its success to decision makers. Eingärtner said there are lessons to be learned for the plastics industry as a whole from how VinylPlus is successfully tacking these critical issues.

Günther Deiringer, technology director for specialities at Klöckner Pentaplast, showed how PVC is still an important material in a range of packaging and non-packaging applications. Peter Attenberger, technical service manager at Vinnolit, described how graft polymers and copolymers can be used as additives in PVC films, complementing plasticizers.

Additives for (mostly polyolefin-based) films were covered in several presentations. Stefano Pasquali, specialties marketing manager at LyondellBasell, described the use of products based on polybutene-1 in innovative performance films; PB-1 combines the typical characteristics of polyolefins with a unique property mix of high flexibility and outstanding creep resistance over a wide temperature range. High performance additives, mostly for agricultural and construction applications, were put under the spotlight by Wiebke Wunderlich, an application specialist in BASF’s technical center for specialty polymers. Jean Laus, additives product manager with A. Schulman Plastics, explained how functional additive masterbatches can enhance the performance of multilayer films.

The range of bio-based materials for films continues to increase. A senior scientist at the VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland, Jari Vartiainen reported on recent developments in films made from nanocellulose derived from trees. The films could be used in diverse technical applications as well as packaging – VTT has done some preliminary research into how the films could improve barrier properties of PLA films for example. Biodegradable blends for compostable bags and mulch film, meanwhile, were introduced by Hideharu Kimura, a senior researcher in Showa Denko’s Bionolle department. Bionolle is a family of biodegradable aliphatic polyesters.

SPF 2012 also featured two processing equipment talks. Peter Rieg, regional sales manager, packaging, at Battenfeld-Cincinnati Germany, introduced the company’s new “multi-touch” roll stack for high-speed extrusion. This roll stack has several low-diameter rolls positioned close together to ensure a high level of contact with the extruded material, improving cooling and surface finish. From Gneuss Kunststofftechnik, technical sales manager Andrew Prangnell described how the company’s MRS multi-screw extruder, as well as its range of screen changers, can provide efficiency improvements for film manufacturers. The MRS, for example, is ideal for processing recycled PET flake without pre-drying, and is also proving useful at reprocessing polypropylene.

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