Chief Editor, Nord Emballage
Almost exactly 10 years ago, BillerudKorsnäs (then just Billerud) signed an exclusive agreement with a proprietary Italian company, which had developed a stretchable paper technology. Billerud was able to produce the paper on a large scale, and so the new product, FibreForm, was launched.
Since then, intensive development work has been ongoing to investigate end products where the material can be used. Today, it has applications such as sleeves on coffee cups and laminates for trays, but it has so much more to offer. New areas and new engineering techniques mean that BillerudKorsnäs now sees major opportunities for the material, which in many instances can be viewed as a replacement for plastic. We met with Annica Rasch, dir.-Formable Solutions, and Göran Ölander, marketing mgr., to find out what’s going on.
In brief, the patented method developed by the Italian company means that through various physical treatments of pulp fibers, and technical solutions in the paper machine itself, it’s possible to produce a “compressed” packaging paper, which thus has a built-in “stretch potential” substantially higher than plain paper. This stretch, or extensibility, is up to 15% and creates interesting opportunities for functional and strong packaging solutions.
“Over the years, we have built up an invaluable network of partners throughout the entire value chain. Together with a dedicated team within [BillerudKorsnäs], we are now ready to market the full potential of FibreForm,” says Rasch.
For a long time now, coffee cups with FibreForm sleeves have been available on the market. By embossing the material, you can produce exciting 3D effects and, at the same time, create an insulating effect for hot-cup applications (see above). Traditionally, a double-wall material acts as a sleeve, but with BillerudKorsnäs' solution you only need one layer of material, saving both material and creating exciting effects.
“By combining print with unique embossing, brand owners can market themselves in a completely new way. Just think how long a customer holds a coffee cup in their hand. There are few other items of packaging that offer such a long opportunity for consumer attention. One customer already using this solution is McDonald’s in its Ukrainian restaurants. There it has become increasingly popular for customers to take pictures of themselves with the mugs and upload them to Instagram.
“It’s…increasingly common for consumers to post pictures of packaging they like on social media,” Rasch says.
Sleeves are currently the largest application area for FibreForm, but there are many other interesting areas where growth is expected. For sleeves, there is a partnership with the Chinese firm SEE Machinery, which has developed a special unit that molds the material and sleeves the mugs. This system can be connected to a traditional production line for paper coffee mugs.
In cooperation with the Italian company Curti Costruzioni Meccaniche, BillerudKorsnäs has launched FreeForm Packaging, which sells a converting concept consisting of a forming machine and packaging material to turn out formed-paper containers. The material used for the packaging is manufactured from FibreForm, and the forming machine is very flexible in terms of the size and shape of the packaging. The concept is currently suitable for dry foods, but ongoing development work is under way to add barrier properties to the packaging (see above left).
Trays are one area where a great deal of innovation is expected. Many brand owners around the world are interested in alternatives to traditional plastic trays. There are a number of converters using FibreForm in their paper-based laminates for thermoforming trays.
“To ensure that the concept works, we have also collaborated for a long time with manufacturers of thermoforming machines, both in form-fill-seal (FFS) and for preformed packaging. Of course, we need to know how the material performs in the machines and what you might need to adjust to make it work better,” explains Ölander.
“It's important that everyone in the value chain, from converters and machine manufacturers to packaging [converters] and brand owners, understands how paper laminate works.
“It has been found…generally easy to switch from a roll of plastic to a roll based on FibreForm and that no major adjustments in machine settings are required. To get maximum forming of the material, a new forming tool may be needed, adapted to the maximum angle at which the sides of the tray can be formed, which is 40 degrees.”
Other manufacturing methods make it possible to achieve steeper angles in the sides of the packaging, to produce deeper packaging. For example, pressure molding is being explored. This is the technology in use today, for example, for paper trays for deep-frozen, ready-to-eat meals.
“Today's pressure-molded tray has a wrinkled sealing edge, so it is difficult to get a gas-tight package (see above left). We think our material will solve that problem and that it will be possible to pack fresh foods with longer [shelf life] in deeper, gas-tight trays, made from FibreForm. With FibreForm, you can also produce unique embossing and patterns in the bottom and on the sides of the packaging.”
In other words, there are limitations on how deep it is possible to shape the material, but what is possible today is sufficient for use as a tray, for example, for sliced sandwich toppings, cheese or salmon. During 2018, two new products have been brought to the market in Sweden, partly via Atria, which packs sliced Lönneberga chicken (photo at left), and partly via ICA, which packs products such as sliced roast beef in a tray based on FibreForm. Packaging recycling rules vary by country, and packaging trays are available on the market today based on FibreForm that meet local requirements for recycling.
“There is huge market potential here. Currently, there are vast numbers of plastic trays being used throughout Europe; trays that could be fibre-based,” Ölander says.
Interestingly, both Atria and ICA have chosen to clearly tell consumers that they are using “climate-change friendly” packaging. It’s also interesting to note that people are willing to pay a little more for such a packaging solution.
“We are experiencing quite a big change in the market. Previously, cost was the key consideration, and, if a more sustainable option was more expensive, people weren’t interested. A change is under way,” adds Rasch.
FibreForm is available in weights between 80 and 200 gsm, and if you want a stiffer, more paperboard-like material, you can laminate sheets together. FibreForm Board has been developed in close collaboration with two laminators, Kapag Karton + Papier AG in Switzerland and TCPL Packaging in India.
“With a cardboard quality in FibreForm, you can achieve even deeper embossing, and here we’re seeing markets such as boxes, greetings cards and labels. Because it is virtually impossible to copy an embossed label, it can act as a certificate of authenticity, for example, in [apparel].”
Embossed flexible, standup pouches
Another development, introduced at the recent PACK EXPO International 2018 in Chicago, is the result of a collaboration with converting-machine manufacturer Volpak. It produces machines for standup pouches and has developed a technology to integrate an embossing station in the pouch machine. With FibreForm, brand owners can now get a paper pouch with exclusive embossing. A challenge had been getting sufficiently strong force in the embossing station, but this has now been solved.
The development list also includes different types of lids for jars, and this work has undergone considerable progress. The toughness of the material means that lids can be made with sharp impressions and in a single piece.
FibreForm Cap – Special Jury Award winner at Luxe Pack Monaco 2018
A final example: FibreForm Cap is an innovative, new paper-based decoration for the neck of bottles of sparkling wine. FibreForm replaces the traditionally used aluminum and polyethylene-coated foil and can be applied with existing packaging machines.
“Because FibreForm is 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable, this product contributes to lower environmental impact,” says Ölander. “It's also really stylish and attractive.”
More info: www.nordemballage.se
Photos courtesy of Bo Wallteg and BillerudKorsnäs
This article's publication was made possible by the cooperative agreement among editors as members of the International Packaging Press Organization (IPPO).