June 1, 2005

partnerships lead to questions over the future direction of the packaging market

Packaging is powerful. And nowhere in nonwovens is this more evident than on the front lines of the retail sector where products and consumers make their initial contact. In the past, both converters and end product manufacturers turned to packaging machinery specialists for packaging options that would differentiate their products on competitive store shelves where each and every sale counts.

However, times are changing: the dynamics of the playing field are new and the thought on everyone�s mind is whether or not this change is for the good. Where there was once an �every man for himself� mentality, today some manufacturers are teaming up to discover if there really is strength in numbers.

This mode of thought has led to the formation of partnerships among suppliers of diaper lines and packaging machinery. One such alliance has been created between Chieti, Italy-based hygiene machinery producer Fameccanica.Data and Optima Filling And Packaging Machines, Schwaebisch Hall, Germany, which is aimed at the development, design and fabrication of integrated packaging systems for baby diapers and baby training pants.

�Both Optima and Fameccanica perceived that customers were interested in investing in new, high-performance packaging equipment, but the related investment could not be justified if higher than a given threshold,� commented Donato Carriero, newly appointed marketing director for Fameccanica.

According to Fameccanica, both companies ascertained that the demands of such customers could be met if a new integrated packaging system were developed and that by combining their respective competencies in counting and stacking and bag filling and sealing, they could offer a high performance, cost-effective packaging system to the baby diaper industry.

�As customers have been informed of the Paksis project, there has been a chorus of approval toward its positive impact,� stated Mr. Carriero. �Customers have all recognized that this joint effort will result in advantages for their business as this alliance guarantees the highest possible opportunity to enhance reliability, performances and level of service of the next generation of machines in the nonwovens packaging sector.�

Just the same, this consolidation of efforts among suppliers leaves some in the industry wondering just what the future will hold. �There has been a degree of unrest and uncertainty in the market�specifically from converting machinery manufacturers�about the joint venture between Optima and Fameccanica with its so-called Paksis project,� said Alexander Herzog, director of marketing and sales for German packaging machinery specialist Gevas Varpackungsmaschinen GmbH. �We would like to point out that we will always remain independent in terms of �marriage� within the hygienic sector. However we also see a strong need for cooperation with other machinery manufacturers to gain synergies and become more cost-efficient for our customers,� he remarked.

The company specializes in tailor-made packaging machines and considers its size ideal for developing machines and modules for special customer requirements with excellent price-performance ratios.

Mr. Herzog added that Gevas does work in cooperation with Fopac, a German manufacturer of fully automatic case packing and palletizing systems. The product range comprises a side/top loader, wrap-around packer, tray packer and pick and place systems.

�Converters today face demand for more flexibility in terms of final products. Different customer needs require them to be able to pack in corrugated boxes as well as cost-efficient bundling with PE foil. With our StarWrap bundling equipment and the complementary Fopac end-of-line-equipment, we provide joint, custom-fit solutions for final packaging. Furthermore, this cooperation will enable us to extend our manufacturing capacities and improve further scale of economy,� he opined.

The way Davide Viola of M.D. Viola Macchine Srl sees it, diaper lines need to expand to include packaging systems, but these can be offered to customers from a single supplier rather than through partnerships per se. �I believe automatic packaging in the end line is absolutely necessary in the actual diaper producing arena in order to cut cost and to achieve improved quality standards,� he said. �We think automatic packaging in the near future will be a natural extension of diaper production machinery. Our notion is that we will handle everything from the pulp to the bagging�one supplier for one line� Mr. Viola said.

For Italian bagging machinery specialist Amotek Srl, which is part of Optima Group, by joining the experience and know-how of product machinery and packaging machinery suppliers, new goals can be achieved. �A single system can be designed, allowing the process to begin at the raw material level and continue up to the finished, packaged product,� explained G.M. Olita, Amotek�s commercial director. �Knowledge of the technical aspects of all phases of the process will help in establishing a unique and continuous system.�

He added that there are several advantages to manufacturing a production/packaging line with homogeneous technical solutions and standardized components: a reduction of the overall dimensions of the machine; easier system management and reduced stop times.

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Machine Makers Make Mark
When it comes to innovations in packaging, machinery suppliers have been as busy as ever filling orders for new systems around the globe. Innovative new packaging features run the gamut from transparent packaging for feminine hygiene articles and training pants; film substrate release liners; nonwoven pouches for quieter san pro packaging and the switch back to paperboard cartons from flexible materials for neater appearance and greater functionality in retail packaging. In the wipes segment, innovations continue to center on updated designs promising easy dispensability, resealability and reclosure systems that will keep products from drying out.

�Today, for many producers in femcare and baby hygiene, packaging is a considerable field of innovation, further development and differentiation of products from competitors,� noted BHT-Bicma�s Andrea Allar, sales manager. �Even the number of patent applications is rising constantly. In addition, if you have voluminous products, as in the baby or adult diaper markets, the cost pressure in logistics is a driving factor for constant development of pressed packs,� she said.

In the wipes area, packaging innovations have been unveiled by Synchropack (Synchronised Packaging), a Spanish manufacturer of complete handling and packaging solutions based on updated electronic flow-wrapping technology. With more than 30 years of experience in this field, Synchropack specializes in wipe wrapping and utilizes the latest servo technology, mechanical components and materials to design and manufacture standard feeding and packaging lines, as well as customized solutions.

�Synchropack has witnessed heightened demand for nonwoven products in the dry and wet wipe area,� confirmed Toni Gil, export manager for Synchropack �We feel the market is still growing, especially in emerging countries such as Russia, Eastern Europe, India and China. Emerging economies have a middle class population that can afford to buy nonwoven products as a normal disposable item,� he said.

In those countries, Synchropack supplies the basic, low-medium production lines either to contract packers or final name brand producers. In more developed countries where disposable wipes are already established, Synchropack is evolving its product presentations, switching from single packs with re-sealable labels to packs with plastic lids for added value.

At Index 05, Synchropack will present its Pack 900 LTS �Window-Pack� flow-wrapper featuring an automatic in-line plastic lid applicator. At the exhibition, the automatic flow-packing machine will wrap stacks of dry or wet wipes in different sizes and speeds. Additionally, Synchropack�s new plastic lid applicator offers easy opening and closing of packs. �Due to the growth of the nonwovens industry, some years ago Synchropack developed a completely new range of flow-wrappers specifically designed to pack dry or wet wipes stacks for low, medium or large productions,� stated Mr.Gil, The range of machines was named �Window-Pack� because of the type of packages it produces, with a window at the top, covered either by a resealable label or a hard plastic lid. Final packs can also be complemented with warranty seal labels, Euroholes for display purposes and/or in-line date printing.

Another wipe packaging machinery specialist looking forward to flexing its muscles at Index 05 next month is C.B. Packaging, part of Italian machinery specialist A.P.I. srl. The company has unveiled a fully automatic machine for multipack bag-filling and packaging of disposable hygienic products/wipes (2-3-4-5 format sizes) into poly or other pre-made plastic film bags. �Flexible, easy to operate and very reliable, it�s an innovation for packaging systems related to wipes and sanitary hygiene products,� commented Barbara Cremaschi, sales director.

Green Bay, WI-based contract manufacturer Tufco Technologies, Inc. offers integrated, flexible packaging solutions including an array of options such as flat packages for wet and dry wipes with multifolding capabilities and count versatility, in-line packaging systems, flow wrapping, flip tops, zipper and slide-rite options, tubs, trays, blister and bulk packaging, floor displays and custom packaging.

To capitalize on the growing nonwovens market, Tufco recently launched a marketing campaign featuring its ability to print on nonwovens. �Our �POWER� (Printing on nonWovens Equals Recognition) campaign identifies Tufco as a leader in flexographic printing and wet wipe converting with a creative idea to help build brand identity and recognition by printing a company�s logo or message on its nonwoven products (wipes, towelettes, etc.). This helps set our customers apart from the competition and reinforces brand identity with end users,� explained Jeanne Stangel, Tufco�s senior manager customer service and customer relations.

Also in the area of wipes, Amotek has unveiled its latest packaging technology, the FBW flow bagger for wet wipes, which the company will be promoting at next month�s Index exhibition. The result of considerable research and development, the new system is a response to increasing market demand in the nonwovens field. �Amotek has stepped up to the challenge of the market and responded to the needs of loyal customers for bagging soft disposal products,� commented Amotek�s Mr. Olita. �This machine will increase the products� range even above those represented in general from Optima Group.�

Converting expert Triad Group, Brookfield, WI, has also benefitted from growth in the wipes arena. �We still see our wipe business growing, not only from new customers, but the major and small marketers are busy creating new products in all categories with innovative packaging,� commented Ron Pontolilo, director of contract manufacturing sales at Triad. �Currently we are working on three projects involving new wipe items for customers,� he said.

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What�s New, Baby?
In the baby diaper and adult incontinence sector, M.D. Viola Macchine Srl now offers MD PAK 400. The new system is completely controlled by a servo motor and allows customers to immediately modify configuration and packaging style at any time. �We offer a fully automatic packaging machine for baby and adult products, completely integrated with our horizontal stacker and our diaper line, in order to give to our customers full service and customized products. The packaging machine is completely controlled by servo drive in order to change the machine configuration without limitation and in no time,� commented Mr. Viola.
For its part, Fameccanica�s latest efforts in the hygiene packaging market are responding to growth in European and North American segments�where private label markets are larger�although growth has not been limited to those areas. Fameccanica�s newest packaging machine is the earlier mentioned Paksis D-7, a breakthrough system for baby diapers, training pants and small adult incontinence products, performing at 1000 ppm and 65 bpm. The new product handling system is an integrated counting-stacking-packing system that has been designed, and will be manufactured jointly, by Fameccanica and Optima.

�It will considerably enhance the performance of today�s product handling systems,� stated Fameccanica�s Mr. Carriero. �Paksis D-7 will be marketed under the Paksis brand name at a competitive price by both Fameccanica and Optima, using each company�s organization separately,� he added.

In addition to the Paksis project, Optima has recently initiated several other new product launches in response to strong demand in the European market. �The European economy is different than that of the U.S. Whereas the U.S. is focused on convenience and throw-away products, the European market focuses more on durability and the multiple uses of the package itself (i.e. the tubs). In the U.S., we have observed growth in both adult incontinence and club store packs,� reported the company�s J�rgen Sch�fer, managing director.

New from Optima is the FB2 continuous flow bagger machine for high quality, top performance and low package costs. The new system works with polyethylene film to package disposable products such as baby diapers, sanitary napkins and panty shields. The products are taken directly from the stacker and moved to an infeed chain conveyor that uses flight bars to insert them into the tube film mouth. Film reel change-over may be done manually or automatically.

Also recently released from Optima is the TLT120 tubbing machine and the A1 machine for converting and packaging medical gauze products. Optima has also recently invested in a new venture for carton erecting and filling for high speed packaging. On the acquisition front, Optima has acquired French stacking and product handling specialist Sierem S.A. in a move that is expected to further strengthen the company�s position in the packaging field.

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Film Suppliers Innovate
Suppliers of film for packaging have also been working non-stop to keep up with steady growth in most North American segments. Outperforming market segments include sterilizable flexible packaging for medical products and cosmetic and industrial wipes. Tredegar Performance Films, Richmond, VA, supplies a full grade line of polyethylene films for diaper, feminine hygiene and adult incontinent product packaging, as well as a series of cast unoriented polypropylene (CPP) films with moisture barrier and heat seal properties suitable for wipes packaging.

In 2005, Tredegar will launch reduced-gauge packaging films designed for personal care packaging applications such as diaper bags. These unique high-density polyethylene (HDPE) coextruded films offer significant downgauging potential while meeting critical performance requirements such as compression resistance and gusset seal strength. �This grade slate is engineered to help our customers offset increasing raw material costs without sacrificing performance,� said David Kimmel, market analyst for Tredegar. Additionally, the company can utilize the flexibility of the coextrusion process to enhance package aesthetics or provide other consumer-noticeable features, he said.

Tredegar also recently introduced polyethylene film products designed to promote retail shelf appeal including transparent, high-gloss and lightly tinted films. These products provide visibility of primary products such as printed training pants or color-coded feminine hygiene pouches through the bag. �Additionally, we offer tailored slip films to match specific coefficient of friction requirements for bag making and packaging operations, and �extremely tough,� �highly durable� or �very strong� films for strap handles,� added Mr. Kimmel.

Founded in 1992 and based in Maarssen, Netherlands, Mediane International B.V. is a sales and marketing organization with a customer base of 85 producers of hygiene and medical disposables in 25 countries. Through its association with FTS-Fatra GmbH, the company offers single wrap films, printed and unprinted, topfold wicketbags for diapers and san pro products and poly bags for the automatic packaging of diapers.

FTS-Fatra is itself a strategic alliance combining years of experience in extrusion technology, converting, printing and slitting/rewinding in the hygiene disposables market. Fatra, established in 1935, is a subsidiary of Aliachem, and extrudes 45,000 tons of polymers per year for various industrial and technical applications.

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What�s Next?
As packaging suppliers move forward, key challenges lie ahead. Among them, raw material prices are a current and future obstacle representing no small worry for the packaging industry. �A major raw material issue facing suppliers is the current all-time high cost of resin,� said Mr. Kimmel of Tredegar. The company�s new reduced-gauge films take advantage of high-performance raw materials to enable downgauging of personal care packaging and overall cost reduction.

Tufco�s Ms. Stangel agreed. �Manufacturers are experiencing increased costs from their suppliers as petroleum costs drive resin price increases,� she confirmed. �Paper-based nonwovens prices have increased due to pulp price increases�e.g., wood pulp prices are above 15% year to date. Tufco has experienced order changes from rayon synthetic fiber to tencel due to shortages of rayon,� she said.

Optima is experiencing similar market conditions. �We have noticed an increase in polyethylene costs, which affects bag filling and sealing costs for our customers as well as the upward slope of steel prices which, of course, impacts pricing on our equipment,� remarked the company�s Mr. Sch�fer.

In terms of new packaging designs, reclosable plastic lids are predicted to impact the way nonwoven products are packaged in the future. The web directional slider zipper will offer yet another unique re-close option that will benefit a variety of nonwoven products where a zipper re-close is preferred over the traditional peel and re-seal label and/or re-closable plastic lid.

Many manufacturers pointed to a future marked by demand for increased flexibility, even higher performance and rapid format change-over capability. �It is a matter of fact that there is a growing request for machines capable of enhancing manufacturers� flexibility in terms of different product versions being manufactured on the same line,� said Fameccanica�s Mr. Carriero.

This need is mostly related to the machine�s capability to run both low-count and big packs and easily switch among those versions, he added. �This must be obtained with the lowest impact on the production plans, thus the request for machines with very rapid format change-overs. In addition, this trend toward low-count bags leads to a need for machines with higher performances, as customers will not accept a reduction in converting speed when the packaging machine is not performing at the required level,� Mr. Carriero said.

According to Gevas� Mr. Herzog, flexibility holds the key to future success for packaging suppliers. �Flexibility of machines through modular machine designs with change-over capability is still the primary strategy for meeting future market requirements,� he said.

Mr. Herzog also pointed out that different product designs in terms of thickness and shape require different product handling in the process of compressing and packaging. �Festooning will be further echoed in the market as we have performed intensive trials with materials other than airlaid,� he predicted.

Higher efficiencies and lower costs are other important goals as machinery suppliers move forward, according to Amotek�s Mr. Olita. �For the future, automatic packaging will be indispensable and by increasing the performance of production machinery, the process needs to become more efficient. This will guarantee the steadiness of the packing quality. Additionally, the role of automatic packaging will impact not only increases in line outputs and the quality of the packed product but also reduce production costs,� he said.

For Triad Group, the road ahead will lead to a focus on ongoing R&D efforts. Looking forward, Mr. Pontolilo expects most of the growth for Triad to be in the health and beauty categories. �Recently we created a new antibacterial product for foot care and a blemish pad for facial care, and we have three new items in the R&D pipeline. We built three new towelette lines in 2004 and will have new capacity to offer the trade in 2005,� he added.

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High Expectations Ahead
There�s no question that packaging suppliers have tall orders to fill when it comes to adding value through enhanced functionality and increasingly integral designs. �There�s an unmet need for functional and active packaging for personal care products,� observed Mr. Kimmel of Tredegar Performance Films. �This trend is already visible in wipe packages that offer reclosability and dispensing features. New package designs will focus on complementing or becoming integral in the consumer�s product experience. Enhancing functionality is one of the biggest opportunities for suppliers to add value to packaging materials,� he said.

This market trend should continue to grow if consumers stay willing to try disposable products that are more convenient and cost effective in use. �In such a flourishing market, marketers are eager to introduce new, innovative and creative options for packaging and present their products to set themselves apart from the competition,� stated Tufco�s Ms. Stangel.

Ongoing consumer demand for convenience will continue to drive innovation and sales, according to Optima�s Mr. Sch�fer. �We expect growth in the wipes sector to remain strong as it penetrates every aspect of convenience from household and automotive cleaners to cosmetic and personal hygiene. Consumer demand for both convenience and product performance is what will continue to make this sector strong,� he said.

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