Vier Themen – die sogenannten Hot Topics – bestimmen die interpack 2023. (Bild: Messe Düsseldorf, Constanze Tillmann)
These topics will shape interpack 2023
Much is happening within the field of packaging: The debate regarding sustainability, discussions about the “best” packaging, game-changing innovations in the field of artificial intelligence which could also have an impact on the packaging industry. In order to bring some order to this tangle of issues, this year's interpack focusses on four hot topics.
Neste and Illig together are researching the use of recycled raw materials in food packaging. (Image: Neste)
Over the last years, there has probably been no other issue that has captured the sector like the topic of sustainability. Not only in the world of packaging – and therefore also at interpack – is this topic also labelled “circular economy”. Like sustainability, this term has its origins in biology, and in industry, it describes the principle of keeping resources circulating for as long as possible and not ejecting them from the cycle as non-reusable waste.
In order to close the cycle for a specific material, several steps are necessary. For plastic packaging, for example, one solution is to switch to monomaterials – for example polypropylene (PP) or polyethylene (PE). Unlike compound materials, which are difficult to separate from each other, these are easy to recycle and can be used for new packaging.
But in order to do so, suitable treatment plants, technologies and research are necessary. Because not every recycling material is suitable for every industrial application. Especially in the fields of food, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, there are strict requirements; using recyclates in this context poses great challenges.
How to meet these challenges is illustrated by a joint research project of Finnish chemical industry corporation Neste and German mechanical engineering company Illig. Both companies have already cooperated in the past to research identical processing procedures for raw materials with biological content analogous to processing fossil raw materials. Now, the companies have renewed their cooperation, this time with the goal to examine and further the use of recycled raw materials in food packaging.
Conservation of resources
Similar in nature, at least, to circular economy is the hot topic conservation of resources. Here, too, the name is telling, and at least the basic principle is very easy to understand: Use less material while achieving the same or even better quality.
“Ecoline” by exhibitor allfo saves up to 45 percent of material. (Image: allfo)
In practice, the principle is most often applied to manufacturing and processing foil. interpack exhibitor allfo is presenting their “Ecoline” series at the trade fair. These PA/PE bags for packaging meat and dairy products only need a thickness of 50 micrometres instead of the usual 90 micrometres. In contrast to traditional bags made from the same material, this saves up to 45 percent of material. According to the manufacturer, this does not have any negative effect on product safety.
But saving material is not the only way to save resources. Using the right machine can also lead to using less material and therefore to potentially emitting less CO2. This is the case with the Sigpack TTM cartoner by German mechanical engineering company Syntegon. The sophisticated lock-style process inserts pre-cut parts of boxes into each other in such a way that applying the usual hot glue becomes unnecessary. The result: Companies can save on the glue, the packaging can be recycled and the machine needs less maintenance, as there is no build-up of residual glue. This is saving material and energy in one go. At interpack, the cartoner will be shown in a packaging line for biscuits and crackers.
At interpack, there is also no way around the topic of digitalisation. The current trend that cannot be overlooked is, without question, artificial intelligence (AI). Not a day goes by without newspapers and news portals offering a sensational piece about which entrance exam for which university was cracked or which pictures were created artificially. But in truth, these digital assistants have a lot more to offer the packaging industry than funny gimmicks.
Fraunhofer IVV is working with several partners on two AI projects to improve design-for-recycling. (Image: Fraunhofer IVV)
As early as last autumn, the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging launched a new AI application hub. 51 partners from business, science and society have since been working together in two laboratories for innovation: KIOpti-Pack for design and production and K3I-Cycling for recycling raw materials. The goal of KIOpti-Pack is to develop AI-supported tools for product design with a high content of recyclates. K3I-Cycling on the other hand is set to utilise a digital twin to further improve the amount and quality of raw material recycling from post-consumer waste.
One topic must not be forgotten at a trade fair like interpack, since it concerns one of the elementary functions of each unit of packaging: product safety. There are probably few things that are more annoying to customers than a damaged, defective or faulty product – especially it this has been caused by insufficient packaging.
For example, foreign bodies in food are among the most unpleasant surprises you can have on opening packaging. Modern X-ray systems circumvent this problem. The US company Mettler-Toledo is demonstrating their solutions in this field, the M30-R series, at interpack. The metal detectors utilise the newly developed sense software to detect all kinds of metal impurities in dry foods like pasta, muesli bars or sweets. For wet or electrically conductive products, the company offers the specialised M34R PlusLine.
The Berry Digi-Cap uses an app to give customers information about correct storage. (Image: Berry Global)
Product safety, however, does not end at the factory door. At home, too, packaging should provide the product with good protection. A product by plastics specialist Berry Global proves that there is always still room for innovation. The Berry Digi-Cap is a cap for closing medicine containers that communicates with computers or smartphones using an NFC interface. Other than providing insights to the doctors providing treatment, the software can also inform users whether the medicine is incorrectly stored. At the same time, the cap is fitted with a proven press-and-turn mechanism for child safety – another important function of packaging.