Reducing the cost of packaging – the role of film overwrapping

As the challenges of the global economy increase, the pressure to save money at all stages of the production and packaging process increases. Higher energy costs have driven up the costs of packaging materials, the electricity required to run packaging machinery and the expense of air conditioning and refrigeration systems to keep the temperature for both staff and products at safe levels.

At the other end of the production process, the demands of the Packaging Waste Directive have increased the costs for producers and retailers alike to safely package their products. The mantra to reduce, re-use or recycle packaging makes good environmental sense but being able to maintain the traditional values of product protection, tamper evidence, shelf life enhancement and improved product appearance can be difficult. Doing all of this and saving money is even harder !

Film overwrapping is a traditional form of packaging consisting of wrapping a piece of film or paper around a product, or collation of products and sealing it with diamond point end folds. It is also known as tuck and fold wrapping and produces the same appearance as if the product were wrapped by hand. This is why overwrapping is appealing for the perfumes and confectionery industries, where many of the products purchased are sold to be given as gifts.

Unlike shrinkwrapping, where a larger than required piece of film is placed around a product and then shrunk, exactly the right sized piece of film is cut to length and sealed in only the places where heat is required on the end folds and the longitudinal seal. This means that an overwrapper typically uses two or three kilowatts of energy compared to a shrinkwrapper and heat shrink tunnel combination which can consume many tens of kilowatts of electricity. An added benefit is that overwrapping film, typically polypropylene, is less expensive than shrinkable polyolefin. Polyethylene, the lowest cost film used for transit wrapping, can also be used by overwrapping machines as well as traditional sleeve wrapping machines.

Multipacking of products to form the stock keeping unit is an expanding role for overwrapping systems. Instead of collating products into a carton or cardboard outer, the overwrapper forms the collation and wraps the product with either a clear or fully printed piece of film. The saving can be substantial, with a sheet of film costing two to three pence compared to ten pence of more for the equivalent carton. For example, in the tobacco industry where margins are under continual pressure, even for a medium speed production line, savings of over two hundred and fifty thousand pounds per year can be made by switching from cartons to film.

For the bulk packaging of products, where traditionally case packing machines are used, there is a move to wrap with paper instead. As long as the carton being collated and wrapped is sufficiently strong, paper can replace large, cardboard cases. The paper used is thick, up to 200 grammes per metre and uses hot melt glue to seal the end folds and the longitudinal seal. The reduction in weight compared to board reduces the cost of the packaging material and at the same time reduces the cost of disposal. It also has additional benefits. More packs can be fitted onto one pallet reducing distribution costs whilst reel fed paper occupies less space in the materials warehouse.

Collating and overwrapping to save cost does not benefit every product. Where the product is not rectilinear or when the protection of thick board is required then casepacking is the preferred method. Similarly if frequent, short production runs are the order of the day or the product being collated is very large then shrinkwrapping could be more appropriate.

Overwrapping should be seen as another tool in the cost reduction armoury that can also provide other environmental and promotional benefits.

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