Published On: Thu, May 19th, 2016

Product Safety and Security Drive Plastic Caps Innovation

The global plastic caps and closures market continues to report strong growth, especially in the FMCG arena. Beverage caps remains the most dominant market, accounting for approximately 60% of all units, while the toiletries and cosmetic sector and homecare markets remain the largest user of polymer caps and closures.

Throughout the last few decades, bottled water has shaped the beverage closure market using mainstream plastic screw caps. However, there is a definite trend emerging towards more sophisticated tamper evident closures. In the pharmaceutical sector, this trend is mirrored with child-resistant and senior-friendly dispensing closures, with product security set to be the front runners in terms of new technology features.

plastic products

Product Safety and Security Drive Plastic Caps Innovation

Projected to be worth more than US$51.5bn by 2021 – an increase of US$15.3bn in just seven years – the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for caps and closures manufacturing is expected to continue expanding at a consistent rate of 5.2% per annum between now and 2021. Given this pace of growth, design innovation and new closure solutions will be fundamental to capturing future business opportunities.

Leaner and lighter

Caps and closures is very much a market driven by costs, and this filters down the supply chain. For injection moulders, we are witnessing heightened efforts to derive more value, with a focus on lean manufacturing and optimising production processes. When you’re contracted to produce caps and closures by the millions, it makes good economic sense to build a complete moulding system to take care of all the anticipated applications, rather than trying to adapt existing equipment.

Many of today’s manufacturers seek full turnkey solutions, with robotic capabilities integrated. Speed, yield, repeatability, reliability, multi-tasking and long-term cost saving are all reasons why end users might opt for a robotic solution. Our customers, particularly in the caps and closures market, increasingly ask for complete injection moulding packages, which once set up requires little modifications or engineering intervention.

In recent years, cycle times have got shorter, performance has increased, and higher cavity numbers are demanded which in turn requires larger clamp tonnage. At Sumitomo (SHI) Demag we are seeing greater demand for applications with cycle times of between 2-3 seconds in the caps and closures manufacturing arena.

Innovative closures to suit modern lifestyles

The correlation between modern lifestyles and the functionality of caps and closures cannot be underplayed. In fact, the use of closures is what connects consumers to a brand or product. It’s what people interact most closely with.

Virtually all closure manufacturers we work with produce lightweight ranges, and in terms of volume, these, along with plastic screw and hinge caps, are expected to hold onto the largest market share. However, lightweight closures are now the industry norm. New technologies that improve cap performance, functionality and shelf impact is where the market is moving with companies enhancing market penetration by creating novelty solutions.

Once example is the self-mixing dispensing cap developed and patented by Hong Kong-based Incap Ltd last year. The cap, which stores and dispenses dry and liquid ingredients into a PET bottle containing still or carbonated water, features a locked, unlocked and activated thread, which when twisted releases the additive and triggers the mixing process. Featuring wall-thickness levels of less than one millimetre and an extremely complex geometry, precision and repeatability trials were conducted on one of our all-electric IntElect injection moulding machines.

Premium beverage and spirit caps featuring non-refillable valves and tamper evidence rings, child resistant closures for household cleaning products, such as bleach, and toiletry dispensing mechanisms, are just some of the many new innovations hitting the market.

Toothpaste packaging and oral hygiene is another sector that has undergone significant design change in the last decade. Joining the mainstay toothpaste tube with tiny cap are hinged flip top and snap shut closures, upright dispensers, pump action tubes and squeezy bottles. Again, the driver here is giving consumers more functional packaging and caps that maintain product freshness and stop your toothpaste oozing and drying out.

Sustainability across the supply chain

Given that the average European discards 159kg of packaging material each year, sustainability is an ongoing concern with a strong commercial incentive to do more with less. The challenge for manufacturers of caps and closures is they are balancing a wide range of variables, including cost and functional requirements, as well as responding to demographic and lifestyle changes and environmental impact.

With material still being the largest cost element of a closure, thin walling and weight reduction remains a focus area. If you can shave off 2 grams in polymer weight per cap, for a manufacturer producing millions of units, this adds up to thousands of tonnes saved in raw material.

From a machinery performance perspective view, thinner wall sections bring changes in processing requirements. Among them, higher pressures and speeds, faster cooling times, and modifications to part-ejection and gating arrangements. These process changes need to be factored into the mould, machinery, and part design.

Polypropylene continues to be the leading caps and closure resin but there are expectations that the material may be replaced with HDPE which has economic and sustainability advantages. The use of bioplastics is also poised to play a greater role in packaging going forward. Technically speaking, a moulder doesn’t need to invest in new processing equipment to run bioplastics through it, although they do need to carefully consider how the material will perform as an end product and factor in the melt stability.

Increased world population and the spread of rising living standards in emerging economies, is resulting in higher demand for bottled drinks and smaller packaging sizes as well as more sophisticated dispensing systems. At the same time, brand owners are keen to use enhanced cap technologies and graphics to reinforce brand identify and differentiate themselves in the global market. All these factors will continue to be important stimuli for growth, presenting injection moulders operating in the caps and closures sector with the chance to penetrate new markets.