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PE Film Market Analysis: Stretch Film

By: James Callari 5. May 2015

 

The stretch film market continues to be one of the largest and most rapidly evolving polyethylene PE film markets. Stretch film processors remain optimistic about increases in demand for their products, as stretch film continues to displace other conventional means of pallet unitization and product bundling like plastic and metal banding, PE shrink film and pallet wrap/shrouds, pressure sensitive tape and adhesives, etc.

 

These are among the conclusions of the most recent study of the PE Film market conducted by Mastio & Co., St. Joseph, Mo.

 

Three distinct types of stretch films are commonly produced: hand-wrap, machine rotary or power stretch wrap, and silage-wrap stretch films, the Mastio research revealed. However, within each category there are several highly customized sub-grades of stretch films designed for specific end-use applications. Stretch film application equipment is more cost-effective, faster, more user-friendly, more energy efficient and safer to use than shrink-wrapping equipment. Shrink film requires the use of heat lamps or hot air guns, which require greater amounts of energy and labor than power stretch wrapping equipment. New applications for specialty grades of stretch film continue to be developed and commercialized in North America, and more sophisticated stretch films are designed for existing applications.

 

MATERIALS TRENDS

 

The Mastio study notes that one of the most significant changes to manifest over recent years in the stretch film market is increased use of metallocene single-site catalyst based linear low density PE (mLLDPE) resin. When used in blends or in coextrusion with conventionally produced PE resins, mLLDPE resin greatly enhances the physical properties of the films in lower gauges, according to the report.

 

In 2014, approximately 1,935.8 million lb of PE resins were consumed in the production of stretch film, making this PE business one of the largest and fastest growing markets within the PE film industry, according to the Mastio study. With an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 4.5%, PE resin consumption for the production of stretch film should reach 2,213.1 million lb by the year 2017.

 

During the second quarter of 2014, a few of the top producers of stretch film had announced plans for non-resin price increases, Mastio reports. The reasons stated for necessitating the increases included the rising costs of health insurance, fuel, freight, and shipping. Some participants in this market were optimistic about increased growth in demand over the next three years, while a few others felt that growth would result from gaining market share from other competitors.

 

Generally, the reported overall production of stretch film has increased despite the sluggish demand resulting from the slow economic condition that prevailed three years ago.

 

All of the processors that participated in this Mastio study seemed to agree that the increased costs of resin, transportation, and energy have had a negative impact on their profit margins. Further film downgauging, as a way to save material costs, is expected to continue in the future. Higher quality grades of PE resins and incorporating more layers in coextruded stretch film have allowed manufacturers to produce stronger films in thinner gauges. The result was more square feet of stretch film produced while overall PE resin consumption increased less significantly.

 

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

 

Current methods for producing stretch film include: monolayer blown film extrusion, multi-layer blown film coextrusion, monolayer cast film extrusion and multi-layer cast film coextrusion. During the past several years the stretch film industry has continued to experience a shift from blown film extrusion process to the cast film extrusion process and from monolayer construction to more multi-layer coextruded film constructions, the Mastio report concluded. Some numbers: during 2014, approximately 1,376.2 million lb (71.1%) of stretch film were produced using the cast film extrusion process, and 559.6 million lb (28.9%) were produced utilizing the blown film extrusion process.

 

During 2014, Mastio says, stretch film constructions were  broken down accordingly: 1,467.4 million lb (75.8%) consisted of multi-layer coextruded film, and 468.4 million lb (24.2%) was monolayer film. Another benefit of the coextrusion process is the ability to mix and match different combinations of resins that yield the greatest properties and economies in the stretch films. One increasingly common trend in the stretch film market is coextrusion of mLLDPE resin with other conventionally produced butene, hexene, super hexene, or octene grades of LLDPE resin (LLDPE-butene, LLDPE-hexene, LLDPE-super hexene, and LLDPE-octene). mLLDPE resin enhances the film’s clarity, elongation, tear resistance, and puncture resistance in much thinner gauges, for only slightly higher material costs.

 

MY TWO CENTS

 

Heard of the 80-20 rule? How about 82-6…as in 82% of the market—measured in pounds consumed—is held by six processors. Some observers of the market believe this has stymied innovating—noting that five-layer stretch technology developed by Chaparral Films (now part of ITW) some 20 years ago is still considered “state-of-the-art” in North America. Patent disputes have restrained the development of more-sophisticated nano-layer structures that are more common in Europe. What’s more, stretch film in North America is sold through distributors  separating the entity that produces the film from the entity that uses it.

 

Some feel that these dynamics are paving the way for European processors with more sophisticated products to enter the North American market. At NPE2015, Plastics Technology sat down with Eddie Hilbrink, who heads up strategic R&D projects for Apeldoorn Flexible Packaging B.V. (AFP). Click here and scroll down for the full report from that interview.

 

The gist of it is, AFP, working closely with Cloeren Incorporated, Orange, Tex., is currently producing 27-layer stretch film (image above, with a 55-layer line in the production pipeline. And its full product line (soon all of it will be nanolayer) was developed as a result of AFP’s direct contact with the end user.

 

Says Hilbrink: “We saw products that were sold by the pound. We saw a market in which it was difficult to discriminate one company’s film product from the next,” Hilbrink told Plastics Technology in an exclusive interview at NPE2015. “We saw a business that was unresponsive to customers. I thought to myself, ‘Let’s do something different.’”

 

In the future, Hilbrink (pictured below, right, with Peter Cloeren) would not rule out AFP supplying the U.S. market, in which 0.5% of retail sales is lost to damage.

 

What's the Outlook for Your Film Market?

By: James Callari 28. April 2015

 

Already, the polyethylene film extrusion market is the largest in North American in terms of resin consumption. The promise of less costly feedstocks derived from shale gas hold potential to make this business grow even further. What’s more, looming in many PE film markets is the possibility of entry by processors currently outside North America looking to tap into more readily available and (relatively speaking) less expensive resin.

 

But as every extrusion processor realizes, the overall PE film market is in reality made up of series of slices: stretch film, shrink film, industrial can liners, consumer trash bags, T-shirt bags, food packaging film…to name a few. For many film processors, one of those markets—or a combination of a couple—is their business.

 

Wouldn’t you like a crystal ball to see what the prospects are for growth over the next three years in the precise market(s) you serve? Wouldn’t it be helpful to learn if you might want to consider shifting your production resources from one market to another?

In the absence of crystal balls and Magic 8 balls, working with consulting company Mastio and Co., St. Joseph, Mo., next week we will start a series of blogs that will closely examine a handful of these specific film markets so that you will get a closer look of the lay of the land to help you determine your next steps.

The topics we’ll blog about include:

  • Stretch Film
  • Shrink Film
  • T-Shirt Bags
  • Institutional Trash Bags
  • Consumer Trash Bags
  • Sheet and Tubing
  • Frozen Food Packaging
  • Cheese Packaging
  • Medical Film Packaging

 

For each of these fill segments we will delve into market size, product specifications, competition from other types of materials, major players in the field, growth projections and more.

 

Next week, we’ll start this series with stretch film.

The Clock Is Ticking: It’s Time to Register for Molding ’15

By: James Callari 10. April 2015
 
 
It’s the premier conference for injection molding in the world. And it has been since Amos Golovoy started it 25 years ago. The it to which I am referring is the annual Molding Conference. It’s now owned by Gardner Business Media, the parent of this magazine and sister publication MoldMaking Technology, along with a half dozen other manufacturing-centric publications.
 
 
If you haven’t registered for Molding 2015, I urge you to do so. It’s the “can’t miss” technical program on injection molding year in and year out. Click here and you’ll see the agenda laid out in its entirety. This is a conference by, for, and about injection molders, as several processors are among the members of the organizing committee (as are Amos and Matt Naitove, my colleague and executive editor of Plastics Technology). Molding 2015 is being held June 16-18, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill.
 
 
Are you interested in medical and LSR molding? What about emerging technologies in molding, like, for instance, additive manufacturing? We’ve got it covered. These days, with shoot-and-ship a thing of the past, many molders are looking to add more and more services to their portfolio, which is why there is a session on value-added molding. And there’s a track on the business of molding as well. Are you up to date on the R&D tax credit? Are you interested in what other molders are doing to attract young talent? You’ll find out all the details about these and other matters at this event.
 
 
Over the course of three days, more than 25 presentations and panel discussions will help get you prepared from both a technology and business standpoint to solve the molding problems of today and take advantage of the opportunities presented tomorrow, next year, and beyond.
 
Learn more and register here.
 
And while you’re at the conference, try hard to make some time to also attend the neighboring Amerimold exhibit hall. If your molding operation is supported by a toolroom, you can check out equipment and services used in all aspects of mold manufacturing and maintenance. These include machine tools, cutting tools, CAD/CAM, mold materials, mold-repair products and mold components like hot runners.
 
 
Amerimold, which is presented by MoldMaking Technology, Plastics Technology, and Modern Machine Shop magazines,  also has its own technical, focusing on process innovations and best practices for designing, building, and maintaining molds.  
 
 
I hope you can make our co-located events in Chicago. I think there are more reasons than ever to go, and I trust you’ll be glad you did.
 

Extrusion Conference 2015: Call for Papers

By: James Callari 8. April 2015

 

 

Plastics Technology is bringing the world of extrusion together in one place, at one time, at The Extrusion 2015 Conference. During this unique two-day event, business owners, plant managers, process engineers and manufacturing personnel will be brought up to speed on technology developments impacting all types of extrusion operations. The event will take place Nov. 2-3 at the Omni Charlotte Hotel, Charlotte, N.C.

 

Each day will consist of morning presentations of interest to extrusion processors in general. These will include, but are not limited to, presentations on issues such as screw design; new materials and additives; high-speed extrusion; energy efficiency; changeovers; purging; controls; foaming; and important auxiliary equipment such as conveying, blending, filtration and much more.

 

In the afternoon of each day there will be three concurrent sessions that drill down to the specific process: Film/Sheet; Pipe/Profile/Tubing; and Compounding.

 

To submit a topic for consideration, please click here.

 

 Sponsorship opportunities and tabletop exhibits are also available.

Twin-Screw Elements Offer Option to Kneading Blocks

By: James Callari 24. March 2015

 

Twin-screw compounding machine builder Steer introduced at NPE2015 a new series of screw elements that reportedly are suited to replace kneading blocks in certain applications.

 

Called Melt Formation Elements (MFEs), they will be used on Steer's Mega and Omega co-rotating twin-screw platforms to reportedly provide compounders with improved reliability, reduced wear and increased uniformity of melting and mixing.

 

Steers says the elements are designed to combat a series of problems faced by compounders of masterbatch, engineering plastics and difficult-to-process materials, notably: high wear; degradation during melting;  uncontrolled breakdown in the process and transmission section; and improper material flow causing pressure peaks, which in turn leads to shear peaks that create torque instability and re-agglomeration,

 

As Steer explains it, while conventional kneading blocks (right handed, left handed or neutral) are effective at dispersive mixing, they are too harsh for many applications. This is because they present a perpendicular face to the flow causing melt stagnation and large pressure and shear peaks during melting. 

 

Notes Dr. Babu Padmanabhan, Steer's managing director & chief knowledge officer, “The MFEs are designed to create turbulence to the melt flow without stagnation.  They can replace conventional kneading blocks that suffer from lack of shear uniformity completely removing any right angled face to the melt flow.”   

 




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