The Skinny-ePak Technology

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In the last few weeks there has been quite some attention of the professional packaging media for the SkinnyPack, as it was the 2015 Diamond Winner of the DuPont Awards For Packaging Innovation and before that it won a Gold Award for Best Prototype Package at the In-Mold Decorating Association Awards this year.

Although about this Diamond Winner various packaging media has been writing, none of them went into detail in relation to the unique construction of the packaging and the technology behind it. Furthermore the general error the professional media made is that it claimed that IPL Inc., a Canadian producer of injection moulded plastic products, based in Saint-Damien, Quebec, is the developer or even inventor of the SkinnyPack technology. But that’s not correct.

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Skinny-ePak (as was the original name of the innovation) is the result of a collaboration between two Italian companies. Meclat, an Italian manufacturer of dairy processing machines, holding the patent for ‘EPAK’, which is a rigid bottle design of pyramidal geometry used as the frame in the new container, and Italian plastics injection-moulder Internova as the patent holder for ‘Skinny’ for moulding of bottles with two different components.

The Skinny-ePak can be seen as a cross between a rigid packaging and a pouch, or as the inventors described it “a middle way between a carton style lined ‘brik’ and a classic plastic or glass bottle”.

Being a manufacturer of dairy processing machinery, you can clearly see, that the first models made by Meclat aimed at medium-sized dairies where efficient use of storage and production facilities is at a premium.

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The original images of the Skinny-ePak technology make it clear that the packaging is made by fusing a thin, flexible in-mould label (IML) film to an injection-moulded sturdy, rigid 4-poster frame. This process ensures that a strong adhesion exists between the film and injected plastic, allowing the packages to remain sturdy and strong throughout production, filling, transport, distribution, and consumer use.

The Skinny-ePak bottle could be processed on existing machinery and packaging systems with minimal adaption required. The invented technology guaranteed that the filling process could proceed without the need for further processes such as disinfection. The bottles can be loaded and stacked in the machine and are automatically filled through the bottom, heat sealed and trimmed. High speeds (between 500 and 8,000bph) can be achieved as the film is shatterproof.

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Skinny-ePak, something like a sturdy skeleton wrapped around in a plastic film.

The design is therefore able to meet the production needs of small dairies or farms as well as plants with higher capacity. The same machine can pack containers of different volumes and for different products such as milk and yogurt.

This new concept uses an eco-friendly packaging film that, while maintaining the functionality of a rigid pack, is lightweight, flexible, and reduces the consumption of plastic. The patented, shatterproof laminated film IMS (In Mould Shield) ensures excellent barrier properties against oxygen, light, moisture and gas. Skinny-ePak is therefore suitable for liquid products with a long shelf-life.

Containers are stackable during transit and can reduce transport and storage costs by up to 700%. Normally a traditional lorry load of empty containers consists of about 54,000 units. With Skinny-ePak almost 388,000 containers are possible.
According to Italian makers Meclat, which teamed up with Internova to produce the bottle, the technology of the Skinny-ePak reduces the consumption of plastic by 60%.

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With Skinny-ePak it is possible to print on five faces of the pyramid (four sides and the bottom) and can be customised at the point of production for each customer. Two colour packs are also possible.
IMS, the method used for printing, also protects the contents, avoiding any risk of contamination and migration from ink even during sterilisation or pasteurisation, up to 128°C.

Ana’s Food Salsa Pot
For this hybrid container, which won the Diamond Award, Canadian IPL Inc., “borrowed” the revolutionary design of the Za Men yoghurt cup, which Danone had launched in Bulgaria in 2014.

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Compare Danone squaround (left) and Ana’s Food squround (right). The round mouth gives consumers easy access to the product inside while the square edges of the bottom provide better grip and handling.

The developers, Greiner Packaging in Austria, called the special geometry of the Za Men yoghurt pot, “squaround”, as the pot is round at the top and square on the bottom. The revolutionary design intends to differentiate the product on the supermarket shelves from the common round versions.

By using this design and marry it with the Skinny-ePak technology, IPL Inc. created the 16-oz salsa pot for Ana’s Foods in Texas, as replacement for its rigid salsa containers.

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The salsa pot is manufactured by fusing a multilayer 2.36-mil adhesive-laminated film, constructed of PP/ink/PP, to the four rigid posts, made from PP, resulting in a square/round shape, or “squround” (originally Greiner/Danone baptized the packaging design “squaround”. IPL calls the same design “squround”, probably to avoid problems with the original designers).
This squround design, in combination with the SkinnyPack technology, allows for graphics on all four sides and the bottom. The film is labelled using the In-Mould Labelling process, with four-colour labels converted by Precision Press. The high-clarity film windows offer a look inside to consumers prior to purchase. The in-mould labelling offers the ability to print high-resolution graphics for high-impact shelf appeal.

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PP was chosen for the construction, because it is certified for food contact and can be moulded easily, without creating problems in the production process. The SkinnyPack uses a standard, 409-dia lid, which allows it to run on existing filling equipment. The format is also compatible with both pocket and conveyor belt systems.

The lighter-weight, thin-walled SkinnyPack uses, according to IPL, 54.8% less plastic than the original salsa containers, while the mono-material packaging structure makes for 100% recyclability. The format is also stackable, resulting in cost reductions in shipping and stocking.

All in all, it’s a beautiful development with an unlimited range of possibilities for liquids as well as dry products and it’s good to see that there has been a company (Ana’s Food) with sufficient courage to act as a guinea pig for the first commercialisation of the SkinnyPack.

2 responses to “The Skinny-ePak Technology

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