Market trends in Blown film extrusion

The now subsiding worldwide economic crisis has put a great deal of pressure on the German mechanical engineering industry as a whole and manufacturers of extrusion lines in particular and has forced them to give significant attention to their activities. According to Reifenhäuser, machine suppliers responded to the crisis in two main ways: 3-layer extrusion lines for standard products and 5, 7 and 9-layer lines for high- quality products.

Due to shrinking margins for their standard products, the film processing industry were facing a need for 3-layer extrusion lines in standardized configurations that satisfied the technical requirements of the products, but without any overengineering or special considerations which would unduely increase the cost of the machines. This resulted in a very attractive cost effective design approach for working widths between 1600 and 2200 mm. It was found that systems of this size were the most cost-efficient in situations involving smaller batch sizes and downstream equipment such as printers and laminating machines.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are machines for high-quality products using highly advanced raw-material formulations in complex five, seven, or nine-layer structures. Manufacturers were able to improve the characteristics of these film products by refining the selection of raw materials and by using special additives for individual layers. This enabled them to attain higher market prices. Several film manufacturers who previously had been making 3-layer films exclusively have invested in 5-layer systems and substituted 3-layer composites with 5-layer composites in order to improve their margins and their ability to meet customer needs.

A similar development can be observed for barrier films to be used for packaging food and medical or pharmaceutical products. The state of the art for high-quality film is a 7-layer composite using EVOH und PA. The need for manufacturers to make a competitive difference and expand the range of products has resulted in a significant rise in the demand for 9-layer systems. Besides better flexibility in the choice of resins as well as overall film structure, these systems offer major advantages when using additives, which results in significant cost reductions.

In addition to these overall trends, there are also several regional cases focusing on specific product applications. Southeast Asia for example has seen a sharp increase in the demand for high-quality films to be used in the IT industry. In India there has been a similar rise in demand for food packaging using 5-layer films.
Other developments include an increasing demand for higher-quality products in developing markets: Until recently, investment had been almost exclusively in simple 3-layer applications, while now there is a trend towards 5- and 7-layer or even 9-layer systems. In these countries, investors frequently receive government subsidies, which makes the higher purchase price of more advanced technologies less of a concern.

Due to the low profit margins for standard products like fine shrinkage, stretch silage film, packaging for frozen foods, stand-up pouches, laminating films, FFS heavy-duty bags, etc., improving the production performance for these products continues to be a key issue. Here the focus pointed by Reifenhäuser is on easy-to-use cooling systems that are flexible in terms of changing between product sizes and raw materials.

In summary, one can conclude that while the worst of the crisis appears to be over, the cost pressure on the processing industry remains very high.

In order to produce film as efficiently as possible and further cut costs in the future, the role of smart, easy-to-operate automation systems is becoming increasingly important. At the same time, the market is demanding optimum process-control solutions with local and remote fault diagnostic capabilities.