Why is Michelman leading the way? Because sustainability is a real thing

By 13 Sep 2019

The Indian government’s changing policies are steps toward creating a more sustainable environment, which are making brands and packaging converters search for environmentally friendly solutions that are commercially and economically viable. Catering to this need is the Michelman Innovation Centre for Coatings (MICC) in Mumbai that provides a platform for brands and converters to create and test packages with sustainable alternatives.

During his recent visit to India, Rick Michelman, chief technology officer and executive VP, Asia for Michelman, received feedback from many of the company’s customers about how they see the changing face of the country. Based on this feedback, Michelman stated “India moves at a pace that is unrivalled elsewhere in the world. The rate at which the Indian government is deploying policies is a good fit for us because the country needs sustainable and innovative solutions.”

Michelman speaks to Noel D’Cunha and Abhishek Muralidharan of WhatPackaging? about the circular economy and what is transpiring in India, in terms of sustainability

Michelman: “India moves at a pace that is unrivalled elsewhere in the world"

ND: What’s the biggest risk for a packaging converter these days?
RM: The most significant for the converter is not thinking about the whole system. To be successful in any packaging- or printing-based field, make sure to consider the substrate itself, the equipment used to deliver it onto a surface, and the coating. All three of these items have to be considered together to achieve success.

ND: What are the challenges that the Indian converters face compared to the global arena?
RM:  The biggest challenge is ensuring that they have the right equipment. Indians are interested in innovations, and they are very comfortable taking risks and trying new things. However, they need to have the right equipment for it.

ND: What are the systems that should be in place to facilitate the growth of sustainable packages?
RM: Most importantly, a collection system, because if you develop mono-plastic materials, you need to have a system to reclaim them. It is a part of the economy to reclaim waste materials and get them to the right place. Therefore, developing efficiency in collection is vital. Another need is proper training, so people can differentiate materials based on the nature of the polymers.

ND: How do you intend to push the rate of change forward in India?  
RM: We have spent time with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to ensure that we understand wind directions. We also have confidence in what we have been able to create at the MICC and our testing capabilities. We intend to push this forward at a faster rate, making packaging more sustainable and better for the Indian economy.

ND: On whom should the onus be government or the converters?
RM: If they shift the onus to the converters, you would still need somebody to enforce compliance because the converters have legacy systems that they have run for years, and they are happy with the current means of production. Thus, if there is no enforcement, converters will struggle with the pace of change. I think offsetting that, however, it is the demand from consumers.

Dual-station Kroenert pilot coater laminator

ND: What precautions should the converters take while designing a sustainable package?
RM: They should design with the end in mind. Therefore, if the end involves a collection piece, converters should offer a final design to allow collectors to differentiate plastic materials.

ND: What are the trends you emphasise on?
RM: We look at macroeconomic trends, and each trend contributes to the products we design. We make products that have excellent slip control. All the parameters such as appearance, performance, barrier properties, and shelf life come into play.

The Indian people want their packaged food to last longer. Therefore, we have to develop technology that increases the shelf life of food. They also buy packages with great shelf appeal. Therefore, we have to create and print graphics that people enjoy. Customisation is also popular, and we are seeing digital printing growing broadly in India because consumers will purchase products they find unique.

ND: What is your goal as a global solution provider?
RM: Our goal is to help brands and others in the packaging value chain improve customer experiences. For example, we can help protect food packaging from food that contains grease and oil. If the food package is weak and stained from moisture and grease, or the ink and the printing look terrible, it decreases the consumer’s experience.

Our technology helps packaging and food stay fresh and protected, allowing the inks to look great through the transportation process. This technology helps provide a positive consumer experience. So, whether its eCommerce or Food on the Go, we are developing products that provide protection and lifecycle management for food packaging.

Michelman's macroeconomic trends: 

  • Circular economy, which is sustainability-focused with specific attention to package lifecycle management.
  • eCommerce, because Michelman finds that there is increasing use of mobile devices and the internet to order products, shipped in multiple package formats. The use of protective coatings helps make sure that products arrive at a consumer’s doorstep unharmed. It also understands that protection while using less packaging is a delicate balance. Michelman has collaborated with multinational firms to change their packaging design to ensure they reduce their packaging material.
  • ‘Food on the Go’ is a world trend where Michelman products can make a difference in multiple formats.

ND: Why do you think the circular economy will be a successful concept?
RM:  It will be successful because, globally, consumers want more sustainable choices, whether it is cleaner food or sustainable packaging. We are working on developing technology that enables degradable packaging, recyclable packaging, and use of mono-material structures for reclamation.

ND: What’s your thought on all the recent implementations and regulations?
RM: We do not make packages; we enable packaging providers to take the journey that can take multiple routes and steps. We appreciate that both members of the value chain and consumers (not just one person or one ruling from a government authority) are helping push sustainable packaging to the forefront. These regulations are also helping us expand our range of solutions.

ND: How has India adapted to plastic waste management?
RM: Often, if a change happens too fast, it is rejected, and there has to be a reset. I was in India when the original plastic waste management initiative came out, and people were wondering how they would get food home from the market. Nevertheless, everybody figured it out quickly and have adapted to it quite well. Our job is to help people plan so that when these changes occur, consumers get what they need instantly.

ND: What are the flexible packaging applications that Michelman currently provides?
RM: Amongst the most important things that we do today, is the heat seal coating on multiple substrates. As you work through the package, we provide solutions for factors such as an oxygen barrier, moisture barrier, and coefficient of friction (COF) control.  We also work on the haptics on the outside of the package to give it a unique feel.

ND: What are the merits of digital printing from a packaging perspective?
RM: Digital printing solutions are a strength of ours globally, and we would like to do more of it in India. Digital printing enables us to prime and change services for multiple ink types that stick well to the outside of packages. This technology gives printed materials spectacular shelf appeal.

ND: What is the first step for designing any successful package?
RM: The first thing is to analyse the end-use of the package. From there, you build the structure, and if you need to use mono-materials, first; pick the right substrate, whether it is paper or a film. That is where we come in to facilitate these requirements. Whether it is an oxygen barrier, whether it has something to do with the shelf life and preservation, whether it is graphics, we play roles in deciding all these aspects. We cannot count on the films for everything; we have to do the rest.

ND: Does paper suffice as a packaging alternative for plastics?
RM: Paper is a wonderful substrate based on its fibre length. Paper might miss some impact or puncture resistance, but it has a wide variety of things one can do with it.  It is porous, but with certain chemistries, we can overcome that and give it functionality that paper does not have on its own.

ND: Does this shift affect the cost of the product?
RM: It depends on the product because every product is different. If you want to pack chips and crisps, then you look into the options that provide a barrier. If it is an ice cream package, then you need a different set of skills to provide a moisture barrier, with some oil resistance, and so on.

ND: Will the use of mono-polymers affect the stand up pouches, which is a huge market in India?  
RM: If we are moving to a mono-material world, the stand up pouch market is going to have to design for it, accordingly. They can start with a substrate and design around the weaknesses, to obtain what the end-users desire. The pouches can still be there, but they will need some help with water resistance, and maybe that is something we can work on.

ND: One trend is downgauging while maintaining the barrier performance of a package. Is that the right way to go?
RM: Anything you can do to reduce the amount of material used is a good thing. If you downgauge in a multi-material structure, you might lose some properties, for example, an oxygen barrier. In such a scenario, the Michelman products that we are creating have lower weights as compared to the multi-layer structures.

Michelman Innovation Centre for Coatings (MICC) in Mumbai

ND: The advantage of water-based coatings over extrusion coatings?
RM: The advantage of water-based coatings versus laminates or extrusion coatings is the benefit of efficiency. Our coatings, used in a much lower amount than the second layer of a plastic film, paper, or foil, enhance efficiency by using water-based chemistry designed for the end in mind, rather than being limited to a specific plastic-type.

ND: What was the most challenging requirement a customer has asked for?
RM: Our customers often like us to do everything at once. No material can do everything. We have not found a material in the world that can do everything yet. We address this differently, and we try to implement multi-functionality. If somebody wants an oxygen barrier and a heat seal, it is hard to do that with traditional materials. However, we are able to build systems that have coefficient control, oxygen barrier, heat seal, and print receptivity. Slowly, but surely, we are adding more functionality to everything we create.

ND: An example of a multi-functional product designed at MICC?
RM: Heat resistance for pouches incorporated with flow wrap. We were required to maintain gloss and give better integrity to films sealed for flow wrap. This is where we built appearance and functionality together.

ND: Any of the unique Indian applications that you are proud of?
RM: We have had success with edible oil pouches, where the switch to mono-material structures have shown strength and excellent oxygen barrier. There is a greater urgency for this technology. Another one was paper cups. There is a chance for us to help the industry reduce plastic waste by removing the plastic linings of paper cups.

ND: How do you think Michelman will operate in the next five years?
RM: Number one is to provide space for customers, suppliers, and brand owners to collaborate with our team and design their future. We wish to sit with them and design what it might look like and build unique packaging structures together.

We can design the structure either on paper or on whiteboards, and then utilise our pilot coater to test substrates and Michelman coatings. Our facility and equipment allow us to laminate, seal, and test structures, just like in the real world - all in one building. Our pilot coater at the MICC allows us to test substrates, qualify substrates and run speeds of different lines with different printing or application techniques. Our vision for India is to have start-to-end capabilities at the MICC so that when the converters get back to their plants, they can recite the story of what they accomplished with us. We love the people we help because they have expert skill sets, and will continue on this path with curiosity.



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