From fast-moving consumer and sporting goods to electronics, cosmetics and medical supplies, flexible protective packaging is key material in the supply chain of many industries and products.
Combining the best qualities of plastics and films, flexible packaging is a versatile and functional solution that requires minimal materials, production and costs.
According to the Flexible Packaging Association, “flexible packaging is any package or any part of a package whose shape can be readily changed.” Some of the most common examples of flexible packaging include bags, pouches, shrink films, tubes, sleeves and carded packaging.
Flexible packaging is a solution that businesses turn to for a variety of reasons. For starters, it’s a less-expensive material, but it also offers great durability and product protection. In fact, polyolefin shrink films are a popular high-quality material that is approved by the FDA to increase shelf life.
The quality of flexible packaging isn’t its only calling card, however. It’s also touted for its ability to be tailored to fit the specifics of any and all products. It’s possible to package products of any shape or size, with an array of materials, glosses, design organization and display windows. Good thing, because advertisers and retailers are constantly tasked with creating packages that help sell their product. And with a wide variety of formats, these creative minds can think very far outside of the box to visually engage consumers.
Speaking of consumers, zip locks, spouts and resealable closures help designers create packages that are more convenient for customers. It also helps that flexible packaging manufacturing is more environmentally friendly than alternatives like corrugated and glass.. which may be a shock to hear.
Are you interested in learning more about your flexible protective packaging options? Get your free copy of the Ultimate Guide to Protective Packaging here!
Flexible Packaging Material Options
For each part of your packaging process, there are a number of different options in flexible packaging protection. For the sake of brevity, we’ll limit our list to the most popular materials and applications you should consider. However, keep in mind that working with a packaging partner will help you select the optimal packaging products for your specific applications. And when you use the ideal solutions, you’ll save time and money in the long run.
Stand up pouches
One of the best alternatives to traditional packaging, stand up pouches function as their name suggest – standing upright on shelves. This packaging has an airtight closure, is extremely easy to pack and has incredible visibility capabilities. Fully-customizable to your needs, stand up pouches have multiple barrier layers of protection to suit nearly any product, many of which are listed in the flexible films section below.
As you can already tell, there are many different flexible film materials. Here are 14 of the most popular:
(EAA) Ethylene Acrylic Acid – A tie layer between aluminum foil and other polymers.
(EVA) Ethylene Vinyl Acetate – An adhesive layer, moisture barrier and heat-sealable food contact layer.
(EVOH) Ethylene Vinyl Alcohol – An oxygen barrier typically placed between PE/PP films, EVOH must be be protected from moisture.
(PA) Polyamide – A film that works well as an outer layer, PA provides machinability, a gas/aroma barrier, heat resistance and will not stick to a sealer bar.
(PC) Polycarbonate – A moisture and heat-resistant barrier with machinability.
(PE) Polyethylene – Another heat-sealable food contact layer, as well as a moisture barrier. It can also be combined with gas/aroma barriers such as (EVOH, PA).
(PEN) Polyethylene Naphthalate – A gas/aroma barrier with machinability and heat-resistance.
(PET) Polyethylene Terephthalate – A film that provides machinability strength, PET is all of a gas/aroma barrier, moisture barrier and heat-resistant.
(PET-G) Glycol-Modified Polyethylene Terephthalate – A heat-sealable food contact layer.
(POF) Cross-Linked Polyolefin – A heat-sealable film best suited for food packaging, but also used to laminate print products. Made using a cross direction technique in which film is stretched both mechanically and manually.
(PP) Polypropylene – A moisture barrier that can be combined with other gas/aroma barriers or coated with heat-seal coatings such as acrylate and PVDC.
(PS) Polystyrene – A printable and gas-permeable film that can be combined with other gas/aroma barriers.
(PVDC) Polyvinylidene Chloride – An O2 barrier and heat-sealable layer that provides gloss and protects print.
(PVC) Polyvinyl Chloride – A gas/aroma barrier with machinability.
Mostly used by food and pharmaceutical industries, foil packaging keeps food fresh and safe by blocking air, light, dampness and bacteria, increasing your products’ shelf life. It is also a recyclable material.
Additional protective packaging
Flexible protective packaging materials range in type and size and can be designed for all types of packaging needs – from small products to large equipment. It can also be used to palletize bulk products. Air pillows are a great example of lightweight and secure protective packaging that protects products from shock and vibration during transit while also being easy to recycle and dispose of compared to messy packing peanuts and other alternatives . Electrostatic discharge(ESD) bagging is especially great for packaging sensitive electronics to avoid damage due to static and friction.
How do You Know if You’ve Chosen the Ideal Flexible Packaging?
Is your goal to increase your product’s shelf life? Do you want to minimize product loss during transit? You can’t know if you’ve chosen the right solution until you’ve defined all of your requirements. You need some parameters to give you a direction.
In terms of protection, you’ll also need to define what your products need protection from. Do you have a long shipping process with many risks for error? Will your product be delivered to an location in high altitude? Does the area have high humidity or low temperatures? These considerations all impact what packaging is the optimal solution.
You’ll also need to set your budget, but don’t make the mistake of being too short-sighted. Beyond the cost of the packaging itself, you must consider whether you’ll need to set up new packaging machinery or add secondary packaging to maintain the safety of your product. As early as possible, communicate with your suppliers aware about your budget and any financial constraints. It will help you save time in the material selection process.
Speaking of which, you’ll need to budget time for review and modifications. Don’t expect quick fixes to be cost-effective. Give yourself time to review your flexible packaging and ensure that your run will be successful.
If you take the proper measures, you can find the perfect packaging solution for your products and supply chain. If you need help choosing the ideal flexible packaging products, download a copy of our Ultimate Guide To Protective Packaging.
About David Roberge
Part of the outstanding Industrial Packaging team. I'm lucky to hang out with some of the most knowledgeable folks in the packaging industry. I feel even luckier to be able to share our knowledge with you. I love learning about our readers and helping them grow their brand through unique, flexible package design from the birth of the product idea, through the supply chain, and to the launch and placement on the shelf or at the consumer's door.