- April 01, 2004, Teresa Koltzenburg Senior Editor
Published back in 1997, The Wiley Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology, 2nd ed., stated: “The field of vacuum metallizing serving the packaging industry has been one of steady-state growth.”
From the looks of today's food packaging — seven years later — it seems the trend has continued. More and more, consumers are seeing the result of this demanding process on the packaging that encases — and protects — their favorite foods. Unless they've been “doing Atkins” religiously for several years, most probably have become familiar with the shiny metal coating inside that bag of KC BBQ-flavored potato chips (my personal favorite).
Equipment and material advances have helped to continue vacuum metallizing's “steady-state” growth, says Paolo Raugei, executive VP of Galileo Vacuum Systems Inc., Alpharetta, GA (galileovacuum.com).
“[There's] been a general down-gauging of the metallizing substrates, [coupled with the production of] larger size rolls,” notes Raugei. “Modern metallizers can process rolls as wide as 180 inches and 50 inches in diameter, resulting in a roll length of 250,000 linear feet or more. Metallizing speed also has increased substantially, reaching over 3,300 feet per minute. Overall, state-of-the-art metallizers have an output of more than double in comparison to machines installed just a few years ago.”
As in many flexible material applications and processes, the substrate down-gauging and increased speeds Raugei refers to have reduced costs for converters and manufacturers of metallized products, another factor to point to when calculating the field's growth and staying power.
Another technology advance, the increased adoption of plasma treatment (of substrates before processing), has improved metal adhesion and, in turn, driven overall growth, too, says Tony Broomfield, sales manager at General Vacuum Equipment (now part of the Bobst Group of companies), Charlotte, NC (bobstgroup.com or valmetconverting.com).
“Pattern printing [capability designed into] metallizers — to yield a de-metallized effect — as well as sophisticated gas-injection systems for improved cooling of metallized webs, [have been developed],” Broomfield notes.
Both metallizer equipment manufacturers interviewed for this article — Galileo Vacuum and General Vacuum — as well as “metallizer” Martinsville, VA-based CPFilms (a company that metallizes films for converters and the industry), say being defect-free is among the most important attributes of the final metallized product.
“Today's metallizing equipment incorporates improved optical monitoring systems,” note Skip Cox and Jay Hudson of CPFilms (cpfilms.com). Explains Cox, “These in-line systems monitor — both cross web and down web — the deposit itself. They're used to make sure you're meeting the specification, in real-time, as opposed to waiting until the roll is finished and then discovering you did it wrong.”
In addition to producing defect-free product, metallizers (the equipment) may start to incorporate technology that widens the production gamut. “There's a growing interest for specialty coatings, and as a result, for multiple-use vacuum coating equipment,” notes Galileo's Raugei. “Examples include aluminum metallizers with high refractive index (HRI) material coating capabilities as well as sputtering/evaporation and/or polymer coating combinations.”
Though The Wiley Encyclopedia does note that further development in transparent barrier coatings may threaten the long-term viability of metallizers (both the equipment and the actual roll coating, or metallizing, companies), the market for metallized products continues to be diverse and growth oriented.
Cox points to one area — an area that's getting a lot of play these days — in which the metallizing process (and the metallizer — both companies and equipment) could become a major player: radio frequency identification, better known as RFID.
“It's actually depositing metals in a pattern, as opposed to 100-percent coverage,” Cox explains. “Companies that do that may have an opportunity to pattern metallized circuits for antennae that go into RFID labels.” Now that's mettle.
Restrictions of time and space limit the number of companies, products, and trends that we can discuss in these reports. For additional information, see PFFC's features and departments each month, consult the June Buyers Guide, and check pffc-online.com.