Many types of functional additives are used during the production of plastics packaging, including antistatic agents, heat and UV stabilisers, impact modifiers, clarifying agents, blowing agents, brightness agents, impact modifiers, antioxidants, antimicrobial agents, oxygen scavengers and antiblocking agents.
According to Smithers Pira, the global market for functional additives and barrier coatings for plastics was worth $2.8-billion in 2013 and forecast to reach $3.7-billion by 2018; and demand for functional additives is rising faster than overall demand for plastics packaging as converters look for lower cost solutions, which additives can provide, and as consumer demand for greater protection of products continues to rise. Further global statistics can be found at www.smitherspira.com.
Turning to the local front, Masterbatch SA (MBSA) is playing a pivotal role in this market by cultivating valuable relationships with trusted international pigment and additive suppliers, in order to provide South Africa’s plastics packaging converters with the highest quality products and outstanding technical support.
As MBSA’s MD Anthony van Niekerk points out, processing additives impart properties that maximise manufacturing efficiency, while performance additives enhance the characteristics of the end product.
By manufacturing and supplying masterbatch, pigments and additives, Anthony asserts, MBSA provides plastics processors with efficient, reliable and cost-effective ways to add colour, effects and/or performance enhancements.
The company delivers a broad spectrum that includes antiblock, antioxidant, antistatic and antifog additives, flame retardants, corrosion inhibitors, processing aids and UV stabilisers, as well as laser marking, antimicrobial, thermochromatic and desiccant additives.
MBSA’s masterbatch and additives are widely used in both rigid plastics and flexible packaging applications.
Boundaries constantly pushed
The boundaries of plastic packaging are constantly pushed, stimulating the need for constant advancements in additive technology. Among recent interesting applications are light diffusion and PET additives to replace glass packaging, laser marking, desiccant and antimicrobial additives.
MBSA is highly proficient in the complex process of matching laser marking technologies with laser marking additives, without compromising colour integrity. As today’s consumers increasingly demand ‘intelligent packaging’, laser marking is becoming mainstream. Applications include direct printing of promotional and/or legislative information – eg expiry dates – and laser marking is an efficient way to enhance traceability by uniquely identifying a product.
Laser marking additives are typically based on aluminium and during the laser marking process heat induces a colour change reaction in the polymer.
In addition, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of waste management and product recyclability, a factor that influences shopping behaviour. To improve recyclability, desiccant masterbatch removes excess moisture and volatiles in raw materials, not only enhancing ease of processing but also the quality of regrind. An additional moisture barrier can be introduced to the middle layer of the packaging by using a desiccant masterbatch.
Advances in nanotechnology have facilitated the incorporation of previously prohibitively-expensive raw materials into masterbatch applications. Silver, for instance, is well known for its antimicrobial properties. Thanks to engineering at a molecular level, silver can now be used in masterbatch applications to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. An obvious benefit is a reduction in food spoilage and an increase in shelf life, contributing significantly to savings throughout the entire food supply chain.
Another specialist capability of MBSA is the ability to combine UV protection and flame retardant with colour, a particularly complex end use, as bromine-based flame retardants can interfere with conventional UV stabilisers.
According to Anthony van Niekerk, MBSA understands and accepts its critical role in the supply chain, and this is underpinned by MBSA’s commitment to excellence and constant innovation.
‘We’ve developed and implemented a multilayered strategy to cement our place as a leading masterbatch manufacturer and to foster growth in the plastics industry,’ Anthony continues. ‘Shorter machine cycles, lean manufacturing and operational efficiency are our primary objectives, achieving maximum output from available resources in order to satisfy customer demand.’
MBSA’s value parameters
MBSA applies a number of strict value parameters, including production built on superior processes; product engineering built by qualified technical and scientific experts; traceability built around a world-class IT system; and innovation built with an ‘open-lab’ policy for customers.
The latter, Anthony explains, allows MBSA’s laboratory and technical team to encounter real-life complexities, challenges and problems.
‘Our technical experts are adept at understanding the interactions of additive technology with processing equipment and able to deliver customised solutions to specific issues, such as colour matching, product engineering and processing, including food contact safety, traceability or any other requirements – all in the shortest possible time,’ he maintains.
‘We’ve also received unconditional approval from a number of globally-respected brands that allows our lab to form part of a network of laboratories that drive innovation and introduce new solutions to satisfy customers’ needs.’
MBSA holds the highest industry standards as validated by ISO 9001:2008; 14001:2004; 22000:2005 and OHSAS 18001:2007 certifications for quality, environmental, food safety and occupational health & safety management systems. The ‘wine glass & fork’ symbol displayed on MBSA’s labels provides assurance that products are heavy-metal free and can be used for direct food contact packaging.