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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Many of the benefits of flexible plastic packaging are wasted by underutilizing storage space.

And that also makes transport less cost-effective, according to Gunter Winkler, chief packaging engineer of German engineering consultancy VDZ GmbH of Dortmund.

But German researchers now are close to commercializing what they claim is a world-first software package that will allow manufacturers to store and transport products packaged in flexible plastic packaging more cheaply, by wasting less space.

Winkler said flexible plastic packaging is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in the food sector, but inadequate ``dimensioning'' led to using available storage capacities ineffectively, resulting in exaggerated storage, handling and transportation costs.

He told delegates at the International Association of Packaging Research Institutes world conference in Melbourne that the FlexPack software program would be marketed to packaging companies worldwide.

VDZ developed the software in conjunction with the logistics department at the University of Dortmund. Winkler said work continues on more-precise dimensioning capabilities, but he is confident the finished, commercial product will be completed soon.

The program, which runs on Microsoft Windows, currently is available only in German, but work has started on an English-language version.

Winkler said FlexPack is the first dimensioning software designed to help packaging companies coordinate filling volumes and stacking of flexible plastic packaging with the area and height of the storage and transport packaging, such as corrugated boxes.

The greatest potential for the FlexPack program is packaging of loose food products, such as sweets and nuts, which usually are packed in large bags with little attention to storage and transportation, he said.

The FlexPack program examines the properties of products and the bags into which they are packed to define the optimum degree of filling and density.

The program also defines optimum bag dimensions and positioning, such as standing, flat or folded.

VDZ and the University of Dortmund also are working on a handbook to help companies meet the packaging requirements of senior consumers.

Winkler said most packaging is aimed at young consumers, and packaging companies worldwide are neglecting senior consumers who have special needs because of deteriorating physical strength, eyesight and coordination.

``It is hard to get manufacturers to change their ways, but there is a lot of potential as senior consumers have huge buying power,'' he said.

The most potential is in specialized packaging, for household, medical and food products, that offers features such as twist spouts, better gripping properties and highlighted lettering.