Clemson University's Department of Packaging Science has joined with industry leaders to open a Center for Flexible Packaging on July 1.
The Center for Flexible Packaging - dubbed CEFPACK - received $900,000 in grants, contributions and in-kind donations, about 95 percent of which came from flexible packaging companies.
``There's no state money in it,'' said Robert Kimmel, the center's director. ``It's totally funded by industry.''
New laboratories at the center will allow researchers to make film, through lamination and pouch making, analyze filling and thermal processing and conduct sensory tests. Lab-scale equipment includes a line to make cast and blown film, a multilayer blown film line, a renovated coater/laminator, another laminator that is solventless, a form-fill-seal system and a modern retort for developing safe cooking conditions for shelf-stable packaging.
The Center for Flexible Packaging also has its own pilot plant that does food processing.
Clemson has helped several new South Carolina businesses that use shelf-stable packaging, according to Kimmel. Kimmel joined the Clemson faculty five years ago after a 30-plus year career in the film and PET bottle resin business of Hoechst Celanese Corp.
Clemson is positioning itself as a leader in packaging studies. The university says it is one of only four universities that offer a four-year bachelor's degree program in packaging science - and the only one in the southeastern United States.
The Center for Flexible Packaging is on campus in Newman Hall, near the Package Testing and Materials Evaluation Laboratory, which simulates how pallet loads react to being dropped, vibrate while on a truck and other real-world conditions.
Moving forward, new funding will come entirely from industry membership fees. Clemson officials expect to have 35-40 member companies by the end of the third year of operations. Supporting members can use 100 percent of their membership fees to purchase services from the center.
Eight companies have agreed to be supporting members. Other companies have shown strong interest in using the laboratories or sponsoring research.
According to Clemson, flexible packaging is the fastest-growing part of packaging, driven by consumer demand that packages are safer, handle more easily and consume less space in a landfill. Packages with barrier layers keep food fresher and better tasting, the university said. Security is another, newer driver.
``Needs drive change,'' said Ron Thomas, chairman of the Department of Packaging Science. ``Whether it's fear of terrorism or making food more appealing, packaging technology is evolving rapidly. And Clemson is in the midst of that evolution.''