Pliant Corp. has been awarded $5.1 million in research and development contracts from the U.S. government and has introduced a new shipping film that can be compressed during transit.
The initiatives are part of a new development impetus at the Schaumburg, Ill.-based company, President and Chief Executive Officer Harold Bevis said in a recent telephone interview. Several new products were unveiled and discussed further during Pack Expo International 2004, held Nov. 7-11 in Chicago.
The government awards will help the company expand its food-packaging area, a major segment at the film maker, Bevis said. The company plans to use time on existing machinery and new equipment to explore those government opportunities for its multilayer films, he said.
``Food is our biggest [film] area and accounts for over half of our sales,'' Bevis said. ``We probably have close to the largest five- and seven-layer asset base in the industry. The contracts play into our strengths to design and customize multilayer films to accomplish what laminations can do.''
The company will work on three R&D contracts for the federal government, said Greg Gard, senior vice president of technology and innovation. One involves ensuring that food rations on military bases are tamper-evident and offer long shelf life, Gard said.
The film being considered at Pliant would allow detection by radio-frequency identification at both the pallet and load level, Gard said. Special RFID sensors would alert military personnel if packages have been opened, he said.
The firm is working with the Defense Department's Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass.
Pliant also is researching the use of special inhibitors, stabilizers and enhancers that can be used in film to improve shelf life and the quality of packaged food, Gard said. The company hopes to add flavor and odor enhancers to the package that can keep the food fresh for up to three years, he said.
``At the end of three years, we don't want the food to taste like wood,'' Bevis added.
The third project is a high-barrier structure that can replace foil on packaged films in extreme military locations, Gard said. While foil does a good job of protecting food, the military has issues with radar detectors that pick up metal on military bases, he said.
Pliant is looking at nanocomposites in coated barrier materials as an element of the foil replacement, he said.
The work at Pliant will be done at in-house research facilities in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and Newport News, Va., as well as at Natick, Bevis said.
On the barrier side, Pliant also is introducing a vacuum compression film that will hold pet beds during shipping, said Paul Wolak, technical director of barrier films. The polyethylene film packages can be compressed to only 2-3 inches high and will hold a product tightly in transport, he said.
The five-layer blown film can provide up to six months of shelf life for products, he said. The new film, released three months ago, is being made at Pliant's plant in Bloomington, Ind., Wolak said.
``We are looking for other applications,'' he said. ``This is only the first use of the film.''
The company continues to look at new equipment and expansion of existing facilities to support growth, Bevis said. Pliant will spend $20 million to $25 million in capital expenditures in 2004 and more than that next year, he said. The company is considering where to place new extrusion equipment, he said.
``We have a little tug of war going on for new [equipment],'' he said. ``We have 25 plants that would like to add new equipment, and we have to decide on the most economical use of the assets.''
The company is shifting from targeting commodity films to providing more specialized applications, he said. Gard's technology group has been beefed up and new equipment will support that growth, he said.