Nova Chemicals Corp. is intent on growing its presence in the expanded polystyrene market - even if it has to do so one cup at a time.
With this goal in mind, Pittsburgh-based Nova has worked with Dutch machinery maker AutoNational BV to create a production line in which EPS cups are molded and decorative labels are applied in a single step.
The process - which Nova has dubbed IMage Technology - is designed to deliver ``a premium beverage experience'' to the customer, officials said. Nova is running a slimmed-down version of the line at a testing center in Leetsdale.
``We wanted to get the [EPS] material into high-end coffee shops, but it's not very printable with the current technology,'' packaging development director Debra van Holst said during a recent tour of the Leetsdale plant.
``Customers and consumers want a label with nice graphics and nice feel and one that doesn't wrinkle,'' she added.
The Nova system also eliminates a glue-application step from the process. Labels instead are applied to the cups with a steam-activated adhesive. Labels applied to the cups can be made of polypropylene, polystyrene or other materials.
The machine is about 65 feet long and 8 feet wide. Smooth cups with satin finishes are molded and labeled, then moved down a conveyor belt where they're suctioned up and stacked. In full commercial production, the line can produce about 84 million cups a year.
Several customers are interested in the process, which Nova hopes to license. The firm has no plans to enter into commercial cup production, officials said.
Dylark food boxes withstand reheating
Nova has commercialized food packaging grades of its Dylark-brand styrene maleic anhydride copolymer. The resin offers improved performance in takeout and home-meal containers when reheated in microwave ovens.
Dylark also offers a lower per-part cost than expanded polystyrene because packages can be made with thinner walls, officials said. Dylark - produced at plants in Monaca, Pa., and Belpre, Ohio - can be processed on standard EPS equipment.
Arcel packaging resists snapping
Nova is enjoying early success with its Arcel-brand PS/polyethylene interpolymer, a foam resin that the firm produces in Monaca.
At a recent demonstration in Monaca, Arcel business director Tim Wong easily broke a typical block of EPS packing foam over his knee. When he tried to do the same with a block of Arcel, the block bent almost into a U-shape before snapping.
``Arcel is the fastest-growing moldable foam resin in the market,'' Wong said. ``Electronics makers want something stronger that they can use in packaging. If a consumer opens a box for a computer and sees the packaging damaged, a lot of times they don't even plug the product in. They just send it back.''
Companies using Arcel in packaging include Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, LG Electronics and Cisco Systems. Nova officials said the material is nine times stronger than EPS at the same density.
Packaging made with Arcel also can be made in sizes 10-20 percent smaller than similar EPS packaging, allowing manufacturers to include more product per shipment, Wong said.