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Technology NZ / Foundation for Science, Research & Technology

   

 

No ‘too hard’ basket at Innopak

Some packing problems appear just too hard or too expensive to solve but an Auckland-based company is making business out of tackling jobs that others find too tricky.

The latest project on Innopak Ltd’s drawing board is researching new technologies to rapidly eliminate air from large bags of dairy powders. Processes have already been developed to vacuum pack 200 – 300 grams of coffee into airtight bricks but Innopak director, David Aucamp, says trying to apply that same process to equipment used to pack 25kg bags of powder would be as challenging as transforming a car into an aeroplane.

Air entrapment is a major problem when packing powdered and granulated products. Bags can burst during transit, product can be damaged, and the air creates additional volume, displacing the amount of product in each consignment. This adds significantly to shipping costs. Air entrapment can also lead to other costs that cannot be easily calculated in dollar terms, such as adversely affecting customer relationships, when product arrives damaged or packaging of intact bags is in poor condition because cargo has shifted during transit.

Compacting product could reduce the size of a pack by between 5 – 10 percent, leading to easier and more efficient packing and better use of container space, providing a real, measurable saving to industry.

David Aucamp says air entrapment is regularly raised at industry meetings as a major problem but until now it’s been too difficult to solve.

With an estimated 40 million bags of 25 kg milk powder or derivatives exported from New Zealand annually, solving the problem could result in savings for dairy companies of millions of dollars a year.

The challenge is to devise a system that is rapid and fits into current production lines without slowing existing processes. It must also be cost effective so it comes within companies’ annual capital budgets.

While existing processes do remove some air, the Innopak challenge is to remove more air at a much faster rate, reducing the time it takes by about 75 percent. Currently it can take up to 50 seconds to totally remove air from larger bags but Innopak is aiming to cut this to around 10 seconds per bag.

Innopak was established in 1998 by David Aucamp who has 25 years experience in the packaging industry, mainly in diary. Its core business is to solve unusual packing problems relating to powders and granules. That sometimes requires the development of specialist machinery although the company’s focus is on developing and designing new or improved processes rather than building machinery.

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