Sustainable

The benefits of a foam-in-place system

Getting packaging decisions right is crucial for any company that has a need to ship products. If an order arrives broken at the buyer's door – whether the buyer is a consumer or another business – that relationship will also be damaged.

Depending on what a company regularly ships, packaging decisions can be relatively simple or complex. Shipping fairly durable items, such as books or clothing, minimizes the risk of damage. Boxes or even bags with minimal void fill should do the trick. In these instances, it's important to contain and protect, but there is little chance of breakage.

Other items are more sensitive to shock and motion during transport. Expensive electronic items, anything made of glass or ceramics and other delicate items require more forethought into the packaging decisions. If they have a unique shape, this could cause even more difficulty in deciding which protective packaging solution is best.

An all-inclusive solution
One popular type of packaging for these instances is foam-in-place. This is for good reason: Foam is incredibly shock-absorbent, and foam-in-place systems are highly versatile.


Foam-in-place systems involve two chemicals combining in real time to form a unique foam mold around the product itself. The mixture is collected in a polyethylene bag to protect the item itself, then rapidly expands, encapsulating the product in its own custom shell.

DoItYourself noted that the item is typically placed in the box or container in which it will be shipped first. Once the foam is applied, the package is ready to go. However, a company can also create a wooden mold for an item so the foam protection can be created without the item actually being present.

Storage ease
When making packaging decisions, there are more factors at play than effectiveness and consumer satisfaction, though these are two of the most important ones. Beyond them, however, businesses must think about ease of use, the ability to stock up on an item and cost-effectiveness.

In each of these aspects, foam-in-place systems have an advantage.

When the two chemicals come in contact, they rapidly expand as much as 200 times in size. This makes for thick and sturdy packaging around the item, but it also demonstrates how little room the pre-combined liquids take up. They can be stored away easily without getting in the way of other tasks that need to be accomplished or other materials and goods that need to be stored in the same location.

A foam-in-place system can keep motors safe during transport.
It's important to keep motors safe during transport. A foam-in-place system can absorb shock and vibrations during transport.


Learning curve
Using foam-in-place systems can also be very easy to learn for packers. According to Packaging World, Pregis' foam-in-place system, Maxwell, accomplishes this effectively. The system comes complete with an interface that allows the owner to provide instructional videos or photos to help packers understand how to operate the device. This is important considering the versatility of foam-in-place systems typically leads to many different items being packaged with it.

"In packaging operations which rely on FIP, workers are typically asked to package many different types of products," John Gee, IntelliPack Systems' national sales manager, explained. "Maxwell is capable of providing specific instructions regarding both material usage and bag placement for optimum protection. The operator can look at the screen to follow easy-to-understand photos or videos. These are also ideal for training and troubleshooting. Maxwell takes the guesswork out of the FIP packaging operation."

This also allows for a package to have great protection without excess packaging materials. In today's world where dimensional weight is a concern for businesses trying to keep shipping costs down, this is essential. Packers can also control how much foam is used for an item, giving them the ability to ensure the result isn't wasteful yet the package arrives perfectly intact.

Custom casing
Since the product forms the protective casing around the item quickly, production can be sped up. Packers won't need to strategize wrapping techniques or carefully-placed void fill materials because the foam creates a shell as unique as the shape and size of the item.

For those businesses shipping delicate or irregularly-shaped items, a foam-in-place system could be the best way to ensure packages are delivered with care.

Ikea plans eco-friendly boxes made from mushrooms

Ikea plans to replace its polystyrene packaging with eco-friendly boxes made from mushrooms, it has been reported.

Green-thinking bosses at the Swedish furniture giant are said to be looking into introducing the biodegradable alternative as part of a series of changes designed to improve sustainability.

The so-called 'fungi packaging' is made by US-based firm Ecovative using mycelium, the unseen part of a mushroom made up of millions of tiny fibres.

Pioneering: An example of the made-to-measure 'fungi packaging' created by US-based company Ecovative

Ecologically, mycelium’s function is to break down waste. The process causes it to secrete enzymes and proteins which can act as a glue to bond items together into a solid shape.

As it is 'growing' mycelium can be manipulated into a range of sizes and densities, much like plastic, making it ideal for containers and packaging.

Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for Ikea in the UK, told the Daily Telegraph the company was looking into the material because 'a lot of products come in polystyrene, traditionally, which can't be - or is very difficult to – recycle'.

In contrast mushroom packaging can naturally biodegrade in just a few weeks. 

An Ikea spokesman confirmed to the newspaper that mycelium is one of the materials it is looking into using but that it is not currently used in production. 

The Swedish firm has promised it will adopt a series of changes by 2020 that will boost communities and the environment.

 

Green-thinking: Ikea has promised it will adopt a series of changes by 2020 that will boost the environment

Two of which include plans to invest £755million into renewable energy for poor communities and also ensuring all of the energy used in its branches comes from clean sources.

This idea of living more sustainably and protecting the planet has even influenced the menu in its restaurants, particularly the much-loved meatballs.

The company is now offering a vegetarian alternative to meat, production of which is associated with greenhouse gases. 

Mycelium is already used by a number of companies around the world. Ecovative already supplies mushroom packaging to Dell computers called EcoCradle, which acts as a subsitute for polystyrene. 

Founders Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer have previously built a 'self-fixing' house using the material and have said cars could one day be built with mushroom parts.