Benchmarking sealing processes as a basis for determining optimal joining processes for flexible plastics that meet all requirements
Being able to extensively and holistically compare sealing and welding processes for joining flexible plastics is a matter of great economic importance for companies, especially in view of the many new, recyclable materials that are currently coming onto the market. The processing and quality properties of these materials are often less favorable than those of established plastics. In addition, companies — especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — often lack the extensive process and material know-how that is required. Wrong decisions can lead to failure-prone processes, high reject rates and serious investment risks. The loss of reputation suffered after placing defective products on the market can also threaten the continued existence of companies, particularly SMEs.
A benchmarking concept would enable users to identify the best material/technology combination for their specific requirements regarding the sealing and welding of plastic films. This is of benefit not only in newly planned processes, but also when it comes to reviewing and optimizing established processes.
Previously, however, there were no suitable methods for comparing different processes — due in part to an almost unmanageably large number of usable flexible plastics, as well as the many different industry-specific requirements regarding technologies and materials. The aim of the InfraPro research project was therefore to establish a universal, holistic and reliable evaluation concept for assessing the processes and materials involved in the joining processes for flexible plastics.
Significant reduction in testing expenditure thanks to a newly developed evaluation tool
For this purpose, researchers first created a database of the typical quality and process requirements prescribed for established welding and sealing systems in the respective industries. Next, this information was used to qualify suitable criteria for the comprehensive, universal evaluation of joining processes.
Finally, a widely usable new tool was developed to enable the quick and simple evaluation of process-relevant criteria (such as process windows and robustness). It is based on an innovative visualization method, as well as on analytical processes of statistical test evaluation. Using this tool has been proven to reduce the amount of testing required to record the respective process data by up to 80% without any significant loss of prediction accuracy.
Establishing an innovative test and education center for sealing and welding processes
The development of an evaluation concept formed the basis for establishing an innovative test and education center for sealing and welding processes at Fraunhofer IVV in Dresden.
Here, it is possible to conduct complex analyses that extend far beyond conventional standard tests and quality inspections, and enable the comprehensive evaluation and assessment of sealing or welding processes.
The results of this evaluation form a credible and reliable basis for decisions on new investments in systems or materials and can therefore significantly reduce the level of investment risk. They can also be used to devise valuable optimization strategies for established joining processes with regard to quality, process reliability and efficiency.
In its function as an education center, this facility can also offer qualification and training opportunities to provide material and technology know-how.
A holistic, cross-process evaluation tool for industrial processing methods
The benchmarking concept for sealing and welding processes also forms the basis for another pioneering research objective: the development of a holistic evaluation tool that includes the interrelated steps of the entire packaging production process. In future, it should be possible to combine the various evaluation concepts. In the research project »Test and Training Center Processing Behavior«, an evaluation concept is currently being developed for the web transport and thermoforming behavior of flexible packaging materials. This means that companies will have access to another evaluation concept, which they can use (also in combination with the evaluation of sealing and welding behavior) as a reliable tool to efficiently and successfully implement their plans for material substitution, process changeover and process optimization.
Project duration: October 2017 to December 2019