Food Packaging: Score one for laser perforations

Packaging film is laser scored at CLP Packaging Solutions’ plant in Israel. The scoring machine can operate at web speeds of more than 800 feet per second.
When you’ve spent the day backpacking up Mt. Hood, you’re in no mood to wrestle with a hard-to-open pouch of spaghetti marinara with mushrooms before squatting down to dinner. Thanks to laser-scored flexible packaging, opening freeze-dried packets of AlpineAire Foods products is as easy as a walk in the park.

The Rocklin, Calif., firm packages premium menu selections for outdoor enthusiasts, though “sales are definitely affected by world events,” according to president Don Gearing (demand soared during the Y2K buildup). Six-ounce entrees like shrimp Newburg retail for about $7, so customers expect a good-tasting meal.

Shelf life is 3-5 years, though it could be measured in decades for many of the items. Perforations created by mechanical scoring would allow oxygen to compromise shelf life, but it’s a non-issue with laser scoring, Gearing says.

AlpineAire’s packages are produced in Israel by CLP Packaging Solutions. The laser’s beam passes through the outer polyethylene ply of AlpineAire’s 80-micron thick laminate with no effect, then vaporizes the point of contact of a high-absorbance layer below. The inner aluminum foil layer reflects the beam, leaving barrier properties intact. The score affects less than a third of a package’s thickness, according to Rani Stern, CLP’s chief technical officer, but that’s sufficient to create an easy-tear path, even with thick pouches.

Laser scoring adds about 3 percent to the cost of a pouch, and burst resistance can be reduced up to 20 percent. Gearing reports no impact on his packaging’s burst resistance, and “price-wise, they’ve been very competitive.”

Consistent with the trend in its category, AlpineAire is switching to a gusseted pouch. That necessitated a change in filling procedures. Gearing credits the efforts of Action Pak for making the necessary modifications in the three-lane weigh belts that flow spices, pasta noodles and bulk items into each bag. Although it’s a semi-automatic operation, “we’re within half-gram tolerance” on those ingredients, he says.

For more information:
John Deshion, Action Pac, 805-654-6880 Leslie Gurland, CLP Packaging Solutions, 877-888-1888

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