From food to pharmaceuticals, shrink film imparts packaging versatility across different industries. This polyethylene-based material encompasses products in a protective, tamper-resistant barrier that forms uniquely contoured shapes with the strategic application of heat.
As one of the most adaptive packaging mediums available today, shrink film brings malleability, weather resistance, and streamlined efficiency to supply chain operations. It collapses around pallet loads, consumer goods, and manufactured components while maintaining product integrity from facilities to market channels.
The industrial-grade “shrink wrapping” process catalyzes durable, transparent encasements tailored to distinct transportation and retail display needs. It promotes material conservation using less resin, energy, and storage space than alternatives like wood crating. Shrink film also assimilates well into sustainable manufacturing practices as recycling streams readily process the polyethylene-based material.
In this article, we will cover the expansive applications of shrink film across different industries. You will also learn the advantages of shrink films and key considerations for integrating them into packaging operations.
What is Shrink Film and How Does It Work?
Shrink film, often referred to as shrink wrap, is a type of plastic packaging material that contracts tightly around products when heat is applied. It then forms a virtually invisible layer of tamper-evident protection.
The most common shrink film is made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic, which has versatile properties lending well to packaging applications requiring weatherproof transportation safeguards. LDPE begins as plastic polymer resin that is heated, extruded into a flat roll sheet, and rapidly cooled so molecules solidify into straight polymer chains.
The process of wrapping goods in this plastic sheeting and applying focused heat allows film polymers to return to a naturally coiled, entangled state around the contours of the packaged contents. This transition generates the trademark shrinking effect that gives shrink wrap its tailored fit.
Most shrinking occurs at temperatures between 195-250°F which causes the film to contract to nearly half its original size. Various types of commercial heat sources can activate the shrinking process after wrapping, including propane heat guns, shrink tunnels, and steam or hot water immersion tanks.
Shrink Film Use Across Industries
According to shrink film suppliers, shrink film lends protective covering and stability to products across an extensive range of industries thanks to its key features, such as durability, transparency, and form-fitting capabilities when heat activates contraction.
Food and Beverage Packaging
The food sector utilizes shrink film for tamper-evident safety seals on everything from produce and baked goods to multi-unit beverage bundles. Polyethylene forms a sanitary moisture barrier that maintains freshness and contains labeling compliant with FDA standards for direct food contact. High-clarity shrink wrap also displays contents clearly for retail presentations.
Consumer Goods and Retail Packaging
Shrink film enables retail items to exhibit clearly through a crystal clear yet secure film envelope. It brings aesthetic shelf appeal along with pilferage protection to packaged toys, games, apparel, and more. Vibrant graphics can be incorporated for added consumer visibility.
Medical Device and Pharmaceutical Packaging
Strict sterility demands require impenetrable, hermetically-sealed tests for pharmaceuticals and medical implements. Shrink wrap offers verifiable barrier integrity for shipping sterile products like syringes, catheters, and test kit apparatus sensitive to any contamination. The film also prevents external exposure to powders and liquids that could be compromised if not properly contained.
Shrink Film Materials and Options
There are several plastic polymers commonly used to manufacture shrink film, each offering particular qualities suitable for certain applications.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC shrink film is relatively inexpensive and was one of the first shrink wrap materials available. It best suits non-food applications and lower-temperature environments since PVC gets brittle when exposed to extreme cold. PVC has good clarity and printability for retail packaging but limited recycling potential due to its vinyl chloride content.
Shrink wrap made from polyolefin delivers extremely high strength, clarity, and flexibility to accommodate high-speed packaging for odd item sizes. It shrinks consistently when exposed to heat with excellent puncture and tear resistance. Polyolefin is also FDA-approved for direct food contact. Its versatile properties accommodate everything from irregular industrial parts to food and pharmaceutical goods.
Polyethylene shrink films have a lower shrink percentage than other materials but offer very high maximin film gauge capabilities up to 1200mm for heavy-duty applications like marine transport. Lower density PE allows shrink wrapping of softer products like paper materials without damage from excessive shrink force.
PE is greatly impact-resistant and effectively blocks moisture migration. It brings exceptional strength to the industrial packaging of large durable parts needing weatherproof exteriors.
Implementing Shrink Film Packaging Solutions
Integrating a shrink film system into product packaging and transit processes requires upfront planning to ensure optimal results. Here are the main factors to assess when adding this protective covering to your operations:
Determine Product Specifics
Consider dimensions, weight, shapes, environment, and other physical characteristics of items to be wrapped. This informs film gauge, width, and formulation needed to secure goods properly. Also, factor in shelf life requirements, tamper resistance priorities, and expected shipping/storage conditions.
Evaluate Packaging Objectives
Define overarching goals for adding shrink-wrap packaging based on business drivers. Seek to reduce corrugated materials? Protect against specific climate threats like moisture or dust? Improve retail display appeal? Create objectives to identify suitable materials and equipment.
Assess Equipment Needs
Shrink systems require machineries like wrappers and tunnels to apply film and activate heat-induced shrinkage around products. Evaluate available floor space, throughput requirements, power supplies, operator skill levels, and other factors to select optimal equipment. Rent or buy options should align with projected usage and budgets.
Test packaging line workflows with staff to gauge equipment familiarity needs, process adjustments, and training requirements. Complex automated systems often demand more skills development while basic wrapping with portable heat tools may have a shorter learning curve.
Evaluate Film Storage
Shrink film storage conditions greatly impact performance. Keep stock in cool, dry warehouse areas away from direct sunlight per supplier recommendations as temperature extremes can compromise wrapping. First-in-first-out (FIFO) rotation helps avoid film deterioration before use.
Calculate Operating Costs
Estimate expenses like material consumption, utilities, maintenance, training, and mortalities to compare ROI against current packaging methods if applicable. Weigh cost savings from downgauging, width reductions, and fewer corrugated materials against equipment investments to justify the value.
Shrink film imparts unmatched versatility and customization to protective product packaging across every industry imaginable. Its form-fitting shrinkage capacities conform to virtually any shape or size once activated by heat to create durable, tamper-evident coverage.
Companies gain sustainability advantages from material downgauging and recyclability while leveraging Shrink film’s strength, clarity, and barrier properties to protect goods in transit and on shelves.
This advanced polyethylene wrapping outperforms conventional packaging in many applications due to its flexibility, weather resistance, and durable transportation safeguards. Shrink film solutions also promote supply chain efficiencies through space optimization and consolidated materials handling relative to rigid containers.
With infinite variability in film gauges, formats and polymer makeup, shrink wrap promotes product quality from manufacturing to the ultimate end consumer through material-conscious, precision wrapping. Its customizability to every packaged product’s unique specifications will continue to enable streamlined, sustainable delivery of goods worldwide.