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Brentwood Plastics blog

The truth about coextruded film packaging

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Mon, Apr 09, 2012 @ 01:33 PM

A well designed machine has no unnecessary parts.  Anybody who makes coextruded multilayer plastic films will tell you a simple monolayer plastic film won't do.  Occam's razor has an exception.


Coextruded packaging film manufacturers tell you the solution to your packaging pain must be multilayer film. Makes sense.  They have invested in coextruded equipment and need to feed it.  Buyers of packaging films who don't challenge the assumption pay dearly for over spec'd films and fabulousness added.  By convincing the technical buyers the film must be coextruded multilayer film, the coex players have eliminated lower cost monolayer film from the playing field.  Straight out of Saul Alinsky's playbook.

Multilayer sounds high tech cool and sexy.  Monolayer sounds simplistic and outdated.  Higher tech multilayer films do not always have a happy outcome.

Q.  In what circumstances are coextruded films justifiable ?  When does the structure absolutely have to be coex ? 

A.  When each layer has a specific job to do.  Hosokawa Alpine now has an 11 layer line.  Seriously ?  
is 11 enough ?

A common example of 2 layer coex can be found in a cereal or crouton box.  The verbal shorthand is "chip film" or cereal liner.  This 2 layer structure is the low, mature end of coex.  

cereal box.jpg

The outer layer is HDPE for barrier.  The LDPE is for sealability.  See our blog post on PE

Election signs and overnight envelopes must be 100% opaque and require a "core" layer of black.


A more complex example is the category of meat films.  They have a core layer of nylon or EVOH.  Since the viscosity of the core layer is so much different than the outer layer usually of PE, a "tie" layer which takes up the slack in viscosity between the layers is necessary.  So just like that, you're up to 5 layers.

A big selling point with die manufacturers is enabling the extruder to bury scrap that would otherwise be discarded in one or more core layers to keep costs down.

Here are a few examples of films which absolutely do not need to be coex:

Blue / white surgical drape films.  Over 50 years ago, somebody made the case for a 2 layer laminate as a pinhole-free film.  The theory is that the chances of 2 pinholes lining up is infinitesimal.  True for a lamination, but not for coex.  Coex film can create voids as it exits the die just like monolayer film.  When coex came along, the film was made in 2 colors to emulate the lamination.  Albeit slowly, some commodity drapes such as mayo stand covers and nurse's back table drapes are transitioning to single layer.

Frozen food IQF packaging.  Barrier films promoted for frozen food have a feelgood security blanket factor, but are unnecessary.  We have made monolayer film for IQF frozen film for decades (both form/fill/seal and thermoformed bone guard ).  By the way, barrier won't prevent freezer burn.

The question your coex promoter doesn't want you to ask is " what job does each layer have to do ? " or " why do we need each layer ?"
( COex layers are described by letters, each designating a resin type.  An " A/B/C/B/A " structure is a symmetrical structure.  Going back to the example of meat film, the A layer is LDPE, B is the "tie" layer and "C" is the nylon or EVOH "core" layer.  C does not stand for core. )

drawbacks to coex:

schedulling with ramifications for longer lead times and higher minimums

Minimizing scrap is even more important in the coex realm.  Instead of taking less than an hour to change over with a single layer film, it can take literally all day to set up a coex structure.  After a coex order is set up, staying in that structure as long as possible makes common sense.  It is very expensive to break in to accomodate a customer who calls with a hot fill-in requirement.  All the time an order is being set up, the extruder is running scrap.  It takes as long as it takes for transition materials to clear out and for the new structure to do what operators call "settle down."  There are no short cuts.  The higher setup costs must be amortized with high minimums.  Some coextruders such as CharterNex won't talk to you about running a trial even if you offer to pay for the scrap and machine time.  It's 10,000 pounds minimum.  

did you notice ?   coex films are very rarely an even number of layers, they are almost always an odd number of layers


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Topics: coextruded film, coextruded films, multilayer film, coex films

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