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Packaging Digest think4D Editorial


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Something’s happening in a small Canadian town that’s shaking up the packaging industry. It’s a
technology from converter think4D Inc. that merges the visual pop of high-definition flexography
with the fingertip appeal of thermoformed details.
The touch-friendly technology can be used to create clamshell packaging, plastic folding cartons,
plastic rigid cartons, pressure-sensitive labels, sleeves and point-of-sale materials.

Published in: Design
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Packaging Digest think4D Editorial

  1. 1. 46 NEW TECHNOLOGY // September 2014 Pick-me-up packaging adds new consumer ‘touch’ point A technology that combines HIGH-QUALITY, REGISTERED PRINTING WITH THERMOFORMING lets brand owners add tactile interest to blisters, bottles, cartons and more. Kate Bertrand Connolly, Contributing Writer Something’s happening in a small Canadian town that’s shaking up the packaging industry. It’s a technology from converter think4D Inc. that merges the visual pop of high-definition flexography with the fingertip appeal of thermoformed details. The touch-friendly technology can be used to create clamshell packaging, plastic folding cartons, plastic rigid cartons, pressure-sensitive labels, sleeves and point-of-sale materials. The think4D process evolved from a long-standing focus on print excellence and a knack for manufacturing innovation at think4D Inc.’s parent company, book manufacturer Friesens Corp. Friesens was founded more than 100 years ago in Altona, Manitoba, where the company’s 300,000 sq ft of manufacturing space remain today. Jeffrey Hayet, president of sales at think4D Inc., answers questions from Packaging Digest’s technical editor Rick Lingle about the patent-protected think4D technology. In short, what’s all the hoopla about with think4D? Hayet: The think4D process brings a package “to life” by decorating it with detail, texture and color previously unachievable. Consumers and consumer-goods companies are looking for more highly decorated and tactile packaging. They like to touch and see the product or, at minimum, an excellent graphical representation of the product. A well-designed think4D package makes this possible. Our goal is to leverage our ability to create tactile and highly decorated packaging products, cost competitively. We do this through an integrated manufacturing process combining several packaging solutions under one roof. With our in-house printing and thermoforming capabilities, we can preprint blisters and then thermoform them, all in one plant. Two capabilities distinguish think4D: first, thermoforming to the register of print, and second, high-quality print/decoration— special effects, that is—on paper and plastic packaging.
  2. 2. September 2014 // NEW TECHNOLOGY With regard to thermoforming and print registration, for a blister package, we can preprint the material and then accurately thermoform the material, registering graphics to shape. Depending on the package, registration variation is almost always less than +/-0.5mm. There are lots of decorated blisters in the market, created either by applying pressure-sensitive labels on an already formed blister or by preprinting a blister. Both methods are designed so there is little or no registration required. We can also include special effects on a think4D package, in-line with printing, using tactile inks like MBoss, MiraFoil coating, glitter or grit features, Cast and Cure coating, cold foils, embossing, scratch ‘n’ sniff and contrasting coatings. Through our print experience and use of the best equipment available, we can deliver these at competitive costs, bringing them within reach for brand owners. In the case of a plastic folding carton, we can create incredible printed effects that support the brand owner’s need for differentiation. And we can then thermoform the carton with a lower draw than a blister to give the package a unique tactile effect. What industry drivers does your technology address? Hayet: Feel is the real driver. It’s also where our name comes from. 4D refers to the fourth dimension: touch! Every time I present our samples to new customers, I’m deliberate about watching what they do. Almost every time, the same thing For Added Extras LLC, which markets licensed and private-label cosmetics and personal-care items, switching to a think4D label has boosted packaging consistency for a new line of Sesame Street bath products and yielded operational benefits. The “6 Piece Bath & Body Set,” a Sesame Street licensing project, will roll out in Walmart stores during the 2014 holiday season. The line includes Elmo and Cookie Monster versions. Added Extras, based in New York City, is owned by Li & Fung Ltd., Hong Kong. Each Sesame Street box set (far right photo) includes several products, including an empty 16-oz, blow-molded, PET pump bottle. This bottle, or decanter, is the item decorated with think4D technology, in the form of a pressure-sensitive label. The labels are made of similar PET material. Think4D prints the labels on its high- definition flexo press— red for Elmo and blue for Cookie Monster—and then applies a UV coating. Next, the labels are thermoformed, with a shallow draw, in the shape of the characters’ faces. After thermoforming, pressure- sensitive adhesive (plus liner) is applied to the back of the sheet and the labels are die cut. When Added Extras developed similar Star Wars- and Batman-themed box sets for the 2013 holiday season, the pump bottles were molded with the characters’ features and finished with hand painting. In addition to being labor intensive, this decorating approach led to variability. “It was a hand-painted item, so there were variables and defects with the painting,” says Dianna Ruth, Added Extras’ director of brand management and product development. “There were issues with the overall standards,” she adds, which is a serious issue for any licensee. “The painting wasn’t consistent.” To solve the problem without sacrificing the look and feel of a molded decanter, Added Extras completely changed its approach. It simplified the bottle design, leaving a flat space on the front panel for application of the tactile think4D label, and eliminated the painting. The labels are manually applied by Added Extra’s packaging vendor in China. With the tactile label, Ruth says, “the consistency has been great—there’ve been no variables. Cookie Monster [always] looks the same. We can pull the first one or the twentieth one, [and] it’s consistent.” The change also has made decanter manufacturing more efficient. The numerous steps required to create a custom bottle mold, including licensor approvals, takes about 30 days, Ruth says, adding that the cycle is significantly faster for think4D labels. And while think4D is making the labels, the Chinese vendor is manufacturing the decanters, which also saves time. The time line “just matched much better,” Ruth says. Thinking up a dimensional label for kids’ bath products Mordens’ of Winnipeg Candy Manufacturing Ltd., a Canadian chocolatier and nut purveyor, is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year—and a plastic folding carton from think4D is part of the celebration. The Mordens’ of Winnipeg Deluxe Mixed Nuts carton, made from amorphous polyethylene terephthalate (APET), is flexographically printed with photo-realistic images of the nuts inside the box and then topped with a UV coating. The front, back and top panels are further enhanced with think4D’s tactile treatment. Each nut in the image is thermoformed in register with its high-definition print representation, and to a realistic height; cashews stand out more than almonds, for example. The nuts appear to be “popping out of that box,” says Fred Morden, the company’s president. The company soft launched its think4D package earlier this year and is planning a hard launch for the 2014 winter holiday/sports season. Each box contains 454 grams of hand-packed nuts in a heat-sealed film pouch. With the new package, the goal was to “make a box that you can leave on a coffee table or an office table as opposed to pouring the nuts into a bowl,” Morden says. “Then [we] can actually showcase the nuts and the box itself, and the brand.” The innovative aspect of think4D’s technology also caught his attention. “We always try to be one step ahead of our competitors,” Morden says, adding that his company is “one of the first in North America to jump on this new technology.” Local sourcing is also a plus. The think4D plant is located just south of Mordens’ home town of Winnipeg. The cost differential for the new package is minimal, and consumers will see no upcharge. The cost of the think4D package versus the previous package—a plastic tub with a lid and two labels—is “very, very competitive,” Morden says. He adds, “When you’re talking…a few pennies more, and you’ve got this beautiful package, it was a no- brainer” to make the switch. Mordens’ goes nuts for tactile folding carton Continued on page 48
  3. 3. 48 NEW TECHNOLOGY // September 2014 happens. They look, they pick up, they run their fingers over the texture and they say “wow” or “cool.” We call this the Wow Factor. To test how well our packages do in this regard, we have conducted a great deal of research, including studies with major brands as well as independent studies. Our packages have gone through several consumer trials with at least two of the largest consumer-goods companies. The favorable results have strengthened our relationships, because the brand owners believe what we do strengthens their messages and brands. We’ve also had our products studied by Rochester Institute of Technology. The objective was to understand the perceived quality and difference in worth of items containing images created with think4D forming technology. The research showed: • Participants, on average, would pay 50% more for a product presented in a think4D package. • 80% of the time, participants believed think4D technology added value. • 96% of participants chose a think4D product as a thank-you gift for participating in the study. How important is texture in your business proposition, as a way to engage consumers and for brand equity? Hayet: Brand owners are always looking for differentiation and shelf appeal. Based on our customer feedback, texture is very important. Our customers view our technology as filling a void in the packaging space today. Certainly it’s not for everyone, but judging by levels of interest in tactile packaging, we believe there’s a large need and a strong alignment to what we can deliver. We have a slogan: “Liberate your senses and touch the moment.” Consumer spending is often triggered at the emotional level, and we help brand owners engage consumers at the sensory and emotional levels. Every brand owner wants consumers to pick up and handle its packaged product. After it’s in their Cosmetics-packaging supplier HCP Packaging USA Inc. has found an unusually good fit for think4D’s technology, specifically in decorating HCP Radii Square and Radii Round compacts. The covers of the stock compacts are designed with a slight inset for insertion of a decorative top plate, which, when made with the think4D process, adds both visual and tactile interest to the package. In the past, HCP has used paper, metal, liquid epoxy and other materials to create top plates for these families of injection-molded compacts. Creating think4D top plates “allows us to bring a completely new ‘dimension’” to the compacts, says Damien Dossin, president, HCP Packaging USA. “The compacts become very tactile, and once you pick up a piece, it’s hard to put it down.” HCP and think4D do not yet have a commercial example of a compact decorated this way. However, think4D used commercial graphics designed by HCP to create a sample top plate.The samples, made of amorphous polyethylene terephthalate (APET), were flexo printed, UV coated and then thermoformed to add depth to the graphics. Tactile top plates could be made with a pressure- sensitive backing or without; in the latter case, HCP would use double-sided tape to attach the plates to the compacts. The think4D technology also could be used inside a compact, for a tray to hold make-up pans. “Up until now, typically the pan wells have been one color, and they typically match the color that the compact is molded in,” Dossin says. “Now you could do them in multicolor. You could print instructions. You could print them with numbers. You have a lot of flexibility.” He says he expects “sophisticated brands as well as the edgier, younger brands” in the cosmetics industry to be drawn to this decorating technique. Prestigious brands likely would use it as a subtle touch, perhaps just on a logo. But younger brands will probably use it more boldly. “Some the edgier brands come out with…eye-popping artwork, and to add this tactile element to it would be taking it to the next level,” Dossin explains. As for cost, he says that “for the right volumes, this is quite affordable compared with some of the other inserts, like metal plates or paper inserts with gel. It’s not cheap. But, for what you’re getting, it’s a good value.” HCP Packaging USA Inc., 203-924-2408 Touch-friendly top plates add glam to cosmetics compacts A women’s razor package from Procter & Gamble was the first commercial example of think4D technology used in the creation of a decorative, tactile, deep-draw blister. The two companies jointly developed the heat-sealed trapped-blister package for the new Gillette Venus Snap with Embrace on-the-go razor. Launched in early 2014, the product is a short-handled razor that comes with an injection-molded storage pod. The product’s compact size—the razor is only 2.5 inches long—makes it easy to tuck into a purse, beach bag or toiletry kit. To complement the product’s small size, the brand owner also wanted to minimize the size of the package. Therefore, the razor is packed into the pod before the pod is filled into the blister. But with the razor not clearly visible through the blister, the team needed a package-decorating approach that would convey the product’s petite size, bright colors and sculptural, fingertip-friendly design. The solution was a think4D blister with 1.5-inch depth of draw. Thermoformed into the blister’s consumer-facing curve is a tactile, nearly life-size representation of the product—with UV-coated, high-definition flexo printing registered to the shape of the raised image. The blister is made of amorphous polyethylene terephthalate (APET). This approach eliminated the need for labels, including not only their cost but also the operational challenge of applying a label to the complex curve of the blister. The result is a cost-effective package with visual and tactile impact that stops shoppers in their tracks. Mike Marcinkowski, principal engineer, R&D, at Procter & Gamble Global PackDev, led the project team on behalf of Gillette. Gillette uses a deep-draw blister for a portable razor “Every brand owner wants consumers to pick up and handle its packaged product.…We want to help the brand owner drive the consumer to that decision point.” — Jeffrey Hayet, think4D’s president of sales Continued on page 50
  4. 4. 50 NEW TECHNOLOGY // September 2014 hands, the brand owner is a long way down the consumer’s decision path. We want to help the brand owner drive the consumer to that decision point. What are the basics of the process, and what’s required on the part of customers? Hayet: The think4D technique connects with customers on sensory and emotional levels by using the power of multidimensional printing, tactile inks, and metallic and holographic effects. We are a packaging converter, and we use cutting-edge technologies like HD Flexo, UV inks and environmentally responsible substrates. The process depends on the type of package receiving a think4D application. On a conventional, clear blister, the process generally starts with our team receiving or creating a model of the package design, followed by prototyping, tooling and production. But for a think4D blister, the process is more complex. It again starts with package design but requires development of a 3D model and associated graphics. Next, we Sculpt the part, adding the think4D forming treatment that creates the tactile effect. We can give our customers a view of this with a DigiProof. This is a soft proof that electronically shows the shape, graphics and application of the think4D Sculpting. We can supply various prototypes, depending on the customer’s needs. After these are approved, we work toward being production-ready, including the necessary print preparation and tooling. How would you characterize the current level of interest and the number and types of applications we’ll see in 2014? Hayet: We had an initial vision of who our customers would be, but we very quickly adjusted our vision because of the strong interest from much larger customers than we had imagined...and many of them. Most of our discussions focus on blisters, clamshells, folding cartons, point-of-purchase display work and tip-on labels. We believe we have spent money wisely on equipment that meets the needs of these customers, for the volumes they require. Our equipment includes the most state- of-the-art flexo press currently in North America. Because of our combination of printing capabilities and patented thermoforming process, the interest level from many market segments, for diverse applications, is growing continuously. The segments showing the most interest for packaging applications include cosmetics, personal care, outdoor recreation, pharmaceuticals, food and liquor. Editor’s Note: Read more about the think4D technology, including its sustainability message, turnaround times and costs—“The more decoration required, the more cost competitive we are,” Hayet says—at think4D, 877-732-0202 x370; “This is quite affordable…. It’s not cheap. But, for what you’re getting, it’s a good value.” — Damien Dossin, president, HCP Packaging USA