As a packaging professional, can you relate to this scenario? You have a great looking flexible package for your new snack product. The graphic design is outstanding; the material composition will keep the product fresh and tasty; and the reseal structure is easy to use and airtight. All that’s left to do is get the product into retail and in front of consumers (with some marketing help, of course!). On to the truck it goes, from a Midwest-based production and packaging facility and bound for a west coast big box retailer.
Upon arrival at the store, the packages are slated to be put on shelves and floor displays. But opening the cartons containing the product reveals a big problem; many packages have burst at the seams, spilling the contents, and rendering the product inedible and unsaleable. What happened?
What Goes Up Often Expands!
It’s an age-old problem, but one that some people are not aware of. The packages failed when the transport vehicle reached an altitude in the Rocky Mountains where the outside air pressure was relatively low and the air pressure inside the sealed packaging was high enough to cause a burst seam. It happens enough that there is a name for the issue – Over-the-Mountain (OTM). It can be even more insidious when it only damages the seams and seals; a problem that may not be readily visible to the retailer stocking shelves. It may only be discovered by consumers who get stale product. Almost any degree of package damage will lead to food freshness degradation or spoiling.
And it’s not just food products that are affected. Premoistened wipes packaging is another prime candidate for problems associated with pressure imbalance. Damaged wipes packaging will result in product that dries out rapidly, greatly reducing the longevity of the product.
You might think it’s a simple problem to solve: Just use stronger materials and adhesives when designing the package! Not so fast. In large measure, packaging needs to conform to the product it contains. This is especially true when the product is food for human consumption. You can’t use just any material / adhesive / seal combination without consideration for food safety. There are certain film materials which cannot be used for food packaging, or which can be used provided they are not ‘next to’ food. This can make it difficult to design packaging that is both strong enough to endure drastic pressure changes but also conforms to food safety regulations.
That said, there are designs and structures that can prevent OTM damage. These materials are making it easier to balance high burst strength, superior sealing, and product safety considerations. It used to be that three-ply structures would be employed to ensure package integrity for OTM applications. Advances in film technology have resulted in stronger materials, enabling two-ply constructions. This makes the packaging lighter while maintaining or increasing burst strength and simplifies the production process. Incorporating high-performance seals and advanced seaming techniques not only help prevent OTM damage, but also act as effective barriers to water vapor and oxygen which can degrade product freshness. Ink formulations have also been developed which can in some scenarios eliminate the need for laminating over the printed material. In short, designers have a lot more options for creating over-the-mountain ready packaging.
AWT actively collaborates with our material suppliers regarding the latest in packaging materials to address OTM scenarios as well as other stuff you might not think about when designing your package. We would welcome an opportunity to help you with your project – over-the-mountain related or not.