CMT Field Notes: Tokyo Pack 2018

Held at Tokyo Big Sight Convention Center at Ariake on Tokyo Bay, Tokyo Pack 2018 drew over 700 exhibitors from mostly Asian countries, with Japan providing the lion’s share of participants. The official total was 62,000 unique visitors over a 4-day period. Separate zones were set up for pharmaceutical packaging, mail-order and gift packaging, material handling, and package design, while a large segment of the hall was set aside for the Japan “Good Packaging” winners, an array of over 100 packages from all over the country. CMT participated with our partners from Seiko Sangyo and we entertained several customers from Japan, Korea and Thailand at our booth with full array of HYTAC plug assist materials.

Mirroring overall macro-economic trends in Japan, the packaging industry shows moderate but stable growth. Over the past three years, the value of plastics packaging materials and containers has declined while the volume has increased slightly, suggesting a shift in plastic packaging formats from heavier, rigid parts to lighter, cheaper, flexible parts. Many of the plastic parts at the exhibition displayed flexible packaging solutions with multilayer constructions and novel cap and closure innovations. Paper and paperboard products are moving in the opposite direction, however, indicating a preference for this material segment driven by environmental concerns and the rise in e-commerce.


Thermoformed trays

In addition to corrugated, new developments in pulp molding pose a threat to certain types of plastic packaging, especially lined food containers. The thermoformed tray market in Japan is significant, with annual sales volumes of approximately $5bn. New drying technologies for enhanced properties along with new additives that help to reduce part weight mean fiber-based containers will compete more frequently with PET and PP on supermarket shelves. Still, polymers play a critical role in the production of paper-based items, especially as PE- or PLA-based liners.

While there were a lot of winning packages in the design competition, it is clear that Japan’s mature market has led to wealth of talent in package design where competition drives innovation. To make a product stand out on a busy supermarket shelf is an expensive proposition in all developed countries, but Japan’s densely populated metro areas, relatively limited household storage, and legacy of regulation on store sizes mean there are many shelves in many retail-level stores. In the thermoforming sector, this means lots of short custom runs, so tools are generally not running for a long time. For thermoformed trays used in non-food applications, male molds are typically used for their ease of manufacture and low costs. For cups, food trays and more detailed parts, negative cavities with plug assists are used.

The arrival of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is providing a boost to the regional economy as the metropolitan area gets ready to welcome the world. Given the plethora of packaged foods on display all over the city, we hope to see an increase in thermoforming activity over the next 1-2 years.