Syntactic Foam and Package Design

It’s very easy to spot a thermoforming professional in the grocery store. The person craning their neck to look at the bottom of a package isn’t your average shopper. Most people don’t stop to admire the latest in packaging innovations, but they certainly shout from the rooftops when they can’t open a sealed clamshell.

We often talk about thermoforming in terms of ‘black art vs. science‘ but when it comes to package design, it’s all about science. There are several key pre-requisites for any thermoformed package across industries, including rigidity and clarity. Features such as impact resistance and ease of de-nesting (the ability to stack, or ‘nest’, one tray on top of another without sticking) are considered. Material selection therefore is of primary importance. Each material type has its own characteristics and film suppliers generally provide the appropriate documentation outlining specific properties including specific gravity, tensile strength and, perhaps most importantly, thermoforming temperature. But it’s not only about the sheet. Our extensive work on the interplay among several variables including sheet, plug and temperatures reveal distinctions that can make a big difference in final part quality.

Syntactic foam plug assists are purpose-engineered for thermoforming and provide unique properties that result in superior packaging. When it comes to package design, form and function must be balanced. Design engineers use state-of-the-art software to create innovative and eye-catching packages while still maintaining the fundamental goal of protecting and displaying the product inside. Syntactic foam plug assists aid in the design process by pre-stretching the sheet into position without removing heat or affecting its formability.  This is critical because the design work is based on material specifications which are based on specific, optimal sheet forming temperatures.  Overheating a sheet is often the cause of loss of plastic orientation, lower strength, loss of clarity, sheet stick to the plug and a wide range of uncontrolled issues, all due to compensation for a plug that chilled the sheet on contact.

So the next time you check the bottom of the package or cup and you’re thinking about the recycling code, stop for a few seconds to consider the amount of upstream design and engineering that went into the plastic shape that is protecting your purchase.