Shining the Spotlight on Squeeze Tubes

Today, innovation steals the show.

The market is global and it is huge, with literally billions of tubes shipped to customers in sizes from 13 mm diam up to 2.5 in. In every supplier’s facility, innovations are the rule. All squeeze tube products are benefiting from new material formulations and decoration capabilities both on the plastic and laminate side.

Latest Technologies
New materials, elaborate decoration, and improved side seam appearance are moving a good deal of the personal care market into laminates. Many 2-in. tubes on the shelves today are made out of laminate, whereas they used to be in plastic.
Doug Jackson, market manager, North America, for Alcan Packaging Beauty, says, “With the evolution of laminate, tubing can be all plastic, all plastic with an EVOH barrier, and it can be plastic with an aluminum foil layer. In the past, laminate tubes were thought of as only pharmaceutical or toothpaste tubes because they had that aluminum for a barrier. Personal care tubes were more focused on plastic.”

Alcan Artist tubes are a family of small-diameter tubes with various applicator heads that enhance the application of personal care products, cosmetics, and some OTC pharmaceuticals.

Berry Plastics has seen great market acceptance of its newer laminate tube technology as well as Berry’s Deckless and Divinity Flip Top Closure lines. The laminate tube technology allows Berry to control the entire process, which involves extruding custom sheet, printing label-quality graphics directly onto the custom sheet, and forming/heading tubes while applying a Berry closure. “This not only has offered price advantages to our customers—especially converting from a labeled tube—but also a lead-time advantage to the marketplace when utilizing a total Berry package. The Deckless and Divinity closure lines have been great complements to support our tube business—both extruded and laminate—from a supply-chain reduction standpoint,” Jerry Ruud, vice president, sales & marketing, personal care business unit, says.

Ted Sojourner, vice president, tubes and laminates, Americas, says that Essel Propack is also seeing a move to plastic barrier laminates (PBL). “This does not have aluminum in it and the barrier properties is an ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer (EVOH) layer. It provides the same barrier properties but it has what we call ‘bounce back.’ It keeps very similar properties to any normal plastic tube. I think that is significant because it opens up a whole new avenue in business opportunities. Many of the biggest companies like L’Oréal and Olay are converting to this new type of laminate EVOH barrier type tube,” he says.

Plastube (Quebec, Canada) offers plastic, five-layer coextrusion, and proprietary Polyfoil tubes. (Polyfoil is a combination of both a plastic and laminate structure.) “Products and formulations should be primarily protected from the infiltration of oxygen and moisture. Plastube has developed two tube structures, which provide some of the highest barrier properties in the tube industry. Our multilayer or five-layer coextrusion tubes offer the highest barrier protection on the market when compared with other standard three-layer multilayer tubes,” says Michel Lepage, vice president of manufacturing.

Plastube’s Polyfoil tube claims to offer the highest level of barrier protection for any conventional tube in the market due to the aluminum layer sandwiched in the tube sidewall. Lepage claims that Plastube is the only North American supplier having this technology. “With these tube structures, there is no compromise for the shelf life or break down of the product,” he says.

Specialty Tubes, Tips, Tops, Caps
Jeff Hayet, executive vice president, global sales for World Wide Packaging LLC (WWP; Florham Park, NJ), believes the company has shifted the whole paradigm for plastic tubes in the global market. “Companies come to us continually for the impossible. We have ways to make tubes in shapes and configurations that nobody else can. We engineered and built all our own custom tube manufacturing equipment,” he says.

One example is a dual-chamber tube configuration for Avon. The design consists of two tubes—a 50-mm tube with a 35-mm tube inside of it—along with a very unique dispensing system. “We robotically assemble this and make it very economical for Avon. The inner tube is the cream and the outer holds the lotion. We engineered and produced the tube design and worked closely with the machine company that handled their filling and end processing so the tube design would fit seamlessly into their processing line,” Hayet says.

A robotically assembled dual-chamber tube was designed for Avon. Image courtesy of World Wide Packaging LLC.

WWP also has a substantial presence in the pharmaceutical tube market, particularly in the area of unique child-
resistant closures (CRCs) on very small diameter tubes such as 13 mm and 16 mm. “To put a child-resistant closure on these sizes of plastic tubing is very complicated. Most CRCs go on laminate tubes that have a more rigid structure. But, we have built and certified CRCs that can go on very small diameter plastic tubes that we ship all globally  to some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world,” he says.

“At Alcan Packaging Beauty, we focus on applicators for the cosmetic, personal care, and pharmaceutical markets. Our Artist tubes are a family of small-diameter tubes that have different applicator heads. It can be a steel roller ball, a plastic roller ball, a brush, a silicone bevel tip. These are smaller-size applicators to enhance the application of the product. They are in use in personal care products, cosmetics, and some OTC pharmaceutical areas as well,” Jackson says.

In the personal care and pharmaceutical area, Alcan Packaging Beauty offers Pinpoint and Ribbontip, which make up the SofTips line from Seaquist Closures. Jackson says SofTips is the perfect dispense tip for applying medicated lotions for eye treatments, acne, cold sores, and it has even found a market for cuticles.

A third tube tip introduced is the Spongetop. According to Jackson, it is growing dramatically. It is on IcyHot tubes and Aspercreme tubes. A flat sponge surface is built into the tip of the tube so you can spread the product without touching it.

With both cost reduction and a sustainable environment in mind, Alcan Packaging Beauty has developed a special line of Slender Caps. These flip-top caps are from 40 to 50% lighter in weight than traditional caps. Jackson claims they are the lightest weight caps of this type on the market today. “This is a thin-walled cap, developed with proprietary design aspects that compensate for that thin wall to make it function on the tube. It supports the environment by using less material, but it also becomes a lower-priced cap because of this lighter weight,”  Jackson says.

Hayet says that WWP produces the only plastic PCR tube with EVOH. “Normally the EVOH has a hard time melting into the PCR, but we’ve developed and commercialized a way to not only come out with a green package but a plastic tube that has barrier capabilities.”

Essel Propack has perfected and commercialized a laminate with PCR in it. Sojourner says they have this available with both the aluminum barrier and plastic barrier laminates. He says that it can contain roughly between 22–25% PCR and claims that there is nothing like it on the market today. “We also have some new laminate structures. One we call Titania. It’s a 200-micron laminate. The typical laminates in the United States today are 275 microns in thickness. It is a reduced cost to the customer and it is environmentally compatible [yet] still just as strong,” Sojourner adds.

Spotlight on Graphics
One of Alcan’s foremost innovations is moving to a photo-quality Pixel Plastic and Pixel Laminate tube decoration system. This allows single-pass, photo-quality full-color imaging to be possible for both round plastic tubing and flat laminates before forming. “Investing in new printing technologies allows us to do flexographic, silk screen, and hot stamp in a single pass operation. We are getting the benefit of enhanced graphics we couldn’t offer in the past,” Jackson says. 

Essel Propack has a new plastic barrier laminate called Egnite. “What is unique about is that the top or outer layer is a metalized film that has a very unique look to it; a high gloss, jewel-like finish. We are launching it in six colors to begin with, but we have customers who are already interested in doing their own custom metallic colors,” Sojourner says.

WWP was one of the first in the world to silk screen six colors in one machine, Hayet claims. “We actually built our own equipment to help distinguish ourselves from others,” Hayet says.

Plastube offers offset print capability up to ten colors, in-line automatic silk screen decoration, hot stamp application, and label application. Lepage says that because of its aluminum layer, the color of a Plastube Polyfoil tube can be produced in an array of metallic or specialty colors that cannot be replicated in plastic or glass. “Also, using the latest in process print technology, we can duplicate flesh tones often used to promote sun care products,” he says.

Thoughts About Future Trends
New materials, sustainable product technologies, and definitely enhanced printing capabilities will continue to drive new technologies in the tube business. While speed to market is always a focus for customers, these manufacturers know that innovative tube development and functionality are essential in order to stay ahead of increasing requirements for new products in all pharma, beauty, and personal care products that are launched each year. ■

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