What is the importance of packaging in cement production and distribution and what are the latest advancements that are taking place?
Cement is one of the largest bulk materials being handled on our planet. Producing a material in such massive quantities and distributing is a major logistic challenge. Filling speeds, pilferage, loss of product while handling, environment impact, shelf life, anti-counterfeiting, consumer pull and brand development are some of the attributes where packaging plays a major role. A well-designed packaging can help a cement producer work on all the issues effectively.
Latest generation technologies can help produce much lighter woven sacks for cement packaging without losing on strength or performance of the cement sack. Hot air sealed Block bottom bags (BB bags) growth worldwide has also seen development of newer concepts. Very interesting solutions are now available in the market, especially BOPP laminated BB bags have picked up very well in the market. These bags allow very high quality printing on the bags, even bags with metalised and holographic films are being used. BB bags with nonwoven fabric lamination and also with inner paper ply are also very interesting solutions for packing cement.
Multiwall paper-sack industry has seen a lot of development on paper and equipment side, making the solutions more robust and cost affective. Digital pasting is one solution where the glue consumption on paper sacks can be reduced drastically without compromising on bag strength. Digital pasting uses more precise gluing technology to help significantly reduce the glue costs and enhance sack qualities.
Cost is an important factor besides product loss and environmental factors in selection of packaging options in cement. How do various options stack up against all these parameters?
I would talk about the three most used variants in cement packaging in India and also most of the globe, i.e., uncoated sewn cement bags, multiwall paper sacks and hot air sealed block bottom bags (BB bags). Sewn cement bags are lower priced than BB bags (extrusion coated), and generally paper sacks are costlier. This is the general trend but eventual costs can depend on more variables.
But the eventual cost to end user or cement companies depend on various other factors besides only the direct bag costs, i.e., burstage of bags, leakers, pilferage, counterfeiting, etc., besides business opportunities in terms of margins, sales turnover, brand value, etc. We have seen cement companies prefer BB bags or multiwall solutions once the end user does a detailed analysis of eventual costs and benefits. The final solution being used also depends on raw material availability, logistics available, storage conditions, climatic conditions, and the biggest of them all, i.e., solutions preferred by the end user.
Speed in packaging process can save on time and resources. Which packaging material is best suited for mechanised handling and/or deployment of automation? A packaging solution which has strict dimensional tolerance control and has lesser number of ply would be more suited for automated filling systems. Automated systems are designed to handle a given specification of bags, if bags deviate from these specifications then the automated bag handling systems may show errors or stoppages.
Also cement packing is air assisted, the more the number of layers a packaging solution will have the more difficult it generally gets for the air to escape from the bag thus reducing filling speeds. Well-designed perforation systems on multiply bags or high-porous paper can help overcome this problem.
What are the challenges conventional cement packaging systems like PP, paper and HDPE bags are facing? How anti-plastic and biodegradability movement will impact packaging in future?
Woven cement sacks are used multiple times after the primary function is utilised. Also the family of plastics used for producing woven sacks are single family polyolefins, so recyclability is very easy. Besides, plastic has other benefits and is an outstanding material. Higher value of empty cement bags also help in easier collection than some other products.
We believe that woven bag consumption for cement packaging will keep growing due to above reasons, especially in India.
What is the importance of look and feel of the packaging material and printability in improving the visibility and promotion of the product?
The cement market is also very competitive. Cement brands have to work hard to get the cement from production sites to various construction sites within the country. A lot of cement is directly sold to consumers. In such dynamics, it gets very important how the cement bag is looking. Growing consumption of BOPP-laminated cement bags in the Indian market depicts the consumer pull towards better looking packaging solutions.
Please share any case studies or product highlights you have for your packaging lines? How is your equipment better than other products in the market?
We have seen very good growth of BB bags in the Indian cement industry. Around 20 per cent of cement in India is packed in these or similar bags. The consumption has been growing regularly despite higher bag costs as compared to the more prevalent uncoated sewn sacks. We expect further growth in this segment, the cement industry is now further graduating to aesthetically better looking and technologically even more advanced solutions for packing cement.