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Are there big shifts coming in lightweight fluting?

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Are there big shifts coming in lightweight fluting?

June 26, 2012 - 19:48

LONDON, June 27, 2012 (RISI) -Innovation doesn't happen very often with corrugated fluting, but when it does it has the potential to make us sit up and wonder whether we're looking at the next big shift in the market.

B-Flute has long been the number one choice for retail-ready packaging (RRP) because of its excellent diecutting capabilities and strength, but the need for lightweighting has led to corrugated manufacturers developing innovative alternatives.

Smurfit Kappa UK's contribution to the market - S-Flute sits between its B and E-Flute. S-flute is designed to mimic the performance characteristics of B-Flute, but is lighter, stronger and more durable. Highly sustainable, S-Flute is manufactured from FSC certified fibers, is fully recyclable and designed to reduce the impact of logistics on the environment.

Smurfit Kappa Sheetfeeding sales and marketing director Mark Richards says the main driver for the development from the company's perspective was the need to reduce supply chain overheads. "The drive from for S-Flute came from the merchant sector because they have to store corrugated in their warehouses. Being able to fit more products onto a vehicle is an important logistical factor."

The demand for high impact retail ready packaging (RRP) to help to build brand recognition, is also another reason for the growth of B-flute alternatives. With the newer grades the flute tips are closer together which allows for a better print surface.

The thinner, the better

It took two years' of development work and extensive trials with customers before DS Smith Packaging bought its R-Flute to market. DS Smith Packaging is pitching its new flute as an ideal RRP material because of supply chain efficiency and good carbon footprint credentials.

The R-Flute has a caliper, or thickness that is 20% thinner than the B-Flute that is currently the standard for RRP. This thinner alternative allows more board to be delivered on a pallet and has a better printing surface because of the close fluting.

The sheetfeeding arm of the Logson Group, Board24 launched its M-Flute as "a modern alternative to standard B-Flute board" aimed at customers that are seeking to cut supply chain costs, make better use of warehouse space and increase efficiency long-term.

The environmental credentials are impressive. According to the company, using M-Flute instead of B-Flute board will yield up to a 36% saving on pallet space and with an estimated 30% more sheet board fitting onto a full load it provides significant savings on transport costs.

Rigid Containers, part of the VPK Group is also offering an alternative to B-flute, which according to sales and marketing director, Julian Freeman was made possible following investment in new single facer equipment and special corrugating rolls at its Desborough, UK site. The company's Performance Grade sits between B-flute and E-flute and allows crisper cuts for perforations. Freeman adds: "Due to the lighter weight of the board itself, we can help reduce supply chain costs considerably, further reducing carbon footprint.

There is life in B-Flute yet

So what does this mean for the existing B-Flute? Has it still got a strong future or are days numbered in place of lighter alternatives? According to Smurfit Kappa's Mark Richards, although its early days there could be a future in offering the new B-Flute alternatives instead of B-Flute, but for now while demand is there it will continue to supply. "S-Flute is still in its infancy, but we have had a good response. It would be a big move to make as we are customer driven and our customers are sheet plants, so ultimately it is what their end users want."

However, it's a case of watch this space, as Richards concludes: "If the push from the retailers was then demand for B-Flute could eventually be outstripped by reduced weight alternatives. The next 3-5 years will be interesting to see if there is that drive."