New international market regulations are putting pressure on exporting companies to develop alternatives to wood and cardboard packaging. New Zealand-based Calvert Plastics is using an innovative new research and development programme to tap into this trend.
Only one per cent of pallets used in New Zealand are made from plastic. But the product has huge potential because it is light, hygienic, takes less space and offers recycling opportunities.
Calvert Plastics, working with Wellington's Institute of Technology (WelTec) product design and development students, has developed a new plastic layering system. The challenge was to design packaging that allowed two different sized parts to be packed together using a material that was robust enough to prevent damage in transit, with recycling capabilities, and fitting with the customer's existing pallets.
The design also needed to ensure the system could be easily manufactured economically.
Calvert trading manager, John Matthews, says the invention means the customer is buying only one layered packing system that can be used for different products. Other advantages include more efficient use of cargo space, which is particularly vital when air freighting goods internationally and the layers stack inside each other for return and recycling.
"Our development of new plastic layered packaging systems is happening at a time when other international companies are also looking for new packaging solutions as alternatives to meet the international market pressures to phase out the traditional wood and cardboard based pallet and packing systems," said Matthews.
"The design allows more product to be stacked on a pallet. It's a new way of thinking, with products stacked by angling them on their edge rather than layering them flat."
It results from a 3D visualisation process using computerised design and rapid prototyping techniques linked with the customer's own design capabilities. The breakthrough, with R&D investment funding from Technology New Zealand, will now be applied to help other customers make similar achievements, and to add to Calvert's own range of plastic products.
The company, with 20 staff and more than 46 years experience, has achieved international recognition with its police riot shields and lids for recycling bins that enable easy sorting of household rubbish. Its core business until now has been designing and manufacturing a range of thermoformed vacuum formed and fabricated components and products.
About one third of Calvert's business revolves around its own product development, while the remainder involves custom moulding and design for specific customer requirements.
Matthews said the company is now looking at designing composite plastic materials to help keep customers more competitive, including plastic pallets that incorporate tailored packaging systems to suit high value export products.