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Hexacomb: Paperboard palletizing sheets stack up

Hexstack sheets from Hexacomb keep pallets of large beverage containers secure during transport.
Hexstack sheets from Hexacomb keep pallets of large beverage containers secure during transport.

Hexacomb Corp. has launched sheets to protect pallets of large liquid containers, striking a balance between sustainability, cost conservation and product protection.

The company’s product is a structured paperboard that uses a honeycomb-like layer between two layers of linerboard, held together with water-based adhesives. It looks like corrugated but (according to Darlene Kober, director of global marketing and strategy for Hexacomb, it offers a higher degree of durability).

We can make this product so strong you can drive a car over it, yet soft enough you can crush it in your hand,” she said.

Large containers

The company has two manufacturing plants in Mexico, a country that is seeing an explosion in the popularity of warehouse stores like Sam’s Club and Costco. One challenge those stores, and food/beverage manufacturers selling into the retailers, face is coming up with effective protective/secondary packaging for stacked pallets of bulk containers.

The average size of a jug of liquid is more than 2 gal. The difficulties in palletizing and transporting the product are significant—the containers must be held in place, and guarded from shifting during shipment, in a way that enables manufacturers to stack as high as possible, without messy, costly spillage or breakage.

Material issues

One way to transport is to use corrugated. This method is problematic, Kober said, because it adds significant weight to each pallet load, only allows stacking of two layers, creates a lot of excess material to be disposed of at retail, and doesn’t do a terrific job of keeping the large bottles and jugs from shifting, breaking and spilling—leading to lost product and revenue.

Additionaly, Kober said, the use of corrugated as the primary pallet-protection material adds cost to the product—as much as $0.31 per container.

Another way involves using layers of oriented strand board (OSB) in combination with cardboard. Kober said this solution can work better than corrugated-only pallet protection (it allows three layers of product and costs less than corrugated) but OSB is prone to breakage, which leads to costly load collapses.

Die-cut sheets

Hexacomb came up with a method of protective packaging liquid containers on pallets that uses sheets of their product. Referred to as Hexstack, it takes sheets of the Hexacomb material and puts in special die-cut openings; the bottle/jug closures nest inside the openings, the sheets rest on the containers’ shoulders, and the material reportedly holds three-layer pallet stacks securely under shrink wrap.

Kober said the Hexstack sheets offer include decreased transport materials by 75% compared to corrugated (the sheets add only about $0.08 per bottle). Also, the sheets lowered breakage rates, preserved the appearance of the product, kept overall pallet weight low, and created less excess material for retailers to deal with in stores.

Kober spoke at the Packaging Conference, an annual, three-day event focused on packaging for food, beverage and other industries. Sponsored by Plastic Technologies Inc. and SBA-CCI, the event tackles a range of concerns, including sustainability, metal packaging advances, shelf-life improvement and more.

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