Regulatory pressures and environmental concerns are forcing players to carefully assess the size, shape, form and function of their packaging.
Whether pallet, pouch, can or cartridge, packaging suppliers are having to adapt, innovate and diversify to meet the ever-changing demands of the lubricants and greases sector.
Standard containers include bottles, drums, pails, cubes, tubes and bags-but companies are striving to create variations that are lighter, easier to ship and suitable for reuse or recycling. Many, for example, are now moving away from single-use packaging and eyeing greener alternatives, such as post-consumer resin.
Jeremy Henry, president of the Petroleum Packaging Council-which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary-insists there is every reason to be optimistic about the lubes packaging market, but cost, convenience and compliance will all be key to future success.
The challenge today is not only finding the most convenient packaging but making it environmentally friendly and sustainable, while also considering the many regulatory issues, he said. This will be an important factor moving forward.
One of the big challenges within the petroleum packaging industry is increased regulatory instability. Many companies in the United States are being forced to create additional product lines to reflect the different state rules. Regulation is a huge factor that is impacting everybody.
Yet while sourcing greener, eco-friendly materials has climbed to the top of the agenda, much still depends on cost and complexity.
The green movement is a good thing, and waste reduction, recycling and greener packaging is all extremely important. Its certainly about time, but there is no quick answer, Henry emphasized. Regulations are trying to cut waste, encourage reuse and make sure plastic is not ending up in our oceans, but they are also driving up production costs.
Ultimately, he said, containers still need to be strong, durable and fit for purpose.
Making any changes may mean manufacturers need to invest in equipment and upgrade their production line. There are also concerns about shipping and how you actually transport product efficiently without it getting damaged, said Henry. We need to be thinking strategically and look at the bigger picture.
With automotive fluids becoming increasingly complex, there are certainly some challenges ahead. He pointed to fluorination as an example-a process that prevents plastics from deteriorating when coming in direct contact with chemicals.
Some chemistry is pretty aggressive and does a really good job in terms of protecting a motor, but the issue is that the levels of fluorination have to continue to go up if we are going to use plastic packaging.
If youre making a regular commodity-type fuel injector cleaner, for example, a normal plastic bottle will be fine, Henry added. However, if you start getting into the more performance-based chemicals with the higher additive packs and stronger chemistry makeup, you may need to have a far stronger container that can withstand that kind of chemistry. The challenge is making sure the packaging is suitable.
Pouches and flexible packaging are becoming far more prevalent for motor oils and additives, as they prove cheaper to produce, easier to use and simpler to store than conventional rigid bottles. They are lighter, generate far less waste and are made using a fraction of the plastic, so they have significant environmental benefits, too.
A combination of regulatory and consumer pressure means companies are having to reexamine their end-to-end processes, reduce costs and adjust transportation and packaging, added Tom Valentine, president of Valentine Solutions LLC and chair of PPCs Technical Education Committee.
Manufacturers are being forced to think more critically, not just about making their products but about how the packaging impacts their freight cost, warehousing and delivery of that product, he said. Were now seeing a more methodical planning process throughout the petroleum packaging industry.
Companies in the lubricant and greases industry are looking from the start of the supply chain through to the end customer, and even considering returns and reverse logistics.
Theyre now addressing the full lifecycle of packaging and asking, how can we use that bottle, flex bag or container again and again in a cost-effective manner? Can we get it back? How do we clean it? Can we reuse it without having to go to landfill? Sustainability, environment, regulation and ROI concerns create a true challenge for the industry that is being addressed by companies of all sizes, Valentine observed.
Digitalization also continues to gain traction. Beyond being used to automate processes and improve consistency and yield, it is also increasingly helping to track and trace packaging and products. Shipments of reusable packaging, such as bladders or collapsible containers, are being monitored using innovative labelling, such as QR codes and barcoding. The technology can also be employed at filling stations so users can check and control fluid levels.
This year weve been seeing more digitalization of the supply chain, said Valentine. People now expect better visibility of their shipments given the Amazon Effect. Companies and consumers want to know where their product originated from and where it is in transit through its delivery. We have cloud solutions to address these expectations today. Blockchain is still in its infancy, but will continue to evolve as the demand for transparency, visibility and chain of custody escalates.
Whatever the size or shape, packaging clearly has a vitally important role to play in the lubes and greases industry, helping to ensure that the various formulations and fluids are suitably protected. Indeed, it is this versatility, durability and diversity that is helping players enjoy such a sustained period of growth.
These are exciting times for the packaging sector and theres a lot of opportunity, said Henry. As an industry, weve got to try new things, think outside the box, and be prepared to make mistakes. Weve got to work to our strengths and address our weaknesses. If we want to continue to grow, be sustainable and have that longevity, then we need to develop these ideas, respond quickly and force ourselves to talk about the difficult issues.
In this Spotlight, Biederman Enterprises explains its plans for the future.