Breaking the mould: innovations in caps and closures

Caps and closures are an imperative segment of packaging, ensuring safety and preservation of the product inside. Sonia Sharma finds out more about innovations in this sector.


plastic caps

When trying to open a product - whether that is a beverage, a cosmetic item, a chemical bottle or a baby food product - a delicate balance needs to be maintained. Caps and closures that are too easy to open - such as chemicals or pharmaceutical products - can be hazardous. Protective measures such as child-resistant packaging are in use, however for sectors of the ageing population, difficult to open lids and caps can be de-habilitating.

Innovations in the caps and closures sector are constantly evolving to meet all of these different challenges as pioneering new solutions are being unveiled to address these issues. We visited the United Caps manufacturing facility in Hoboken, Belgium to learn more about the way they are exemplifying their extensive R&D capabilities to support their new strategy for growth.

Added value

The demand for added value and premium products are having a significant impact on the plastic closures market. The impact is felt to such an extent that in 2014 the plastic closures demand in Europe exceeded 230 billion, up from 215 billion in 2010, with the fastest growing market segments being solid food and non-carbonated beverages according to a new report from AMI Consulting.

"The brand required a closure that offered low torque on first opening."

"Brand owners are looking for a full packaging solution for their products in which the role of closures is increasingly valued, " says Márta Babits, consumer packaging market analyst at AMI Consulting Analyst. "Well designed closures can improve product differentiation, aesthetics and functionality."

United Caps - formerly known as PROCAP until earlier this year - decided to change their name to illustrate their dedication to their new growth strategy. A global player in the plastic caps and closures industry, the company showcased its proven innovation capabilities with a number of remarkable solutions that could become the new standards within the market.

One of these new solutions is a user-friendly petal-flower shaped screw cap for Wattwiller mineral water. The low-salt mineral water is a brand of the Spadel Group and largely serves senior consumers. The brand required a closure that offered low torque on first opening, and that would be very easy to close and reopen thereafter. The ergonomic patented flower shape is one of the first of its kind and allows for ease of opening, fully meeting the customer's needs.

Increased productivity

When it comes to infant products, one of the most crucial aspects of the packaging is safety and hygiene. United Caps have provided two new solutions for this market - the Greencap and the Protecscoop. The Greencap is a lightweight cap for infant milk powder and ties in with the company's sustainability values as they have used thinner walls for the cap, which consequently means it weighs less than other snap caps on the market.

"The scoop itself is also highly ergonomic."

Made from an optimal resin blend, the highly-efficient product is very easy to open and offer fillers a notable increase in productivity, as well as being specifically designed to assure high capping efficiency whilst eliminating the possibility for contamination as production is fully automated.

The latter product - the pioneering Protecscoop - is a flip-top hinge solution for infant milk powder which is designed to suit capping requirements from key capping line manufacturers. The cap offers a high level of hygiene and safety because its unique design incorporates an aseptic chamber to protect the scoop until the first opening through the foil-sealed compartment, meaning it shields the scoop from external contamination, whilst a circular skirt ensures a good seal to protect the infant milk powder, as well as a leveller for accurate powder dosing.

The distinctive design of the closure - with no retention areas - means it is able to remain clean throughout the lifetime of the product. The scoop itself is also highly ergonomic, features a venting hole, is offered in a range of sizes and shapes to meet customer requirements and can be repositioned after use through the hook system.

Dangerous goods

The transportation of dangerous goods must meet strict UN homologation requirements. United Caps created the 63 PROSLIT closures for 63mm neck finish containers to ensure agrochemicals - from water or solvent-based powders to liquids - were safely enclosed. The 63 PROSLIT is a very tolerant and performing tamper evident (TE) band where the principal feature is the folded snap or slitted flexband - a standard, leak-proof closure for HDPE, Co-ex and PET agrochemical containers. The band protects the product to help improve overall safety for end users, which is further enhanced as the container remains continuously sealed on re-closure.

"The TE band has a very high resistance to stress cracking."

The TE band has a very high resistance to stress cracking and helps prevent counterfeiting to protect the product's brand. For the end-user, confidence and safety when using the closure is guaranteed due to its continuous sealing following the first opening and any visible tamper evidence on the first opening as the TE band bridges break and drops down when unscrewing. In addition to having a full chemical barrier the closure has an improved grip because of its 360° wheel design.

Growth strategy

All of the solutions that United Caps have showcased are furthering their growth strategy and illustrating their capacity for innovation. Benoît Henckes CEO of United Caps said: "We're immensely proud of our solutions and the value they add to customers' businesses. Our ability to partner with customers to truly differentiate their products and grow their own businesses, and meet changing consumer demands with practical, ergonomic, easy-to-use caps and closures is why customers choose United Caps.

"Our recently announced United Caps growth strategy will help us extend our innovation capabilities further and assure innovation excellence to support our aim to be the industry reference in the plastics and closures business, close to customers."