Tubes made from aluminium, plastic or laminate - successful multifaceted trio
When the european tube manufacturers association (etma) was founded on 25 April 1959 in Paris, nearly all of the two billion tubes produced annually by its member companies were made from aluminium. By 2008 the total output of member companies had increased to over ten billion tubes. And other tube materials had long since entered the world of packaging alongside aluminium. Although aluminium is still the most widely used tube material, with a share of about 40 % of total production, plastic and laminate tubes have become significant factors in the packaging market, with a share of about 30 % each. The starting material for the aluminium tube is a so-called slug, a circular aluminium disc from which the tube is made by impact extrusion. Aluminium tubes are characterised by excellent barrier properties. They are absolutely opaque and impermeable to air, tightly sealed and thus preserve taste, and hygienically sterile. Other plus points are the fact that the aluminium tube can be almost completely emptied and its resistance to heat. Thanks to these properties, aluminium can be used almost universally. Its most important markets, however, are for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and the food sector. Most plastic tubes are made of polyethylene. The tube body is made from plastic granules using an extrusion process. Afterwards the tube head is applied. Plastic tubes are mainly used in the cosmetics industry, as well as for packaging food, and household and industrial products. Plastic tubes maintain their original shape until they are completely empty and can be upgraded using the widest possible range of printing and embossing techniques. They are thus often used where the design and decorative elements of the tube contribute significantly to the market success of a product. Through various material mixtures all sorts of touch effects can be realised. Laminate tubes have a barrier layer made from aluminium, plastic or ceramic. They are made from a laminate web that is processed to form a tube and then sealed. Although the laminate web can also be printed at the tube manufacturers’ premises in a subsequent finishing step, in most cases printing is carried out before the laminate web is supplied to the tube manufacturer.
properties to protect the tube’s contents with almost unlimited opportunities to boost the tube’s visual appeal using elaborate design techniques. Laminate tubes are mainly used for toothpaste although recently they have also been used for cosmetics. An extra layer of plastic can be extruded to surround the laminate tube. This variant is known commercially as the Polyfoil tube. It is mainly used in the cosmetics industry, but applications also include pharmaceutical products. However, no matter which material is used, tubes appeal to users in the industry and at brand owners’ plants as well to their clients and the consumer because of the unique benefits they offer compared with other packaging materials: excellent barrier function, outstanding protection for the tube’s contents, lightweight and unbreakable, and thus easily transported. In addition, tubes can easily be resealed. Their contents can be applied as an exact dose with pinpoint accuracy. The tubes are reliably sealed thanks to either an integrated membrane, as is the case with an aluminium tube, or an attached sealing foil, as with plastic or laminate tubes. They thus offer perfect tamper-evidence protection, something that is increasingly being demanded and requested by industry and the consumer. Environmental compatibility and consumer protection is taken care of, too. The materials used are recoverable by material recycling or in the form of energy recovery, and the product specifications are chosen in a way which makes sure that they comply with existing packaging and food contact legislation. As for the caps for the tubes, innovations and further developments have contributed to further improvements in security, comfort and convenience for the consumer; in addition, special dosing and application devices and practical one-hand closures serve to optimise the inherent application benefits of the tube. This innovation and flexibility of the European tube manufacturers is a contributing reason why etma member companies are looking forward with confidence to their golden jubilee year despite the difficult situation at the moment. After all, the etma members reported growth yet again in 2008 – when the situation was certainly not easy either – and increased their total production by a good 3 % year-on-year.