Consumers expect products and their packaging to be intact and protected from tampering, contamination, weather, dust, and other hazards. Shrink wrapping is one of the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective ways to achieve these goals. Whether it’s protecting individual products, bundling multiple products together, or both, heat shrink wrap can maintain product and packaging integrity while improving customer satisfaction and simplifying tasks for retailers.

There are two main types of shrink wrapping: shrink bundling with polyethylene film and shrink wrapping with polyolefin film. Shrink bundling creates bullseyes on the ends of the product(s) for easy handling, while shrink wrapping creates a complete seal around the product(s). Here we’ll talk about both types generally as shrink wrapping, explaining the process, advantages, and applications of this simple but effective packaging method.

What Is Shrink Wrap?

The shrink wrapping process involves briefly applying heat to one or more products wrapped in polyolefin or polyethylene film to form a close-fitting, protective layer of plastic that conforms even to oddly-shaped items (but not sharp objects). Versatile and FDA-approved for food-safe use, polyolefin shrink wrap film is clear and strong, even in very thin layers. Polyethylene shrink wrap film is a type of polyolefin available in different densities: high-density, low-density, and linear low-density. As a shrink film, polyethylene is flexible, strong, and resistant to moisture, impact, and chemicals.

With just a shrink wrap film and heat source, packagers can make nearly any product of any size weatherproof, waterproof, and tamperproof.

Shrink Wrapping Process

The shrink wrapping process is usually automated, allowing for varying speed and quality of the resulting shrink wrap. Here are the basic steps of the process:

  1. Group products: Products are placed in the desired formation (for example, 2 x 3 to form a 6-pack) along the packaging line. Slower machines group products within the machine, while faster machines group together pre-collated products.
  2. Form bundles: A bundle is formed when shrink wrap film conforms around the products. Two rolls can be used at once, with a hot knife cutting and sealing in a single step, or one roll can be overlapped and cut, leaving the sealing for the heat tunnel.
  3. Heat shrink wrap: Heat must be applied to the wrapped products for the shrink wrap to conform to product contours. In the heat tunnel, hot air is circulated briefly to shrink the film, followed by setting it in cooler air.

Advantages of Shrink Wrapping

Shrink wrapping offers benefits to manufacturers, retailers, transportation providers, and consumers.

Protection

Shrink wrapping offers a protective barrier between products and the environment, dramatically reducing the risk of product damage by moisture, air, dirt, dust, or abrasion. Some shrink wrapping materials also provide UV protection to prevent degradation when exposed to the sun.

Improved Durability

Shrink wrap adds resilience and strength to packaging, ensuring bundled products stay together and remain visually appealing and shelf-ready. Shrink wrap resists tears, punctures, and sagging in hot and cold ambient conditions.

Tamper-Evident Protection

Since shrink wrap can completely enclose a product without gaps or changing shape, any attempts at tampering are obvious. This is why most companies in the pharmaceutical, food, and financial industries rely on shrink wrapping to safeguard product integrity.

Affordability

Since they are lightweight and conform to products without extra bulk, shrink wrapping keeps transportation costs low. Shrink wrapping materials and processes are also fast and cost-effective, easily paying for themselves with the protection and safety they provide.

Branding

Because shrink wrap can be custom colored and printed, it offers a larger, more visible canvas to share your brand identity.

Convenience and Ease of Handling

From individual parts to large bundles of multiple products, shrink wrapping can make it easier to handle products and keep components together. Shrink bundling with polyethylene film can be done with openings—called bullseyes—on the ends, which makes bulky or oddly-shaped products like cases of bottles much easier for retailers and consumers to manage.

Shrink Wrapping Applications

While shrink wrapping can accommodate virtually any object size and shape—from tiny pieces of hardware to entire boats—most shrink wrapping applications include the following:

  • Bottles, cans, jars, boxes, or cartons containing food, beverages, or other consumer goods
  • Products and materials for the printing and paper converting industries
  • Medical and pharmaceutical uses where safety and tamper-evident packaging are critical
  • Third-party logistics and contract packaging providers
  • Home improvement and construction products

Shrink Wrapping With Cougar Packaging Solutions

At Cougar Packaging Solutions, our shrink bundling and multipacking machines are designed to help you take advantage of the many benefits of shrink wrapping, saving you time, labor, and money. Backed by over 50 years of packaging experience, we are dedicated to providing efficient packaging products and services to our customers. Contact us today to learn how we can help you with your packaging needs.

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