The history of corrugated
Perhaps the original inspiration for corrugating comes from the ruffled lace collars worn in the 16th century, but the history of corrugated actually started with another item of apparel 150 years ago.
Ruffled lace collars
Tall hat with corrugated paper
Hand machine with 2 fluted rolls
Wrapping for bottles
Paper had been around for thousands of years (check out its history here ), but it was only in 1856, that two Englishmen, Healey and Allen, had the idea for the first known use of pleated paper – as a lining for men’s top hats. Their patented fluted material for sweatbands was produced by feeding the paper through a very simple hand machine made of 2 fluted rolls.
Across the Atlantic, Albert L. Jones was the first to use corrugated paper for packaging. He obtained a patent in America for the use of corrugated paper for wrapping fragile items such as bottles.
It was resilient, light, clean and cheap, but Albert’s flexible and stretchy material had a problem: it was difficult to control.
Three years later, again in the United States, Olivier Long solved this problem. He patented the concept of adding a liner to one side of the corrugated paper to strengthen it.
Some US manufacturers, known as the corrugated pioneers, acquired the patents covering this new packaging concept and by the 1880s they had begun producing single face corrugated packaging in a continuous web.
Among them, Robert H. Thompson (from Thompson and Norris USA) patented a “Machine for making packing and lining fabrics”, the first mechanically-driven single-facer (one liner). This method was then used by the first 3 European Board plants in Europe.
- 1883 in London (UK)
- 1886 in Kirchberg (Germany)
- 1888 in Exideuil-sur-Vienne (France)
And the rest is history, the history of manufactured corrugated packaging. Thanks to its basic raw materials, and despite considerable changes, modern corrugated packaging is not so different from that produced and used by our great grandfathers.
Since the end of the 19th century, many changes have occurred as corrugated packaging production techniques have accompanied the industrial revolution and responded to the steady demand for more transport packaging.
Corrugated packaging has adapted very quickly to the constant evolution of the retail trade demands and its continually changing logistics requirements. Production volumes are closely following the overall economic activity. Remarkable progress has been made to meet the requirements for flexibility and efficiency of customers and retailers, with improvements in raw materials (paper), in machinery/equipment, and in production processes:
- The number of paper grades used is continuously increasing, with an ever-wider choice in liners and fluting of better quality.
- Production speed has also increased dramatically thanks to more efficient manufacturing equipment. This is also true on the user side, thanks to high-speed case erectors, fillers and closers.
- The computer has revolutionized the industry by permitting continuous running with fewer and shorter machine stops. It has also had a considerable impact on pack design and order processing.
- Corrugators up to 3.30 m width, speeds up to 400 m/min, progress in process control systems, increases in print quality, decreases in the average paper and corrugated board weight, micro-flutes, cooler corrugating, zero defect technology and improvements in the overall efficiency of corrugators.
Printing for maximum impact
The changing role of packaging from logistics to marketing functions and the use of codes for product identification have all required improvements in the quality of printing on corrugated packaging. With small flutes and high-quality paper making it possible to achieve high graphics standards, perhaps the most remarkable developments in recent years have been through new printing techniques.
Flexographic printing is the most frequently used method for corrugated, and today its quality equals that of offset. Up to eight colours can be used, with spectacular results. It is even possible to reach a “direct to corrugated” print quality for large-scale print runs compared to rival traditional techniques, as well as being more economic. For longer runs, pre-printed liners incorporated at the corrugating stage can reduce costs, whilst offset lithographic printing offers top-class print results.
Digital printing on corrugated is a new technology meeting the demand of today’s trend towards special edition and individually customised products. It is ideal for the economical production of prototypes, sales samples and limited production runs for test markets, as well as increasing possibilities for “speed to market” for new product launches. Digital print makes more numerous but shorter print runs possible, responding to the changing dynamics in fast-moving consumer goods markets.
The choice of printing substrate also makes a huge difference to print quality. Imaginatively printed coated or uncoated bleached liners, used with a matt or gloss varnish, will give maximum visual impact. It is even possible to add “scratch and sniff” aromas to the print!
Thanks to striking print quality and the possibilities for mass customisation as well as for personalisation, corrugated board is being transformed from a packaging and protection tool to a new marketing and communication medium.
The future starts today
The corrugated industry is continuously developing new products and technologies. Here are just a few:
- Improvements in water-resistance and damp-proofing without impairing recyclability
- Corrosion-resistant packaging materials
- Improvements in adhesives and starches used in corrugated board
- Reduction in average paper and corrugated board weight
- Development of micro-flutes with strong rigidity
- Anti-counterfeiting technologies
- Creative design for e-commerce packaging
- Micro encapsulation, nanotechnologies and intelligent packaging