Shrink wrapping is the process of loosely placing heat shrinkable film around a product or package, and heating it so that it contracts to form a tight fitting film wrapper. It is a widely used in the food sector and in many other types of packaging to protect products from moisture, dust and other contaminants, as well as inhibiting oxidation of fresh foods. It also aids handling for secondary packaging, and in retail stores.

Packaging companies can choose from an extensive range of manual, semi-automatic and fully automated shrink wrapping machinery, including the market leading equipment offered by PPMA members. The annual PPMA Show showcases the latest machinery with working demonstrations and invaluable opportunities to network with suppliers and industry peers. 

Looking for labelling machinery to complement your packaging processes? Find more information and PPMA exhibitors in the labelling machinery sector here.

Shrink wrapping machines work in different ways 

Shrink wrappers are sometimes known as shrink machines. All work on the same basis of heating shrinkable film, but different machines are designed to provide packaging solutions for operations of various sizes and output requirements. However, from small individual items to large, irregular products, buyers will be able to source a shrink wrapping machine to match their requirements.  

What are single-reel shrink wrapping machines?

Single reel machines take a reel of film, cut it to the required length and stretch it loosely around the entire product or package. The film and the product are placed onto a conveyor, then passed into a heat tunnel where the film is shrunk to fit. Single reel packing is very well suited to wrapping multipacks, and for packs where printed film is used and accurate positioning of the printed area on the final package is a priority.

What are twin-reel shrink wrapping machines?

By using two reels of film at the same time, twin-reel shrink wrapping machines to form a robust protective layer around products. They are particularly useful for bigger items such as doors, panels and multipacks of large items. Twin-reel machines are faster than single reel shrink wrappers and form a stronger protective layer. 

What are side seal shrink wrapping machines?

Side seal shrink wrappers feed film around the product, enclosing it in a loose tube. Each package is then sealed by a heat sealer, and goes into a heat tunnel where the film is shrunk to fit tightly around the goods. The advantage of side seal machines is that they can be used to wrap long products.

What are L-sealer shrink wrapping machines?

L-sealer shrink wrappers feature two sealing bars in an L-shape. Folding the film along these bars forms a pocket and products are placed in it. Then the three remaining sides of the film are heat sealed, before being passed into a heat tunnel where the film shrinks to fit tightly onto the product

Which products are shrink wrapped?

Shrink wrapping is exceptionally versatile so it is no surprise that it is used so widely. Almost any solid product can be shrink wrapped, including items you might expect to be too sensitive to heat such as chocolate. The actual time in a heat tunnel needed to shrink PVC or polyolefin films is as little as 5 seconds, during which time the product will be undamaged. Shrink wrapped products include:

  • fresh meat, fish and cheese
  • processed ready to cook food
  • sweets and chocolate
  • soft and alcoholic drinks
  • soaps, cleaners and other household goods
  • pharmaceuticals and cosmetics
  • tools and equipment
  • board games, puzzles and other toys and entertainment
  • paper and printed material
  • electronics and computing 

Shrink wrapping machinery is important for any businesses that produce or handle wrapped goods. You can find out about PPMA Members who supply shrink wrap machinery, including contact details, here.

What is shrink wrap film?

Shrink wrap is most commonly manufactured from plastic films including polyolefin, PVC, polyethylene or polypropylene. It is available in a wide range of gauges or thicknesses, with thicker, stronger films offering more protection. It can be clear or opaque, depending on the requirements for light and UV protection.

Is there any eco-friendly shrink wrap?

There is increasing availability of more sustainable film, especially of wrapping that is composed of over 30% recycled material which falls outside of Plastic Packaging Tax. Further advances are also being made in recyclable, compostable or biodegradable films.

Can shrink wrap be recycled?

Recyclable shrink wrap is usually made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Most local authorities will accept LDPE waste from consumers, and major supermarkets often have facilities for accepting recycling shrink wrap waste. Some recycling facilities will also take in polyolefin shrink wrap.

However, shrink wrap used for healthcare or personal hygiene products or as containers around hazardous waste cannot be recycled. Also, shrink wrap film which is contaminated with waste such as food, soil, sand, paper, rubber and organic waste cannot be recycled unless the film is first effectively cleaned. 

Is shrink wrap compostable? 

Compostable shrink wrap is designed to decompose in industrial or home composting systems which have high temperatures, raised humidity and a high oxygen level. These requirements mean that the recycling stream for shrink wrap and other compostable plastics has to be separate from other recycling operations.   

Is shrink wrap biodegradable?

To be classified as biodegradable, a shrink wrap film must be capable of decomposition in the presence of bacteria, or other micro-organisms, under natural conditions. Biodegradable shrink wrap usually features a significant percentage of natural raw materials such as sugar cane. The term should only be used for films that comply with EC legislation and ASTM standards concerning degradability, biodegradability, and ecotoxicity.

What are the benefits of shrink wrapping?

Shrink wrap is cost effective

The shrink wrapping process is relatively simple and can be automated at a lower cost than most other wrapping solutions. 

Shrink wrap is space efficient

Because shrink wrap does not add any bulk or extra dimensions to a product it has no impact on space required for storage or transport. 

Shrink wrap is uniquely versatile

Almost any product can be shrink wrapped as long as it is solid or firm like meat or other slightly malleable products. Large and small items of all shapes can be shrink wrapped, and can be bundled together for ease of handling, storage and transport. 

Shrink wrap provides evidence of tampering

Any tears, splits or other damage to shrink wrap can indicate that the product has been tampered with and can easily be rejected by would-be purchasers.

Shrink wrap protects products 

The complete coverage provided by shrink wrap ensures that goods stay clean. It also prevents ingress of moisture and is partially airtight. Not only does shrink wrap keep the product clean, but it protects the product from moisture. Food grade shrink wrap is effective at extending shelf-life. 

Shrink wrap enhances the look of products

Transparent shrink wrap allows consumers to see products and assess their quality and appeal. Labels can also be easily applied for branding and product information. 

Shrink wrap is lightweight 

Weight is an important consideration in shipping costs, and the light weight of shrink wrap adds negligible weight to the product. 

Shrink wrap can help environmental concerns 

By using recyclable, compostable or biodegradable films, businesses can enhance their green credentials.   

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Shrink Wrap FAQs

What is the cost of a shrink wrap machine?

Basic shrink wrap equipment consists of a simple dispenser from which film can be pulled manually. Once a product is covered in the film a low cost hand held heat gun can be used to create a shrink-wrapped pack, at a cost of less than £100. For sophisticated, automated, high throughput equipment with comprehensive controls, conveyors and integrated heat tunnels prices can easily come in at £25,000 or more. 

How are products shrink wrapped?

A shrink wrap machine dispenses film which is loosely folded over a product. The film is then heated and forms a tight wrap around the product. The process can be undertaken by simple or complex machines, but the approach is common to all. 

What is the difference between shrink wrap and plastic wrap?

Plastic wrap such as stretch wrap or cling film is not shrinkable by heat, unlike film made for shrink wrapping from plastics such as PVC, polyolefin, polyethylene or polypropylene. 

How do you shrink wrap meat?

Shrink wrapping fresh food is similar to any shrink wrap operation but entails careful attention to hygienic standards. Equipment must be rigorously cleaned, operators must wear appropriate gloves, headgear, clothing and foot coverings. Also, the time spent under heat has to be carefully considered to avoid degrading or partially cooking meat and other fresh foods.  Film can be heat shrunk in 5 seconds or so, which will not damage most fresh foods, but packing operations need to assess how much heat products can withstand.  

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