Inhance Technologies specializes in providing barrier packaging to most of the global agricultural chemical OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). The company has recently opened a plant in Brazil and is now providing barrier packaging to the agricultural chemicals packaging market in Latin America. Accordingly, AgroPages recently interviewed Michael Koma, Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Inhance Technologies, to seek his views on Inhance Technologies’ barrier packaging technology, product series, investment and expansion situation, as well as marketing plans, among others.


1. Could you please describe the application of Inhance’s barrier technology in the area of agrochemical packaging and its global layout?

“Fluorination” of plastic articles, such as containers, drums, seals and gaskets and other plastic components is carried out by exposure to elemental fluorine gas, F2. This type of treatment imparts liquid barrier properties to ordinary plastics, allowing end users to replace more costly and
Michael Koma, COO at Inhance Technologies
non-recyclable materials such as coextruded multilayer constructions or more exotic and expensive engineering plastics, such as nylon or polyacetal. While fluorination of plastics has been known for barrier packaging, all fluorination is not the same. Inhance Technologies has pioneered its Fluoro-Seal Process® over the past 35 years, and it has become the standard by which fluorinated barrier packages are benchmarked. By producing our own Fluorine — on-site and on-demand — and using a high vacuum process, Inhance is the sole fluorination provider, worldwide, so enabled to deliver the cost benefits, high barrier performance and superior consistency of fluorination — all in a fully recyclable container. Our batch processes allow 100 percent inspection to ensure quality and consistency. Inhances’ modular plant set-up enables co-location within our customers’ production environments.

With the addition of our newest location in Jundiai, Brazil, Inhance fluorinated packaging is produced in five continents and used throughout the world by leading agrochemical producers. 

2. What are the core strengths and applications of Inhance’s Fluoro Seal Process™?

The Fluoro-Seal Process converts an ordinary HDPE container to a highly-engineered barrier package through a chemical reaction that occurs on the plastic surface. During the process of ‘fluorination’, the hydrogen atoms of HDPE are replaced with fluorine atoms, effectively changing the plastic to a Teflon®-like material with increased barrier properties. Fluorination of HDPE provides a compelling value proposition for the packaging of agrochemicals, including:

•    Superior barrier performance
•    Flexibility to convert all shapes and sizes, from 1 milliliter to over 1,000 liter, as well as caps, closure, valves and sprayers
•    A double layer of barrier protection, inside and out
•    Significant cost savings potential by reducing container weight, without compromising barrier performance
•    Generic HDPE packaging converted to higher performing solutions
•    Consistent, permanent and durable performance
•    All treated articles can be recycled, as the original material, in existing recycle streams, improving the effectiveness of closed-loop recycling streams
 
The above advantages enable Inhances’ processes to find use in a broad range of industries, including agrochemical barrier packaging, health and beauty products, industrial chemicals packaging, pharmaceutical packaging, automotive products, and many others.  

In addition to barrier packaging services, Inhance offers packaging engineering, including design and specifications, seal, cap and closure recommendations and label options. Our package engineering and innovation team has decades of experience, specific to barrier requirements and fluorination techniques, to ensure a great result.
 

3. What product series have been launched based on Inhance’s barrier technology?


In addition to the Fluoro-Seal Levels, which are part of many product specifications across the globe today, Inhance continues to innovate new processes and technologies to meet a wide array of challenges. For example, in addition to providing excellent hydrocarbon barrier for agrochemical packaging, the Fluoro-Seal Process has also been applied to prevent staining of plastics used for food packaging and storage. Another innovation, the DuraBloc Process™, was introduced recently, as the first and only technology that allows monolayer rotomolded tanks to meet very low emission requirements. By replacing multi-layer constructions, the raw material cost, tooling requirements and the time involved in making rotomolded tanks are greatly reduced. The DuraBloc Process™ has helped rotomolders increase their capacity by over 50 percent, without tooling changes, reducing cycle times and labor costs. This technology is already on trial in Latin America for use on agricultural equipment.

“The Brazilian agrochemical industry is the global leader in reverse logistic and green technology, collecting 94 percent of containers sold in the market. The increased availability of fluorination allows barrier containers to be collected, recycled, blown into bottles and redeployed into the agrochemical market.”  --- Joao Rando, Director Presidente at inpEV - Instituto Nacional de Processamento de Embalagens Vazias

4. Could you explain the investment/expansion situation of Inhance Technologies in the area of agrochemical packaging in Latin America?

We continuously look to invest through international expansion. Following discussions with several major agrochemical producers, we have been invited to pursue Brazil as our next international investment destination. The Latin American market for agrochemicals is amongst the largest consumer of barrier packaging in the world. Most of the local agrochemical producers in Latin America are already our customers in other regions of the world. These customers are accustomed to the lower cost, as well as the superior quality and consistency benefits of our process and the resulting recyclable nature of their packaging components.

5. How does the changing trends in agrochemical packaging affect the choice of materials and the properties required?  

Today, agrochemical producers, blenders and package producers face many challenges that did not exist several years ago. There is significant pressure to collect and recycle all agrochemical containers, including the barrier assortment. Currently produced in COEX, there are reduced opportunities for recycling of barrier packages, and many of these containers are incinerated. With the Fluoro-Seal Process, a fluorinated HDPE container remains recyclable as a regular HDPE. This means barrier and non-barrier containers can be mixed, or “comingled” without the need for separate waste streams, saving money for everyone in the supply chain, such as lower collection levies for the OEMs, reduced costs to sort and recycle, more material to recycle, and low cost containers. 

In addition to recycling, there is great pressure on container weight reduction. Such pressures include the need to reduce the amount of plastic used in a container, and reduce the freight required for transportation of the products, both of which reduce overall costs, making the supply chain more sustainable. Currently, the local market is getting familiar with fluorination and the design freedom available with pure HDPE, ultimately allowing for much lighter barrier bottles than in existence today.

6. What are the opportunities and challenges for Inhance Technologies in the background of high consolidation in agricultural inputs?

There is significant consolidation activity in the agrochemical industry currently. While these are combinations of companies already using the Fluoro-Seal Process in the world, there remains some challenges for us associated with such mergers. 

Unfortunately, many individuals change roles in such consolidations, requiring our sales people to work harder to stay in front of the right people. The good news here is consolidations generally result in businesses looking for cost savings, and that’s where we step in. Our fluorination process drives cost down by allowing more containers to compete for barrier business, increasing the recycle stream volume and ultimately allowing for lighter weight bottles.  

 7. Could you tell us about the marketing plans and the future vision of Inhance Technologies in the area of agrochemical packaging?

We opened our plant in Jundiai in late 2016 and are prepared to participate in the 2017 Brazil agrochemical season. We see significant growth opportunities for our businesses in the next three to five years. This includes not only growth with the current and potentially additional sites in Brazil, but new operations in other Latin American countries, including Argentina and Colombia. Lastly, we are looking toward Europe and Asia for new site opportunities.

We expect our Brazil site to be nearly sold out by the end of 2017, and are already in the planning stages for additional capacity. While agrochemical packaging is a significant market for Inhance, we also serve other markets, including health and beauty, flavor and fragrance, consumer and industrial packaging, automotive fuel tanks and plastic components, food ware, seals and gaskets, coatings and adhesives; the list goes on.

8. How would someone go about evaluating the Fluoro-Seal Process for their own use?


We frequently collaborate with packaging producers and consumers to evaluate our technologies. This includes producing small sample sets, followed by rigorous testing, and then large-scale commercial quantity trials. The best way to begin is to contact us and discuss your product goals and objectives and begin a project to become more familiar with fluorination via the Fluoro-Seal Process.