The switch to plastic strapping - Gunnar Franke from Signode in an interview

Gunnar Franke, with Signode for over 30 years, gives us exclusive insights into the benefits of high-strength plastic strapping in our industry interview. He also provides expert tips for companies to ensure a smooth transition from steel to plastic strapping.

Signode is the world's leading manufacturer of transit packaging solutions, providing customers with safe and economical product solutions. With a wide range of consumables, tools and equipment for transit packaging, Signode carries a broad product portfolio of its own brands for the safe storage and transit of goods. As a Signode premium partner, erka Verpackungssysteme GmbH has now been working closely with Signode for over 20 years.


Hello, Mr. Franke, please introduce yourself briefly. 

I am Gunnar Franke and I have been working with Signode for 42 years now and with Signode for 32 years. The difference in time is due to the fact that I spent the first ten years of my professional life working for my father's packaging wholesaler in West Berlin, where I was responsible for the distribution of Signode products. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was given the task of opening up the East German market for Signode and from then on I worked directly for Signode.

Please tell us something about your career at Signode. 

I am currently responsible for the "Distribution" area as Commercial Manager in Germany. This includes all commercial responsibilities and the distribution of Signode products. However, due to my long tenure with the company, I have been in many different positions - mainly in European management, but also in the USA and Eastern Europe. But nothing is more constant than change. So there have always been changes in my professional life as well.

With Signode, you have established yourself as an industry leader in the field of strapping. What changes do you sense in the demands on your strapping solutions? 

As a manufacturer of strapping, we feel a big change in the market or market needs over the last 15 years. The demand for steel strapping has shifted heavily to high-strength plastic strapping. Thus, our capacities for the production of steel strapping have been significantly reduced in the last 15 years and, at the same time, the production capacities for the production of high-strength plastic strapping, mainly made of PET, have been expanded.



What are the advantages of strapping with plastic strapping for the customer? 

Today, high-strength plastic strapping has almost the same strength as steel strapping. The advantages for the customer here are primarily in the handling of the strap as well as in the much more effective product protection. Plastic strapping is also much easier to handle. Especially when opening packaged goods with plastic strapping, there is a much smaller risk of injury than when cutting steel strapping.  

But there is also a technical factor that is decisive, which cannot be provided in any way by steel belts: the so-called elastic recovery - also called "working range". Plastic straps are capable of generating elastic recovery when used correctly. Thus, in the case of packages that shrink due to dynamic stress during transport or thermal stress, the strapping can follow the shrinking package and the strapping remains tight.

For whom is the switch to strapping with plastic strapping particularly suitable? 

Plastic strapping is particularly suitable for companies that work with products that naturally reduce in volume and become smaller due to drying out or cooling, for example. This is the case in the wood industry, for example, and to some extent also with metals. I am thinking, for example, of batteries that are recycled. The lead cells are melted into ingots and are then still relatively warm. When they cool down, their volume decreases by about 2%. The same applies to aluminum ingots. Then the positive properties, namely elastic recovery, come into play. Furthermore, plastic strapping is suitable for products that are particularly sensitive, since plastic strapping is much gentler on the product than steel strapping.


Are there industries for which steel strapping continues to be the better solution?  

Yes, there still are. Above all, steel strapping is indispensable for products that are very hot. Plastic strapping can only be used at temperatures up to 100 °C. In the metal industry, it is common for products to be strapped immediately after they are produced, and then they still have temperatures well above 100 °C. In the steel industry, for example, steel strapping can be used for products that are very hot. In steel mills, for example, temperatures of up to 850 °C can prevail. In such cases, it is completely out of the question to work with plastic strapping. Temperature is still the decisive factor, but particularly sharp-edged and especially heavy products should still be strapped with steel strapping.


What must be observed to ensure that the change from steel to plastic strapping is successful?  

The strapping should definitely be tried out on the package to be packed. Of course, there are also empirical values. Our application engineers will be happy to advise on this. The exclusion criteria for plastic strapping are the reasons mentioned above, which make steel strapping indispensable. In addition, there is another important aspect: the type of onward transport. Particularly if the goods have to be transported across several climatic zones, there are different packaging requirements here than for purely domestic transport.

Another point that is often neglected concerns the further storage of products. How often are the same products stacked on top of each other, for example? The stacking pressure may thus increase many times over on the product below. This must definitely be taken into account in the overall consideration. But of course, cost-effectiveness must also be considered. Plastic strapping is generally considerably cheaper than steel strapping. However, in the case of a changeover, all the tools and equipment required for strapping must also be replaced. Here, the amortization of the equipment plays a major role.


Have you noticed an increased switch to PET strapping due to the increasing shortage of raw materials in steel? 

It's a crazy situation in the market right now. The raw material for our steel strapping is currently very scarce and is also far from being supplied in the required quantities. Nevertheless, the steel strapping sector is virtually booming at the moment. However, plastic strapping and the required plastic granules are also in short supply, so that it is not possible at present to speak of any changes due to Corona or the current market situation. In the companies, the supply situation or securing the supply is currently in the foreground, so that few companies are thinking about a changeover. At the moment, the priorities are set on being able to maintain production.

Mr. Franke, what opportunities do you see in the industry for Signode?  

E-commerce is currently booming, also due to corona. We are benefiting here primarily through our strapping machines, which are then used for the increased demand for packaging in parcel shipping. However, this is not necessarily Signode's main target. We are predominantly the transit packaging solution specialists, securing value through our very broad product range. This means that everything that is combined in some way to form loading units is our profession. It is our concern to secure these loading units in the best possible way with our complete product range. This includes strapping, but also film packaging and protective paper packaging as well as load securing.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for the industry in the future?  

Sustainability is a major issue for us throughout the company. We have therefore set ourselves high standards with regard to this topic in our productions and products. But the demands and requirements of customers are also very high here. Customers are increasingly interested in our carbon footprint and how recyclable our products are. We have already made considerable progress in these areas in recent years and have made sustainability one of our top priorities worldwide for the coming years.

Steel strapping is the most environmentally friendly packaging material of all, as it can be reused and recycled almost endlessly. But also our plastic and paper products are increasingly made to a very considerable extent (up to 100%) from recycled materials. However, in order to maintain the quality at our promised and specified level, we also have to keep adding some virgin material to improve the quality. Currently, we are working on producing biodegradable, microplastic-free, plastic straps. Biodegradable is relatively simple, but if microplastics remain in the decomposition process and enter the food chain afterwards, this is counterproductive and does not lead to the desired results. 

Another challenge we are working on is new solutions for e-commerce. For example, we are developing ideas for strapping lightweight individual packages that can be closed with paper straps instead of plastic straps.

Thank you very much for this detailed interview, Mr. Franke! We are looking forward to further expanding our long-standing partnership with Signode in the future.


Would you like to learn more about load securing and transit packaging? The team at erka Verpackungssysteme GmbH will be happy to advise you. Here you can obtain the diverse Signode products including the corresponding knowledge transfer at attractive partner prices. Contact us now.