Shrink wrap, also shrink film, is a material made up of polymer plastic film. When heat is applied, it shrinks tightly over whatever it is covering. Heat can be applied with a handheld heat gun (electric or gas), or the product and film can pass through a heat tunnel on a conveyor.
A shrink film can be made to shrink in one direction (unidirectional or mono-directional) or in both directions (bidirectional).
Films are stretched when they are warm to orient the molecules from their initial random pattern. Cooling the film sets the film's characteristics until it is reheated: this causes it to shrink back toward its initial dimensions.
Prior to orientation, the molecules of a sheet or tube are randomly intertwined like a bowl of spaghetti. The molecules are coiled and twisted and have no particular alignment. However, when a draw force is imposed, the amorphous regions of the chains are straightened and aligned to the direction of orientation. By applying proper cooling, the molecules will be frozen in this state until sufficient heat energy is applied to allow the chains to shrink back. One can visualize this phenomenon by stretching a rubber band and dipping it into liquid nitrogen so as to freeze in the stretched state. The band will remain in this state as long as it is kept at sufficiently cold temperatures. However, when enough heat energy is applied, the rubber band will shrink back to its original relaxed state.
Orientation on a commercial scale can be achieved using either of two processes: a tenterframe or a bubble process. Tenterframe technology is used to produce a variety of “heat-set” products, with biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) being the most common (heat-setting is a process whereby a film is reheated in a constrained state such that the shrink properties are destroyed).
The second commercial process is the bubble process, sometimes referred to as the tubular process. In this process, a primary tube is produced by either blowing or casting the tube onto an external or internal mandrel, respectively. It is common to use water to help cool the primary tube at this point. After the primary tube has been cooled, it is then reheated and inflated into a second bubble using air much like a balloon is blown. Upon inflation, the tube is oriented in both directions simultaneously.
The family of shrink films has broadened over the years with many multilayer constructions being sold today. Shrink film attributes include shrink, sealability, optics, toughness, and slip. With regard to shrink properties, there are onset temperature, free shrink, shrink force, shrink temperature range, memory, and overall package appearance.
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