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Thinner, stronger, safer: 100 years of aluminum foil

If you tear open a yoghurt lid today, press a tablet out of the blister, drink apple juice from the composite carton or wrap your sandwich, then just think about it: aluminum foil has been around for 100 years! One of the most useful inventions to protect what is good is celebrating its anniversary - and Grevenbroich is now its capital.

It started chocolate-sweet. On October 27, 1910, the Swiss engineer Robert Victor Neher applied for a patent for the continuous rolling process and built the first aluminum foil rolling mill in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. The business blossomed quickly, thanks in particular to a prominent major order: the company Tobler in Bern had to pack their distinctive chocolate bars and thus replace the previously used tinfoil (tin foil).

Why is aluminum foil quickly replacing more and more packaging materials, starting with tin foil? Because it guarantees absolute barrier protection against light and air, liquids and gases - with an extremely low use of materials. & Nbsp;

Grevenbroich, the 40,000-inhabitant city on the Erft not far from Cologne and Düsseldorf, is considered the capital of aluminum foil rolling. Hydro's current rolling division started there when the "Rheinische Blattmetall" company founded in 1922 in Grevenbroich started a foil rolling operation with eight machines in 1923. The maximum delivery width was 32 centimeters; first for capacitor, cable and insulation foil as well as cigarette foil. Since 1926, aluminum foil has also been used to refine paper.

In 1928, 42 rolling mills were already being produced in Grevenbroich. Over the decades, the experts at the location have continuously developed the plant and facilities, processes and controls, fields of application and business.

& nbsp; From an initial 150 tons of annual film production, today became 120,000 tons a year. And in the past it was rolled at a speed of 24 meters per minute, today the Hydro machines do not less than 2,500 meters per minute - pretty much around the clock.

From this grew Grevenbroich's excellent reputation in the aluminum roller industry, especially in the film. "Together with our customers, we are continuing this story - and are still making the film a little better," says the head of the Hydro business unit Packaging & amp; Building, Manfred Mertens.

Up until the 1930s, aluminum foil after chocolate conquered the dairy industry as a whole. Household film was introduced in the United States in the late 1920s and in Europe in the mid-1930s. This impressive success story continued until the beginning of the Second World War.

The end of the war heralded a spectacular phase of growth, and the Grevenbroich rolling mill began to export, for example, foil to the USA for Wrigley's chewing gum. In 1948, aluminum foil containers for baked goods were brought onto the market for the first time and soon afterwards for numerous other foods.

In the 1960s, aluminum foil production had already quadrupled. A number of technological milestones led to further success in the packaging market. The rolling speeds grew rapidly, and so did the width of the rolling mill.

World first: closed, automated film production

As a world first, the Grevenbroich large-format film line 1 started its self-contained, automated production in 1973. In 1987, Series 2 repeated the principle even more and continues to set the standard in film rolling to this day. "In the rolling process itself, then as now, the optimal balance of four parameters is decisive: pressure, tension, rolling oil and speed," says Dr. Stefan Kästner, who heads the Grevenbroich plant.

In 1961, the Grevenbroich plant received its first order - 200 kg for TetraPak - for one of the most important new products on the market: an aseptic aluminum foil, which was then 12 micrometers extra thin, so that UHT milk or juice in the composite beverage carton could stay fresh for several months. Up to 1988 the delivery volume grew to 15,000 tons per year, today it is many times more.

In 1978, the first aluminum / plastic composite for a world-famous effervescent tablet for headaches was introduced on a large scale. At the end of the 1990s, aluminum foil was established as an innovative packaging material for almost all conceivable applications. “Foil sealed for fresh taste” has been a standard slogan for many branded products ever since.

And production has more than doubled in the EAFA markets since the EAFA European Film Association was founded in 1974. Every year, 3 million tons of aluminum foil are processed worldwide to efficiently wrap, seal and protect goods

Today, wafer-thin film in combination with flexible plastic films serves as highly efficient lightweight packaging, for example bags, for everything from medicines to beverages and powders to animal feed.

Only 1.5 grams of aluminum foil in a package
with a total weight of 28 g & nbsp; protect 1 liter of milk
for months without extra cooling

Around 75% of all aluminum foil is used for packaging and in the household, 25% is used industrially: for heat exchangers, for example in automobiles, for thermal insulation of buildings, airplanes, as cable sheathing and in electronics.

Hydro rolls film ever thinner and more efficiently and drives this "downgauging" further: with its research & amp; Development in Bonn, the largest industrial research center for aluminum in Germany. This has already saved more than 40% material in the composite box - with the same performance and product safety. For Hydro, real film therefore does not start at 200 microns as is customary in the industry, but only at 60 microns; and 6 microns are standard today.

From Grevenbroich, Hydro's excellence in rolling also spreads to the Group's other film rolling mills in Italy and Malaysia.

All of this protects the wrapped products from spoilage, and this service is growing in importance worldwide, considering that, for example, a third of all food produced is still thrown away unused.

It also serves the environment

Numerous life cycle assessment studies have shown that aluminum foil packaging accounts for significantly less than ten percent of the environmental impact when it comes to the consumption of food in relation to the entire product life cycle.

But by providing absolute barrier protection with so little material, they help to reduce both product losses and packaging use. Less volume and weight simplify handling in wholesale and retail and relieve the burden on transport. As in a domino effect, this reduces the & nbsp; Fuel consumption or the energy for cooling and the associated emissions.

Thanks to modern sorting techniques, aluminum foil in packaging is increasingly being used or recycled in Germany. It is part of a sustainably efficient circular economy.

Thus, aluminum foil is not only delivered faster, thinner and ever wider, but also helps in its application forms even more efficiently - and has been tight for 100 years.

This text is machine translated. To view the original German text, click on DE on the top right of this window

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