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Microflute and Paperboard – Another Update

By AICC Staff

March 21, 2022

We have communicated significantly over many years about the status of very small-flute corrugated and paperboard conversations, as well as the growth trend. Countless BoxScore articles (47 actually), Ask Ralph inquiries during 15 years, webinars and seminars, emails, phone conversations, and face-to-face engagements at national meetings have encompassed this subject. There have been direct exchanges with substrate producers.

During the past two years, with escalating paper prices, supply chain constraints, paperboard shortages, shifts in consumer buying habits, inflation, and wage increases, this plague, political bickering, and employee shortages gave way for opportunities to investigate microflute corrugated. On a somewhat tangential perspective is the reduction in ECT and therefore basis weights, not a movement to micro- and nanoflutes yet, by Amazon. More of my packages have transitioned from 32 ECT to 26 ECT. It’s more than a matter of rightweighting by Amazon and plastic reduction.

“Ship in its own container,” or SIOC, is another Amazon initiative to decrease the need for reducing, recycling, and reusing the unnecessary.

When you read this article, AICC folding carton and rigid box technical advisor Tom Weber and I will have finished a three-part webinar, offering updates to extremely beneficial information. Updates from all the actual participants were included in that series, since there have been improvements in equipment, adhesive applications, substrates, and process controls.

This movement to nanoflutes—N, G, and O—started around 1995 with Bob Nebeling as the champion at Bobst. It has now been 25 years since the start here in North America, and this small niche continues to grow somewhat quietly. We have also recently seen some commercial printers entering packaging production. With offset and digital quality, this just makes sense.

Early participants, adopters, and pioneers, concentrated on the West Coast and in the Midwest and Texas, were more forward in their thinking, going where others feared to tread. Although substrates as low as 4-point bleached were available, no one was daring to move a material that thin. These operations are now rooted in what it takes to move forward.

The filling and fulfillment segment of the supply chain for nano- and microflute options is such that combiners and converters have learned, in partnership with their customers, to overcome the obstacles of case erection challenges. Enhanced quality-control systems have appeared over the last three years. Need for speed and more precise scoring and slotting are demanding that corrugated operations must learn from paperboard converting. Paper consistency via certificates of analysis from paper and board suppliers are assurance that variations in paper properties are kept to a minimum.

We hope you will explore the excitement of learning more about the structural aspects of very lightweight components and double-wall constructions such as E/E as they relate to the paperboard grades and replacements for conventional grades. In this case, the board combination yields a 77 ECT, which is the equivalent of 500# double-wall with a fiber reduction of 45%. Most past conversions have also been based on a reduction in costs. I have even learned about E/F double-wall combinations.

With the recent acquisition of Verso by Sweden’s BillerudKorsnäs and the announcement of their conversion of at least one domestic paper machine, a combiner and converter could expect to see an increased domestic supply of rightweight white substrates for corrugated and/or additional paperboard capacity, such as folding boxboard. Look for ever-increasing penetration of nano- and microflutes into such areas as meal-ready trays and fresh fruit trays, replacing plastic.

Be aware of the next issue of BoxScore, as we explore the strength of manufacturers’ joints of various widths. We have discovered, so far, that there is not much in the way of definitive public studies on this subject.


Ralph Young is the principal of Alternative Paper Solutions and is AICC’s technical advisor. Contact Ralph directly about technical that impact our industry at