Manufacturing - Bubble Wrap

It’s safe to say that, when we purchase items, we somewhat take for granted that they arrive to you fully formed and ready to use. But then, you must wonder, how are our day-to-day products made? We know paper is made from trees, but how? Plastic is not a natural substance, so what are its components?

That is why, on this blog, we aim to shed a light on the manufacturing of some of our most popular products. And why not start with a product that we have spoken about before on the blog: bubble wrap?

In our last product highlight article, we went into the history of bubble wrap, and of it’s peculiar origins as a type of brutalist wallpaper. A happy accident, to be sure, that has resulted in one of the most recognisable and profitable products of the last century. But how is it made?

Well, in it’s most basic state, you could argue that it’s merely a combination of air and plastic, and, frankly, you wouldn’t be wrong. The crux here, however, is that the air needs to be sealed, which obviously forms the distinctive plastic bubbles. And while there are many companies that produce bubble wrap, we will use the example of the company that created the original products back in the 50’s, fittingly called The Sealed Air Company.

Their process, though simple, is fine-tuned like the well-oiled machines in their factories. The plastic itself is made out of three separate types of resin, shipped to the factory in bulk as pellets and chosen specifically for their various properties, for example: nylon is used for strength and durability. The pellets are taken to an extruder that will combine and melt them at a temperature of upwards of 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now you have a perfectly malleable plastic soup if you will, that is passed through a series of rollers until it becomes a thin film, much like you would an aluminium ingot until it becomes sheet metal. This plastic, however, though as thin as a sheet of paper, consists of multiple layers. While it is still warm, it passes over a press that applies vacuum pressure to one side of the film, creating the bubbles. As the film is layered, only the top portion of the plastic is pulled by the vacuum, leaving a backing and, therefore, airtight bubbles. As it cools further, both the bubbles and the backing set, and, just like that, you have a perfect sheet of bubble wrap.

The same process is used for all its variations, with different sized rollers producing different sized bubbles, and once it reaches the end of the conveyor, it is cut to size and shipped around the globe to be used for packaging, or as a good old fashioned stress reliever.

It is as simple as that. No mysterious recipes, or trade secrets here, just a good old simple product, produced cheaply and efficiently.

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