Innovation and sustainability were the key topics addressed by speakers at this year’s Technical Seminar organised by the European association promoting the interests of self-adhesive labelling, FINAT. This biennial ‘meeting of minds’, held this year in March in Barcelona, brings together the entire value chain of the European self-adhesive label industry, and represents a powerful opportunity for everyone from raw material supplier to brand owner/end user to identify issues and pinpoint possible new directions for self-adhesive labels.
The history of the label
A history of labelling covering all types of label and substrate, including early cans and wine bottles, set the scene for an examination of the self-adhesive label’s relatively-short 77-year history, during which this technology has become a top provider of product identification and decoration. In the medium term, future growth for self-adhesive labels is predicted to be greatest in the food and beverage sectors, and in logistics and transport applications – with the emerging economies representing the most dynamic marketplaces.
However, today, self-adhesive labelling is facing increasing competition from alternative technologies in both its main marketplaces: primary product labels and logistics/variable information print. As well as these challenges, the industry is facing continuing high costs for key polymers, adhesives, and chemicals; environmental and sustainability issues; value chain complexity; and fragmentation at label converter level, creating margin pressures (there are 10,000 label converters worldwide). Narrow-web self-adhesive label converters are therefore expanding their product offering to include sleeves and flexible packaging – creating change and opportunity in the supply chain.
Regulatory issues impact the label industry, with its extended value chain and the complex structure of the self-adhesive label ‘sandwich’ of facestock, adhesive, and release liner. Developments in REACH, the European chemicals legislation, were discussed. FINAT is part of the CHEMI platform for downstream chemical users, and sees as its overall role in relation to REACH to ‘keep track of changes, influence where necessary, and communicate’ to the FINAT membership.
The same is true of food safety -- particularly in relation to packaging inks and their migration – and here there is increasing evidence of country-specific measures, that may set a precedent for pan-European legislation. The seminar agenda covered best practice in making a choice of printing ink. This was said to be for the packaging supply chain to work together to ensure the best possible environmental footprint, without compromising product performance.
Innovations in print technology…
Printing technology for labels is indeed evolving and innovating. Lean manufacturing is a major feature of industry philosophy today, bringing significant benefits in the elimination of waste, faster changeovers, and improved productivity. There is also growing evidence of partnerships between ‘traditional’ printing technologies like flexo with digital label printing. Used together, they can deliver, for brand owners, a cost-effective answer for today’s shorter print runs and product multi-versioning. In one particular area, it was predicted that, in just five years, 75% of 100,000-label print runs or under will be run digitally: the durable ‘life-of-the-product’ labels extensively used in automotive, electronics, appliances, and other industries for safety markings on components, and making stringent demands on the label substrate and adhesive.
Pre-press, workflow technologies, and platemaking -- including the new HD flexo digital platemaking process -- and the requirements of new media such as mobile phone ‘apps’ and QR codes; the challenges and solutions for achieving excellence in kiss-diecutting of thin film release liners; UV LED ink curing (a new technology that will replace the traditional arc lamp).
…and in self-adhesive materials
The actual label substrate itself may be paper or film – with film face and liner stocks currently gaining market share. Bioplastics – which may be biobased, biodegradable or both – were said to be a real future opportunity area for labels. Already widely used in flexible packaging, replacing traditional plastic films, they are also gaining acceptance with leading brand owners for labels because of their extensive environmental and end-of-life benefits, applied performance, and high consumer acceptance. There is much other activity in the development of film facestocks and release base; and future projects in PET production were said to include rPET featuring post-consumer recycled content; flame-retardant UL-compliant films; and antimony-free films.
Adhesives partly based on renewable materials are also already offered on self-adhesive labels; and to meet the needs of brand owners, solutions for label separation from the container are also currently available, custom-tailored to specific needs.
Sustainability and recycling
Recycling, and the recyclability of self-adhesive label components, are an area where FINAT is extremely active and had much to report and discuss. A signatory to the European Declaration on Paper Recovery and a participant in the Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Packaging Project (GPP), FINAT has established a recycling project group, and is actively promoting and raising the awareness of the importance of recycling for the label industry, as well as positively demonstrating the suitability of siliconised paper and film liner for recycling. The GPP has identified strategic and organisational implications for the packaging supply chain, as well as a common sustainability language. Bringing together the world’s leading brand owners, retailers, packaging manufacturers, and professional associations, the GPPS – Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability -- is today an accepted framework for informed debate on sustainability concerns throughout the supply chain.
The recycling and re-use of siliconised release liner is the self-adhesive label industry’s first-line concern in the recycling arena, and the subject of much activity. The seminar also looked at the topic of the current resurgence in the use of linerless labels – both for their environmental credentials, and as a specialist technology for retail priceweigh food prepacks complementing mainstream labelling.
The future agenda
Overall, the message was that the self-adhesive label industry must continue to innovate to meet brand owners’ needs because it is the consumer brands that, through the last 250 years, have driven, and will continue to drive, labelling in all its applications – from decorative to informative, from promotional to durable. The proceedings provided evidence that the industry has every intention of continuing – through innovation and sustainability initiatives – to meet the requirements of leading brand owners and retailers, now and in the future.
FINAT, founded in Paris in 1958 and headquartered in The Hague (The Netherlands), is the world-wide association for manufacturers of self-adhesive labels and related products and services. With 600 members in over 50 countries around the world, FINAT has much to offer to label converters and all suppliers to the labeling industry in terms of information exchange and the opportunity to network internationally. www.finat.com