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LABEL RELEASE LINER: Developments, innovations, and challenges

Sustainability and increasing competition from other label formats are subjects that dominate the agenda of the pressure-sensitive label industry. They were hot topics at this year’s AWA Label Release Liner Industry Seminar, held in Chicago just prior to the Labelexpo Americas trade show.

The event, organized and hosted annually by AWA Conferences & Events, focuses on the largest application for the use of release liner: pressure-sensitive labelstock represents 50% of the total release liner market. The seminar represents a unique opportunity for the industry supply chain to get together at a convenient moment and evaluate developments, innovations, and challenges.

This year’s seminar did not disappoint. A full program of papers, plus a lively Q & A session and a tabletop exhibition, made the day a real forum for information exchange among industry participants, who came from many corners of the world and many levels of the label release liner value chain.

Global label market overview

AWA Alexander Watson Associates – parent of AWA Conferences & Events -- is a global business-to-business market research, publishing, and advisory services company with a unique industry focus on the specialty paper, film, packaging, coating, and converting industry. The company’s President and CEO, Corey M Reardon, opened the seminar proceedings with an informed overview of the global label market – encompassing wet glue, sleeving, in-mold, and flexible packaging as well as the core topic of pressure-sensitive labeling. Overall growth in this sector in 2011 is estimated to be at around 4-4.5%, with pressure-sensitive labeling growing at 3.7%. Pressure-sensitive labeling represents 39% of the total label market, Mr Reardon showed, of which 50% is in prime label applications and 50% in functional variable information print.

The regional picture

growth rates

Mr Reardon went on to look at pressure-sensitive labeling markets from a regional viewpoint, highlighting the regions exhibiting the strongest growth -- currently South America (primarily Brazil), followed by Asia Pacific (particularly China and India). 80% of medium-term growth will, he forecast, come from the emerging markets. The North American and European markets are mature, and Europe is additionally suffering from continuing economic uncertainty. Looking at end-use market segments, food is, overall, the largest, and the optimal growth opportunity. Other key segments – also offering considerable future prospects – include HPC, pharmaceuticals, and transport and logistics.

Label material choices

In terms of material choice, Mr Reardon said that, while film label facestock usage is growing at multiples of that for paper facestock, most variable information print applications continue to choose paper stocks – and this is a key application category for the future growth of pressure-sensitive label laminates. Looking at the release liner market in total, applications in the graphic arts, tapes, hygiene, medical, and industrial markets are exhibiting better growth than labelstock applications – reflecting the increasing base of competitive product identification and decoration technologies.

South America’s dynamic growth

Drilling down into the label release liner market, Roberto Ribeiro, Managing Director of Asterisco Consultoria e Participações, Brazil – leading consultants in the region on the label and packaging markets -- described its present status in the dynamic South American region.

An expanding consumer economy, with international product manufacturers already strongly represented in the region, requires local support in terms of packaging – so demand for labels is strong. Today, as a result, South America also hosts many of the world’s leading release base, facestock, adhesive, and raw material suppliers. Demand for release liner in Brazil represents 63% of the total South American market, with Argentina in second place at a modest 11%. Most liner consumption is in papers – primarily glassine – and 59% of the market is in labelstock applications. Pressure-sensitive labels are forecast to grow 5.5% in 2012 – again, mostly in paper (83%). In 2011, Mr Ribeiro said, there were 1500 label converters in the region.

Brazil is unquestionably the star performer on many fronts. It is the biggest global market for Avon, and the second biggest for Unilever and Nestlé. Major global brand manufacturers have already invested significantly here, and continue to do so.

For the future, said Mr Ribeiro, there is still plenty of opportunity for regional M&A activity – and recent months have seen activity on this front from such companies as Ritrama, Multi-Color, UPM Raflatac, and Viappiani. The reasons are clear: ‘Investment flows to regions with economies of scale, easy access to multiple raw materials, and a huge domestic market’, Mr Ribeiro concluded.

Choosing the right silicone release system

The challenge of choosing the right silicone release system and pressure-sensitive adhesive to partner a pressure-sensitive label for a particular application is the subject of an ongoing study conducted by Henkel Corporation. Henkel’s Global Marketing Manager for Pressure-sensitive Adhesives, Ingrid Brase, demonstrated that it is essential to consider liner release performance requirements as well as silicone selection when evaluating adhesives. While adhesive tackifier chemistry and rubber type did not seem to affect release force, she concluded, there is a strong inverse relationship between stiffer adhesives and release force, with a lower release force needed for stiffer adhesives.

In-line coating and converting

Vertical integration of the processes involved in creating a label have been successfully explored by ETI Converting Equipment; and Yves Lafontaine, VP Marketing, took as his subject the reduction of release liner usage as one of the benefits of manufacturing in-line. Siliconising, adhesive coating, printing, and diecutting of a web can be achieved in one machine pass using ETI’s equipment – saving set-up time and waste, as well as energy, and delivering positive advantages in flexibility and, of course, improved profitability resulting from the integration of two manufacturing processes – coating and printing labelstocks. He went on to evaluate linerless labeling – also achievable with ETI Cohesio technology, and delivering approx. 33% savings due to the elimination of the release liner, and 50% more labels per reel, and the company’s ultra-thin 12 micron film liner technology.

Film release base -- PET or PP?

worlwide release market

Film release liner is generally predicted to have a starry future, and three speakers addressed the subject of their preferred polymers: PET and PP. Sjaak Elmendorp, Vice President, R & D, for Avery Dennison Materials Group – predicting that ’30 years from now, 90% of liners will be film based’ – outlined the reasons for this change in direction within the label industry, and explained why he prefers PET. It is, he said, more dimensionally stable than its rival; wrinkles less under tension; delivers more labels per reel; and potentially allows a broader range of adhesive options.

The PET preference was strongly supported by Vincent Decabooter, Account Manager for Pressure-sensitive Labels and Liners, Mitsubishi Polyester Films – one of the world’s largest suppliers of polyester films for a broad spectrum of end-use markets. Mr Decabooter added reduced web breaks and downtime; improved diecutting; higher converting and dispensing speeds; recyclability and minimized waste to the list of PET’s benefits for label converters and end users. He highlighted his company’s new Reprocess™ sustainable liners – the result of a closed-loop, patent-pending, liner-to-liner recycling process.

Derick Arippol,, Technical Director of Novelprint, Brazil, who manufacture pressure-sensitive labelstocks, print labels, and make application equipment – made the case for biaxially-oriented PP. ‘Brazil’, he said, is a very BOPP-oriented market’ – and it is also advanced in the sustainability arena. Quality, cost, and environmental benefits are the three major areas where Mr Arippol praised BOPP. Increased labeling speeds; reduced labelstock caliper; improved silicone coating release force; reduced silicone coating migration to the adhesive surface; and improved performance in linerless label applications were the prime benefits he cited.

Innovation in web drying

Gene Plavnik, President, Heat Technologies Inc., presented a real technology innovation of particular interest in labelstock lamination. His company’s US-patented, proven Spectra HE™ ultra drying system employs advanced convective heat and mass transfer technology – drying, curing, cooling, and heating – enhanced by strong acoustic oscillations. In projects involving coating, converting, and other in-line processes, Mr Plavnik showed, a 50” long drying unit using Spectra HE technology can replace a traditional 56ft long dryer, and will use only 13% of the energy consumed by its predecessor. Heat Technologies Inc offer complete design and manufacturing for individual installation projects.

The label in the ‘green economy’

It was the task of Danielle Jerschefske, North America Editor of Labels & Labeling, to address the topic of a label’s life-cycle value in a ‘green economy’ value chain. She discussed this prime agenda in detail, in the context of the label industry’s complete value chain. The industry is currently growing, she said, ‘at between 2 billion and 2.5 billion square meters each year’ -- a real challenge in the sustainability/recycling arena. The results of the 2011 North American label converter survey were presented – and they showed that environmental management’s main driver in the sector is to maker cost savings, though lean manufacturing and waste reduction were in second place. Asked what their main concerns are around sustainability, survey respondents cited confusion surrounding the definition of the word; the cost of alternative recycled or plant-based materials, and their quality as the prime concerns. Ms Jerschefske discussed the main calls to action for labels in a ‘green economy’ – communication and education, best practice, and facilitation -- providing a rounded picture of the challenges facing the label industry today.

Recycling in the PS label industry

Dan Muenzer, Vice President, Marketing, for leading pressure-sensitive label converting group Spear, with a specialism in beverage labels, was uncompromising in his conclusions on recycling within the label industry. ‘An industry solution is NEEDED!’, he said – after he had reviewed all the current solutions on offer, and the diversity and extent of the industry players involved in the supply chain. Release liner, he reminded the audience, is process waste – 30% of the pressure-sensitive product. Currently in the USA, the liner recycling rate is just 1%. Compare that with aluminum cans (69% recycled) glass bottles (34% recycled) and even PET containers (29% recycled), and the extent of the problem becomes clear. Spear – large users of PET film liner – reclaim 80% of spent film liner through its recycling partners, Channeled Resources and Mitsubishi Polyester Films, but admit that paper-based liner presents more of a problem – and it is 80% of USA’s annual 550,000 tons usage of release liner. TLMI, he showed, is actively working to promote collection and recycling of liner waste – but it is a real challenge at converter level, because volumes are comparatively small.

Considering the options

So how can the industry come to a ‘joined up’ solution? The seminar agenda closed with a Q & A and panel discussion, led by Corey Reardon, and featuring Roberto Ribeiro, Ingrid Brase, Danielle Jerschefske, and Dan Muentzer. Spent release liner is the major focus of the industry’s sustainability agenda today. Corey Reardon questioned the future of this particular industry event, suggesting that ‘in 30 years we may not even be here because of this issue’; and Calvin Frost, CEO of Channeled Resources, added ‘We’re either mis-articulating the message, or we’re getting it to the wrong people’. ‘Both are probably right!’ commented Dan Muentzer.

The vexed question of organising liner collection for recycling/re-use was discussed at length. Vincent Decabooter addressed the practicalities. ‘Most decisions are,’ he said, ‘made at a local, not corporate level. And production units don’t want the waste lying around until there’s enough to merit collection.’ Dan Muentzer summarised the participants’ view that ‘liner-to-liner is the best solution, but “downcycling” is better than landfill.’ There is a considerable degree of dissatisfaction and irritation within the value chain, it was agreed, that very little is actually happening on the recycling front – and a true joint action initiative across all levels is now essential. ‘We must’, said Ingrid Brase, ‘as an industry become recycling disciples.’

Concluding the formal proceedings, Corey Reardon thanked the seminar sponsors – Platinum Sponsor UPM; Gold Sponsors Billerud, Boise, Dow, Dow Corning, ETI Converting Equipment, Evonik Industries, and Mitsubishi Polyester Film; and leading media sponsors from around the world of labeling and packaging.

The AWA Label Release Liner Industry Seminar closed with cocktails around the complementary tabletop exhibition – and lively discussion continued.

The annual AWA Global Release Liner Industry Conference & Exhibition 2013 will take place in Denver, Colorado, USA, 20-21 March 2013.