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Thin is in

By Steve Katz, Editor | September 5, 2013

At the TLMI Tech Conference, a panel of experts shared their thoughts on the benefits and challenges of converting thinner films.

At the 2013 TLMI Technical Conference, the session titled “Thin is In” focused on the downgauging of films, a trend prevalent in the industry. Moderated by RotoMetrics’ Karen Moreland, panelists from UPM Raflatac, Silgan Plastics, Mark Andy, FLEXcon and Avery Dennison shared their thoughts on the benefits and challenges of thin films.

Kirit Naik, product manager, Prime Films, UPM Raflatac, said that using less material is quickly being commonplace throughout the packaging supply chain. “Everything is being light-weighted – flexible pouches, lighter bottles, innovative new shapes and caps are the norm. Reengineered materials affect all levels of the value chain, including all allied trade. The pace of change has never been faster,” he said, adding that advantages include lower costs, higher productivity, better brand appeal, and a more sustainable package.

Naik said when it comes to moving to thin films, the time is now. “The industry seeks to enable PS to grow at the expense of glue-applied labels globally. The thinnest materials offer the most promise. Achieving full potential of thin films, especially the adoption of PET, will require sustained commitment from all participants," he said.

Thin films present label application challenges, which were detailed by Ken Browning of Silgan Plastics. He recommends application equipment adjustments such as increasing the label application speed and decreasing the label application pressure. For printers and converters making product recommendations, Browning pointed out that adhesive selection affects decorating success. “Freshly blown HDPE bottles, in the experience of Silgan, require different adhesives with higher adhesive coat weights to avoid darting. Declining bottle wall thicknesses will affect decoration going forward, and consideration should be given regarding the label material specification.”

Rick Harris, product manager for FLEXcon, notes that as the gauge goes down, film stiffness goes down creating challenges in consistent label dispensing. He said, “Thinner liners help to resolve that issue. Large label sizes can be challenging to dispense consistently, but newer machines generally have improved web tension handling controls that are gentle on the webs resulting in less web breaks.”

Thin films are appealing to the brand owner, Harris added. “Thin Films meet the brand owner needs for greener, more cost effective solutions. If the brand is labeling in-house, it affords them the same benefits as the contract labeler. Labeled products have a thinner label material with the same great graphics for that 'no-label look' that is superior to thicker films.”

Denis Kuhlke, regional technical manager, Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials, emphasized the cost savings, productivity gains and sustainability benefits of thin films. He said that the reduced weight and volume result in lower raw material cost, less scrap and disposal, reduced storage space and lower transportation costs. Also, he said, more labels per roll translate to fewer changeovers on both press and applicators.

Jeff Feltz, director of business development for Mark Andy, discussed some of the converting challenges encountered by thin films, specifically diecutting. Thermal issues, he explained, arise when unpredictable or uncontrolled heating of any component in the system impacts consistent and proper diecutting, which is something that is encountered when diecutting thin film. The problem, he said, occurs when the label is cut in the center but not on the edges, and it is potentially caused from thermal expansion of the die or anvil. "Potential solutions are to optimize curing/drying heat, or remove heat from the web using chilled idlers. Design resolutions are using a larger anvil diameter or less wrap on the anvil roll," Feltz explained.