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Films a hot commodity in label industry

By Greg Hrinya, Associate Editor | August 4, 2015

A PCI Films Consulting study said that BOPP film demand grew by 6.3% each year from 2009 to 2014.


UPM Raflatac products feature film substrates.
As companies look for ways to stand out on the shelf, converters are relying on films to create more eye-popping graphics. With short runs and SKU proliferation increasing as industry trends, films will only continue to grow as companies use labels to stand out from the competition.

According to the “World BOPP Film Market Trends to 2019” study conducted by PCI Films Consulting, BOPP film demand grew by 6.3% each year from 2009 to 2014. Substrates manufacturers across the label industry are recognizing the trend and adjusting accordingly. Pressure sensitive films are slowly becoming the preferred printing material in replacing paper.

Michelle Lamontagne, market development specialist at FLEXcon describes the films segment as a mature market. When it comes to labeling substrates, films also maintain a large share.

“The advantage of the film primarily has to do with its durability and the fact that it can endure a variety of application environments,” she says. “It really is meant to be resistant and robust.”

“Film growth can be attributed to both displacement of other technologies, such as direct print containers and the continued move from pressure sensitive paper labels to film,” explains Bruce Ruppert, product manager, Films, UPM Raflatac. “The perception of quality given by a no-label look on a container continues to drive brand owners looking to keep or improve their brand image to film substrates.”

In prime labels, paper continues to be the preferred choice. Films, however, are a more versatile product, especially when water or chemical resistance is needed. Shower products, for example, require a substrate that will adhere to the container in wet conditions. The film substrate must endure the life of the product, and companies rely on the labels to look as good on the date of purchase as the date when the product is thrown away.

“It really is a dichotomy of needs,” says Julie Billing, product manager at Spinnaker Coating, “Typically, either the customer is looking for the most basic of products or something with not one but several special needs. For example, one inquiry is for a white polyprop with a general purpose adhesive. But the next is for a 12-month outdoor life film that can be applied in cold temperature, wet environment, print via several methods and meet multiple regulatory requirements.  Those applications are more difficult, but also more interesting to bring together the right components to bring a solution to our customer.” 

According to Lamontagne, film benefits can come down to design. As more and more companies fight for shelf space, the ability to create labels that stand out on the shelf can be a difference-maker. “Another advantage of films is certainly the aesthetics that you can achieve,” explains Lamontagne. “Clear films give you many alternatives or options when it comes to package decoration but also many options when it comes to printing techniques. The ability to differentiate the look and the quality associated with the label is very important.”

Price is no longer a prohibitive factor, either. “In the case of beverage containers, the price of most films is now lower than papers with the wet strength needed for use in applications such as an ice chest,” adds Ruppert. “This is a requirement of most individual beverage bottles. While not traditionally more economical, film labels in simple refrigerated food applications have greater moisture resistance and hold up better long-term than even overlaminated paper products.”

Billing states that films are expected to experience double-digit growth rates. Films must withstand wet conditions like shower and ice buckets, but they also need to pass GHS drum label standards. “The new GHS regulations are driving more label producers to look at the many options that they have with vinyl, BOPP and polyester faces,” she says.

Due to their benefits, films are seeing increased use in the food and beverage, health and beauty, outdoor and chemical markets.

Converters going green
Companies can save money while being more sustainable in the process. By producing thinner films and liners, money can be saved, as fewer materials are required to make the substrate. “This, of course, means fewer roll changes on press and lower transportation costs for the converter,” says Billing. “With the thinner, more conformable face films being used today, labels that have traditionally been paper can be used for prime labels in food and health and beauty markets.” 

The substrate manufacturers have stated that their goal is reduce the overall footprint of the product. By reducing the thickness and mass of the film, there are less layers that go into the product, which translates to a thinner substrate. FLEXcon has also committed to using more environmentally friendly adhesives on its films, such as emulsion (water)-based adhesives.

According to Lamontagne, converters benefit from using films by reducing the amount of waste and clean-up time. “If you consider the fact that this material gets printed, it gets diecut, it gets dispensed or labeled, converters have the advantage of being able to run a very clean product and there is very little debris, unlike paper.” she explains. “Also, they can run at very high line speeds and don’t run the risk of wet breaks, as well they can dispense at a high rate. So, there are a lot of efficiencies to be gained.”

When using liners, FLEXcon has two approaches. If the liner is made of film, the company attempts to go as thin as possible. If a paper or combination liner is utilized, FLEXcon will go with a percentage of post-consumer waste content to use recycled materials in the liner itself.

Challenges in the film space
Substrate providers face the challenge of educating converters when using lower gauge films. “The tighter tolerances on both press and the applicator machines need to be understood whenever a transition is undertaken,” says Ruppert. “Tensions on press, quality of anvil, quality of die, the ability to cool the web, taper control on press and on reminders, tension on applicator, peel plate quality and sharpness are all factors in running the new thin film offerings.” 

Although costs have come down, it is still a concern for companies that want to go green without paying top dollar. “Cost is always a challenge,” explains explains Melissa Walsh, marketing communications coordinator at Acucote. “Customers want more eco-friendly options but do not want to pay any additional costs for them.  Thinner films give them typically a cheaper option while at the same time using less material.”

According to FLEXcon, the cost pressures derive from greater competition in a mature market. “For us, the challenge is really staying ahead of the curve in terms of material options, process capabilities and efficiencies,” says Lamontagne. “That’s how we continue to address the challenges. It’s really just having a pulse on what the market is driving and what the customers need.”

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