Durable Labels

By Catherine Diamond, Associate Editor | April 15, 2014

Labels for this market must combine toughness and reliability with remarkable consistency.

Durable labels, unlike others in the consumer market, are required to be not only consistent, but also rugged. Used in applications as wide-ranging as electronics, lawn equipment and aeronautics, these labels must be legible under some of the toughest – and dirtiest – conditions. In order to design a label that meets these requirements, converters must carefully evaluate its end use application, choose appropriate materials, and, ideally, use a printer designed for such a label.

An electronics label from Polyonics

Acucote is a pressure sensitive materials manufacturer based in Graham, NC, USA, that offers films for durable goods. According to the company, durable labels for indoor and outdoor applications must sustain a variety of environmental conditions and varying chemical exposures. Though end uses are wide-ranging, the company says that one thing is consistent: the need for high performance, long-term durability to ensure the label’s required lifespan.

In order to meet those needs, Acucote offers a product line for this market, though it says it also “works closely with customers to identify the critical performance characteristics for specific projects and to create a customized solution to help them achieve the required performance properties.” Additionally, the company says that maintaining strong relationships with raw materials suppliers keeps it close to developments and innovations in the market.

Westmoreland, NH, USA-based Polyonics specializes in polymeric coating technologies for high-performance film, tape and label applications. The company manufactures products for electronics, automotive and static sensitive applications, among others. According to Tom Rogers, marketing director at Polyonics, the biggest challenges for the durables market is the fact that requirements are constantly changing.

“What worked three years ago, may not work today because the conditions have changed,” Rogers says, “For example, in the electronics market, the process conditions during the manufacture of electronics change as factors such as miniaturization, faster processing and cost-downs are driving changes within the process. All can impact the survival of a tracking or product identification label.” 

Based on its customers’ most popular end-use applications, Polyonics has developed several industry-specific materials. The company’s XF-611 is a flame retardant polyester label material designed for the electronics and aerospace markets where bar code tracking, warning or product identification is required. Because the primary focus of the label is to prevent the propagation of fire, it is designed with specific coating and adhesive technologies that reduce the amount of oxygen and create a char layer when a fire occurs. Simply put: this label is designed to stay legible even after its been burned.

For automotive applications, which are commonly faced with high temperatures combined with exposure to harsh chemicals, Polyonics offers XF-537. This black laser markable label material has optional overlaminates to protect the image, and also eliminates the ability to print on-demand.  This laser-markable label is designed to eliminate the need for ink, which the company describes as “the weak link in traditional thermal transfer printed labels.” XF-537 is a polyimide label material that is designed to be ablated away with a variety of lasers to produce a durable, high-contrast image that is designed to improve readability in harsh environment applications.

Various durable label applications
For the tag and antistatic markets, Polyonics has released XF-610 and XF-782. XF-610 is designed for high temperature tags used in metal processing applications in the electrical, aerospace and automotive markets. It is designed with enhanced tear resistance and the ability to withstand temperatures up to 300C and to resist chemical exposure, both of which are requirements for the industry. For antistatic labels, there is XF-782, which is resistant to harsh PCB manufacturing environments and does not introduce a static charge when applied. It is designed for bar code tracking of printed circuit boards and components in electronics manufacturing.

FLEXcon, a Spencer, MA, USA-based company that specializes in coating, laminating and embossing films, introduced in 2011 the THERMLfilm HT line, specifically designed for high-temperature applications in printed circuit board manufacturing processes. In 2012, the company unveiled THERMLfilm NEXgen, developed specifically for the durable goods market. According to Ronald Ducharme, product manager at FLEXcon, the latter line was intended for use specifically in applications where thermal transfer is essential.

“There is a wide variety of UL-recognized constructions for durable labeling applications,” says Ducharme. “However, for applications where the use of thermal transfer (TTR) for variable information and other print technologies for static information has been desirable, converters have had few choices due to an incompatibility of TTR with most UV and emulsion inks. This has made it difficult for converters with these more efficient and greener technologies to leverage those assets in connection with UL-compliant labeling applications.”

The THERMLfilm NEXgen line of materials are UL-recognized substrates which the company says were designed to bring together multiple conventional print technologies, including UV and emulsion, together with TTR printability, superior adhesive performance, and competitive pricing.

Avery Dennison’s TurnLock laminating system

“The topcoat is more universally printable than other thermal transfer printable coatings, enabling the use of UV and solvent screen; UV, solvent and water flexo; and UV inkjet for static information, followed by TTR for variable information,” says Ducharme.The topcoat is compatible with most resin and wax/resin thermal transfer ribbons.”

Because many applications in this market require the use of UL-recognized materials, Ducharme says it has precertified inks and TTR ribbons on many of its product lines. “This allows converter’s to adopt FLEXcon films along with ink certifications into their UL files directly from FLEXcon’s file with no additional testing. This saves time and effort and allows the converter to do what they do best: start printing immediately once the files have been adopted.”

When picturing the end uses of the durable label market – indoor and outdoor home products, airplane doors, car batteries, circuit breakers, and so on – the word “sustainable” likely does not spring to mind. This is, understandably, a tough market to be green in. These labels are required for use in some of the harshest, most chemical-laden environments, and so they must be equally tough. Suppliers, however, are trying to provide their customers with the greenest approaches possible in a not-so-green environment.

Avery Dennison, for example, introduced its TurnLock laminating system at Labelexpo Americas in 2011. The technology allows converters to produce protected graphics with 30 percent less material and 25 percent greater operational efficiencies, and also eliminates the need for an overlaminate or transfer tape.

“By using common print techniques and a turn bar, we have fundamentally changed how converters can print and protect durable goods graphics,” said Mark Pickner, durables segment director, Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials, North America. “What previously took two rolls now only takes one roll, and offers the same protective performance expected of labels today.”

According to Avery Dennison, the TurnLock system features four key steps that convert protected graphics from a single roll of material: First, there’s printing. The images and text are reverse printed on a single roll of film facestock. Second, during delamination, the printed film facestock is delaminated and then webbed upward toward the turn bar while the adhesive/liner continues on a lower web path. Next, there is the turn bar, whereby the film facestock is flipped so the reverse print is now in a positive orientation. Finally, during the relaminating process, the film facestock is re-laminated with the adhesive/liner in the lower web.

In addition to the potential 30 percent material savings, other benefits include the transition to a single input roll, which allows for faster changeovers, improved splicing and less butt roll waste; the elimination of common overlamination failures, including proper lamination tension and lifting of the overlaminate; and the production of a thinner gauge label and less material usage.

“By eliminating a layer of material from the converting process, converters get more labels on a roll, reducing shipping costs, transportation impacts on the environment, and storage. An additional benefit is reduced waste from mismatched rolls, additional liner and scrap material,” says Rosalyn Bandy, sustainability manager at Avery Dennison. “Converters can pass these improvements on to their customers, who can feel better about using reduced-material protected label graphics in their durable products.”

In addition to carefully evaluating end use applications for durable goods and choosing the appropriate materials, converters must also consider the type of printer used for the job. Printing durable label film (particularly laser marking them) has historically been a complicated - and sometimes expensive - process. It can require operators that have specialized knowledge of the process, as well as a significant amount   of maintenance. Which is why, in 2013, Plymouth, MN, USA-based Primera Technology introduced the LP130, a desktop laser marking system for ablating or phase-changing or durable films.

Primera’s LP130 printer for durable labels
According to Amber Jechort, product manager at Primera, labels printed on the LP130 are able to withstand harsh outdoor weather conditions for five or more years; exposure to extreme sunlight and/or UV light; temperatures ranging from -58F to 392F; high abrasion (including blowing sand and dirt); exposure to a wide variety of chemicals; and tampering, due to available tamper-evident features.

Because printing on certain label substrates designed for this market sometimes generates smoke and fumes, Jechort says the company offers an optional smoke and fume filter, the DF-30 filtration system. The system is mounted underneath the printer and attaches without tools. It has five distinct filtering stages so that the printer can be used in most office, warehouse and factory environments. 

Jechort points out that the applications for durable labels printed on the LP130 include asset tracking, and labels for the automotive, medical laboratory, solar panel and security markets, as well as IUID labels for the US Department of Defense’s MIL-STD-130N labeling requirements.

Though sometimes keeping up with requirements for this market can be time-consuming – as they are very often stringent and, sometimes, costly – Rogers of Polyonics says that it can be the very thing that sets you apart from a competitor.

“As a manufacturer of label materials for the durable market, being focused on evolving requirements allows you to stay at pace with them or get ahead,” he says. “But it is an effort.”

Choosing the right material for individual applications
Lightning Labels, a Denver, CO, USA-based printer of custom labels and stickers, offers guidance for brands when choosing label materials or implementing a new packaging strategy. Whether companies are just starting out or are more established, label materials should vary with the use of the product.

“Picking a label material is an important consideration for companies,” says AnneMarie Campbell, business development manager at Lightning Labels.

“Branding is not just about what’s written on the label, but the substance it’s printed on. The packaging needs to be functional, but it should also reflect the values of the brand producing it. A business that promotes eco-friendly products can benefit from using one of Lightning Labels’ green labeling options, while makers of body products or certain food items should look for something durable and waterproof.”

A label may be attractive, but if it doesn’t hold up under use, or if it contradicts the overall message of a company, it may be time for a change.

According to Campbell, polypropylene BOPP is the most popular of Lightning Labels’ waterproof label materials. This material comes in white, clear or chrome. The permanent adhesive is resistant to oils and water, making it a great choice in most circumstances.

When functionality is of the utmost importance, a BOPP-based label could be the way to go. A water-resistant material prevents branding and instruction information from deteriorating when products frequently encounter water in the bathroom or other household liquids in messy kitchen situations. Because this material is so versatile, most companies can find an application for it. Using BOPP helps ensure all the important details stay put, inspiring consumers to return to products over and over again.

For brands that produce green products, eco-friendly label materials are a must. The message of environmentally friendly products can be greatly enhanced with the use of green labeling materials. Lightning Labels provides several options for companies with an environmentally oriented mission. BioStone, which is actually derived from stone, is fully degradable and compostable, and contains no paper byproducts.

Lighting Labels also offers several recycled label materials, including Kraft and Vellum, which are both created from 100 percent post-consumer waste. For companies using these labels, it’s a good idea to mention information about labeling materials somewhere on the package to provide this information for consumers.
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