More than 350 attendees gathered September 4-5 for TLMI’s Technical Conference, an association event held biannually in Chicago. Over the course of two days more than 70 presenters, session chairs and panelists led technical discussions and gave presentations addressing the narrow web converting industry’s current trends, challenges and opportunities at the conference’s “Turning Vision Into Reality” themed format.
The conference featured technical presentations and discussions involving expert speakers and panelists representing the entire supply chain: industry converters, suppliers and consumer packaged goods companies. TLMI’s goal with the Technical Conference is to ensure presenters are addressing those issues relevant to converters’ day-to-day operational issues and growth strategies, in addition to industry best practices.
TLMI President Frank Sablone said the eighth Technical Conference exceeded expectations. “The TLMI Technical Committee and the conference co-chairs put a tremendous amount of time and effort into planning the event to ensure the presentations cover the topics that are truly relevant in today’s marketplace. This year the conference featured an extended session on sustainability and supply chain
Conference presentation topics included Sustainable Labeling Solutions, Thin Materials, Ink Trending, Hiring Best Practices, Waste Measurement and Reduction, Flexo versus Digital Label Printing, Business Management Software, Prepress Color Management and Regulatory Standards. Throughout the conference, presenting converters also offered a direct glimpse into their own operations, sharing anecdotes about interviewing strategies, employee motivation strategies and production practices.
Session Chairs Cindy White of Channeled Resources Group and Darrell Hughes of Avery Dennison Materials Group North America opened the floor to a panel of five experts with several decades of experience between them. On the panel was Tamsin Ettefagh, vice president of sales and purchasing at Envison Plastics; Weilong Chiang, senior principal engineer at PepsiCo; Mitch Rackovan, principal scientist at Avery Dennison; Jeff Sherwood, technical sales representative at Flint Group Packaging and Narrow Web; and Joel Schmidt, market development manager at Outlook Group Corporation.
Ettefagh, who has more than 26 years of experience in the areas of recycling and plastic recycling, opened the session with a presentation that examined the difficulties faced by plastic recyclers, and took a look at what label manufacturers can do to make the recycling of plastics easier. According to Ettefagh, it’s not only policy that drives recycling initiatives. Consumer product companies have made it a priority to have their plastic packages collected and recycled, and to incorporate recycled content into their packaging. To put the growth of recycling initiatives into perspective, Ettefagh told the audience that HDPE recycling grew from “nothing” to a half billion pounds in 1996. The need for continued research, development, and innovation is critical, she added. “There is no such thing as a plastic so good it can just be thrown out,” Ettefagh said.
Weilong Chiang has lead several sustainability projects at PepsiCo, including a recent and extensive study to identify the key features of recycling-compatible shrink labels. During the course of this study, Chiang said, he had the opportunity to visit several recyclers. At one site, he saw firsthand the number of contaminated bales kept in a storage yard. There were hundreds, all filled with shrink, pressure-sensitive, metalized, and other specialty labels. While his focus has been on shrink labels, Chiang drove home the point that recycling solutions for any and all materials need to be found – and the sooner, the better. Shrink labels that are compatible with PET recycling are emerging, he said, but the driving force behind progress in this field will be continued collaboration between brand owners and label converters.
Mitch Rackovan’s work at Avery Dennison has included the design of products intended to mesh with a PET container value stream through the recycling process. He was part of the team that established the Engineered Films business and the launch of Primax and FasClear film products. He also develops adhesives designed to meet the performance and cost demands in the beer and beverage markets. His presentation focused on the recycling of pressure sensitive labels. The biggest problem, he said, is that today’s pressure sensitive labels limit PET recyclability, prohibiting recyclability into food-grade rPET (due to adhesive contamination). The solution, he said, is a “switchable” pressure sensitive label which adheres to a PET bottle until the end of the cycle, where the cohesive bond is broken (at the recycler), thereby allowing the PSL facestock and adhesive to cleanly separate from the PET flake. The are many key market drivers for this solution, Rackovan said: “The use of rPET reduces US dependence on foreign oil and petrochemicals; the recycling industry alone employs more than 450,000 Americans and generated $10.3 billion in domestic tax revenues; and for every pound of rPET flake used, energy is reduced by 84% and greenhouse gas emission by 71%.
Jeff Sherwood’s presentation focused on the recycling of flexo inks. The bottom line in terms of recycling these inks, he said, is that there can be no staining to PET flakes. Labels labels are required to meet APR’s Guidelines for PET Thermoform Labels and Adhesives for Compatability with PET Recycling, and each label has to be evaluated and tested as a unique construction. One hurdle, Sherwood said, is that testing is expensive with costs running up to $5000 per submission. For his work in recycling flexo inks, pre-qualification testing was performed by Avery Dennison. Several construction combinations were tested with different inks and APR-approved substrates. The results were varied, he noted, but generally paper constructions failed. “Films performed far better. Constructions with an OPV or lamination performed the best. Of the colors tested,” he added, “yellow and black stained the PET flakes more than others. Unprotected inks – which include those printed directly on paper or on a film without a lamination or UV OPV – broke down significantly more when mixed with the caustic solution,” he said. UV and water-based inks appeared to perform the same in terms of breaking down into solutions with or without the OPV or lamination. Looking towards the future of flexo ink recycling, Sherwood said some possibilities include alternative pigments, alternative barriers on paper, alternative ink chemistries (including different resin systems), and solvent-based inks.
Finally, Joel Schmidt offered a converter’s perspective on sustainable labels. He outlined his customers’ sustainabilitydemands, which include source and waste reduction, a greater use of sustianable materials (including renewable, bio-based, and PCR), greener end-of-life options, and above all else, practicality. His customers, Schmidt said, want zero operational impact and it must be either cost-neutral or offer cost savings. He emphasized three key strategies for success: broader industry partnerships, expanded technical expertise, and extensive customer engagement. Part of this strategy, he said, is simiply to communicate the benefits of sustainability in a way that customers can readily understand. “Frame sustainability in the language of business and explain how your solution will impact your customers’ key business objectives,” concluded Schmidt.
Thin is in
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. Re-engineered 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 transitioning 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, requires sustained commitment from all participants,” Naik 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 added, 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.
During the session on waste management, a diverse panel of experts from The Label Printers, Anderson & Vreeland, Green Bay Packaging and Mark Andy shared their views on best practices and new technologies that save converters time and money through waste minimization.
Lori Campbell, chief of operations for The Label Printers, said her company uses SWOT analysis in determining how to improve its waste management, examining its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Through this method, the Label Printers discovered improvements could be made in organizational and technical knowledge, process flow and auditing. The company responded, she explained, in investing in online, streamlined systems, reducing redundant checks and excess paperwork, transforming The Label Printers into a adopting a data-driven culture.
Jessica Harkens, manager of the Technologies Team at Anderson & Vreeland, emphasized, “measuring before wasting.” She suggested using data to decide on a target, determine a tolerance, and have a plan if the action is out of tolerance. Harkens pointed out that jobs are rejected due to either color, copy or material defects. With a focus on prepress, she said proofing is an area where improvements can be made. “Accurate color proofing is key, as it gives a solid understanding of job expectation. But how do we get there? We must have consistency and repeatability. Each department relies on each other – a press profile is only as good as the day it was made.”
Proofing strategies that will improve the process include remote color proofing, which saves time and costs, Harkens added. “Setup your customer with a mirrored output device,” she said, noting that while web approval services are great for artwork and line work, they fall short in approving color. With regard to makeready, Harkens suggested using a standard procedure for operators to start with, as well as employing meticulous inspection of raw materials.
Dana Spindler, product technical manager for Green Bay Packaging, also focused on makeready waste. She said certain equipment modifications for quicker changeover is helpful, such as an adhesive cartridge system, as well as machinery dedicated to each coater to reduce cleanup time between jobs.
In a session titled “Finding Tomorrow’s Leaders: Hiring and Training for a World Class Organization,” industry veterans discussed the ways in which managers can find – and, more importantly, retain – talented, dedicated professionals. The panel was moderated by Alex Elezaj, COO at Whitlam Label Company. Panelists included Brian Gale, president and majority owner of ID Images; Tara Halpin, current president and fourth generation owner of Steinhauser; Tracy Tenpenny, vice president of sales and marketing at Tailored Label Products; and Elezaj.
Elezaj and Halpin, of Steinhauser, told a rapt audience about their company’s interview processes as examples of thoughtful, careful hiring practices. “Our interview process is lengthy,” Halpin said. “We have potential candidates meet at at least five people at the company besides me and my brother. Most of our questions are behavioral-based. After doing it for a while, you can really get a good idea if this person can fit into your culture or not. We then have a two-week on-boarding process where they work in every department of the company every day – for either a full or half day – after they’ve been hired. We’ve tried to sidestep that, but it was a disaster, so we’ve reinstituted it.
Elezaj said that his company employs a similar hiring process, and that it was enormously helpful for him personally as he was hired from outside the printing industry.
“The process is two weeks and it really helps people to better understand the company and its culture, to establish relationships early on, to see the bigger picture and to get firsthand knowledge,” he said.
Tenpenny, of Tailored Label Products, emphasized the importance of not only training the right employees, but of letting them know that they are valued.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to win a Best Place to Work award six years in a row, so its actually easier for us now to hire good people,” he said. “As managers, we don’t dictate direction. We’re there to support them and guide them, but it goes so much farther when we have teams coming together and generating ideas.
“I think all of you could become a Best Place to Work, but you have to invest in it. You may have an employee, for example, whose spouse is sick and they need better healthcare. They may not want to leave, but have to for other reasons. If there’s a message I would give to you, it’s that you should really, truly value your employees and make the place they work somewhere that they really want to be.”
Elezaj agreed, adding, “If you need to give someone a raise five times in one year, give him or her a raise five times in one year. Why let them wait? Don’t get caught in the cycle of having talented people that you want to keep, but only addressing that on an annual basis.”