Market Focus

Industrial Labeling

July 11, 2005

Label products made to withstand harsh conditions could improve with more communication.

Industrial Labeling

One of the biggest problems faced in the world of industrial labeling is a lack of information passed on between end user, converter and supplier. here's an inside look at how to avoid miscommunications.

Filled with the need for numerous time-consuming and disconcerting regulations and approvals, the industrial labeling market is one which many converters have been reluctant to enter. Those who have done so excel in the field, but not without the stress of labeling mishaps due to a lack of information and education passed on between end user, converter and supplier.

The industrial labeling market is a world of changing application surfaces, new adhesive requirements, a number of harsh performance requirements, and varying application and dispensing conditions — all of which must be considered when selecting a proper substrate and adhesive combination. Forget to mention one of these areas for each process step, and the whole label can be void. Then it’s back to square one once again.

With a trend toward smaller batch sizes and faster turn around times, narrow web has found a niche in this growing market. “Due to its high speed and production efficiency, narrow web is a major player in the safety and hazard portion of the industrial market, as well as name brand and logo production,” says Steve Tomas, market development representative for the durable markings business team of FLEXcon, Spencer, Mass. “Advances in ink systems now allow narrow web converters to effectively produce outdoor labels.”

Bill Schlosser, OEM market development manager, FB Johnston Group, Chapin, S.C., agrees. “Almost all of the labels for this industry are printed narrow web,” he says. “Our labels are printed either by screen, flexo, hot stamp, digital or thermal transfer.” Screen, he says, is used for products that require more outdoor durability and fade resistance, while flexo is ideal for more volume-oriented projects that require the use of more colors as well.

One of the reasons Schlosser cites for narrow web being a more attractive option to this market is the trend toward smaller and smaller batch sizes, faster response times and SKU consolidation.

Checking it twice
Although the industrial arena is a booming marketplace, quite a few converters remain skeptical about entering this business, which is filled with numerous regulations and approvals. “Many converters are hesitant to become involved in this market because they don’t have the experience, and rely on the vendor for that experience,” says James R. Williams, president of Polyonics Inc., Westmoreland, N.H. Polyonics is a coating and laminating house for pressure sensitive material to the narrow web market for the high end or industrial industries.

With a growing number of new plastics and other types of emerging packaging surfaces, achieving proper regulation approvals has become even more difficult and time consuming. Schlosser says the key to cutting down wasted time is early supplier involvement. “We usually have a material on site for industrial labels. But do we have the right material for the specific application?”

This is the principal question where most of the doubt, miscommunication and errors occur in the majority of industrial labeling applications. Williams says oversights in this business are due to lack of critical information provided between the end user, converter and supplier. “The goal is to reduce the time it takes to get the right label material to the customer the first time. You want to try and cut down on the sample time,” he says.

In order to prevent such mishaps, Williams has developed a helpful applications checklist (see page 44 in the print version of Label & Narrow Web) which points out each piece of critical information required to select the proper substrate and adhesive combination for a job. Some of the important points to remember include performance requirements, products surface characteristics, shape of the package, adhesive requirements, application conditions, and dispensing conditions. Williams advises that the checklist be used for each process step.

“I know that this might feel a bit overwhelming, but pretty soon you won’t even have to think about it. It will be second nature as to what percent of the checklist does not apply to your specific application,” he says.

Another helpful development by Williams is a functional definition question (see page 43 in the print version of Label & Narrow Web), which if asked and answered completely, will also assist in the communication between end user, converter and supplier.

Application surfaces and adhesives
Mentioned earlier, the growing number of application surfaces on the market can cause a significant amount of confusion when it comes time to select the substrate and adhesive combination. Tomas of FLEXcon says one trend in application surfaces is the move from traditional acrylic paint systems used on metal to a powder paint. A coated paint surface, he says, can contain additives for anti-graffiti purposes, and is often scratch resistant. “In order to select the proper adhesive, testers must obtain a sample of the surface to ensure appropriate adhesion. If a sample of the surface is unobtainable, we often contact the paint manufacturer to complete the testing," says Tomas.

Another challenging surface for adhesives is textured low surface energy plastics. The advantages of these materials to OEMs, says Tomas, are lower cost and improved performance, as the surface does not rust, dent or corrode. For this type of surface, the use of heavier adhesive coatweights often provides the required bond strength. “If the polypropylene surface is rough, such as that in a hand held electronic power tool, you need more adhesive to fill in the hills and valleys,” says Tomas. A heavier coatweight provides excellent wet out and no edge lifting, he adds.

What it all comes down to is that end users, converters and suppliers must fully understand the application surface the label will be applied to, and make the best balanced decision in performance, availability, price, quality and service. “You don’t typically want to use a water based (emulsion) adhesive where the label is going to be used in high humidity environments or for water submersion. If the label requires high temperature resistance, then you must select an adhesive that can withstand high temperatures,” says Tomas.

Knowing the difference between the various adhesives on the market will also help clear up many mishaps. “Rubber based adhesives are excellent for indoor use, have good quick stick (tack) and initial peel, but may break down under UV light. They are ideal for applications where the product will be handled immediately after label application,” says Tomas. Acrylic adhesives, he continues, are often repositionable once the label is applied to the surface, and form a more permanent bond over time. “Many converters and OEMs tend to forget that acrylic adhesives need about three days to form a good stick,” he adds. Tomas mentions three particular adhesives available from FLEXcon: V-378 is a solvent acrylic adhesive ideal for low temperature performance and bonding to powder paint and plastics; V-344 is a high shear solvent acrylic adhesive that is less prone to ooze and easier to convert; V-98 is a rubber based adhesive that provides a good quick stick (tack) and initial peel.

UL and CSA Recognition
As every converter involved in this market knows, printing a label for the industrial industry is not your run of the mill job. Many labels require either UL (Underwriters Laboratories) recognition or CSA (Canadian Standards Association) acceptance. “UL and CSA are a large part of the business, primarily in electronics and industrial labeling, and it continues to grow,” says Faye O’Briskie, market development leader of the electronics printing business team at FLEXcon.

UL recognition ensures that a device, system or material has been tested and certified by this private organization to meet specific safety standards. The three primary tests to determine film and adhesive performance are a heat age test, outdoor weatherability, and exposure to various solutions. CSA is another testing organization devoted to establishing standards for safety, quality and performance. Unlike UL, which recognizes a substrate’s adhesion to specific individual surfaces, CSA recognizes nine substrate groups for applied labels.

So does having UL or CSA recognition on consumables speed the final approval process on your products? According to FLEXcon, if the consumables are not recognized, indoor testing of preprinted materials by UL may take anywhere from five to eight weeks, and 16-20 weeks for outdoor testing. Even though conventional printers are still required to submit a printed sample to UL for recognition even if the consumables have been recognized, having approval on the base label stock from the beginning is still more cost- and time-efficient.

Schlosser of FB Johnston Group comments on the approval process. “Even if a supplier has approvals on its material, as soon as we print on it, it has to be approved again for the ink/substrate combination,” he says. “And with all of the new plastics and paints on the market, you need even more approvals after the material is printed on. It can take six to 12 weeks to get approval on a new plastic.”

Along the same lines of UL and CSA recognition is another approval for labels on packaged dangerous goods shipped overseas — BS (British Standard) 5609. “This standard was developed in case of an accident and a drum were to fall overboard into the ocean. These labels must be able to withstand a three-month salt water immersion test,” says O’Briskie.

Product identification
Aside from labels used in the agricultural, safety and hazard, automotive, recreation vehicle and power tools markets, another realm in the industrial arena is labels used for tracking purposes. These labels are not used to provide appeal, but rather to serve a purpose in identifying packages moving from point A to point B. With bar codes and variable information playing a significant role in this segment, industrial tracking labels can help reduce the amount of paperwork required in many businesses.

With the onset of automated data collection, the use of bar codes has skyrocketed, opening up new windows of opportunity to smaller businesses. “In the past, the use of bar coding to capture information and track goods has been limited to larger companies that could afford the hardware and had the expertise to develop the systems. Today, bar code systems have evolved and now provide a simpler, more cost-effective solution for smaller companies,” says Tom Driscoll, direct thermal product manager of Avery Dennison, Painesville, Ohio.

Hand in hand with the use of variable information comes a plethora of printing processes, including laser, thermal transfer, inkjet and direct thermal. As a dominant player in the industrial segment due to its on demand printing abilities, thermal transfer is beginning to experience the presence of direct thermal printing. “Direct thermal printing has undergone a number of improvements in performance and versatility. With the quality of the printed image and the cost and simplicity of the printing process, it’s beginning to replace both laser and thermal transfer printers as the technology of choice in the industrial labeling market,” says Driscoll.

And the numbers speak for themselves. Driscoll says that for bar coding, thermal transfer has experienced approximately 11-12 percent annual growth, whereas direct thermal continues to grow at 13 percent and higher in the labeling markets.

As for the substrate characteristics required for printing via these digital processes, Driscoll provides a rundown. “Laser printers require tight control over the moisture in the product and its dimensional stability to maintain a flat sheet for feeding through the printers. In addition, the sheet must be designed with the proper electrical conductivity in order to transfer and bond the dry toner to the sheet,” he says. “Thermal transfer is less sensitive to the environment, but still requires controlled absorbency to allow the inks to properly transfer to the sheet and not smear. If the application calls for preprinted graphics, the ideal surface for thermal transfer printing may be too absorbent for the more fluid flexographic inks,” he adds.

“Direct thermal printing is an ideal printing process for the industrial environment. Not only is it the simplest printer to operate with just one consumable to load, but the quality of the printed image and the durability of the label are perfectly suited for applications from bar coded bin labels to shipping labels,” says Driscoll. In this area, Avery Dennison is marketing its Fasson Direct-Therm line of products, developed for three different levels durability. For the most stringent applications high durability products are available to survive the effects of water, fat and oils. Medium durability products provide a moderate level or water and oil resistance, and for indoor, dry applications, a non-topcoated product designed for limited durability is available.

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