Sleeve Labeling

August 31, 2007

An international conference attracts different technologies and market performers.

Sleeve Labeling

An international conference attracts different technologies and market performers.

Only five years ago, it would have been unthinkable to hold a two-day conference and workshop devoted entirely to the subject of sleeve labeling — yet that is what AWA Conferences & Events did in Amsterdam, 26-27 June, and 130 delegates from around the world attended.

The first International Sleeve Label Conference for material and equipment suppliers, converters, and end users of sleeve labeling and decoration proved to be a forum for reporting considerable technology progress, and considerable growth. The shrink- and stretch-sleeving technologies have come along way since their inception, and delegates had an acknowledged expert in the topic, Gary R. Gates of Gates Packaging, in the USA, lead an informative workshop prior to the opening of the conference, and provide a flavor of current market and technology trends.

The formal conference proceedings were opened by Corey M Reardon, president and CEO of AWA Alexander Watson Associates; and AWA’s senior consultant, William Llewellyn, went on to give a detailed overview of the sleeve label market. He defined the three sleeve label formats (excluding wraparound sleeves, which are considered glue-applied labels) — heat shrink, stretch, and roll-on-shrink-on. All these formats are based on polymer film substrates, and offer head-to-toe container coverage and 360° high quality full-color graphic opportunities.

Llewellyn showed that total global demand for heat-shrink, stretch, and roll-on-shrink-on sleeve labels was 2.75 billion square meters (29.6 billion square feet) of material in 2006 — still just 7 percent of total global demand for labels, but still growing.

Heat shrink sleeves are unquestionably the most popular technology, representing more than 72 percent of demand; and the Asia Pacific region is the biggest user, with 47.1 percent of the market, and forecast to overtake Europe as the leading consumer region for all types of label in the next three years.

While growth in sleeves is slowing in the developed North American, Japanese, and European markets, it will remain significant at 7 to 10 percent per annum — and truly dynamic growth levels are still expected in South America, China, and India — especially for shrink sleeves.

Llewellyn concluded his paper with a review of some of the developments in new label materials, including PLA and S-PET for shrink sleeves, and PPs offering improved shrink capabilities for roll-on-shrink-on.

Technology aspects and trends

Gary Gates went on to look at the technology aspects and trends in detail. While stretch sleeves, he observed, have been losing momentum in the western hemisphere, they are now benefiting from improved application machines, and from the new higher-stretch films from Italy. Roll-on-shrink-on labels could enjoy a boost from the new high-speed application equipment now available, and from the availability of higher-shrink film qualities. Improvements in labeling speeds are also noticed for shrink sleeves, and in terms of materials, the market is benefiting from thinner films and higher levels of shrinkage for a better “fit” on a container.

The entire platform of sleeve film technologies and testing methods and related regulatory requirements was introduced in depth by Ekkehard Beer of aboutfilms Product Management, Germany, in the context of delivering the best possible process and on-pack performance from the specified sleeving film.

Shrink sleeves

The conference agenda moved on to look at the leading sleeving technologies in detail. Sandra Theilke, sales and marketing manager, sleeve and capsule film for Klöckner Pentaplast, looked to the future of shrink sleeving, which, she said, has “made products simply look better packaged.” While shrink sleeves are still very much a niche in the overall label market, they are showing healthy growth. The route from film to finished, applied shrink sleeve entails a number of steps, from film production, printing, and tube forming to application and, finally shrinking.

Theilke’s paper looked in detail at all these aspects, and went on to compare the different sleeve label films. While PVC remains the dominant choice — and the most cost-effective one, she showed that other innovations are coming on stream, including high-shrink PET films, and there is promise of further developments, including multi-layer films.

A selection of case studies in the converting and application of shrink sleeves along with a detailed technical discussion of the choices available today were the subject of Jörg Hellmann’s paper on behalf of Karlville Development Group, France. His company was the first in Europe to produce machines for the sleeve application business, and remains in the forefront of innovation.

Christian Mueller from GlaxoSmithKline’s Nutritional Healthcare Packaging Development Group provided an end user perspective on the company’s experience with sleeve labels. A variety of different package formats are involved in these operations — and more than one billion containers are filled per year. With their Lucozade brand, the packaging has evolved from paper labels on glass bottles to PVC sleeves on PET bottles, both to reflect changes in brand positioning and to develop an environmentally-responsible packaging solution. Both these pathways are key, said Mueller, to a successful future.

Markets and opportunities for rollfed shrink labels were examined by Sunder Rajan, new business development director, Performance Polymers Division, Avery Dennison. Confirming likely growth through 2010 in double digits globally, he identified key target market segments across the regions of the world. In North America, South America and Europe, soft and alcoholic drinks and health and beauty care products offer the best opportunities. He introduced his company’s polyolefin roll-fed shrink film with adhesive — claimed to be the only full-body shrink label system compatible with current plastic recycling processes, and offering total applied cost benefits for the end user.

Shrink films for product multipacks

Using shrink film for collation shrink films for product multipacks was the topic of the paper presented by Markus Pfeiffer, product manager of films manufacturer RKW, Germany. He looked at the world market for collation shrink film, the performance requirements and properties of both monolayer and co-extruded structures, and the multipack packaging process itself. While this concept has been around since the 1980s, it continues to innovate and grow in today’s retail environment — particularly with the strong global growth in mineral waters. India and China offer double-digit potential, and there also opportunities in North America for substitution of other materials such as cartonboard.


Tarquin Crouch, labels market segment manager for the films business of ExxonMobil Chemicals, discussed “the growing alternative to shrink sleeves” — roll-on-shrink-on (ROSO) heat shrinkable OPP films. He discussed ROSO in detail, its major applications, which are primarily in high-volume, long runs, and the labeling process itself. Finally, he looked in depth at today’s higher-shrink ROSO films — both with UV cured hot melt adhesive seaming, and with the new ultrasonic and laser seaming techniques.

Stretch sleeves

Autobar Flexible Packaging’s Sales Director for Europe, Alexandre Canetti, looked at the next generation in stretch sleeves, which are a cost-effective alternative to shrink sleeves in many applications. Recyclable LLDPE, stretch sleeving films require no glue and use less energy as no heat tunnel is required. In terms of functionality, they can perform additional features such as cut-out on-pack promotional vouchers and easy-opening features.

The role of inks in successful sleeving

Inks have a key role to play in successful sleeving, and Niklas Olsson, global brand manager of narrow web ink specialist XSYS Print Solutions, Sweden, looked at UV cured flexo inks for use in sleeves — particularly shrink sleeves (a market where 10 to 15 percent of all printed output is today achieved with UV flexo). High opacity combined with good shrinkage properties are the key to success, and it is true to say that today any label converter can successfully run shrink sleeve film on their presses, provided that the right inks are used. Olsson observed that this market segment is a good opportunity for supply chain cooperation as the basis for future innovation; and he indicated that developments in special effect inks for shrink sleeves such as metallics, fluorescents, and scratch-off are already in R&D.

The challenge for converters

What makes a converter decide to enter the shrink sleeve market? The question of how to balance the investment with ROI was addressed by Séamus Lafferty of Stanford Products, USA, specialists in slitting and rewinding equipment. If a converter’s press can run films, it can run sleeve materials; and the investment is not great if there is spare production capacity available. Lafferty was encouraging in terms of likely future market growth in sleeves — and suggested that end users’ requirements for multiple product decoration solutions may well dictate to converters that they enter the sleeve production market.

For Vincent Huchet, sales manager for converting machinery manufacturer DCM Converting, France, “the target has to be quality — because quality equals margin.” In this context, he evaluated the challenge presented by the production of shrink sleeve labels, and counseled converters to invest in the inspection and finishing equipment that will create a competitive edge.

Bioplastics and PLA based films

Achieving a realistic balance in marketing PLA films as a commercial option — in terms of a “triangle” of functionality, affordability, and sustainability — was the topic addressed by Bart de Keyser of Sidaplax Specialty Films, Belgium. Bioplastics and PLA based films are still in their development and upscaling phase, he said, and have so far been an expensive option to take, though prices are now approaching those of traditional polymers.

Shrink sleeves and — because they are breathable films — produce and food packaging are likely prime markets, and their environmental credentials (and lower cost of disposal than compostable films) positively favor future market acceptance, de Keyser said.

Shrink sleeve printing in action

The conference closed with a facility tour of Multi Print Systems’ UV flexo press manufacturing plant at Didam, with a demonstration of shrink sleeve printing, at the invitation of managing director and co-owner Eric Hoendervangers.

The first AWA International Sleeve Label Conference was pronounced by delegates and speakers alike to be a focused, practical forum for learning what is happening in this dynamic market both in terms of technology developments and application trends. The formal conference sessions demonstrated how far this comparatively young labeling technology has come, and showed that it still has the potential for innovation.