The release liner industry enjoys steady growth, but must address rising
manufacturing costs and the growing global concern about packaging waste.
These were among the issues addressed at a recent global conference.
The Global Release Liner Industry Conference, hosted annually by AWA Conferences & Events, took place this year in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in February. The event alternates annually between North America and Europe, and has become the central industry event on both sides of the Atlantic. About 150 delegates from all corners of the globe got together at the Hilton Amsterdam Hotel to focus on the opportunities and concerns in a business that has seen considerable consolidation in recent years, and is facing rising costs, reducing profitability, and environmental issues. A special feature of this year’s agenda was an invitation from Loparex for delegates to visit its facility in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.
Corey Reardon, president of AWA Alexander Watson Associates, provided the first keynote address: his company’s global update on the release liner market as a whole. North America is still the largest geographical market at 37 percent, he said, with Europe in second place at 30 percent. But across nearly all applications, these are mature markets, and growth is slowing. Asia Pacific’s current share, 25 percent, is likely to increase significantly: Annual growth of nearly 10 percent means that the region will soon overtake the traditional market leaders in terms of volume usage.
Overall, AWA forecasts a continuing annual growth rate for the industry of 4 to 6 percent, but Reardon drew delegates’ attention to a real concern. “Of course,” he said, “we must not forget that the release liner industry is a producer of waste material after a self-adhesive application is completed. As it positions itself for the future, this becomes more and more of a critical issue.”
Fewer transactions, more partnership
A second keynote presentation, from Alexander van ’t Riet, business line director, films, for Avery Dennison Roll Materials Europe, addressed suppliers, growth, and customer needs from two perspectives: that of a purchaser of release liner, and that of a leading self-adhesive laminate producer. His premise was challenging: The customer’s agenda, he said, is “ME, everything, now” – a wish list that highlights a genuine need for supply chain partnerships. “We are too often in transactional mode,” he said.
To grow the self-adhesive industry in the future, he told the delegates, suppliers have a key role in developing cost effective, innovative solutions in support of the multi-generation product plans which are already actively pursued in Avery Dennison.
Globalization continues apace in release liner as elsewhere. Penti Kallio, CEO of the largest commercial release liner producer worldwide, Loparex Group, looked at drivers and challenges. In the labelstock market today, he said, 50 percent of customers are global, and 50 percent local. In the hygiene, tapes, medical, and graphic arts markets today, most of the business is now global. However, he said, even global customers want local service – and local language. Loparex’s business model is designed to provide those, within the context of global R&D, raw materials purchasing, and manufacturing.
Kallio enumerated the risk assessment criteria for globalization as economical and political uncertainty; local competition (“Never underestimate it”); the time perspective (it takes a long time to achieve ROI); internal challenges; and strategy – the choice of a stand-alone or joint venture. In the release liner industry, he observed, “few manufacturers are able to globalize with their current company structure.”
Central to both the success and the problems associated with release liner is the catalyst: platinum. It was the subject of a joint presentation from Wolfgang Wrezesniok-Rossbach, head of marketing and sales, precious metal trading, from metal supply and financial hedging services company Heraeus; and Norm Kanar, release segment team leader from Dow Corning. Platinum prices have reached an all-time high this year due to supply problems in South Africa and Russia, the two main sources. Platinum demand has exceeded supply for the last nine years, and is now in deficit (only 205 metric tons were mined in 2007). Low platinum systems and a changed chemical architecture must be the answer for silicone coating, Kanar observed, and he concluded that “thermal solventless silicones will be the system of choice.”
A holistic environmental approach
UPM Kymmene’s vice president of environmental affairs and corporate social responsibility, Marja Tuderman, demonstrated a route to a successful, holistic environmental approach to paper release liner. She identified the current environmental action points: climate change mitigation; the scarcity of fresh water; unacceptability of landfill and opportunities for waste recovery; minimizing chemical usage; and sustainable sourcing. Success, she said, demands that the emphasis be on reducing the total environmental impact of the product or operation – not just one aspect.
Unilever and the sustainability issue
The final keynote presentation on the opening day was a fresh and thought-provoking view of the sustainability agenda from a major multinational end user. Steph Carter, packaging sustainability director at Unilever, made a strong case for sustainability metrics, discussing what, how, and why every company should indeed embark on such a procedure. “Until you have the measures,” he said, “you can’t set the targets.” He debunked the currently popular myth that reductions in packaging are the answer to everything. “Packaging,” he said, “typically has about 10 percent of the environmental impacts of its contents… It preserves and protects far more than its impact.” When selecting packaging for specific applications, he counseled, “it is wrong to choose materials simply because they have the lowest impact, or are perceived to be ‘green.’ Choose them for function and their real impact – not the perception.” He cautioned that release liner – like any aspect of product processing which the consumer does not see – is likely to become a bigger issue in the consumer arena in the future.
Film release liner trends was the topic addressed by John C. Forster, vice president of corporate development for FLEXcon. Growing in the roll label market at 5 to 6 percent per year, film release liner is adapting to market needs in many ways. Reduced caliper, low extractable silicone systems and silicone free release systems, recyclability, two-sides coated, and modifications to the back side of the liner are some of the areas in which there are noteworthy developments today.
However, Forster said, silicone transfer to the print surface, and the relationship between film tension and heat, remain problem areas.
New adhesive technology
Roy Griswold, a chemist with Momentive Performance Materials Europe, introduced a new platform of high performance solvent-resistant pressure sensitive adhesives based on silylated polyurethane. Aimed at high specification applications in healthcare and medicine, the automotive and aerospace industries, and petrochemicals, they represent innovation that can be partnered with conventional release coating.
According to Hervé Vigny, director of Label Experts (an independent advisory laboratory for end users and converters in the self-adhesive label industry), release liner is the most important factor in creating a self-adhesive material: more so, in fact, than the adhesive itself. Vigny discussed the relationship between the laminate components and their influence on adhesive properties, and the so-called “zippy release” phenomenon, which can result from an excess of platinum in the silicone layer after curing, or a high level of modulator in the silicone formulation.
Drivers for the release coating industry remain a delicate balance between quality and performance with cost reduction. Karsten Schlichter, global market manager for Bluestar Silicones, looked at curing chemistry, comparing the various systems and their place in an industry where release base downgauging and the need for greener solutions in reduced VOCs and toxicity, and increased recyclability are growing trends.
Thomas Hohenwarter of THresource looked at the healthy prospects for radiation curable release coatings. With 20 years’ experience behind it, radiation curing has proved itself “here to stay,” and he predicted continuing double digit global growth for this robust combination of chemistry and technology.
Paper release base
Papers remain, globally, the release base of choice – and for good reasons, said Antti Heimola, director of technical marketing for UPM Kymmene. Paper based release liners can fulfill the requirements of everyone in the value chain for self-adhesive labelstock in terms of quality and efficiency. This is true today even in partnership with film face stocks.
Ismo Pietari, R&D director for UPM Raflatac, further examined these positive opportunities for paper liner and paper’s many benefits – and the challenges in the label market that it faces from films, other labeling and product decoration techniques, waste directives, and linerless labelstock. He was uncompromising in his assessment of the future. “Filmic liner will gain market share in more demanding applications if paper suppliers don’t provide more innovative solutions,” he predicted. He was confident that paper would remain the prime choice for partnering paper facestocks, and that environmental aspects would continue to favor papers.
Specialty tapes also make tough demands on release liner performance, as Michel Sabo, product manager, bonding and joining for Nitto Europe, showed in his paper. Whatever the end use, he said, the release liner’s function is to increase the productivity of the customer, and the tape manufacturers have high expectations of what the release liner manufacturers should deliver for the future. Silicone-free release (widely requested in the automotive industry); reduced thickness with compromising stability; anti-static properties (generally a negative feature of plastics materials); recyclability; and clean-room manufacturing are some of the items on the agenda.
The hygiene market
Kari Kalliala, managing director of Loparex Oy, looked at the release liner manufacturer’s role in the hygiene market – currently growing globally at approx 8.1 percent (with the biggest growth in film liners for single wraps). This market, which is supplied solely by commercial siliconizers and whose customers are both leading multinational product manufacturers and local independents, has specific requirements for future success. Kalliala identified these as: adaptation of liners to faster production lines; development of thinner paper grades; product integrity, hygiene and cleanliness; good service and logistics; and a global reach.
A supplier forum session gave sponsors and speakers the opportunity to present short, unmitigated commercials on their companies, providing a useful snapshot of supplier information to the conference delegates.
Corey Reardon wrapped up the formal conference agenda with thanks to the speakers, drawn from a wide range of disciplines, and to the event sponsors, who represented a broad spectrum of leading industry suppliers and packaging, printing, and converting media. Delegates applauded the strong and well balanced speaker program, and the valuable program of optional events.
Facility visit – Loparex
On the morning following the conference, delegates were invited by Loparex to visit their speciality release liner manufacturing facility at Apeldoorn, and enjoy a buffet lunch before departing for home. The Global Release Liner Industry Conference 2008 was supported by a mini-exhibition and tabletop, and social networking during the official conference dinner, cocktail receptions, and conference breaks.
Next year’s event
The Global Release Liner Conference 2009 will be hosted by AWA Conferences & Events in the United States. Details will be available at www.awa-bv.com. l