Narrow Web Europe

Narrow Web Europe

May 13, 2008

FINAT: Fighting fit at fifty

FINAT: Fighting fit at fifty

As the European narrow web industry recovers from the Interpack packaging show
and prepares itself for Drupa (May 29 to June 11, Düsseldorf), we look at
some of the people, products and events on the European scene.

By John Penhallow

It is a sobering thought that 75 percent of the world’s present population was as yet unborn when, back in 1958, a small group of British and continental label specialists met in Nice, France, to found the world’s first international pressure sensitive label association, which they called the Fédération Internationale des Fabricants Transformateurs d’Adhésifs et Thermocollants sur Papiers et Autres Supports. These founding fathers wisely decided to shorten the name to FINAT, and FINAT it has remained to this day.

To celebrate this half century, the annual FINAT congress will be held this year in France (June 19-20), and a book on the association’s history will be launched. Speakers at the congress will include the ubiquitous Mike Fairley, Corey Reardon, president of the conference and research company AWA,  and Jules Lejeune, who, eight years ago, succeeded his father, Mans, as managing director of FINAT.

To add spice to the event, Cathy O’Dowd, the first woman to climb Everest from both the north and south sides, will give delegates an illustrated account of her exploits. The occasion will be co-hosted by the French label association, a more recent creation whose 150 members include most of France’s leading label converters.

Homage to Catalonia

Less well reported is another 50th anniversary, this time in Spain. Back in 1958 Caposa Company, in one of the barrios of old Barcelona, produced Spain’s very first pressure sensitive label, using the invention made famous by Stanton Avery 20 years earlier. Caposa’s founder, who rejoiced in the good old Catalan name of Josep Maria Puigbò Soler, noticed this new idea when visiting a trade show in Germany, and after his death his son took up this product in the family firm, converting the company’s existing machinery to make PS labelstock.

In those early days there was no locally produced labelstock, and import licences, foreign exchange, and even distance telephone calls were all hard to come by. It is said that the pioneers among Spanish label converters used to fill up the trunks of their cars with Catalan ham and other local delicacies, then drive to Perpignan, just over the border in France, to barter for a few rolls of pressure sensitive material. The drive home was via the mountain roads, hoping not to meet the Guardia Civil on the way.

Today with the euro, email and the free movement of goods and people, the 1950s seem a world away, and for business purposes the Pyrenees no longer exist. Spain’s 420 label companies convert around 400 million square meters (four billion square feet) of PS material yearly, and the country’s leading converters like Sinel (part of the Caposa Group) and Germark rank with the top producers in Europe.


With an output of nearly 2,000 vehicles per day, the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany, is one of the biggest in the country, and shipping the finished product to dealers by road, rail or canal is a logistical nightmare. Ford went looking for a label-based solution which could be dispensed and applied automatically and which could be read at long distance. In addition, the label had to be easily and totally removable once the vehicle reached its destination. The solution was found by Schreiner LogiData, part of the Schreiner Group, one of Germany’s leading label and identification companies. The same company also claims to have found a new and better solution to the problem of using RFID labels on metal surfaces. Its UHF-on-Metal-Label uses the metallic surface as an extra antenna, thus turning a problem into a solution.

Digital converting

The rise of digital label printing has spawned a multitude of specially designed new substrates, coatings and converting equipment. Market leader HP Indigo has accredited a small number of suppliers, including two of Europe’s major narrow web machinery manufacturers, AB Graphic and SMAG.

UK-based AB Graphic International (ABG), which has facilities in several European countries and in North America, makes and markets converting lines including laser diecutting technology, camera inspection systems and rewinders. SMAG’s manufacturing plant near Paris, France, makes narrow web screenprinting presses and a range of converting equipment. SMAG Sales and Marketing Manager Stéphane Rateau reckons that finishing equipment for digital labels could be one of the few really bright spots on the European label industry’s radar this year.

“It’s a field where expertise and innovation count for more than price,” says Rateau, “which makes it easier for euro zone manufacturers to compete even in difficult markets like the USA.” Both ABG and SMAG will be exhibiting at Labelexpo Americas in Chicago in the fall of this year.

Cheaper chips

A symposium organized by the German Packaging Institute in Dresden in December 2007 reported on successes achieved by German label and packaging converters like August Faller and Bartsch International in supplying RFID-enabled entry tickets and baggage tags. However, Heidelberg’s chief researcher, Martin Schmitt-Lewen, sounded a note of caution.

In his view, chip-based RFID technology for labels and packaging is not the money-spinner printers have been told to expect. It will not come a mass product, in his view, until the technology exists to make an RFID tag cheap enough for general item-level use.

Focus on pharma – and food

The recent acquisition of Paxar has led to structural changes in Avery’s business in Europe. One plant which has benefited from this change is the Avery Printer System Division plant in Eching, Germany. Two hundred employees, including a 40-strong research and development team, design and manufacture the joint Avery/Paxar range of thermal transfer printers, print-and-apply labelers, and customer-specific installations.

Customers of the Eching plant include international brand owners like Unilever, Procter & Gamble and pharmaceutical giants Sanofi-Aventis and Merck. Since the Paxar takeover, the German plant also supplies these customers throughout Eastern Europe. Recently launched products include a no-contact “blow-on” labeler, and machinery for assembling the RFID tags used for item-level pharmaceutical packs.

Avery of course is not alone in this field: Competitor Herma used the recent Interpack show to launch a new labeler with an improved tension control mechanism, and Switzerland’s Ecoline has just brought to market a compact label applicator with a pneumatic adaptor and a thermal print unit for variable information labeling.

Green monsters

Amorphous but vocal anti-packaging movements exist in many European countries, and nowhere more vocal than in the UK. As a result package and label suppliers as well as retailers are falling over each other in the rush to demonstrate that they are greener than green. This has led a number of equipment manufacturers to revive that Loch Ness Monster of the label industry, the linerless label. Pago, one of Europe’s leading makers of labeling equipment, has just launched a high speed applicator for linerless labels. Craig Peachey, Managing Director of Pago’s UK branch, went on record as saying that linerless labels are increasingly important as they produce less waste and are therefore perceived as being more environmentally friendly. Another player in the linerless sector is the UK’s Industrial Labelling Systems Ltd., which has developed a linerless print-and-apply system using a thermal transfer printer and tamp/blow applicator. It prints labels up to 4"x4" at speeds of 11" per second.

Home-compostable labels and packaging feature often in the popular press in England, and major retailers and brand owners are pressing their packaging suppliers to move to (more expensive) compostable or biodegradable materials without (of course) increasing their prices. Systems Labelling is one of the UK firms producing home-compostable face materials for labels. Major UK retailer Sainsbury is taking a lead in attracting the “green” shopper.  The company’s CEO, Justin King, said recently, “The old-style packaging and labels on most of our products will be progressively replaced by the use of maize, sugar cane or starch based materials. This means it can naturally break down in a garden compost heap, eradicating the need for packaging to be binned or bagged and sent to landfill. We urge the government to ensure that every home in Britain has a compost bin.”

Britain is, of course, a nation of gardeners, but a straw poll conducted by your correspondent revealed not one householder who was putting the new style packaging and labels into a compost bin.

Les femmes

Gender correctness is maybe less acute in Europe than in North America, but French label magazine Etiq & Pack took the bull and the cow by the horns with an investigation on women in management positions in the French label industry. The findings were pretty much as expected. Plenty of girls and young women enter the profession through technical and graphic arts studies, but there are only a handful of female managers in the top 50 French label converters.

One of the country’s leading narrow web converters admits that while nearly half its employees are women, only 8 percent of managers are female. Among the small and medium sized label converters there are many Mom and Pop firms, but in general it is Papa who runs the business and makes the decisions while Maman does the accounting.  Companies that belong to international groups are more likely to be true equal opportunity employers for men and women.

Examples include the marketing director of CCL Label France, Coralie Gambart de Lignières, who holds a key decision making post and also sits on the Board of the French label association, UNFEA. Sato France has Christine Ghys as its production manager. She was originally hired as sales manager of what was then just a trading company.

“There was some totally unused printing and converting machinery in a back office, and when I asked if I could try it out, the boss said, ‘Why not?’ Five years later we were a significant producer in the French label market,” Ghys says. “I am entirely self-taught technically, but I’m from the industrial north of France where we don’t hang around waiting for somebody with a string of diplomas; we just get in there and do it.”
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