Release Liner: The AWA 2012 Industry Conference

May 23, 2012

An in-depth look at the release liner market sheds light on the global labeling industry.

The Global Release Liner Industry Conference and Exhibition, organized by AWA Conferences and Events, is annually the meeting point for participants in this specialist industry, at all levels of the value chain. Siliconized release liner’s major market is in pressure sensitive labeling, but it supports and protects materials in a surprisingly diverse range of applications, from building and construction to electronics, photovoltaics, medical disposables, and pressure-sensitive vehicle “wraps.”  The conference alternates between Europe and the USA, and this year was held in Amsterdam’s Hotel Novotel Amsterdam City, February 22-23.

The exhibition proved to be an excellent focus for the whole event, which has networking at its heart, and featured leading suppliers across the value chain.

Keynote presentations
Opening the formal conference proceedings on the first day, Corey Reardon, president and CEO of AWA Alexander Watson Associates, introduced an afternoon of keynote presentations which addressed the industry status quo in the context of the global economy.

Carsten Lange, managing director, Release Liner, Coatings and Consumer Packaging, for Mondi, discussed the macro-economic outlook for the release liner industry. For the long term, he observed, it will be the countries  to the east of Europe and in Latin America which will have the greatest growth. In the current financial climate, Austria, Belgium and Germany are faring best in Europe – but consumer confidence is declining, and in this “second recession,” neither governments nor banks are in as good shape as they were in 2008. The Eurozone, Lange said, may represent only 25% of the global economy – but China exports 25% of its GDP to Europe.

In terms of release liner itself, Lange said there is very little official data available in an industry that is dominated by private companies or large groups where release liner data are not reported in detail; and, equally, there is very little comparative data on raw materials. “On the silicone side,” he said, “our industry represents only a minor part of the whole.”

Release liner industry survey
Corey Reardon returned to the rostrum to present the brand new findings of the 2012 AWA release liner industry survey that included around 100 responses from industry participants the world over. Sentiment has changed in the last year: more companies consider themselves to be regional rather than global, though most expect to see true globalization within five years, and most, Reardon said, believe that “being global provides opportunities for growth.”

Mergers and acquisitions within the value chain will also continue,”  Reardon said. “Costs have increased dramatically – even over prior year, which itself experienced tremendous cost pressures. Looking forward, costs are still expected to rise, but at a slightly lower rate.’

Market data
The next day’s program began with a market overview of the global release liner market from Reardon, who shared AWA Alexander Watson Associates’ current research data. In terms of materials and markets, glassine/calendered kraft papers still represent a solid 41% of the overall market, with film currently taking 12%. Pressure sensitive labelstock remains the largest segment, at 51%. Reardon predicted that in this market, 40-60% of liner usage for primary product labeling will migrate to film in the next five years. He added that variable information print (itself representing 50% of the label market for release liner) will, however, always remain paper-based. 

Geographically, North America retains the largest share of the 35,254 million square meter global market for release liner, though Europe and Asia Pacific are nearly equal.

North America is more optimistic about its growth opportunities in 2012 – predicting 5%+ growth, as does Asia Pacific – than South America, which anticipates 2-5% growth, and Europe, which expects 0-2% growth. Overall, growth has slowed, but Asia Pacific remains the growth leader and will, said Reardon, “take over as the main region in the near future.”

Packaging and labeling law
Changing packaging and labeling laws are today a major concern in the broad packaging industry, and therefore for pressure sensitive labels. Solicitor and law lecturer Charles James has just published the second edition of his Guide to Packaging and Labelling Law, and introduced delegates to some of the  headlines that are current. BPA and food contact concerns around film liners; migration issues;  new food labeling regulations – where origin labeling of meats is a particular challenge are all issues – but legislation like the Plastics Directive are delivering real opportunities for packaging companies to innovate and demonstrate their proven skills and integrity.

Tailor-made products for labels
Peter Sandkuehler, group leader,  TS&D, Performance Plastics, for Dow Chemical Company, went on to discuss the many aspects of developing tailor-made products for the label industry in which Dow Chemical Company is involved – including hot melt and acrylic adhesive formulations and films for facestock and release liner. Trends and drivers today include, of course, sustainability and health and safety legislation, which must partner in maintaining and developing the aesthetics of labels for enhanced branding. These are areas where Dow’s global presence and broad science and technology capabilities can contribute at all levels of the label value chain.

Heineken’s perspective
The beer market has been one of the success stories for pressure sensitive labels in recent years, and delegates were able to share Heineken’s perspective on the release liner industry, as presented by the company’s Global Category Buyer for Packaging Materials Dennis Bakx:  “The consumer is changing his consumption pattern:  people spend money in a different way today,” said Bakx. The beer market is no exception. Demand is moving away from dispensed drinks in bars to home consumption, both using bottles and cans – and this has had a positive effect on Heineken’s use of pressure sensitive labels. Heineken chose pressure sensitive labels because, Bakx said, they support the company’s international brand (‘communicate by packaging’) by adding value for both the retailer and consumer, and also deliver a practical advantage – high packaging line speeds. But Heineken also has a “wish list,” and delegates were challenged to contribute to further improving release liners on pressure sensitive labelstock. “What will be the next generation?” he asked. Reduced liner thickness/downgauging and linerless labels are possible future options, and innovation and sustainability are of course key factors. “About 40% of the pressure sensitive product we buy is waste! My job is to reduce or optimize.” he said.

Recycling initiatives
Release liner recycling initiatives from the label industry were the subject of the presentation from Mark Macaré, public affairs manager of the European pressure sensitive label association, FINAT. Outlining the political and corporate drivers of action in this arena, he went on to detail the use of secondary materials in the label chain, recycling “bottlenecks,” and FINAT’s role in supporting and promoting industry initiatives. Macaré said that 70% of brand owners identify sustainability as a competitive advantage, and green initiatives by both brand owners and retailers are having a significant impact on overall awareness of the key sustainability issues. In the past year, FINAT has established a recycling project group, and is actively promoting and raising the awareness of the importance of recycling for the label industry, as well as positively demonstrating the suitability of siliconized paper liner for paper recycling. FINAT is a signatory to the European Declaration on Paper Recovery. The association’s sustainability action agenda is wide-ranging.  In addition, Macaré indicated that release liner – the highest priority – and pressure-sensitive label matrix and set-up waste are key areas where the association is concerned to identify and promote secondary materials/recycling solutions.  He said that establishing an active industry network and developing and maintaining a database/catalogue as well as setting up effective communications across the value chain and the media (including success stories) are also prime objectives.

Silicone and release coating panel discussion
A session addressing silicone and release coating technologies opened with a panel discussion involving three industry experts: Christian Velasquez, global market director, pressure sensitive industry, for Dow Corning;  Mikko Meyder, global marketing manager, RC Silicones, for Evonik Goldschmidt;  and Sean Duffy, global business manager, Bluestar Silicones.  The discussion, moderated by Corey Reardon, was wide-ranging. Panelists agreed with Mikko Meyder that “thinner, lighter, more stable substrates for release liner” are needed, but that, as Christian Velasquez remarked, “We have to be able to sell ourselves on the total value of the self-adhesive label, not just the release liner.” On the topic of film liner, Sean Duffy observed that “in cost terms, the option of choosing a film liner versus a paper liner now makes economic sense.” Substrate-identical label constructions – a PP liner on a PP facestock, he said, offer huge advantages in terms of recyclability.  The limited success of non-traditional substrates such as PLA films;  the future role of solvent siliconization;  increasing in-line siliconization by pressure sensitive laminators, as well as siliconization/lamination at the converter stage;  and the high cost of raw materials were among other topics addressed.

Linerless labels?
Disruptive technologies and innovations that are impacting release liner were the topic of the final conference session.   The renewed challenge of linerless pressure sensitive labels was explored by Jackie Marolda, vice president and senior consultant, AWA Alexander Watson Associates. The drivers for a move to linerless labels are the desire to reduce/eliminate waste; legislation; the cost of release liner; and the economics of liner waste. The AWA release liner survey 2012, she showed, identified interesting current sentiment.   Involvement in recycling/re-use programs has hardly grown at all. “We’re all talking about it,” Marolda said, “but it’s all very future orientated.”

Conversely, survey respondents identified linerless labels as an area where they expect to see innovation – and market substitution – in the near term.  Linerless labels today have their limitations – label shape (though clear film labels can bear a printed shape), material supply, application machinery (here, Europe is ahead of North America), and application speeds. But they have clearly already “found a niche” in today’s market.  

Marolda said that, additionally, there are developments in facestocks, activatable adhesives, and printable silicone coatings. There are also developments in application equipment – hybrid machines capable of applying both traditional and linerless pressure sensitive labels – and in converting equipment, allowing for radius-cornered labels and shaped perforations.

The Global Release Liner Conference & Exhibition 2012 was truly representative of the industry it served in terms of sponsorship, featuring platinum sponsor UPM, gold sponsors Billerud, Blue Star Silicones, Dow Corning, Evonik, Loparex, Mondi, and Toray.  AWA Conferences & Events will hold the annual Label Release Liner Seminar at the Hyatt Rosemont, Chicago, IL, USA, just prior to this year’s Labelexpo, on September 10, 2012.

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