Sustainability and increasing competition from other label formats are subjects that dominate the agenda of the pressure sensitive label industry, and they were hot topics at this year’s AWA Label Release Liner Industry Seminar, held in Chicago just prior to the Labelexpo Americas. Organized and hosted annually by AWA Conferences & Events, the seminar focused on the largest application for the use of release liner: pressure sensitive labelstock represents 50% of the total release liner market. The conference represents an opportunity for the industry supply chain to get together at a convenient moment and evaluate developments, innovations, and challenges.
This year’s seminar featured a full program of presentations, plus a lively Q & A session and tabletop exhibition, which made the day a real forum for information exchange among industry participants, who came from many corners of the world and many levels of the label release liner value chain.
Global label market overview
AWA Alexander Watson Associates – parent of AWA Conferences & Events – is a global business-to-business market research, publishing, and advisory services company with a unique industry focus on the specialty paper, film, packaging, coating, and converting industry. Corey Reardon, the company’s president and CEO, opened the seminar proceedings with an informed overview of the global label market – encompassing wet glue, sleeving, in-mold, and flexible packaging as well as the core topic of PS labeling. Overall growth in this sector in 2011 is estimated to be at around 4-4.5%, with pressure sensitive labeling growing at 3.7%. PS represents 39% of the total label market, Reardon showed, of which 50% is in prime label applications and 50% in functional variable information print.
The regional picture
Reardon went on to look at pressure sensitive label markets from a regional viewpoint, highlighting the regions exhibiting the strongest growth – currently South America (primarily Brazil), followed by Asia Pacific (particularly China and India). Eighty percent of medium-term growth will, he forecasts, come from the emerging markets. The North American and European markets are mature, and Europe is additionally suffering from continuing economic uncertainty.
Looking at end-use market segments, food is, overall, the largest, and the optimal growth opportunity. Other key segments – also offering considerable future prospects – include home and personal care, pharmaceuticals, and transport and logistics.
Label material choices
In terms of material choice, Reardon said that while film label facestock usage is growing at multiples of that for paper facestock, most variable information print applications continue to choose paper stocks – and this is a key application category for the future growth of PS label laminates. Looking at the release liner market in total, applications in the graphic arts, tapes, hygiene, medical and industrial markets are exhibiting better growth than labelstock applications – reflecting the increasing base of competitive product identification and decoration technologies.
South America’s dynamic growth
Drilling down into the label release liner market, Roberto Ribeiro, managing director of Asterisco Consultoria e Participações, Brazil, leading consultants in the region on the label and packaging markets, described its present status in the dynamic South American region.
An expanding consumer economy, with international product manufacturers already strongly represented in the region, requires local support in terms of packaging – so demand for labels is strong. Today, as a result, South America also hosts many of the world’s leading release base, facestock, adhesive, and raw material suppliers. Demand for release liner in Brazil represents 63% of the total South American market, with Argentina in second place at a modest 11%. Most liner consumption is in papers – primarily glassine – and 59% of the market is in labelstock applications. PS labels are forecast to grow 5.5% in 2012 – again, mostly in paper (83%). In 2011, Ribeiro said, there were 1500 label converters in the region.
Brazil is unquestionably the star performer on many fronts. It is the biggest global market for Avon, and the second biggest for Unilever and Nestlé. Major global brand manufacturers have already invested significantly here, and continue to do so.
For the future, Ribeiro said, there is still plenty of opportunity for regional M&A activity – and recent months have seen activity on this front from such companies as Ritrama, Multi-Color, UPM Raflatac, and Viappiani. The reasons are clear: “Investment flows to regions with economies of scale, easy access to multiple raw materials, and a huge domestic market,” Ribeiro concluded.
In-line coating and converting
Vertical integration of the processes involved in creating a label have been successfully explored by ETI Converting Equipment, and Yves Lafontaine, the company’s vice president of marketing, took as his subject the reduction of release liner usage as one of the benefits of manufacturing in-line. Siliconizing, adhesive coating, printing, and diecutting of a web can be achieved in one machine pass using ETI’s equipment – saving setup time and waste, as well as energy, and delivering positive advantages in flexibility and also improved profitability resulting from the integration of two manufacturing processes – coating and printing labelstocks. He went on to evaluate linerless labels – also achievable with ETI Cohesio technology, and delivering approximately 33% savings due to the elimination of the release liner, and 50% more labels per reel, and the company’s ultra-thin 12 micron film liner technology.
Film release base: PET or PP?
Film release liner is generally predicted to have a starry future, and three speakers addressed the subject of their preferred polymers: PET and PP. Sjaak Elmendorp, vice president R&D for Avery Dennison Materials Group, – who predicted that “Thirty years from now, 90% of liners will be film based” – outlined the reasons for this change in direction, and explained why he prefers PET. It is, he said, more dimensionally stable than its rival, wrinkles less under tension, delivers more labels per reel, and potentially allows a broader range of adhesive options.
The PET preference was strongly supported by Vincent Decabooter, account manager for PS labels and liners, Mitsubishi Polyester Films – one of the world’s largest suppliers of polyester films for a broad spectrum of end use markets. Decabooter added reduced web breaks and downtime, improved diecutting, higher converting and dispensing speeds, recyclability and minimized waste to the list of PET’s benefits for label converters and end users. He highlighted his company’s new Reprocess sustainable liners – the result of a closed-loop, patent-pending, liner-to-liner recycling process.
Derick Arippol, technical director of Novelprint, Brazil, a manufacturer of labelstocks, labels,and application equipment – made the case for biaxially-oriented PP (BOPP). “Brazil is a very BOPP-oriented market,” he said, “and it is also advanced in the sustainability arena.” Quality, cost, and environmental benefits are the three major areas where Arippol praised BOPP. Increased labeling speeds, reduced labelstock caliper, improved silicone coating release force, reduced silicone coating migration to the adhesive surface, and improved performance in linerless label applications were the prime benefits he cited.
Innovation in web drying
Gene Plavnik, president, Heat Technologies Inc., presented a real technology innovation of particular interest in labelstock lamination. His company’s US-patented, Spectra HE ultra drying system employs advanced convective heat and mass transfer technology – drying, curing, cooling and heating – enhanced by strong acoustic oscillations. In projects involving coating, converting, and other in-line processes, Plavnik showed, a 50" long drying unit using Spectra HE technology can replace a traditional 56 foot long dryer, and will use only 13% of the energy consumed by its predecessor. Heat Technologies offers complete design and manufacturing for individual installation projects.
Recycling in the PS label industry
Dan Muenzer, vice president of marketing for beverage label specialist Spear, was uncompromising in his conclusions on recycling within the label industry. “An industry solution is needed,” he stressed, after he had reviewed all the current solutions being offered, and the diversity and extent of the industry players involved in the supply chain. Release liner, he reminded the audience, is process waste – 30% of the PS product. Currently in the USA, the liner recycling rate is just 1%. Compared to aluminum cans (69% recycled) glass bottles (34% recycled) and even PET containers (29% recycled), the extent of the problem becomes clear. Spear – large users of PET film liner – reclaim 80% of spent film liner through its recycling partners, Channeled Resources Group and Mitsubishi Polyester Films, but admit that paper-based liner presents more of a problem – and it is 80% of USA’s annual 550,000 tons usage of release liner. TLMI, he showed, is actively working to promote collection and recycling of liner waste – but it is a real challenge at the converter level, because volumes are comparatively small.
Considering the options
So how can the industry come to a joint solution? The seminar agenda closed with a Q & A and panel discussion. Corey Reardon questioned the future of this particular industry event, suggesting that “in 30 years we may not even be here because of this issue.” Calvin Frost, CEO of Channeled Resources Group, added, “We’re either mis-articulating the message, or we’re getting it to the wrong people.”
Added Muenzer: “Both are probably right!’
The vexed question of organizing liner collection for recycling/re-use was discussed at length. Vincent Decabooter addressed the practicalities. He said, “Most decisions are made at a local, not corporate level. And production units don’t want the waste lying around until there’s enough to merit collection.” Dan Muenzer summarized the participants’ view that “liner-to-liner is the best solution, but ‘downcycling’ is better than landfill.” There is a considerable degree of dissatisfaction and irritation within the value chain, it was agreed, that very little is actually happening on the recycling front – and a true joint action initiative across all levels is now essential. “
The AWA Label Release Liner Industry Seminar closed with cocktails around the complementary tabletop exhibition – and lively discussion continued.
The annual AWA Global Release Liner Industry Conference & Exhibition 2013 will take place in Denver, Colorado, USA, March 20-12, 2013. For more information, visit www.awa-bv.com.