Shrink Sleeve Converting

By Steve Katz, Editor | July 17, 2013

The format has picked up steam as a packaging option, and is helping converters diversify into new, lucrative markets.

The AccraSeam- from Accraply
Shrink sleeves have got brand owners’ attention. The 360° surface shrink labels cover gives brands the coveted eye-catching shelf appeal they desire in a label, which can conform to a variety of different shapes and sizes, and are compatible with many container types – metal, glass and just about all plastics.

Proctor & Gamble calls it the “first moment of truth.” The CPG giant maintains that shoppers make up their minds about a product in three to seven seconds, just the time it takes to note a product on a store shelf. P&G considers this the most important marketing opportunity for a brand. A 2010 MarketForce Study revealed that shoppers try new products when the product catches their eye at the store – more so than advertisements, coupons or recommendations.

AWA Alexander Watson Associates’ William Llewellyn, at a recent shrink sleeve workshop in Minneapolis, MN, USA, said that despite the advantages offered by shrink sleeves, the format has a relatively quiet voice in the label marketplace, noting that in North America there is a ratio of 40:1 of pressure sensitive label printers to sleeve label printers. He added that only 7% of new product launches and 10% of the total market in North America uses shrink sleeve label products.

In addition to shelf appeal, shrink labels offer a built-in form of tamper evidence when incorporating a band or a full sleeve that conforms to the full length of the container, usually with a perforation, or tear tab for easily removing the sleeve once the product is ready for disposal or recycling. Shrink labels also don’t involve adhesive, which can sometimes be a burden to a product’s recyclability.

At a recent AWA conference in Amsterdam, Llewellyn said current market data shows shrink sleeves to encompass around 17% of the total global label market today, with sleeve labels’ CAGR for the medium term now a projected ± 5%. “This is slower than hitherto, but still ahead of other label technology growth rates,” he said. “Growth continues to be driven by heat shrink sleeves (with roll-fed machine-direction shrink sleeves showing potential in North and South America); and high-shrink films, offering 80-85% shrinkage, are now making their appearance available on the market.”

Seamus Lafferty, VP of sales and marketing for Accraply, says that while the most notable growth can be seen in Latin America, South Africa and the Middle East, the US market is showing an uptick in demand, which he predicts will continue for the foreseeable future. “The shrink sleeve label has proven itself a winner on supermarket shelves around the world, and sets itself apart in the freedom it offers package designers. Walking the aisles of supermarkets in the US, and comparing the number and range of products in shrink sleeves with supermarkets in other parts of the world – notably Japan and some parts of Europe – the potential that exists here is clear.”

AWA’s Llewellyn notes that while end use markets remain centered on food and beverage, gains are being made in household and industrial chemical end use markets, and there’s potential in the health & personal care segment, gaining share from pressure sensitive labels.

For a label converter to enter the shrink sleeve arena, secondary converting machinery is required. And, to be successful at it, it’s fair to say that becoming educated on the process is just as important.

What’s needed

The K1 is Karlville’s entry-level system

For starters, those that would like to manufacture shrink sleeve labels need a press that can convert filmic materials. This requirement is rudimentary enough, and the print process can be flexo, digital, offset or gravure, and can use solvent, water-based, UV or digital inks.

Getting into the shrink market doesn’t have to break the bank. According to Lafferty, if a converter already has the appropriate printing technology, the incremental investment in converting equipment can be reasonably modest. “Although,” he cautions, “the decision to get in to the shrink sleeve label market should not be based solely on the level of equipment investment required.”

Vincent Huchet, sales manager for DCM USIMECA, a shrink sleeve equipment manufacturer based in Nanterre, France, summarizes the process: “The sleeve converting process is composed mainly of thee types of equipment. A forming and seaming machine manufactures a continuous tube of shrink sleeves for labels delivered in reels for automatic application on the final product. Then, a perforating and sheeting machine converts the reels in cut pieces, for manual application. And finally, an inspection and doctoring machine helps converters either remove the defective sleeves detected during the previous process or do a final control before shipping to the end user. In addition, a sheeter may also be required for the production of hand-applied sleeves.”

Lafferty emphasizes that shrink sleeve converting equipment has evolved significantly in the last 10 years. He says, “Converters need equipment that maximizes throughput, while minimizing waste. They need equipment that is easy to operate, offers minimal downtime, and which reliably and repeatedly produces a quality product. The last 10 years have seen a very significant tightening of standards in the industry, and a quantum leap in the ability of converters to produce sleeves with absolutely minimum waste factors. Much of the improvement in waste reduction has come about through technology advancements in the seaming equipment.”    

Raul Matos, VP of sales and marketing for Karlville, a shrink equipment manufacturer based in Miami, FL, USA, notes the importance of the inspection step. “Converters should inspect the film during printing using a 100% camera inspection system. After the converter has completed a roll of sleeves, it must remove the roll from the shaft and transfer to the inspection machine, or if the seaming machine has an inspection system attached, the converter may set up the machine in forward/backward mode to use the seamer as the inspection machine,” Matos explains. “And if the customer request sleeves pre-cut for a manual application, the converter should transfer the roll to an Automatic Cutting Machine. In the cutter, converters can also apply perforation to the sleeve.”

Shrink sleeve labels can be produced in either individually cut labels or in roll form. The way in which the labels are produced will be determined by the way they will be applied to the container. If the labels are going to be applied by hand, most likely for short runs and prototypes, then individual cut labels will be supplied. If, however, the labels will be applied by automatic equipment, then they will be supplied in roll form so they can quickly and continuously be applied.

When shrink sleeve labels are going to be manufactured on a roll, it is important to know how the applicator will deliver the label to the container. This will determine the proper unwind direction for the labels to ensure that the printed shrink labels are not applied upside-down on your container. Important factors like whether the applicator will deliver the labels from the top, bottom, or one of the sides, and whether the roll is threaded with the printing on the outside or inside will be necessary to make sure the labels are applied correctly.

Equipment lines
Headquartered in Plymouth, MN, USA, Accraply offers converters the full range of shrink sleeve secondary converting equipment, including a complete range of duplex differential slitter rewinders specifically equipped for filmic slitting, and with web-widths from 20 inches to 62 inches. “We offer the fastest commercially available seaming equipment on the market with speeds up to 600 mpm (2,000 fpm), as well as all the inspection and sheeting equipment required to be a serious player in the shrink sleeve marketplace,” Lafferty says. “We complement all of this will an extensive range of application and shrinking equipment as the process gets rounded out by brand-owners/co-packers.”

The AccraSeam has been on the market for over a year, and according to Lafferty, in addition to its running speed of 600 mpm, it reduces waste percentages significantly less than 1%.  Features of the Accraseam include a touch-screen controlled automatic setup for layflat size, as well as reporting and monitoring. It also featurs a solvent dispensing system, a critical element in achieving low waste rates, Lafferty says.

“Accraply subscribes to the philosophy that providing equipment is only part of what converters need when they get in to the business of producing shrink sleeve labels,” Lafferty adds. “Converters need support with the learning curve (see sidebar), and they need education in the overall process. We consider this support a key aspect of what sets us apart.”

DCM Usimeca is one of the first sleeve converting machine manufacturers in the world. “The first seamer was manufactured in 1985. Today, our machine range has followed the market trends to offer high productivity, efficiency, quality control and reliability,” Huchet says.

The company’s Sleeve 3 and 4 forming and seaming machines are available to cover a wide capacity from 12 to 400 mm layflat width.
Both ranges are available with the basic configuration single unwind and rewind stations, the most popular single unwind and turret rewind stations, or the growing demand fully nonstop turret machine.

A DCM USIMECA shrink sleeve converting system
“All versions are available with a set of devices to control and guarantee the quality of the finished product, seam control, layflat measurement, bar code reader, joint detection. The defects are flagged and so the reels can be corrected on the inspection and doctoring machine. Speeds of 500 m/min or 1640 fpm is a standard and the maximum that an operator can handle. Over that speed a second operator is needed,” Huchet explains.

The Babycat is DCM USIMECA’s inspection and doctoring line of machines, the last operation to remove defects before shipping the product to the final customer. “The demand for this type of machine is going down with the increase of fully non-stop sleeve machines installed,” Huchet says, adding that production speed is 300 m/min or 1000 fpm.

The Sleevecut perforating and sheeting machine is for cut and stack shrink sleeve labels. Depending on volumes and applications, the sleeves are manually applied to the product. Production speed is up to 400 cuts per minute. The Sleevecut can also be equipped with a rewind station that enables the delivery of perforated sleeve reels for basic sleeve applicators.

Karlville, a partner of HP Indigo, offers the K1, an entry level system for the digital market and small converters with limited production requirements. “From there, we go to the K2 and K3, our high speed roll-to-roll solutions, which are geared for the medium level converter.  And lastly, we offer the K4 and K5 solutions, with non-stop turrets for customers that want to produce larger volumes with the highest level of efficiency,” Raul Matos says.

According to Matos, Karlville machines are designed for easy and fast size change, responsive and accurate tension control, and precision solvent application.  “We also offer a range of quality control options to ensure quality is not compromised during production,” he says, adding that Karlville provides systems to over 250 customers worldwide.

The Learning Curve
By Seamus Lafferty, VP Sales and Marketing, Accraply

A PS label converter needs to realize that printing and converting a shrink sleeve is very different to printing and converting a PS label. There is a learning curve, and it should not be discounted. The process needs to be understood in detail, and great focus placed on getting each step of that process perfected. As soon as any one step along the way is less than it needs to be, the risk to the end result is significant.

Here are the main steps for a converter to follow:
1. Select the appropriate film for the container on which the sleeve is to be placed; taking in to account the shrinkage required of the film to handle the shape of the container.
2. Develop the graphics for what is a 3-D label – not a flat label. This can be a challenge, and require a new thought process.
3. Reverse print an unsupported film, with inks that are appropriate to the fact that the material and inks will subsequently be required to shrink around a container (something which a PS label is almost never required to do).
4. Slit this unsupported film, which has a different set of requirements (more demanding) from a slitting and tension control standpoint than does a PS label.)
5. Convert this flat printed material in to rolls of tubular material, in the seaming step.  This step involves forming the material in to a tube, and using a solvent to chemically weld it together.
6. Rewinding/inspecting these tubular rolls of material in order to repair splices, and deal with any defects that may have emerged along the way…but which cannot be shipped onwards.
7. Sheeting in to individual label lengths, in the event the sleeves are to be manually applied.

Converters entering the market today don’t have the challenges that existed 10 years ago. The technology has developed significantly over the last decade, and there is no need for new entrants to repeat the mistakes of the past. That said, new entrants should not underestimate the learning curve.  From day one, they must focus on quality, and on only shipping perfection.  They should use only the best ingredients, where the ingredients include film, ink, seaming solvents and equipment. They should place a lot of emphasis on training their people – at all levels, and in all departments that touch the process. And, they must focus on the process itself, and ensure that each step along the way is refined and perfected. There are no short-cuts!
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