Q: Where is FLEXcon seeing the most demand for labeling materials currently?
Bitar: At the onset of the pandemic, we saw a surge in label materials for packaging – for household cleaners and personal care applications such as hand sanitizer and soap, as well as food and beverage due to folks eating at home more. Pharma also saw a surge – first in label materials for Covid-19 test kits and OTC meds. As the vaccines came online, focus turned to materials for tamper-evidence and cold chain storage, in particular for vial and syringe labels. We continue to see high demand across the board in the pharmaceutical sector. As things have started to open back up, we’re seeing high demand in the durables sector as OEMs catch up on business that was lost during the peak of the Covid shutdown. We’re also seeing overall growth in this market sector separate from the pandemic.
Q: How important is collaboration and education when dealing with customers to make sure they get the right materials for their applications?
David: With material demands high and supplies tight, many converters have been forced to source materials from alternative vendors. When these situations arise, it’s important to obtain as much information about the end use application as possible – application surface, expected exposures, durability requirements, etc. – and work with the customer to identify an appropriate substitute based on the application requirements. Converters will ask for a product that’s equivalent to a competitor’s product, but quite often no direct substitution exists, in which case recommending for the application is critical. Furthermore, an alternate supplier could have technology that’s better suited to the application than the product a converter had been using, but unless the requisite information is shared and taken into consideration, it may never be discovered.
In the pharmaceutical industry, in particular, there has been a trend toward redesigning packages to reduce environmental footprint and meet new compliance guidelines. However, there is a reluctance to change any label material component, and in the minds of pharmaceutical manufacturers, package redesign does not necessarily equal label redesign. The assumption is that the same label materials they’ve used in the past will work for these new packages, so they may not share substantive changes with their label converters that could impact material selection, sometimes with disastrous results. Anytime the supplier, label converter and pharmaceutical manufacturer can have a meeting of the minds regarding application needs and collaborate on product selection, it’s more likely that an optimum result will be achieved.
Q: How does the process differ between selecting materials for durables and packaging? And can you give a brief overview of the process for each?
Hodnett: The key to making an appropriate product recommendation is understanding the application needs and matching them with a product that fits the bill. There is an overarching framework that applies to all markets – basically a process of elimination based on certain criteria – the application surface and possible exposures. These include external exposures such as abrasion, moisture, chemicals, temperature extremes and weather, as well as product contents. These initial questions rule-in certain product components and rule-out others. The next level is printing and converting technology – again across all markets. Answers to such questions will determine topcoat and release liner technology and may impact film choice as well.
At this point, product selection may diverge among market segments because unique application requirements come into play as well as regulatory compliance, such as UL/cUL and CSA for durable goods labeling. While there are currently no regulatory requirements in terms of label durability for pharma, specific sterilization techniques and desired security features will impact material selection. For consumer goods, the ability to withstand moisture and product contents is critical. FLEXcon conducts rigorous product testing to meet the most common needs and to qualify products for regulatory compliance such as UL. For some applications, additional testing may be required to ensure product suitability, and this is where FLEXcon’s technical service and lab capabilities shine. Our DAP-certified lab performs UL testing for additional application surfaces and chemical exposures, as well as weathering, abrasion testing, heat aging, adhesive whitening and more.