In today’s evolving industry, over 50% of release liner manufacturers’ output is consumed by the pressure-sensitive label industry. The seminar addressed this relevant topic just prior to Labelexpo Americas 2014.
Corey Reardon, president and CEO of AWA Alexander Watson Associates, opened proceedings by conducting a “real-time” survey with delegates on the label release liner market’s current profile. The questionnaire’s results were published at the event’s conclusion.
The global release liner market
Reardon then delivered an overview of the total global release liner market – which showed that the Asia Pacific region has nudged ahead of North America and Europe as the largest overall market, that film-based liner now commands a 16% share of global usage and that global growth across all segments is running at just under 5%.
“While labelstock remains the core, it is the graphic arts, tapes, medical and industrial segments that are the major growth areas,” says Reardon.
Today’s changing label market
Reardon went on to record AWA’s data findings on the overall labelling market – including technologies that do not involve release liner -- in 2013.
“Today, a wide span of production identification technologies are in use – including wraparound, glue-applied and even direct print,” says Reardon.
Even when taking the last item out of the equation, he showed that the Asia Pacific region has once again taken the major market share and is continuing to grow at more than 6% per annum.
“The majority of label applications are still equally shared between the glue-applied – including patch glue and wraparound – and pressure-sensitive technologies, but it is heat shrink sleeving that continues to exhibit the highest growth,” Reardon adds.
He pinpointed major trends in the industry, which in growth terms remains closely tied to GDP. He subsequently explored the evolution of products in order to drive out cost, M&A activity across the value chain, recycling, environmental, and sustainability concerns, the flexibility of digital print, which in some aspects represents a competing technology, and the growth in usage of alternative packaging methods such as pouches.
Real competition to pressure-sensitive labels
“In-mold labels remain a niche label format, with a ±5% ongoing market share, but we really need to keep an eye on the sleeving technologies,” observes Reardon. “These are real competition that are eroding the market shares and growth potential of pressure-sensitive and glue applied labels.”
“There are certainly opportunities for label converters who want to expand their offering, and there are real innovations around, both in the broader world of packaging print and in pressure-sensitive labels,” says Danielle Jerschefske. “(But) linerless labels are not becoming more mainstream because end users are reluctant to invest in even more new equipment.”
Release liner recycling remains a focus across the label industry in North America, but it is the brand owners who hold the trump hand in getting full-scale liner recycling moving.
Dan Muenzer, vice president of marketing at Constantia Flexibles, delved deeper into the competitive product identification and decoration technologies that aim directly at pressure-sensitive labelling. He provided an industry’s expert’s opinion as well on the labelling market in the near term and beyond, and the various end-use market segments.
In food, the largest segment, Muenzer believes that “the transition from box to flexible packaging is coming on strong, but it’s still a niche market for beverage.”
He pinpointed a prizewinner in the 2014 Dupont Packaging Awards, a peanut snack pack, that combined a “blown box with a resealable pressure-sensitive label.”
Among the many options that are attracting varied levels of brand owner attention, Muenzer reiterated that shrink sleeves are “definitely here to stay, but they involve a secondary process – shrinking – and 30% of their cost is in the seaming process. Roll-fed shrink does away with this process, but it is still a coming thing.”
He continued on other threats and opportunities: “Cans are hip and cool, especially where the younger generation is concerned. In the US, not only beers, but also wines and spirits are going into cans now.”
The resurgence of cans is just one example of change across the whole span of packaging.
Opportunities through innovation
“In the returnable bottle sector, wash-off, pressure-sensitive labels will definitely enjoy big growth, as will the recycling of PET bottles once the label adhesive problem is solved,” says Muenzer.
High-speed digital print and printed electronics and interactive labels, which are highlighted by Heineken’s Ignite bottle – a product that reacts to its surroundings – are examples of innovative pathways in the labelling field. However, he warns: “Brand owners are not going to be loyal to pressure-sensitive. Whatever technology gives the best flexibility will win.”
Label release liner recycling
Cindy White, president and CEO of Channeled Resources Group and a member of the TLMI Liner Recycling Subcommittee, which is part of the Environmental Committee, went on to provide an update on label release liner recycling.
“TLMI is concerned with strategies for release liner from the beginning of life (sustainability), through its mid-life (carbon footprint), and to its end of life (recycling and waste-to-energy)” says White.
The Recycling Subcommittee’s mission is to educate both converters and end users on available recycling programs as practical alternatives to landfill, and to support that with down-to-earth, helpful educational material.
Much of the activity in this arena is already visible, including a straightforward, downloadable pdf – “How to Recycle Release Liner” – providing step-by-step advice and listing no less than nine providers of collection services within the USA.
The Recycling Subcommittee is currently involved in developing a pilot-recycling program in the mid-west with targeted label converters and their customers. Its next step is “to meet with sales representatives at target account,” adds White.
Linerless label systems
In a small step change, Jackie Marolda, vice president and senior consultant, AWA Alexander Watson Associates, formally updated delegates on the current status of “a pressure-sensitive, linerless label – a regenerated technology base where new things are happening.”
‘Today’s interest responds to a number of forces for change,” says Marolda. “Social, legislative, and economic – particularly in terms of waste costs and liner costs. The pressure-sensitive label converter rewinds used liner, but only about 1% is recycled.”
Around 5% of the label market consists of linerless labels. While they do not employ a liner, they still require the silicone release coat. Nevertheless, industry leaders along the value chain are investing in the technology, although, echoing Jerschefske, Marolda adds, “the fact that there are a number of different systems mitigates against linerless to a certain extent from the end user’s point of view. VIP/logistics labels fit linerless very well, and their printer and label dispenser systems can be easily, affordably retrofitted. The growth opportunities in VIP labels are high.”
This constitutes a real threat to linered pressure-sensitive labels, but for primary label applications, linerless is not significant.
“Where it fits, it fits well,” says Marolda. But the areas where it does fit are those where the business was “mostly never pressure-sensitive.”
Marolda concluded that for the future, linerless labeling will grow, but overall, it does not represent a disruptive force for the release liner industry.
‘Thin release liners are about saving time and being green,” says Kevin Hayes, executive vice president, Outlook Group, which is a company that has been recycling its labeling and packaging solutions waste for more than five years now.
He reminded delegates that the annual yield on label purchases is only 91%, because 9% do not even reach production, and therefore final product delivery. His company’s 100% recyclable Pet Microliner label construction, “features a thinner label liner and a reversed die-cutting process, delivers 75% less release liner waste and more labels per roll, saves time, space, transportation costs, and the need to recycle and it is compatible with your current label application equipment,” Hayes explains.
Inline coating, lamination and printing
Inline coating, laminating and printing, including linerless technology, were the central topics addressed by ETI Converting’s national sales VP, Kevin Longueil.
It is less than 15 years since the company’s first “Cohesio” integrated production options were exhibited at Labelexpo. Since then, they have proved their efficacy in “combining silicone, adhesive coating, printing (using any process of choice) and diecutting in one process to deliver less waste, time savings and energy efficiency, tight production control, and improved profitability,” adds Longueil. “For pressure-sensitive constructions, this can mean a pretty big saving for the converter.”
ETI’s linerless label option involves a PET liner, which can be reused up to 20 times, and the company’s thin MiniLiner. PET and paper liners offer other cost- and waste-saving options.
A new green initiative in glassine release base
UPM Label Papers’ business development director, Mikko Rissanen, presented more innovative solutions meeting the market’s sustainability requirements.
UPM’s product range for the label industry has been listed for the third successive year as the industry leader in the Dow Jones European and World Sustainability Indices (DJSI) for 2014-2015 and is now enhanced with its new UPM Evolution thin, biodegradable glassine release base. Rissanen says the base, “offers more labels per reel, less reel changes, more efficient energy consumption and uncompromised performance.”
The practical pathway to success
Doug Goldstein, market manager for Adhesives Research, Inc., says, “Why guess? Ask your release liner supplier.” Through case studies and expert “best practice” recommendations, he underlined the importance of a real technical relationship between a release liner supplier and his supplier of adhesives and coatings substrates. However, “typically people don’t think this way,” he adds.
“Shop for the best overall solution, matching overall quality, customer and technical support and price,” Goldstein advises for all but real commodity applications. “Test, test and retest over time” on both pilot and production lines before final specification because a typical liner qualification time is three to six months.
“All adhesives and silicone liners have ranges,” he says, and once again, interaction across the value chain is essential to achieve best performance. Performance may be compromised by adhesive shipping at an inappropriate temperature, by inappropriate storage temperature and humidity and by the consistency of the liner substrate’s surface in terms of roughness, smoothness, shrinkage and surface energy.
Real-time industry survey
Reardon then reviewed the outcome of the event’s real-time industry survey. Of the respondents, 79% said that being a global supplier – with sales/operations on three or more continents, for example -- enhances their companies’ growth opportunities and, “consistent with our last survey,” says Reardon, “68% of respondents consider their businesses to be global already, 25% regional and 7% local. Indeed, 52% of delegates say that the release liner industry is already truly globalized, with a further 22% expecting the process to be complete within just five years.”
In the last 12 months, the survey showed, costs – transportation, energy, labor and materials – have generally increased, but the coming twelve months are expected to show greater stability. Regionally, in 2014, respondents’ business in Asia is expected to enjoy the highest growth.
Mergers and acquisitions are a continuing feature of the packaging and print market, and 74% of survey respondents expect their own companies to be affected during the next five years as M&A activity in the sector gathers speed.
The key to the future?
Results clearly showed that the majority of respondents agreed with one specific topic: “While the release liner industry has experienced incremental improvements in products and services in the past five years, but we are in real need of some true innovation.”
Reardon closed the seminar on that note and thanked the event’s platinum sponsor, UPM, and gold sponsors Dow Corning, ETI, Evonik, Labels & Labeling, and Mondi, for their support, and welcomed delegates to cocktails at the end of a day that had identified both opportunities and issues in the world of label release liner.