Sustainability, raw material costs, and the relative use of paper- and film-based liners were the topics which characterized the industry forum that is the annual AWA Label Release Liner Industry Seminar. Held alternately in Europe and USA prior to the Labelexpo exhibition, this year’s event took place in Brussels, and attracted over 80 participants from the full breadth of the label release liner supply chain – from end users and label converters to raw material suppliers, laminators, equipment manufacturers, and recyclers.
Opening the proceedings, Corey M Reardon, President and CEO of AWA Alexander Watson Associates, reviewed the current market for release liner on pressure- sensitive labelstock – a market which, he said, continues to dominate global release liner demand, with a 51% share of total usage.
‘Growth is slowing worldwide, however, to about 4%’, says Mr Reardon, ‘with only China and India showing high CAGR prospects (9.24% and 11.53% respectively) in the medium term. Competition to pressure-sensitive technology from other labeling formats and flexible packaging, as well as the overall challenges regarding environmental/sustainability issues, together represent tangible threats.’ Despite these challenges, AWA’s research projects consistent growth for release liner pressure-sensitive labeling in the medium term.
Film liner focus
While paper release base still dominates across all market segments, especially pressure-sensitive labelstock, annual demand for film-based labelstocks is growing, Mr Reardon says, ‘at multiples of that for paper-based labelstocks.’ The growing interest in film liner is driven by its characteristic strength and smoothness, which deliver high performance on press and on the label application line.
Mr Reardon singled out a major emerging trend in the label market’s infrastructure: the growing popularity of in-line silicone coating and lamination of labelstocks alongside the printing, diecutting, and matrix-stripping processes.
Some of the other label market trends highlighted in Mr Reardon’s presentation were the continuing control of market dynamics by the major retailers; shorter, more frequent label runs and shorter lead times; reduced inventory levels; more frequent changes in design and branding, and changing/reducing product life cycles; and the need for cost transparency on the part of label suppliers -- a key requirement for the major retailers and brand owners.
A global perspective
Next on the agenda was a label producer’s view of the world of release liners from CCL Label’s Business Development, Director, Kari Virtanen, who presented a particularly detailed view of the label release liner market geographically and by end use. In Europe, he confirmed, paper – particularly glassine – dominates, as it does in Canada in Mexico, but in the United States, PET is much in evidence, with calendered kraft paper also in common use. In Asia and South America, paper remains the preferred release base. Wherever they are used, PET film liners are now thinner than ever, and they present practical challenges for press minders – in many areas, including diecutting, web tensioning, ghosting, embossing, and static electricity.
CCL’s opinion is that PET liners are indeed the future – but they are now as thin as is technically-feasible for everyone (including the die manufacturers), and any future developments must be able to employ the current installed base of label manufacturing/application equipment. Sustainability and recycling initiatives will also be future market drivers.
Why such emphasis on post-consumer waste?
An Vossen, Manager of Plarebel, the Belgium national recycling association for plastics, went on to provide an update on the whole field of packaging waste legislation, and asked why, in general, we concentrate on post-consumer waste collection – a particularly complex and diverse waste collection level - when it is much easier to sort and differentiate materials at levels further up the supply chain. This is certainly true for pressure-sensitive labelstock.
Paper vs film: life cycle analysis
Continuing on the theme of recycling and sustainability, Ahlstrom’s Vice President, Sustainability, Anna Wessman, presented the life cycle assessment of specialty paper versus film conducted by the company with the PaperImpact organization. She demonstrated that, in most instances, paper’s credentials are superior to those of film. Competition for land (sustainably-managed forests represent an excellent carbon sink, but also make strong demands on land availability); and the need to reduce the impact on land eutrophication with effluent water are the paper industry’s main drawbacks.
A panel discussion on paper versus plastic, supply dynamics and growth drivers, followed, moderated by Corey Reardon. Panelists representing the lobby for paper were Marko Haveri from UPM-Kymmene and Anna Wessman, Ahlstrom; and film lobbyists were Bill Wells of Mitsubishi Polyester Film and James Godden, Polyplex. The debate about the products’ relative merits continued; but the outcome of the discussion confirmed that, overall, the label release liner industry’s long-term concern is the raft of impending packaging waste legislation – and the possibility that release liner may be declared (across Europe at least) to be packaging waste, and therefore subject to a punitive financial levy.
Silicones are as central to label release liner today as release base, as Hardi Döhler, Innovation Manager at Evonik-Goldschmidt, showed. ‘Silicone release coatings provide very low surface tension, a highly-flexible backbone, and extreme freedom of rotation’, he said; and described how current radiation-cured silicones are meeting the market’s needs for good laminate aging properties and the influence of silicone transfer on adhesive properties – especially in terms of peel and loop tack.
Ultra-thin film labelstock
After lunch, Niall Moloney, Business Development Director for Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials Europe, detailed a film labelstock innovation initiative – Avery Dennison ThinStream -- which enables the successful diecutting of a thin film facestock on an ultra-thin 12 micron film. The initiative, involving the use of a special cold die unit, is being commercialized in partnership with Gallus, and involves in-line delamination of the facestock, diecutting, and relamination.
State-of-the-art label application
Applying pressure-sensitive labels was the next topic on the agenda. Udo Weusthoff, Sales Director, Labelling Technology, of Krones, whose high-volume labelling machines today span the world’s fmcg markets – particularly food and beverage and personal care products. Their machines can combine stations for both pressure-sensitive and cold glue labels; and machines handling linerless pressure-sensitive labels are also on offer today. ‘Linerless is a prime trend’, said Mr Weusthoff, ‘and we know we can handle it!’
Industry recycling initiatives
Delegates then heard from the proponents of two recycling concepts in the area of glassine liner recycling developed by and for the label industry. Marko Haveri of UPM Kymmene Fine & Specialty Papers outlined the new program, developed in conjunction with French paper recycling specialists Vertaris, for the collection of liner waste across a broad area of Europe and closed-loop recycling to new paper manufacturing. Petri Tani, President, Cycle4Green, revisited the drivers for liner recycling – including high waste tipping fees, the need to reduce manufacturing and packaging waste, and legislation – and underlined the need to scale up the volume of recycling to a level where the value of the recycled goods created can ouweight the recycling costs. Not only that: ‘a 10-15% reduction in carbon footprint can be achieved when you recycle 50,000 tonnes of release waste’, he said.
Linerless labels are the prime focus for UK-based Catchpoint Ltd; and Business Development Manager Mike Cooper showed how far the technology has advanced in recent years – and how much can now be achieved in terms of high-quality label results, even involving shaped (not butt-cut) labels. There is now considerable interest in the linerless concept in both the cost-saving and the sustainability lobbies.
A label printer’s ‘wish list’
Eric White, Managing Director of Skanem Scandinavia, ended the presentations with a label printer’s ‘wish list’ for the provision of pressure-sensitive labelstock. He asked that any supply chain innovations should take into account the printer’s needs and any possible additional costs – eg for new dies in the case of thinner materials. He asked, too, that release liner should be available in a limited range of standard sizes. He observed that the industry still needs to develop a film liner at an acceptable cost and environmental profile; and finally added that ‘the next step in the development should be a linerless solution.’
Corey Reardon closed the formal proceedings with thanks to the seminar’s sponsors, including platinum sponsors UPM and Evonik Industries and gold sponsors Ahlstrom, Mitsubishi, Polyplex and Siliconature; and the day ended with cocktails courtesy of Evonik Industries and UPM – an opportunity for delegates and speakers to network prior to attending Labelexpo.
The AWA Global Release Liner Industry Conference and Exhibition 2012 will be held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 22-23 February 2012.