SMI Labels and Packaging Materials

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sustainability, with self adhesive linerless labels

Silicon release paper
Some thirty years ago, when I was just a commercial siliconiser, people at large did not understand what release paper or silicon paper was. It is normal for people when they meet someone for first time to ask, “What business are you in?” Whenever confronted with such a question I would say, “I siliconise” or “I produce release paper” or “I produce silicon paper” instantaneously I was confronted with another question, “what is that?” On being asked repeatedly, I formulated an answer adding a little fun to my response. I would say that I produce something that eventually lands up in the dust bin. This, as intended would confuse the person and I would be prompted to go on to explain further. Those days very few people related label to the self adhesive product that we see now. People did understand what a sticker was, so I had to explain, it is the glazed paper that you see behind a sticker protecting the sticky adhesive on it. Many a times these new found friends would comment, that it must be a very good business because you produce something that goes to the dustbin so quickly, creating repeated demands for more. Those days nobody would like to produce something that could be used repeatedly resulting in reduced demand. Labels were generally recognized as the unsupported printed paper labels produced by the sheet-fed offset or letterpress printers. Glue was needed to be applied on backside of these labels before application on the final product. These are what are now referred to as wet-glue labels. The glue application and fixing on the product was done either manually or by automatic machines. Such automatic labeling machines are still extensively used by the beer and liquor industry. With time stickers evolved to become self adhesive labels and eventually settling down to a sticker being simply called a label. These labels that had a pressure sensitive adhesive on the reverse, imperatively needed to have a protective release liner to protect the tacky adhesive until the label was required to be applied on to the product. The release liner, as I mentioned earlier would be left redundant after removal of the label, would actually land in the dustbin and then be disposed off in a landfill or burnt adding smoke to the environment. It was easy those days to joke about a product being successful even though after use it was being dumped in the landfills impacting the environment adversely. Time now has changed. Concern for our environment is a matter that has become an absolute necessity. We cannot joke about the success of a product that pollutes. We have to be responsible for leaving behind a legacy of a cleaner and livable environment for generations that follow us. We have to make our manufacturing programs, sustainable.

Sustainable or Sustainability! What it means? Well for a simple answer it means the capacity to endure but in wider terms it is the process that will enable our planet earth to support human life. In simpler terms it means that we need to give back to mother earth what we take from it or else we stop or reduce drawing the resources that we cannot replenish forthwith. If we cut trees to build homes, manufacture paper, produce furniture, etc. we are reducing the forest cover, deforestation impacts the environment and climate adversely. So, for the sake of sustainability, we need to plant many more trees to maintain the ecological balance such that the benefits of these resources are available to our next generations. Similarly potable water is also an absolute necessity for human consumption and survival. Underground water table has been a reservoir for continued supply of this vital necessity. Unfortunately as a result of rapid urbanization this resource seems to be depleting due to unorganized and excessive pumping of underground water. For this reason the government has made water harvesting compulsory for all new construction activity in an effort to replenish this vital need for human consumption and attain sustainability in urban living. Now coming back to self adhesive labels industry that uses a vital resource, trees for manufacture of paper. Unfortunately 50% of all that this industry produces goes as waste. The liner as explained earlier goes to the landfill via the dustbin, and the waste matrix further adds to the wastage. The industry needs to dwell on management of this waste. It is either burnt or dispatched to the landfill. It is time for all the stake holders in this industry from siliconisers, labelstock manufacturer, label printers to end users, to take stock of the situation and influence the manufacturing programmes towards sustainability by either reducing waste, recycling it or eliminating it substantially. Label industry around the world has already started to debate on this problem. FINAT, the International association on self adhesive labeling, has already initiated many debates and programmes on this problem. The label industry in India will also have to soon follow the trends elsewhere in the world, whether it is by sending the used liner and the waste matrix for recycling, or by reducing the thickness of the liners by opting for thinner filmic liners that can be reprocessed after use. However it would be ideal if the industry could indulge in the evolving the concept of making self adhesive labels “Linerless!”

A linerless label can be or I would say, it is like, a printed packaging tape, which instead of having continuous printing would have labels printed on it such that they could be cut and applied. The manufacturing of such a product is done by printing on the substrate, siliconising it, adhesive coating on the opposite side and then rewinding it like a tape. A fire mark at each label can aid a dispenser to sense the mark and dispense the label for application. However in such a scenario one cannot have special die-cut shapes that contribute to the aesthetics and shelf appeal of consumer products. Since the media in the western world has been highlighting linerless labels consistently, a lot of label producing companies around the world have started to work in this direction, making linerless labels a definite segment. Interesting developments are taking place in this upcoming segment and many companies are doing pioneering work to produce linerless labels that will perform effectively. One of the most active equipment suppliers who has been working and developing technology for producing such labels is ETI converting based in Montreal, Canada. For the past many years they have been exhibiting at Labelexpo’s, their equipment that can siliconise the base-paper, adhesive coat face paper, laminate the two, print, decorate, die-cut, finish labels and rewind in line in a single pass. For them it is a matter of shifting and adjusting the web flow at various modules to produce linerless labels. It would need one to simply print the labels on a regular label press, turn it around with a turn bar and siliconise it, turn it around, adhesive coat it and rewind it, the label roll Is ready. In case of clear films one could use a pre-silicone coated film and reverse print eliminating one more process in producing linerless labels. As a labelstock manufacturer myself I have been wondering what the labelstock manufacturing business will experience once linerless starts to grow. Last year in Brussels at Labelexpo 2011, during a brief interaction with Dean Scarborough, President and CEO of Avery Dennison, I shared my thoughts about linerless labels. I questioned Dean about the future of Labelstocks. Even though he felt that this technology will evolve but for the present the demand for the pre-die cut labels cannot be catered by the linerless technology. He stated that the conventional labelstock business is here to stay and will grow. I did agree with him at that time but a year down the line I feel while the conventional will grow yet the linerless label technology will soon make a big impact as up-gradation of this technology goes on. I am sure Dean must be having an ace up his sleeve!

There have been many interesting developments in the processes to produce linerless labels. I will dwell briefly on some of them. While the basic concept on most of the developments being made by different companies remains printing the substrate, the application of release coat on one side and then applying adhesive on the reverse, yet there are companies that are modifying equipment and processes to meet requirements of customers. For customers who need to over print, the substrate is pattern coated with silicone and adhesive so as to provide an uncoated area where overprinting can be done. In case of variable data printing the silicone coating is replaced by a special release coating which can accept thermal transfer printing. For printing on these linerless substrates special barcode printers are employed. Care is taken that the backup rollers are kept clean so that they do not result in paper jamming due to adhesive transferring on to the backup rolls. The technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. I would like to draw a comparison of the linerless label printing and regular linered label with the digital and conventional offset printing process. The way digital is growing, similarly linerless will grow.


ETI Cohesio
  The more startling innovation in linerless labels is coming from ETI converting about whom I have mentioned earlier in this article. In their endeavors on sustainability they first produced an equipment to produce labels on what they termed as the mini-liner. Labels produced on a multiple-reusable release liner are die-cut to special shapes and transferred to a 15 micron PET liner which is recyclable. This process helps in reducing the impact of waste as the there is lesser tonnage of the leftover liner and more over it is possible to reprocess it by re-molding. However this product does not fall into the category of linerless labels. ETI’s most interesting development is that of equipment to produce linerless labels that are pre-die cut to special shape and dispensed with the aid of a customized label applicator. The patented technology is now on offer. ETI has signed many non-disclosure agreements with companies that have decided to invest in their state of art equipment and path breaking technology. It is a matter of pride for me that my company Weldon Celloplast represents ETI for this green technology. Another interesting linerless label technology that I have come across is the one developed by US based Polykote Corporation in association with Arca Automation. They have developed a linerless label with no tack! The tack of the pressure sensitive adhesive has been deadened by an overcoat and the label appears to be like an unsupported wet glue label. However on the applicator once the label is exposed to an energy source like high energy light, radiant heat or hot air, the labels regain tack and the pressure sensitive nature of the label is re-activated.

While there appears to me, absolutely no indulgence in this linerless technology in India, yet the interest is positively stirring up. I have spoken and discussed with some of the leading label printers across India. It is difficult to report detailed individual responses in this article yet I give herein the gist of what the industry feels. 50% of all the printers that I contacted had not studied this concept and that they all had a problem disposing their waste. Gautham Pai led Manipal technologies and Chandan Khanna led Ajanta Packaging are extremely interested in this technology and are confident that it will grow in times to come. Sudhir Jain at Jain Transfer, Rajesh Nema at Pragati Global Indore, Shakti Jain at Great Eastern Gurgaon, Himanshu Kapur at J K Fineprints Mumbai and Sandeep Zaveri at Total Print Navi Mumbai all feel that the technology is still at a nascent stage and that for the present it is not a threat to the conventional label printing business. However they are still interested to indulge and take it forward if their customers take the initiative to go green in this direction. I was surprised by the comments of Yogesh Aggarwal of Printpack Delhi, he says, “There is no doubt that Linerless PS label stock would be a revolution and it should grow in time. It will obviously be a threat to conventional sticker with liner due to the reduced cost and environment friendly material. It should have good future.” There are other leading printers whom I spoke to and are quite knowledgeable on the subject but they decided to keep their cards close to their chest and not divulge their plans in this direction.

The linerless label technology is likely to take the self adhesive label industry to another level. In times to come, it will be a subject that is difficult to ignore. It cuts down the cost of a release liner from the ultimate cost of the laminate, there is no waste liners to dispose off, there will be more labels per roll thereby increasing production efficiency and also providing safety at work place because release liners are slippery and lying on the shop-floor, they are a risk where workers can slip on them and get injured. The summation on linerless labels, comes from non other then the person who has proven he can take pioneering and daring decisions. Decisions that can change the way the industry thinks and evolves! He is Narendra Paruchuri and in his words, “Apart from the cost benefit, I am very happy that this is a greener product. At present few companies are practicing being green with lower carbon foot prints. Soon Government legislation will force us to be Green. Linerless gives us a win-win situation where we are greener and we are cost efficient.”

In such a scenario when the same existing printing presses will be used in conjunction with some additional converting and dispensing equipment, it creates a win-win situation. It is a matter of time that the end-users will see the benefits of using these labels not just due to the price but also because they are aiding sustainability. The linerless labels will arrive and continue to grow!”

Written by Harveer Sahni, Managing Director, Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi-110008 August, 2012