PEELING BACK THE LAYERS
Multi-colour leaflet/labels and multi-layer promotional products are among the most ingenious of self adhesive products.
With margins under pressure, prime label converters could be excused for casing covetous glances at those ingenious leaflet/labels and coupon labels. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and constructions. Brand managers and sales promotion agencies regard them highly as attention getters for targeted promotions. Also, they interest packaging buyers from the large agro-chemical and chemical firms – for whom leaflet/labels were invented – and pharmaceutical companies.
Closer examination reveals an interesting if somewhat ambiguous situation, which is largely influenced by the application of unconventional technology. Consequently, the owners of proprietary systems, ring-fenced with a multiplicity of closely-guarded patents, sit at the top of the pyramid. In a much broader band are the few well-chosen licensees who pay royalties for the right to use the know-how and special equipment. Finally, there are the specialised converters who run integrated converting lines designed to produce leaflet/labels and multi-ply products.
Gallus and Ko-Pack sell such machinery, but certain constraints may still apply to preserve the commercial rights of existing owners. Both companies claim their methods do not infringe copyrights and many owners operate quite successfully. Nevertheless, in certain geographical areas many companies perceive they may risk legal action and quickly lose interest.
Certainly, this labelling sector is reputed to be a minefield for litigation. Legal issues turn on the minutiae of perforation positions, folds, laminates and adhesives. For example, a method with Fix-a-Forms from Denny Bros Printing is to break the outermost perforation and tear out the entire leaflet along the second perforation. Others types adopt different methods, such as resealable strips. ‘It seems the people making the most money out of leaflet/labels are lawyers,’ says Ron Spring, expert witness in a number of legal tussles.
One person making no secret of his willingness to call in the lawyers is David Instance. He claims 468 worldwide patents for ‘extended text’ systems. In January his company, Inprint Systems of Ashford in Kent, won the latest of several European actions with four more pending. This time Avery Etichette Italia SpA (no longer connected with Avery Dennison) was in the dock. The action took place in Monza, where Inprint recently opened a manufacturing plant. Earlier it had forced Magneti Marelli, a battery maker, to withdraw labels that were said to infringe an Instance patent.
Inprint Systems has operations in France, Germany, Italy and the USA. It was formed in 1973, some five years before the Denny brothers introduced Fix-a-Form products. Once bitter rivals, they have largely arrived at a form of status quo and strengthened their respective business, Fix-a-Form products are now licensed to 22 converters around the world.
Their methods are broadly similar. That is, they print the pages of text and graphics that form the booklet on a suitable sheet-fed offset press. The sheets are guillotined and folded on specialised folders. Finally, the booklets are automatically fed from a hopper on to a self-adhesive carrier, formed in several different ways. Overlaminating the booklet with a clear film acts variously as an enhancer, a hinge or peal and reseal medium.
This sheet/web method can produce relatively substantial booklets. The record is a promotional booklet with 100-plus pages carrying MS-DOS instructions printed in four languages for floppy disk packs. It was produced by Kenilworth, Denny’s Irish licensee. Up to 10 or 12 pages (24 panels) is more common, which still allows much information in a limited space, including foreign translations and multi-colour graphics.
Leaflet/labels are supplied for either manual or machine application. Their vaersatility also extends to bottle collars. Denny recently supplied Tesco with 400,000 Auto-collars printed in ten different colours to promote a range of sauces and marinades. Unfolding the leaflet revealed recipe suggestions and a money-off coupon, which incorporated a product bar code for ease of use at the checkout.
According to David Instance, Inprint Systems stands outside the mainstream labelling world: ‘We’re an industrial company with an industrial clientele. Most of our production relates to informative agro-chemical booklets, which mainly fulfil a legislative need. From the outside the market looks very substantial, but in reality it grows steadily driven by legislation.’
Inprint Systems does, however, have a stake in producing promotional leaflet/labels within a multi-web operation. It recently took over the Labeltext resealable leaflet/label business from Ferguson UK’s label division. It was originally developed by Labeltech in Witham, Essex, which developed a patented print and assembly machine called the Gander 400/1. Labeltext, which had seven European licensed users of the machines at the time, now operates as a separate company with 15 employees.
Besides promotional labels, most patent holders and licensees alike continue to do good business with multinational agro-chemical companies. The same need for extended information regarding usage and ingredients, often in several languages, covers gardening chemicals and such DIY products as paints and varnishes.
Pharmaceutical companies represent a huge and growing market. Again, legislation governing on-pack patient information has greatly boosted demand for leaflet/labels as replacements for separately-printed leaflet and/or small folded cartons.
Several producers have geared themselves for expansion. For example, Denny Bros Printing recently completed an investment of around £ million, including a separate 926 squaremetre factory in Bury St Edmunds. It is dedicated to producing pharmaceutical leaflet/labels under extremely secure conditions. The new iste also houses Fix-a-Form International (FFI), which outgrew the original site, where it built customised machinery and supplied know-how to licensees.
The pharmaceutical sector is also a prime market for CCL Label, one of two FFI licensees in the USA. The company recently took over four Avery Dennison label plants and its North American labelling machinery division. It now has seven plants in the US, Canada and Mexico and is actively promoting Fix-a-Form products. FFI’s other US licensee, Moss Printing Division, has expanded its Chicago plant and installed new FFI converting equipment. Its expertise is in supplying agro-chemical and pharmaceutical Fix-a-Forms to national customers.
The rise of multi-layers
As mentioned earlier, the alternative to applying offset-printed leaflets onto self adhesive labels is to produce them in one pass on a multi-web press. This greatly reduces delivery times, perhaps from weeks to days, but buyers are restricted to far fewer pages. For example, Ko-Pack’s ground-breaking FormLabel 250 produces booklets of three, five, seven or nine pages.
We could consider them as niche products in a highly specialised market. Arguably, the higher volumes come from the large variety of multi-layer constructions, such as piggyback or coupon labels. ‘Jim Hattemer developed this concept in the early 1970s’, says Ron Spring. ‘It was based upon the idea of printing a web of material, and running another web on top of it in register. A dry adhesive between each layer gave the essential pealability to produce a multi-layer coupon label.’
Hattemer’s company was later acquired by Graphic Resources, which in turn was taken over by Engraph. Like one big fish swallowing another, Sonoco Products absorbed the large Engraph organisation and patent rights in October 1993. Seven months later it looked eastwards across the Atlantic to take over Harlands’ label converting and application machine business. Interestingly, Harlands was already a long-established producer of leaflet/labels and promotional products using unspecified in-line techniques in Hull.
‘Like other Sonoco-Engraph plants we have a choice of production options to produce either leaflet/labels or multi-ply dry-peal products, as appropriate to the buyer’s needs,’ says Ian Ross, CEO. ‘We’re finding good markets for them. However, we are conscious of the complexities surrounding patents in this area.’
Multi-ply products include a few off-the-shelf piggyback types from trade houses like Paperwork. These can comprise an overprinted facestock with clear film or paper middle layer on a release liner. Some patented designs with two or more surface-printed layers involve delaminating and laminating processes. Each layer is coated with a UV-cured release lacquer for dry pealability.
Overlaminating a typical two-sided peel-off coupon label with clear film provides extra strength and surface gloss. It could act as a redeemable coupon applied to the primary packaging like an ordinary label. Peeling away the coupon leaves a clear film base, which does not obscure the pack’s graphics. Buyers could specify a bar code on the coupon’s reverse for redemption purposes. Other usages include competitions, recipes and serving suggestions, scratch patches for games, encapsulated fragrances, stickers or stamps.
Besides Sonoco-Engraph, another US heavyweight is Mid America, part of the Menasha Coropration. It produces the Applied On-Pack Promotions range, including Dri/Release and Peel-N-Reseal that make up around a dozen different multi-ply constructions. Booklet/Plus resealable booklets comprise a seam-glued type with up to ten layers (20 pages) and folded type with up to 14 layers. These are offset-printed and folded separately, but clear-film lamination on the self-adhesive carrier takes place in the label press.
The company has sold licensing agreements to converters worldwide and co-operates with major press makers, including Mark Andy and Nilpeter. Both firms have supplied three-web, 14-colour flexo presses to Mid America licensees. Jarvis Porter was one for several years until it acquired Irwin Packaging. It subsequently centralised leaflet/label and multi-ply production at the renamed Jarvis Porter Irwin factory in Cardiff using existing production facilities.
All in one pass
Ko-Pack International’s series of innovative combination presses for multi-web products, cartons and much else has given it a strong market identity. Its FormLabel machine – up to 12 colours – handles reverse-side printing, varnishing, folding, gluing and other tasks in one pass. Users can die-cut booklets (up to 120 x 140mm) into complex shapes and finish them reel-to-reel, reel-to-sheet or reel-to-fanfold.
Uniquely, it also offers in-line variable information printing using electron-beam print engines from NBS, first seen at Labelexpo USA ’94. Applications include redeemable coupons and personalised marketing aids, gaming products, also sequential numbered and encoded labels for forms and other documents.
The latest development is the closure by Ko-Pack Corporation of its Ko-Bel UK trade service. Created in 1991, it was intended as a European operation to promote the company’s specialised press technology, while simultaneously building market awareness.
‘The success of Ko-Pack’s strategy has unfortunately, but predictably, been at the expense of Ko-Bel,’ said Doug Smith, managing director (Europe). ‘Ko-Pack customers directly competed with Ko-Bel for the same niche business. Closing the Peterborough-based subsidiary removes any perceived competitive restraint to companies that have invested heavily in Ko-Pack’s booklet presses.’ Among known operators are New Era in Dublin and the Dutch converters Altrif Labels in Roosendaal and Nederlandse Speciaal Drukkerijen in Delft. The latter not only has a Ko-pack 250 booklet press but also holds a Fix-a-Form licence.
Gallus’s offering is the modular R200 Booklet press, which has a special process section installed between the letterpress or screen units and flatbed or rotary die cutting stations. It was introduced three years ago and incorporates patents developed by Hunkeler. The Swiss company specialises in web and sheet handling equipment for the forms, mailer and electronic printing markets. Again, it produces composite constructions in a single pass. One clever example is a construction comprising a sealable pocket on a self-adhesive web. The pocket can carry all types of small items including cards and tickets, produced simultaneously on the press. The folded enclosure can be several times larger than the label itself.
The presses mentioned – others may also be available or under development – suggest the most practical route into the multi-layer market, short of inventing a completely new system or picking up a lapsed licensing agreement. Companies that have gone down the in-line converting route have benefited from the flexibility of these presses and their potential to produce high volumes in relatively short production times.
The heavy expense and marketing initiatives deeded for such installations sideline them into extremely specialised operations. Ironically, those involved in producing leaflet/labels and multi-ply promotional derivatives generally agree that the market is fairly dynamic. Possibly, their combined production resources just scratch the surface of potential demand in Europe. And the fact remains, there are few chances of realising this growth while legal ambiguities compound an uncharacteristic climate of commercial secrecy.