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TAILOR-MADE FILMS SET TO CREATE A NEW WORLDWIDE LABELSTOCK GROWTH

The ability to ‘engineer’ films to meet new performance and application requirements offers an exciting potential for the future of the label industry.

The use of filmic materials for labelling has undergone a quite dramatic change in recent years, particularly since the late 1980s when environmental pressures began to be exerted on the packaging and labelling industries.

Just 15 years ago the use of films for pressure-sensitive labelling was probably no more than 10 percent by volume of total labelstock consumption – with vinyl making up some 70 percent of that total.

Today, films make up around 20 percent of volume pressure-sensitive label usage and as much as 30 percent or more by value of sales. Vinyl, which formerly dominated the films market, has declined significantly in market share and polypropylene, polyethylene and, more recently, polyolefin films have between them become the market leaders.

Applications for filmic labelstocks have also grown significantly, with white, black, coloured and clear products being found in cosmetics, toiletries, pharmaceuticals and industrial labelling markets. In addition, there has been a rapid growth in metallized films for pressure-sensitive labelling, as well as new growth coming from the use of films in the fast-emerging market of in-mold labelling.

Traditionally, most of the filmic labelstocks used for pressure-sensitive labelling were made by bringing together monomers, such as ethylene, propylene and vinyl chloride, and forming them into chains (polymers) to give ‘poly’ ethylene, ‘poly’ propylene and ‘poly’ vinyl chloride plastics which could then be extruded into flat films for labels.

While all of these types of films have achieved success for pressure-sensitive labelling, most of them have some inherent limitations which affect properties such as dispensability, flexibility, squeezability or other end use performance requirements in today’s fast-changing packaging and labelling environment.

The potential to find ways of overcoming these limitations and also to develop films with enhanced performance properties – both in existing filmic labelstocks markets and in potential new applications, such as laser copier processable films, security label films and peelable films – is what spurred Avery Dennison to begin experimenting with film and extrusion technology back in the early 1980s.

Rather than just extruding individual homopolymers, the company started to look at polymers made up of mixed monomers, that is, ethylene-propylene copolymers, and to experiment with the coextruding of plastic to be put in the top, middle and bottom layers of a label film so as to gain specific properties from each.

Development also took place to find the best way of orientating label films – that is a technique by which the softened plastic can be stretched in one or more directions to align the polymer chain so as to reduce elongation or provide higher machine direction stiffness.

The target aim of Avery Dennison was to create unique, proprietary engineered films to provide a competitive advantage to its division worldwide – as well as to non-competing customers.
Such was the success of the initial development that the company purchased its first film coextruding line in 1985, and applied for patents in that year. By 1987 the first specially developed coextruded film (Ultraliner) as being sold, followed by the first coextruded facestock (Primax) in 1989.

Spurred by these successes, Avery Dennison formed an Extrusion Business Team in 1989. This had a separate identity with the Painesville, OH complex, separate financial control, combined the films R&D and manufacturing operations and provided a focused effort to the whole films development program.

A second film extruding line was installed in 1993 and this year approval was given for the purchase of a further two extruders, together with a dedicated facility. As of 20 May this year, Avery Dennison Materials Group North America has formed its own dedicated Engineered Films Division.

‘Over the last five years’, says Mel Freedman, general manager of the new division, ‘the extrusion team has grown dramatically and has exceeded internal business expectations, so requiring additional equipment and personnel to meet the capacity needs.

‘From a business standpoint and as a new division, we will continue to create unique proprietary engineered films for Avery Dennison divisions and also expand our market to non-competing customers,’ Mel Freedman explained to Label & Labelling.

‘The growth and future of coextrusion technology will undoubtedly be significant to the future of the films and labelling industry. And as a new division with a solid track record, the Engineered Films Division is also positioned to explore new business areas within the pressure-sensitive market,’ added Freedman.

Currently products available from the Emgineered Films Division include new second generation Primax 250 and FasClear 250 films – designed for squeezable plastic containers and with a machine direction orientation that ensures a balance between on-container performance and convertability.

Made with the same inherently printable surface, Primax 250 and FasClear 250 duplicate the division’s first generation 350 films’ proven flexibility with various print methods and inks. Both films accept hot stamping and print methods such as screen, UV letterpress and UV flexo.

Other products offered by the division are Primax IM and FasClear IM – for in-mold labelling – as well as Ultraliner 242 and Transcode/drum label material.

And what of the future? There seems little doubt that the establishment of a world headquarters facility for Engineered Films in Painesville will have significant impact on the continued growth and potential of filmic labelstocks. Not just in the pressure-sensitive area but in injection molding and thermoforming films and diaper films.

Within the pressure-sensitive field, Engineered Films are developing crystal clear products, PVC sheet film replacements, computer graphics base films, peelable films, security label films and laser copier processable films – all with the potential to further expand and grow the pressure-sensitive industry into new markets and applications.

Primarily concentrating on the North American market at present, Avery Dennison’s advanced engineered films technology will be extended into Europe and other world markets in the near future – further exploiting coextrusion technology to develop unique proprietary films as well as providing the technical support systems needed to exceed customer requirements.

Complementing the advances in engineered films, Avery Dennison company, Fasson Films Division, has announced an investment of over $9 million to significantly increase its films-coating capacity.

According to Robert H Coleman, vice president and general manager of Fasson Films, ‘This investment in equipment will have a major impact by increasing our films-coating production in the Cleveland Fasson Films facility in Mentor, OH.’

Coleman added that the expansion will support continued growth of existing and new roll/film products to be distributed nationwide through Fasson’s extensive finishing network.

What seems certain is that the Avery Dennison Corporation and its Enginereed Films and Fasson Films division now have both the worldwide initiative and capability to take the label industry into the future – a future in which films could make up as much as a third or more of labelstock usage by the end of this century, and take label converters into new markets and opportunities in the years ahead.

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