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PFFC Worldwide Special Report on Release Liners, part 1

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The Industry Looks to its Future

Ann Hirst-Smith reports on the AWA-hosted roundtable forum held during the 2004 Global Release Liner Conference.

This year's Global Release Liner Conference took place in Helsinki, Finland. It featured, in addition to the main conference program, an industry roundtable forum. The forum covered the effects of downgauging materials across the value chain and opportunities to increase the value of the self-adhesive laminate and make it more competitive.

The participants, representing virtually the whole release liner value chain, spent three hours in productive discussions.

The Context
Thinking about the future of the business — especially at a time when self-adhesives are at a mature point in their lifecycle — is critical to the whole value chain, which needs to improve value creation by becoming more competitive from two viewpoints: that of the suppliers — how they can make their product offering more competitive — and that of the customers — how they can get more value from their suppliers' products.

Overall, the discussions included a comprehensive review of current trends and issues and also highlighted important directions for the industry's future success.

Participants identified three major topics they consider the release liner industry needs to address:

  • Its image — particularly in relation to waste management concerns;

  • The cost/performance ratio and how to retain and optimize it;

  • Competitive technologies not involving release liner.

Within these three broad areas, additional concern was expressed about possible substitution by alternative technologies; the complex nature of the value chain in the self-adhesive market; and profitability.

Creating Value
Downgauging certainly is considered to be part of the answer — and one that's been in progress for the last 20 years, with liners showing an 8%-10% reduction in caliper.

Today, the end-user (whether of label stocks or industrial tapes) is more aware of the components that make up the self-adhesive laminate, with the release liner as a necessary evil, the cost of which could and should be reduced.

Other technologies, therefore, represent a real challenge — not only linerless self-adhesive label stock but other “linerless” alternatives — sleeving, wet glue, and in-mold. Participants assessed the available options in terms of physical downgauging, estimating the release liner at some 20% of total laminate cost, and also reviewed possible improvements in supply chain management — including, of course, the waste management/recycling issues.

Central to all discussions were the two topics of cost reduction and profitability — and they polarized the need for long-term vision and innovation, encouraged by a more open self-adhesive release liner value chain. There are real opportunities for streamlining and simplification, but the value chain players need to develop a more open dialogue to kick-start this activity.

Looking to the Future
Overall, the release liner industry still needs to give more value with new product features, improved reliability, improved service, and greater environmental responsibility, in ways that are profitable to itself — and at the same time, keep an eye on emerging product identification and decoration technologies and the competitive challenges they may represent.

The minutes of the round table forum have been published as an industry white paper and are available from AWA Alexander Watson Assoc., awa-bv.com.

North American Facts & Figures

In 2003 applications for release liners on self-adhesive materials accounted for 92% of the total worldwide market (25,500 sq m), with North America claiming some 4,700 million sq m. Expectations for the future are encouraging, but worldwide demand will depend on global economic conditions — particularly the US economy and its impact on the global economy — as well as on Asia's growing importance in terms of volume and growth.

In the label stock segment, price pressures drive the choice of substrate. With commercial silicone coating companies, growth in film liner is greater than with paper liner.

Although film liners continue to generate a high level of interest, they represent a small but increasing share of the total label stock market at 3%-4%. Major drivers for this growth include applications involving the “no-label look” using clear-on-clear film laminates; functional and security applications; and high-speed dispensing. The prospects for film liners continue to be optimistic, particularly if their economics can be brought into line with those of paper liners.

Overall, calendered kraft liners dominate the North American market, with a share of about 79%. Variable Information Print labeling applications mainly use 42# SCK liners. SCK is also the preferred choice for prime labels but with an emphasis on continuing reduction of the basis weight. The technical properties of films make them the liners of choice for many functional and security labeling tasks, where high performance is critical.

This information is from current research by AWA Alexander Watson Assoc., which recently published a study on the North American market, “Labeling Markets: North American Sourcebook 2004.”

Study Documents End-User Markets

“It's time we all considered the release liner in its entirety — the value chain does not stop at the converter — it both serves and includes the end-user!” says Corey M. Reardon, president and CEO of AWA Alexander Watson Assoc.

The newly available “European Release Liner Outlook 2004: Market Study & Industry Sourcebook” from AWA Alexander Watson Assoc. delivers a greater research span all around than previous editions.

While regular subscribers will welcome an update on the facts and figures, the mainstay of the study, this edition adds invaluable research on the end use of release liner at a time when end-users are leveraging their purchasing power and evaluating a wider choice of supply alternatives.

According to Corey Reardon, “Our focus is on users of release liner that purchase from commercial silicone coating companies. The core of the research is a series of in-depth interviews with some 60 European companies that together make up an unparalleled profile of the markets where release liner finds use.” User demand trends are tracked in these markets: label stock, graphic arts, tape, hygiene, building and insulation, covering films, envelopes, and medical.

Users' expectations of their suppliers are examined, and their responses rated in terms of quality, price, and service. Constraints and opportunities for release liner, in the end-user's view, are documented.

“European Release Liner Outlook 2004: Market Study & Industry Sourcebook” provides a market analysis and overview of opportunities for silicone coating companies, material suppliers, and all involved in the release liner market.

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