Coating and Laminating: At the Heart of the Packaging Industry

Despite market pressures, the future is bright for the global coating and laminating industry.

According to Corey Reardon of AWA Alexander Watson Assoc., packaging buyers — particularly in the fast-moving consumer goods field — are moving away from the traditional approach to product labeling. “What we once defined as ‘labeling’ can now better be described as ‘product decoration and identification,’ and buyers are choosing to achieve this via a variety of technologies today,” he says.

While self-adhesive labels still have the dominant market share, glue-applied labels are only a few percentage points behind, and other technologies are taking significant business today — particularly sleeving (wraparound, stretch, and shrink sleeve) and in-mold labels — as well as direct-printed flexible packaging (e.g., pouches and sachets), where the label is integral to the package.

Different technologies may be used on different product variants, different sizes, etc. — according to which solution provides the best performance/price ratio. That solution, for today's multinational product manufacturers, will need to meet design, technical, marketing, production, and purchasing criteria — within a global context.

Today's advanced label presses can do much more than simply run self-adhesive labels and increasingly are being used to run other materials and laminates such as unsupported films, tag materials, cartons, sleeves, and even toothpaste tube laminates. The introduction of general-purpose, UV-curable inks with improved low-odor characteristics has helped make this a practical proposition for converters that want to improve their machine utilization and productivity.

Versatility Is Key
For the laminators themselves and their suppliers, the label market makes increasing demands on their versatility and innovation. The trend toward lower-gauge facestocks delivers a better cost/performance ratio and more labels per roll, and print-friendly topcoatings on paper stocks enable lower grades and calipers to be used. Adhesive formulations now favor emulsions and hot melts, with the new UV hot melts approaching the adhesion values of the solvent-based adhesives historically preferred for high-performance applications. Release liners, both paper and film, and their silicone release coatings must perform to even higher standards in high-speed dispensing applications.

It is, however, in niche markets that self-adhesive label laminators retain the competitive edge over other labeling technologies. The physical three-part structure of the self-adhesive laminate delivers a degree of versatility that remains unmatched and makes self-adhesive labels the leading choice for such high-value applications as security labels and added-value functional labels such as RFID tags and time/temperature indicators.

Corey Reardon is confident a strong future remains for the global coating and laminating industry — despite the pressures being brought to bear on the packaging supply chain as a whole by the strong purchasing power of the major multinationals, who today are driving the market. He says, “The industry will emerge as a stronger entity as the cycle of consolidation through mergers and acquisitions continues to bring economies of scale, improved business practices, enhanced customer service, and — most importantly — better profitability.”

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