Every year during the busy autumn season of packaging industry shows and conferences, the release liner industry takes a day out to analyze its present, and its future, in pressure-sensitive labeling. It was Europe’s turn this year to host the AWA Label Release Liner Industry Seminar, and a healthy number of participants, from every level of the value chain, convened in Brussels in late September.
Considerable dichotomy surrounds label release liner today. Its quality and performance are not in question – as leading brand owners confirm through their continuing preference for pressure-sensitive labeling for premium products. Equally, release liner – whether paper- or film-based – is fully recyclable and sustainable. It is, however, at the end of its working life that label release liner finds itself lacking an appropriate and unified modus operandi for transitioning it back into the processing chain for recycling and re-use.
Opening the Label Release Liner Seminar, AWA Alexander Watson Associates’ President and CEO, Corey Reardon, confirmed that business in the roll-label sector ‘continues to be optimistic’. Globally, growth in the use of release liner across all its market segments averaged out at 4% in 2012. The Asia Pacific region showed the greatest growth, at 7.1%, but this is a significant slowing down on prior years. South America and – new arrivals in the growth markets – Africa and the Middle East – both evidenced growth rates of 4.5%, while North America – at 2.1% growth – and Europe – at 1.9% -- both just managed to match approximate GDP growth.
Summarizing issues and innovations
Among its broad-ranging activities, UPM-Kymmene is the world’s largest manufacturer of release base papers. Mikko Rissanen, Product Manager, Paper Business Group, examined the global trends impacting release liner, their implications for the business and its technology, and product and sustainability issues and innovations. The scarcity of some raw materials, particularly platinum, and the resultant high costs, he showed, continue to create problems across the value chain, as do the issues of sustainability, global competition, and market instability and volatility. Material innovation, renewability and recyclability, a cost-efficient production process and supply chain, and technical service and support from suppliers that are viable for the long term are the key challenges for the future, he said. As well as showing UPM-Kymmene’s strong actions in the direction of recycling and re-use, he highlighted possible future technological pathways in product innovation such as downgauging, ‘clean’ liner, and improved/optimized compatibility of liners and silicones.
The label maker’s viewpoint
‘A label maker’s perspective’ on label release liner was provided by Alan Hazlewood, Group Quality and Technical Support Manager for major multinational label and application technology providers, Skanem AS, whose focus is on primary product labels, and 99% of whose production is in pressure-sensitive labels. Overall, he said, the company is ‘very happy with the quality of today’s liner’. ‘Our liner mix is roughly 53% honey glassine, 41% white glassine, and 6% film (of which 70% PET 30).’ Skanem’s requirements for release liners are technically clear: standardization between suppliers and across grades; consistency in thickness (for diecutting), in strength (as an unsupported web), and in curl (for label layflatness); and controlled siliconization in terms of coat weight and process control (avoiding voids and inclusions) for optimal release.