Why shrink it when you can stretch it? That's the question that Jim Mallon, vice president of business development for MRI Flexible Packaging, asked at the Sleeve Label Conference 2014 last week in his presentation that compared shrink vs. stretch labels.
MRI specializes in manufacturing roll-stretch sleeves, and has recently invested in a pre-press Kodak Flexcel NX System that provides stronger and more vibrant colors for enhanced printing capabilities. The company also purchased a Bobst 20SiX 51 web press that provides 10-color printing and has 100% vision system capabilities. It also has GPS auto registration to maintain proper registration and expanded Gamut.
The company's C-FiT stretch sleeves are a relatively new label innovation in the market, and Mallon said ,"it is interesting how far stretch sleeving has come and where it's going." While stretch sleeving has been around a long time, the primary applications have been for large, more industrial type containers, where the elasticity was typically 5-10%.
That is changing as applications for the C-FiT stretch sleeve have evolved for smaller containers. The new C-FiT stretch sleeving has greater elasticity (20-45%) and snap-back, is PE-based and hence can conform better to the bottle shape that makes C-FiT ideal for contoured bottles.
The stretch sleeving has tended to be adopted more in Europe, running on a variety of bottles, yet the stretch sleeving provides a look that is very similar to heat shrink sleeves. It also provides near total coverage for the bottles. "I don't see this replacing shrink, but is an alternative for brand owners seeking an alternative," Mallon said.
Some of the advantages to stretch sleeves vs. heat shrink sleeving is that there is typically about a 35% cost savings on the stretch labels; less plastic is required because with stretch the label is undersized and stretched over the bottle, whereas with shrink the label must be oversized. "On a typical 10oz bottle the C-FiT stretch contained 43% less plastic and reduced the amount of energy needed to label the bottle," Mallon explained.
Stretch sleeves also require less energy because there is no heat needed, thus a lower carbon footprint, which enhances the sustainability of the product. With the softer films that are used with stretch sleeves, the sleeve will continue to reduce with the container such as in hot fill applications.
However, because of its softer film material stretch used in applications such as wrapping multi-packs is not as robust as shrink sleeve wrapping, noted Mallon.
For PET bottle recycling, the specific density of the LPDE film is less than 1.0, which means it floats during the separation process. However, with stretch labels there is no glue or seam adhesive so it is easy to remove from the bottle. "We could design a tear-away feature, but because there's no glue on the label, it can be easily removed," said Mallon. "Recyclers want good, clean bottles. Easy removal is a big deal to get recycling participation."
Two machinery makers have developed machines for stretch labeling - Krones Inc. and PDC Inc. both make stretch labeling equipment for the North American market. These machines apply the stretch sleeves automatically by grabbing the label, stretching it and placing it over the bottle, and offer high productivity.
As for the labels themselves, Mallon noted that they are working on better clarity for the label, and even a high-elastic scuff resistant varnish to maintain the integrity of the label. Mallon also commented that because it can be challenging to convert from shrink to C-FiT stretch labels on existing bottles designed for full body shrink sleeves, due to the need for new application equipment, brand owners should consider C-FiT stretch as an option for any new bottle design from the outset to accommodate the stretch process.
"Stretch is not a large or mature market but that's primarily it's all been about shrink, shrink, shrink," he stated. "We've always done stretch and I've always thought that if we could improve the stretch materials and process we'd see bigger demand. However, I'm getting a lot of interest in it. Sustainability is drawing some of the inquiries on it. It just needs to get some legs under it."