Challenges to greater IML use remain, but demand still gathers speed

Inmold labeling, while continuing its success in Europe, is slowly coming of age in North America as label makers push new products into the market.

Opportunities still exist for inmold label applications, and label makers are becoming more creative in their offerings to encourage more inmold label (IML) usage. In North America, demand for these labels in the injection molding sector grew 30% in 2008 over 2007, but lack of a larger domestic label supply base remains a hindrance to further growth, said William Llewellyn, VP and senior consultant for AWA Alexander Watson Assoc. at the 2009 IMLCON.

Unifoil and IGH Solutions teamed up on this promotional drink cup for the movie, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” for Hoyts Theaters in Australia.

While inmold labeling has many strengths—including the security of the label, the ability to make the label a part of the package to provide strength while maintaining thin wall sections, and elimination of secondary operations—there are still drawbacks. Brand fragmentation is creating a larger number of SKUs, with each SKU requiring its own label, and the risk of having large numbers of prelabeled containers in inventory for an obsolete product or when a product overhaul makes the labels obsolete are also concerns for brand owners.

Keith Cardinal, senior packaging engineering manager laundry care for Henkel in Scottsdale, AZ, notes that his company uses a variety of labels, including inmold, but adds that its labeling decisions must ensure flexibility. “Once you blowmold that bottle, you’ve branded it,” he said. “You have to be flexible to stay competitive.”

For fast-moving consumer products, Henkel’s Shelly Gibson, purchasing manager for printed labels for North America, added, “If you’re only going into IML for a year, it doesn’t work. Everything is going to the last point of differentiation, and IML makes sense with personal care products. But it becomes a headache if you’re not in it long term.”

What’s new in labels
Unifoil Corp. has teamed up with IGH Solutions on the manufacture of some IML drinkware created as a promotional item for “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” The eye-catching New Moon cup, made with IGH Solutions’ new metallized Krom IML cup technology, which incorporates Unifoil’s patented and patents-pending silver metallic Ultralustre technology, was offered for sale with a beverage at select Hoyts theaters and sold out quickly.

Joe Funicelli, president and CEO of Unifoil Corp., adds that Unifoil’s Ultralustre “enhances branding in a unique way, not only with its enticing brilliant reflective aesthetic, but also because it allows consumers to hold and reuse the item, keeping the brand message fresh.” Funicelli says Unifoil sees greater demand for metallic labels “across the board,” but particularly in blowmolded bottles for many consumer applications. “We’re seeing more items such as the cups—more injection projects—but the blowmolded applications are a big market for us. Since we introduced the product at the IMLCON last October, we’re seeing a lot of projects that are now bearing fruit—a lot of live jobs are kicking in,” he said in a telephone interview.

David Coughlin, director of operations for Industramark, a Standard Register company that is just a year old and specializes in microporous film labels for both the packaging and durable goods markets, recalls that “2009 was a tough year from an IML and IMD perspective. Molders were really intrigued by the technology we have to offer, but they didn’t want to make that upfront capital investment that entering the IML technology arena requires. Still, a lot of the ideas that we planted with molders are starting to take hold and we’ve had an explosive beginning to the year.”

Industramark is beginning to see more demand in areas such as consumer packaging “red box” labels, and some interest from food and medical. Coughlin adds that the company is seeing a lot of activity from the blowmolded packaging sector and is starting a dialogue with some blowmold bottle manufacturers about using Industramark’s microporous films.

“Rather than a bottle designed for inmold labeling with a ‘land’ section for the label, our product would allow the label to be conformable,” says Coughlin. “We have been able to put labels on a bottle and wrap the edge where they hadn’t been able to before.”

What’s new in automation
Placing the labels in the mold has always been a concern, and precut labels that are placed in a magazine to be robotically picked and placed have been the conventional means. However, cut-in-place roll-fed labels for the injection molding are becoming popular. LaCrosse, WI-based Inland Label introduced its new “Cut in Place” technology, in which the labels are cut from rolls right at the molding machine, allowing for thinner-gauge label material as low as 45 µm in white or clear film.

Roll-fed injection inmold labeling eliminates the need for additional cutting and converting, as well as the need for antistat properties in the material, as required with standard cut-and-stack applications. Additionally, it reduces label-to-label size variation and can provide as much as 35% cost savings compared to standard cut-and-stack injection inmold labels.

“This was a successful joint effort with CBW Automation,” says Jackie Kuehlmann, marketing manager for Inland Label. “We are seeing very positive feedback from the market and we have several customers now using it. Clearly, for savings, the cut-in-place roll-fed technology can realize savings in several areas. It’s seen as an easier process than dealing with a stack of labels and a magazine, relying on static charge, and relying on picking up one label at a time. Roll-fed cut-in-place eliminates the places where issues can arise.”

Another driver of the roll-fed cut-in-place, notes Kuehlmann, is that the industry as a whole, including end users, is pushing packaging suppliers to make a greener product. “In turn they’re pushing us to come up with greener solutions, and clearly injection inmold labels generally are greener, eliminating steps in the process,” she says. “Instead of having a package created and shipped to the filler, pressure-sensitive labels sent separately to the filler and put on in a secondary step, the added transportation costs, etc., we have an inmold decorative product that eliminates these steps.”

While the roll-fed label is gaining in popularity, Kuehlmann notes that precut and stack labels have their appropriate applications as well. “We work with the customer/end user to see what issues they have, and see if the roll-fed is the answer. But cut-and-stack still makes sense in some applications over roll-fed.”Clare Goldsberry

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