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In-mold labeling (IML) for durable goods, also known as IMD (in-mold durables), is seeing more application requirements in the durables markets such as automotive, appliances, and toys. Jeff Denton, Marketing and Product Manager for Standard Register (Pasadena, CA), gave a presentation on IML at the recent IMLCON/IMDCON, and noted that in-mold isn't just for polypropylene any longer, referring to IML's popularity in the packaging market.

Clare Goldsberry

April 17, 2014

6 Min Read
In-mold labeling for durable goods makes gains

In-mold labeling (IML) for durable goods, also known as IMD (in-mold durables), is seeing more application requirements in the durables markets such as automotive, appliances, and toys. Jeff Denton, Marketing and Product Manager for Standard Register (Pasadena, CA), gave a presentation on IML at the recent IMLCON/IMDCON, and noted that in-mold isn't just for polypropylene any longer, referring to IML's popularity in the packaging market.

Husqvarna_Snowblower-300.jpgOne of Standard Register's businesses is developing IML for durable goods to extend the use of these labels beyond just pressure-sensitive (PS) applications for injection molded, blow molded, compression molded, and thermoformed parts. Its Grafilm product used in industrial and durable goods applications is a patented, UL-certified in-mold label file that mechanically bonds to any surface. The newest iteration of Grafilm offers increased abrasion and chemical resistance and optional UV protection and shaping capabilities.

"We're in the automotive market but not like most people think," said Denton, in describing some of the applications where Grafilm is in use. "It's interesting because there are many areas within vehicles such as the cabin, under-the-hood components, and exterior requirements, each [of which] has its own market for decoration and labels. At Standard Register, we play in the under-the-hood arena with warning labels on radiator housings, batteries, and other components."

There are other areas where durable labels are required, such as air-bag warning labels on the side panel of the dashboard and tire pressure labels inside the door, and many others are being looked at for IML. "It's much easier to have it applied in-mold onto the plastic than to apply the PS label afterward," said Denton. "The in-mold label is long lasting, which is critical to durable products. With PS labels, putting a laminate over the label offers some protection, but that peels off, as well."

Denton noted that there are a number of smaller labels required throughout the inside of the engine compartment, which typically is a dirty, hot environment exposed to harsh salt and cleaning solvents. "We're seeing a lot of those being converted to IML," he said.

Another under-the-hood application, beyond warning labels, is the engine shroud that covers and hides the engine. Denton noted that his Ford Edge has a huge Ford emblem on top of the shroud, adding that many of these large logo labels are PS-applied secondary to production.

With all that said, getting approval for in-mold labels is a "slow, tedious process with a lot of testing requirements," commented Denton. "Every automotive company has its own testing criteria, so you have to pass each company's testing requirements. Some of these requirements include special inks, special materials, high-heat resistance, durable coatings, and more," he explained.

The company's Grafilm is a high-molecular-weight, heat-resistant material that can withstand temperatures up to 600°F. "OEMs that don't use Grafilm have to look at the plastic being molded, such as PC or nylon, then rely heavily on inks and coatings to provide the chemical and abrasion resistance," explained Denton.

Typically, when using IML technology, it requires like material to like material. However, Grafilm is an exception. "We have applications outside of automotive such as lawn and garden, power equipment, and handheld power tools that are molded using glass-filled nylon or PC blends such as PC-ABS, which are more difficult," said Denton. "ABS labels are available but they are expensive, primarily because in the durables arena you don't see the volumes you see with consumer packaging."

Additionally, there are higher durability requirements and the IML molding process is much more challenging.

"The parts tend to have thicker wall sections, so typically we see more molding issues with labels shifting in the mold due to the injection pressures being greater," said Denton. "We have special coatings and inks that allow the labels to adhere to the mold surface with heat, static, or vacuum and don't see that shifting in the mold. One customer was using 30-60% GF nylon and the part we saw, the label stuck fine. It was almost a PP to PP bond, and with our Grafilm the mold and the label passed inspection. Typically 30% GF is what we see the most. Typically the mold for GF nylon will be a hot surface, 130°F or warmer, then the label will adhere with heat. During the cooling cycle, the label is pulled off the mold wall and bonded to the plastic. With more plastic coming across the label during the injection phase, pinning the label is critical."

Inks for in-mold labels for durable products need to be non-fade because the injection cycles are longer, which tends to break down the inks and can cause a loss in color quality. "We have to use the highest quality inks with heat resistance to prevent fading," said Denton. "Most have UV resistance coatings, as well, because a lot of the products are used outdoors."

In-mold labeling for durable products requires a whole different mind-set, noted Denton. "IML for single-use items or for food products need beautiful labels to attract consumers at the shelf level," said Denton. "We have the same requirements for durable goods logos because the logo is their reputation. We have to hit their colors right on and ensure that after postmolding their colors are spot on. If the color isn't exact after postmolding, the entire part is scraped."

Many labels on durable parts are "functional" labels that contain warnings, instructions, and markings for measurements, etc., Denton explained. "One application was a control panel for a simple lawn and garden part-a knob with marks on the label that had to line up correctly," he said. "If the molded part and the label aren't correctly dimensioned, it won't provide the consumer with a correct setting. Dimensions are very critical with durable products."

In-mold labeling for durable products is still new but growing, noted Denton. "It's smaller than the typical IML market, but it's growing at a double digit rate for us, as more people convert from postmold decorating to IMD in the durables market," Denton commented. "It's a slow education process because molders aren't used to it and generally don't have the automation in house to do it. Plus, volumes usually dictate what projects a molder wants to take on and they have a hard time justifying an automation system for one project or a short run. The hurdle is getting them to the point of trying it."

As in-mold for durable products catches on, however, Denton noted that molders will start looking for new applications. "Once the molder or brand owner begin doing in-mold for their durable products, they love it and they start looking for new applications as a value- add," he said. "About 30 to 40% of the molders we work with are looking for new opportunities in IML/IMD. It increases the value of the part as well as the value of the molding services."

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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