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Mainstreaming IML requires supply chain collaboration

At the recent IMLCON produced by AWA Alexander Watson Associates, I gave a keynote address that looked at what it will take to mainstream in-mold labeling into packaging applications. In addition to some of the often mentioned obstacles to this technology in North America such as lack of IML label suppliers and the large number of SKUs that brand owners carry, the long and complex supply chain seems to be a big hurdle for adoption of IML.

At the recent IMLCON produced by AWA Alexander Watson Associates, I gave a keynote address that looked at what it will take to mainstream in-mold labeling into packaging applications. In addition to some of the often mentioned obstacles to this technology in North America such as lack of IML label suppliers and the large number of SKUs that brand owners carry, the long and complex supply chain seems to be a big hurdle for adoption of IML.

In my keynote, I offered some tips on how IML can achieve better adoption rates among packaging suppliers: Education, Innovation and Collaboration. That last one - collaboration - can be a stumbling block for many companies because the standard model in the moldmaking and molding industry when working with OEMs is one of 'silos' and walls.  One example of how a collaborative effort can successfully implement IML came from Spartech Packaging Technologies (Pack Expo; booth #N-5111), which had its newest packaging on display at IMLCON.

According to Jeffrey Best, director of marketing for Spartech Packaging, the project required the company to consider various options, including direct printing, shrink sleeves, and pressure sensitive labeling, and then implement a label decorating strategy to complement their existing capabilities.

The challenge was to find the right type of decorating technology and even more importantly the best supplier with the capabilities and components needed to execute the strategy in concert with Spartech. Ultimately, it chose IML as the decorating method for the 1-Seal lidding technology, introduced earlier this year.Spartech 1 Seal

Spartech Packaging needed a North American partner to help it develop its IML capability. While there are several IML label suppliers in Europe, where the technology is more prevalent, Best noted that Spartech felt it was essential to work with domestic suppliers "to shorten delivery times and obtain customer support and service for quickly commercializing new products," and sought out leaders in the industry that offered expertise and experience in labels designed for the IML process.

Mike Duff, director of strategic partner development for Spartech Packaging, decided that Inland Label, a premier supplier of labels for the IML process with a proven track record in this market was the right partner for the project. "Through our selection process, Inland Label demonstrated its capabilities that go beyond the standard in-mold label including the polymers, the label film, and their technical competency in equipment and labels to help us go down this path," commented Duff.

Inland Label (Pack Expo #5630), a developer of specialty labels would provide IML labels for Spartech's 1-Seal lidding technology. The 1-Seal lidding technology is a packaging solution that provides packaging brand owners in the food industry with a strong, environmentally friendly package for premium brands. In comparison, traditional sealing methods require a film membrane or foil sealed directly to the tub flange, and then over-capped by a molded lid.  The label graphics are displayed on the film or foil, direct printed over-cap, or on a secondary label placed on the cap such as a pressure-sensitive label.  

Additionally, these traditional systems require two components, a film and a cap. Alternatively, the 1-Seal lidding system creates one component manufactured in one process that can be capped and sealed to the container in one step. By leaving a portion of the in-mold label's surface exposed inside the lid, the lid can be heat-sealed directly onto the container. The 1-Seal lid is pre-decorated and 100% recyclable in streams that accept polypropylene, an important factor in today's sustainability efforts. Additional benefits are realized by food processors because sealing, capping, and labeling are now combined into one step.

A privately held company that has been in business for over 65 years, Inland Label promotes the ability to adapt quickly to the fast-paced packaging market and changing customer requirements. The company provides leading-edge label printing technology including offset, gravure, flexographic and digital, which enable Inland Label to supply a high quality label for a variety of applications.

Inland Label provides five types of labels that include injection in-mold, cut and stack, pressure sensitive, blowmold, and roll-fed labels, including roll-fed shrink labels. Because of Inland Label's dedication to quality and innovation, the company produces better performing labels to help eliminate production issues, streamline the molding process, and keep costs down.

Seeking domestic suppliers
Jackie Kuehlmann, marketing manager for Inland Label recognized Spartech's preference for a domestic partner as a value that aligns with Inland's business model as a domestic supplier to serve the North American IML market. "While Inland has a global perspective on the IML market, our short-term goal is to be a premier supplier of domestic labels to domestic brand owners and provide equal, if not better than IML labels that can be had in Europe," Kuehlmann stated.  "In the bigger picture however, Inland is absolutely looking to serve the IML market globally with high quality, innovative labels that European brand owners demand."

Spartech plans to extend the 1-Seal technology into market applications that haven't traditionally used IML technology. Inland Label's new business development manager, Adam Boehlke, stated that Inland Label understands the label application process and the challenges that molders face in synchronizing the molding, the label placement and the automation. "We do a lot of upfront work to design a label that fits not just our customers' needs but their production requirements as well," Boehlke said.  "IML is a complex process with a complex supply chain so it's crucial to do the upfront work."

 Spartech Packaging's Best added, "We recognize that we can't be just another supplier of IML. We want to be the market leader, driving new technologies and new capabilities to enhance a brand owner's products and sales. This is a great partnership with mutual goals - to make IML and 1-Seal technology the prefer

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