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Secretive company pulls back curtain on permanent labeling technology for polyolefin-based products

Polyfuze label applications
For most of its history, Mold In Graphic Systems (Clarkdale, AZ ) kept its technology that permanently “fuses” labels to durable polyolefin products under wraps. In October, the company held an open house, allowing visitors a rare peek into its “tattooing for plastics” process.

Mold In Graphic Systems (MIGS), headquartered in Clarkdale, AZ, not far from Sedona, has been in business for nearly 40 years. From 1977 until 1983, when MIGS opened for business, company founder Michael John Stevenson spent seven years developing a technology that would enable labels to be permanently molded on parts. This was before the development of what we know today as in-mold labeling (IML) and in-mold decorating (IMD).

Mold In Graphic Systems CEO Marty Mares showed off some Polyfuze label applications to the press and customers during the company's first-ever open house.

When MIGS first began operations, its labels were only designed for rotational molding applications. It was considered a “disruptive” technology by the industry and, at first, didn’t receive much of a welcome. For most of its history, MIGS kept its technology and manufacturing facility under wraps. Very few people outside the company were allowed in. But the company was growing as its technology—as secret as it was—started to be noticed by brand owners, who saw the benefits of permanent labels on durable polyolefin products that were guaranteed for the life of the product.

This fall, for the first time in the company’s history, MIGS opened its plant to the press, customers and potential customers to see firsthand this unique technology. PlasticsToday had the opportunity to tour the facility during the company’s open house on Oct. 7 to 11 and learn more about this patented process.

In 2012, MIGS’ sister company, Polyfuze Graphics Corp., was established to be the holder of all intellectual property for technologies developed specifically for injection molding. It is now in demand for durable polyolefin-based rotational molded, blow molded and thermoformed products. MIGS is the sole producer and distributor of all Polyfuze products.

What makes MIGS and Polyfuze different when it comes to molded-in labels is the use of pigmented polymers to produce the labels. When the labels are fused to injection molded or rotationally molded parts, they actually become one with the polyolefin product. “We call it tattooing for plastics,” quipped Marty Mares, MIGS CEO, noting that the labels are truly permanent and cannot be peeled or scratched off. They are also 100% recyclable with the product at the end of the life cycle.

Mares explained that the company is actually a label printer that uses web presses and silk screening. All the exclusive proprietary “inks” (pigmented polymers) are custom made in-house. While the manufacturing plant is open to visitors, the R&D department remains closed to everyone except the engineers who develop the various formulations.

The graphics are printed in sheets or on a roll for rotational molding, blow molding and injection molding. One of the huge benefits of Polyfuze technology is that it can be used to decorate hollow parts such as kayaks and coolers. While IML and IMD are applied to single-use plastics such as food containers, cups and other disposables, Polyfuze labels are for durable goods. Customers include Yeti, Jackson Kayak, Grizzly Coolers, Rehrig Pacific, Republic Services, Rubbermaid, BadBoy Mowers, Cabelas, Confluence Outdoor, Hobie Kayak, Pelican Sports and more spanning the globe.

“When people first see our labels on products, they are often mistaken for those done by heat transfer,” said Mares. “However, we use very little pressure and a lot of heat.” At 450o F, the melt temperature of the plastic part and the label are identical. Polyfuze labels replace heat-transfer labeling and hot stamping, two methods that use standard printing inks and heat-activated adhesives that are not compatible with polyolefins.

Polyfuze label technology is used on polyolefin-based products that require a permanent label. Mares noted that polyolefins represent more than half of global plastic materials demand: PP (23%), HDPE (15%) and LDPE and LLDPE (17%). Getting the Polyfuze labels certified to various label durability standards presented some problems, because the standards are written for labels applied to stainless steel. “There’s no test that verifies what we do—cohesion labeling,” explained Mares. “The industry standard for 'permanent' is an adhesive label withstanding two pounds or more of peel strength from stainless steel, a high surface energy material. There are no standards for labels on a material with low surface energy (LSE), and no data can be found on any type of durability testing conducted on LSE such as PP and PE.”

The company recently developed its proprietary and patent-pending VersaFlex system, which integrates two main components: Specially formulated Polyfuze polymer fusion labels and a die/heating element assembly that transfers heat, causing the polyolefin part and Polyfuze labels to fuse. Auto Tran is the manufacturer of the machine that is similar to a pad printing machine.

Instead of a silicon “loaf” contacting a pad print cliché with ink, it contacts the heat plate. Heat is then picked up by the VersaFlex heating element and transferred to the part and labels, which causes them to become one. With VersaFlex, the psi is much lower because the heating element die is very flexible, allowing the labels to be applied over a wider variety of surfaces, including the concave and convex areas of polyolefin parts. VersaFlex also can be applied to hollow parts, such as blow molded and rotationally molded parts, which is not possible with the original Polyfuze Graphic applied with a hot stamp machine.

MIGS maintains a laboratory with two rotational molding machines and VersaFlex stamping equipment for demonstrations and training for brand owners and processors using the Polyfuze label technology.

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