One size fits all – in-mould labelling

Packaging Professional magazine
17 Jul 2009
Label on Waitrose's apple juice

Steve Pickford, from Systems Labelling Ltd, a supplier of large volume flexographic label printing, describes his company’s mono production technique.

Headquartered in Deeside, Wales, Systems Labelling’s purpose built facility incorporates repro, plate-making, six Mark Andy eight-colour flexographic presses with dedicated trackers and an offline cutting unit. It has recently invested in a 100% inspection system and has an in-house coating facility. The development of a second site in Runcorn, UK, adds in-mould labelling (IML) and wraparound labels to its portfolio of services. In-mould labelling is an area of growth in the UK with many brands and manufacturers investigating the benefits of this decoration technique.

Going solo

The single production process is widely used for cylindrical pots and tubs in the food industry. However, applications are widening to include cosmetics and household products. Labels are printed on a range of plastic face materials to match the container specification and are supplied pre-cut and stacked, or on a reel. The IML process takes the label and moulds it to the finished pot, container or lid, which reduces the container’s weight and improves the quality of its graphics. All sides can be decorated from one label and resist humidity, which is necessary for refrigerated or frozen products, and the synthetic material is fully recyclable. In addition to being a mono solution, IML does not require supporting liners or adhesives, thus reducing waste.

Many customers see it as a natural progression of self-adhesive labelling. The process is relatively niche in the context of label production, however the applications tend to use high volumes.

Wraparound filmic labels are used in many sectors, particularly beverage, food and industrial. Both opaque and clear non-adhesive films are typically available in 38/40ºm gauge. A variety of matt or gloss finishes are available using combinations of inks, laminates or varnish. This approach gives benefits such as opacity, printability and tear and split resistance. Wraparound labels have a high tensile strength that can run at high speeds, reducing the risk of web snapping. The inert filmic material is ideal for application in the soft drinks and beverage market, given the exposure to wet conditions and refrigeration.

Technology upgrades

Operationally, Systems Labelling’s focus is on flexibility, innovation and quality. Pre-press facilities include an artwork studio that manages the client sign-off process and gives full colour Cromalin proofs to help achieve near perfect colour representation for approval. A fully digital workflow has been successful in pre-production.

Environmentally smart (solvent free) flexographic plates are used. The type of work varies from straightforward spot and/or four-colour process with half-tones and the option to add metallic, hot/cold foil, lam de-lam and holographic stamps. The ability to coat in-house aids quality control. Staff can cost, schedule and progress new orders in real-time and customers can access their own accounts via a secure extranet.

Green focus

Much is written on the green issue and how the packaging industry is contributing to tackle climate change. A sustainable environment has to be driven by sustainable business, not the other way around. Over 170t of waste materials a year, including pallets, ink, film, chemicals and adhesive are recycled by Systems Labelling.

Given the environmental focus on the industry, the company has three label options that can be applied to different packaging categories. The range of filmic materials includes recyclable, bio-degradable and home compostable labels that have been developed from R&D projects using its coating facility. This enables the label printer to match face materials with the relevant recyclable backing liner. Particular progress has been achieved in the peel ‘n’ reseal market for application on wipes for the cosmetic and healthcare sectors.

Systems Labelling has recently invested in Essex-based Double R Labels. This new venture enables fast turnaround self-adhesive label production, offering the flexibility to produce just-in-time orders.

Further information: Systems Labelling Ltd