Release Liners: Challenges Ahead

The world's largest market for release liners is self-adhesive label stock.

At the 2004 AWA Global Release Liner Conference, held in Helsinki, Finland, the consequences of rising raw material costs coupled with the impossibility of passing on price increases to customers were a focus of discussion, as were the challenge of film liners to paper; environmental issues; linerless labels; and end-users' requirements.

Of the 128 total delegates, 65 — representing the whole release liner value chain — participated in a pre-conference round table forum to discuss the effects of downgauging materials and the opportunities to increase the value of the self-adhesive laminate and make it more competitive. Discussions polarized the need for greater innovation to meet the challenges of today's economic climate and competing product decoration technologies.

Business Challenges
Business challenges and opportunities were the subject of the first conference session, which began with the keynote from Matti Lievonen, president, UPM-Kymmene, Fine & Specialty Paper Div. In today's market, the major movers are growth, globalization, consolidation, innovation, and profit, because only a profitable industry can invest in its future. The shape of tomorrow's global release liner market was demonstrated by an estimate of five years' growth between 2003 and 2008 with an increase over the five years of 6 billion sq m across all material types to bring the total market to 30 billion sq m. Geographical market growth will be seen in Eastern and Central Europe, China, and India. To create real value for the future, Lievonen says, the industry must develop a program of innovation and investment alongside increasing globalization and enhanced value-chain partnerships.

Linerless Label Stock
Scandstick's development manager, Kent Lörd, addressed a topic of concern to the release liner industry for many years: linerless self-adhesive labels that, in today's environmental arena, offer savings in process waste, both in terms of the liner and in matrix waste. Technology developments mean both preprinted labels and blanks can be converted successfully — even with shape variations such as radius corners — with siliconization of the facestock, eliminating the need for a release liner and giving the customer many more labels per roll.

Environmental Trends
Ahlstrom Labelpack's Marco Martinez, marketing and communications manager, updated delegates on what happens to release liners once they have served their function — a field in which the company has been active in recent years. Working with FINAT, the international association promoting the interests of self-adhesive labeling, Ahlstrom's facility in Germany has been offering, on a small scale, a patented solution for recycling silicone-coated papers. Research has shown that in Japan, where the environmental legislation is more restrictive than in Europe, there has been a successful move to recycle siliconized liner into tissue paper, cardboard, and inner liner for corrugated cartonboard, working with about 20 mills identified as having the necessary capability. Delivery to the mills is at the end-user's expense.

Martinez presented the Japanese model as a possible proactive way forward for Europe, which could present a solution to the increasing waste collection/recycling targets as a result of EU legislation.

Film Liners
AWA's Dr. William Llewellyn addressed the topic of film liners at a conference dominated by representatives from the paper release liner industry. He discussed materials — polyesters, low- and high-density polyethylenes, polypropylenes, and polystyrenes — and evaluated their advantages and disadvantages. He concluded that the variety of choices available, their balanced range of properties, their high-speed conversion characteristics, and the extra labels per roll films offer make them cost-effective alternatives in the hygiene and label markets. With an estimated 15% annual growth rate, film liners are a force to be reckoned with in the future.

End-User View
The release liner value chain also embraces end-users, and Corey Reardon reminded delegates release liners find use in self-adhesive applications other than labeling. The final session gave end-users from non-labeling sectors an opportunity to present their views. Anke Hampel, purchasing manager, Procter & Gamble Intl. Operations' Global Baby Care Group, looked at supplier relationship management for hygiene products, or as she put it, the concept of “the consumer is boss.” She said, “Yesterday, we would tell suppliers exactly which material to use, in which form, and with which specification.” Today's approach is different: Procter & Gamble challenges its suppliers with: “This is what we are discovering about consumers. This is what we need. How would you solve this problem for us?” The end result is a more creative base of supplier partners, and P&G is keen to develop that base to bring innovation to market.

AWA will publish a white paper detailing the outcome of the round table. Details are available via the Web site

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