The AWA Alexander Watson Associates International Sleeve Label Conference and Exhibition 2015, held in Miami, FL, at the end of April, provided strong evidence that in just a few short years, sleeve labeling has become a core technology for product decoration and identification.

Sleeving’s unique top-to-toe labeling capability provides additional tamper-evidence. Its ability to protect the user from splinter injury due to breakage of glass or other rigid containers delivers additional functionalities. The different film substrates employed, plus the special shrink/stretch, sealing, and application processing equipment, come together with the printed sleeves to create a whole, dynamic industry.

Opening the conference program, AWA’s Dr. William Llewellyn set the sleeving market in the context of the global label market by region, by demand, and by label format. He said that although growth remains strongest in the Chinese and Indian markets, it does show a slowing from historical highs.

He noted that pressure-sensitive labels have returned to growth levels of ± 4% globally, above those of the general market. Glue-applied label volumes are continuing to grow in emerging markets but are declining in developed markets, showing a global growth rate of 2.5% to 3%. Sleeve labels offer the greatest growth potential with a global level of 5% to 5.5%.

Llewellyn went on to detail sleeve labeling demand across the regions—where Asia commands the largest share at 64%—and by format, where heat shrink TD (transverse-direction) sleeves take the lion’s share of 87%. He added that reel-fed shrink MD (machine direction) sleeves, the newest format, are also the most rapidly growing at more than 12% annually as they become available from a broadening range of suppliers.

Short-run shrink sleeve challenges and solutions were the topics addressed by Ben Smith, vice president - sales, ActionPak Inc. He looked at short-run sleeving uses and barriers to entry; compared the costs of in-house production and outsourcing; identified short-run marketing strategies to deliver success; and detailed an impressive case study on “how to turn trash into cash” which ActionPak had achieved with an energy drink.

Ink and curing technology are key factors in producing successful shrink sleeves. Flint Group’s Packaging and Narrow Web division is innovating with low-maintenance water-based, self-crosslinking ink systems; UV inks that will not distort the substrate; and energy-saving UV-LED inks. Tom Hammer, divisional product manager for North America, declared that UV-LED inks “will greatly change our industry forever.” Despite the high initial cost, he said, “the payback is so fast that the investment has to be really worthwhile.”

Are the MDO (machine direction oriented) and TDO (transverse direction oriented) sleeve technologies competitive or complementary? Bob Schantz, business manager, North America for Klöckner Pentaplast, said that depending on volumes, capital expenditure, and container design, they are complementary. The benefits of MDO sleeving—including reduced label costs, lightweighting, and fewer reel changes—were discussed at length by Yann Renard, business manager - labeling, Sidel.

Raul F. Matos, vice president - sales and marketing for Karlville Development, covered shrink sleeve converting and application for high-volume beverage labeling and HP Indigo digitally printed labels, with particular reference to light-blocking films that eliminate UV and visible light damage to beverage ingredients. After his presentation, he invited conference attendees to tour Karlville’s nearby shrink sleeve and pouch machinery plant, closing the first day’s formal proceedings.

Next day, Holli Alexander, global market development manager, sustainability, for Eastman Chemical Company, discussed innovative recycling solutions for shrink film labeled containers. “Sustainable solutions,” she said, “must focus on the needs of the full value chain. There is no single solution or silver bullet.” She also detailed the benefits of de-seaming, which enables shrink sleeve-labeled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles to be much more easily processed by PET recyclers with whole-bottle-wash systems.

Will Schretzman, vice president - packaging, Verst Group Logistics, expanded on this theme, showing how the company’s in-house sleeve removal team and bottle grinding facility are contributing significantly to the process of recycling PET bottles and perforated shrink sleeve labels for a positive environmental impact. Dr. Pascal F. Chapon, research director of Sleever International, outlined his company’s innovation in waste recovery: the use of LD (low density) PET for shrink sleeves to enable the recovery of used PET bottles for bottle-to-bottle recycling.

Today, there are leading-edge choices other than sleeving available for product decoration. Steve Coulson, director, Takigawa Corporation Japan, said that the increasingly popular stand-up pouch can be described in this context as both competitor and companion. Offering considerable savings over rigid containers, pouches also contribute practical benefits such as reduced moisture/air ingress and attractive on-shelf presence.

Yet another alternative to sleeving and traditional labels is digital direct print to the body of a container—an innovation that Krones Inc. now supports within its advanced labeling technology base. PET, PP (polypropylene), or PE (polyethylene) containers, both cylindrical and specially shaped, can be accommodated for direct decorative printing and variable data using high-performance UV inks. Dave Niemuth, director of labeling technology for Krones, explained why this innovative and flexible solution is attracting interest, especially for shorter runs and multi-versions.

Dr. Joel Weinberger, owner of Implicit Strategies and a professor of psychology at Adelphi University, examined a different and an important area of relevance: what goes on in the minds of consumers in relation to packaging. Most of our mental functioning, he said, is unconscious; and while conscious awareness plays a role, it is only part of the picture.

Weinberger led delegates through a journey of discovery that provided a fascinating glimpse into the way that good packaging can prime consumer acceptance. “The design of packaging tends to be intuitive and creative,” he said. “Some are better at it than others. It is more art than science.” His message to delegates was that, today, unconscious measurement needs to become a standard tool of marketing and of designing packaging.

The AWA International Sleeve Label Conference and Exhibition 2015 attracted over 150 delegates for a program that reflected virtually every aspect of the marketplace. The conference gained support from many leading companies in the sleeve label industry, including platinum sponsors Accraply, Karlville, and Verst Group Logistics.

The event also hosted the presentation of the first-ever International Sleeve Label Awards, inaugurated by AWA Alexander Watson Associates to recognize the multiplicity of creative and technological achievements in sleeve labeling applications today. Full details of the award winners are available here.

The next AWA International Sleeve Label Conference and Exhibition will take place in Denver, CO, March 3-4, 2016. The international conference is partnered with two parallel professional events related to sleeve labeling, the Introduction to Heat Shrink Sleeve Label Technologies Workshops, on July 21-22 and July 23-24 in Plymouth, MN. The second workshop is conducted in simultaneous Spanish translation.