Applied Extrusion Technologies Inc. is putting more of a premium on holographic films.
The company, a maker of oriented polypropylene film, has started selling a specialized line of metalized film to embossers, which then place a holographic image onto the film and sell it to a converter to complete the final product.
The long process leads to film that is three to five times more expensive than traditional OPP film, said Marty Aleksis, business director for holographic films with AET, based in Peabody, Mass., but with operations centered in New Castle, Del.
Holographic films are embossed with a series of unfiltered dots that create a perception that the image is moving. A raft of new consumer products have adopted the film and led AET and others to re-evaluate the market.
``We've been doing this for the past 10 years but we're suddenly seeing more value in holographic film,'' Aleksis said. ``It's become a high-dollar-volume item in packaging and has tremendous appeal. It's still a very small part of the PP market but we see more value in it.''
AET's push into holography coincides with a rise in end-user interest in holographic images. Toothpaste brands, including Aquafresh and Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Total, sport holographic images on tubes. Icebreakers gum has followed suit, selling what looks like a rainbow changing colors on its wrappers.
Golf ball makers are using it in packaging, Aleksis said. So are makers of vitamins and deodorant.
``I don't think it's a fad,'' said Lewis Kontnik, principal with Reconnaissance International, the group that runs the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based International Hologram Manufacturers Association. ``The number of everyday applications in packaging seems to be growing. After Sept. 11, we expected a thorough tail-off of packaging applications, but it has gone the other direction.''
Only a few film makers produce holographic films but several are considering it. OPP film competitor ExxonMobil Chemical Co. also makes a line of holographic products, said spokeswoman Brenda Donnelly. Other non-OPP film producers, including Bemis Co. Inc., have looked into it.
Holographic film is just one of many newer areas for AET, said spokesman William Swain. AET has expanded its technology push and is adding people this year at its technology center in New Castle, Swain said.
The company is looking for ways to differentiate what has been a commodity product, said Joe Howard, vice president of technology. The company is working on coated film, preparing brighter images for graphics and developing new microporous film for case-ready meats.
``The OPP market is not growing this year,'' Howard said. ``One way to stay competitive is to use technology that better appeals to the packaging market. Better graphics and optical effects help sell products to consumers. You see a lot of that on the grocery-store shelves.''
The holographic film creates more vibrant colors than with typical metalized film and has a cleaner look that appeals to consumers, Aleksis said.
The market for holographic film also extends to security applications, such as embossed credit cards and bank notes, Kontnik said. Even euros now have holographic images stamped on them, he added.
Of the $1 billion spent a year globally for holographic images, about $600 million of it comes from security applications, Kontnik said.
Still, the film is not easy to manufacture. Because it is clear, any contamination stands out when light hits it, Aleksis said. The film must be checked closely by an embosser as it is made, he said. ``You can't just hit a button and walk away,'' he said.
The process also involves extensive machine cleanup and inspection to avoid any impurities or blemishes on the film, Aleksis said.
The effort is out of proportion to the amount of film produced at AET. The company's smallest lines make 12 million to 15 million pounds of film annually, more than the annual global demand for holographic film in the entire industry, Aleksis said.