In-mold labeling of plastics is attracting more attention in North America, and companies such as Inland Label of La Crosse, Wis., are preparing to be ready as the market develops.
“If you ask anyone in North America, is it growing? Yes. Is it growing as fast as we would like? No,” said Adam Boehlke, new business development manager at Inland Label, in a telephone interview.
His company, which has a long history as a U.S. label supplier and is known for its paper labels on beer bottles, has made a huge commitment to IML, investing more than $20 million during the last six years.
The company invested in developing its IML technologies, buying state-of-the-art presses and finishing equipment, and has worked with materials, ink and coating suppliers to customize each project.
Inland Label had a booth and also a collaborative effort with a few companies during NPE2012, showcasing its gravure printed inline roll-fed IML labels on a syringe barrel at the CBW Automation booth. “It's a game changer,” said Ron Schultz, the executive director of the In Mold Decorating Association, a trade organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was also reached by phone.
He said IML has enjoyed wider use in Europe partly because of smaller runs as packaging is done in many more languages. The U.S. is larger and the packaging primarily in English.
Schultz said that one benefit is that you don't have to stockpile an inventory of labels for a large order. The labels are in the machine and printed as each product is made. The film also can be thinner, which reduces static buildup and provides cost savings.
More significantly, IML can be used to fight counterfeiting. An applied label can fall off or be taken off, but if it is imbedded in the plastic, it is part of the product.
Schultz said that an ultraviolet design or logo can be incorporated to authenticate products, especially medical or pharmaceutical products.
“That's why it is so intriguing — it offers sustainability, decoration and security all in one piece,” said Boehlke.
He said that labels are being made with inks that can be disposed of with the plastic. For the right project, they also can provide more integrated color and clear photographic images.
Boehlke said traditional IML projects have been for food projects, but there are opportunities in other areas such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
“More and more companies are looking at it and we see some huge markets,” he said.
NPE was held April 1-5 in Orlando.