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FLEXO Magazine : August 2008
TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES Mid-web Flexo for IML Break in the Mold P rinters and end users are hearing about IML more and more often. But what exactly is IML and how can fl exographic printers take advantage of this growing market? The acronym literally means in-mold labeling (IML). In-mold labelling has been in produc- tion for more than 30 years. According to AWA Alexander Watson Associates the world market for in-mold labels is about 2 percent. Regardless of that small share, the in-mold market is growing faster than the self-adhesive and glue ap- plied label markets, especially for plastic packaging. A LITTLE HISTORY The IML process fi rst started in Europe in the 1970s with injection molding. Soon thereafter, it was adopted by blow mold- ers in the U.S. Today, approximately 80 percent of in-mold containers use the injection process in Europe; compared to some 5 percent of the North American IML market, which is injection molded. According to AWA, Europe and North America might find their in-mold mar- kets achieving a more 50/50 balance in 5 to 10 year’s time. Traditionally, the IML market has been a long-run market and had been printed using sheet fed offset machines, outfi tted with special equipment to avoid any problems with this unsupported 44 F LEXO material—in particular, the static electric- ity, which makes stacking very diffi cult, especially in larger formats. Normally, offset-printed sheets pass through a flat-bed die cutting machine, which produces the label and strips away waste using appropriate tools. These operations are critical, since they need high precision sheet stacking and stabil- ity during the die cutting process. It goes without saying that this adds cost for the staff in charge of die-cutting and waste removal, as it requires suitable machinery for flat-bed die cutting, which becomes more expensive as the format grows in size. HOW IT WORKS A label, printed on an unsupported synthetic film (generally polypropyl- ene), is placed inside a mold by means of a moulding robot. Once the mold is closed, plastic is either blown or injected in position. During the process, the label melts into the material of the container. The IML process requires a printer and a molder to work closely together to com- plete the manufacturing process. Typically, injection in-mold labels require a higher degree of die-cutting precision than blow molding. Injection in-mold technology has found many ap- plications and uses on many foodstuff containers such as ice-cream, margarine, AUGUS T 20 0 8 www. f l e x o g r a p h y. o r g stadium cups, etc., as well as baby wipes. Blow molding is often used for laundry detergents and industrial applications (paint pails, pool chemicals). New applica- tions for IML in North America are grow- ing rapidly. MANY ADVANTAGES IML technology offers excellent print quality. The material used is ideally suited for printing, thanks to its optimised surface fi nish. This means that the print defi nition obtained is very high. It’s also outstandingly durable, with excellent resistance to both temperature change and chemicals. The application is more effi cient, as it is applied at the same time as the container is produced, rather than being applied after the container is fi lled in a separate step, like other types of labels. This eliminates the need for ad- ditional labelling equipment, condensing a two-step process (molding and labeling) into a single operation. Compared to traditional dry-offset printed containers, an IML label provides more complete coverage of the con- tainer, providing more brilliant colors, better shelf presence and a better visual appeal. The IML process also allows for a no label-look, 3-D graphics, metallic finishes and non-traditional forms. On the sustainability front, IMLs are made of the same material as the containers LABELS
Flexo Sustainable Fall 2008