20 Nov Pressure sensitive labels for can decoration
A smart alternative to shrink sleeve labels
According to a recent study, more than 80% of craft breweries in Canada sell cans rather than glass bottles.
The popularity of canned beverages is not limited to Canada nor the beer industry; a quick walk through the beverage aisle at the store will convince you. There is a growing number of alcoholic cocktails and sparkling waters sold in cans.
Giving that can a distinct personality to stand out from the competition is a must. Here are some of the main benefits of choosing pressure-sensitive labels over shrink sleeves on cans.
1- UNLIMITED GRAPHIC POSSIBILITIES
Pressure sensitive labels are available in different substrates, from opaque paper to clear plastic material. Label converters have more sophisticated and performant presses to offer impressive finish or texture on labels. Some plastic-based labels can even shrink like traditional sleeves, but those will require a heat source to shrink. Ultimately, labels offer the possibility to have a mainstream look at low cost for some products and a premium look for limited series or special products.
It is also possible to perform orientation of the cans prior label application and apply the label within 1mm to 3mm from a reference point. While the can is not typically oriented before applying labels or sleeves, a company might want to apply the labels with the open tab in a specific position. Quite easy to do with a labeler, but somewhat more challenging with a shrink sleeve applicator.
2- SAVINGS ON THE COST OF ENERGY
A shrink sleeve label is first applied to the can and than it must go through a heat tunnel so the plastic sleeve can shrink around the top and bottom portions of the cans. Any heat tunnel is quite energy consuming because of the heating element of electric tunnels or the boiler of steam tunnels. In comparison, the pressure sensitive label is simply applied to the can, and voila!
3- SIMPLE AND COMPACT INSTALLATION ON THE LINE
It is quite unusual to walk into a bottling facility which has too much space on their bottling lines. One of the big benefits of installing a PS labeler for cans rather than a shrink sleeve applicator and heat tunnel is space saving. For slow to moderate speed shrink sleeve application, you typically need around 16’ length of conveyor. As a comparison, a pressure-sensitive labeler to do comparable speeds will use only 8’ to 10’, which is a big deal.
Moreover, the installation cost for a PS labeler are normally less than for a system made of a shrink sleeve applicator and shrink tunnel. First, we are talking about one machine versus two machines when it comes to all the cost associated with installation, which includes shipping, installation and hooking up the electrical and pneumatic utilities. Even for a plain electric heat tunnel, you will need to have a higher voltage and enough amperage. When it comes to steam tunnels, the installation cost will climb even more because you will need piping, an exhaust to avoid excess steam to stay in the production room and drains.
4- EASE OF OPERATIONS
For any operator that has worked with automatic packaging systems, the user-friendliness to perform changeovers and adjustment is a big deal. As a rule of thumb, the less moving parts, the easier and repeatable the changeovers. If you compare a pressure sensitive labeler with a shrink sleeve application system, the first is probably simpler to adjust.
Whether the labeling machine is a rotary or linear type, the cans are in perfect control at the time of label application, which guarantees a nice application without wrinkles or skews. The shrink sleeve is also in rolls, so the film must be pulled and cut with a knife at the desired length, then placed on the cans. Once on the cans, another device must be used to make sure the sleeve is going all the way down to the bottom of the cans. Finally, the sleeves and cans must go through the heat tunnel with the risk of the sleeve lifting slightly.
OK, I can hear you say the aluminum cans are not the most challenging container to handle, whether you are intending to apply a shrink sleeve or a ps label. However, do not make the mistake to underestimate some potential issues, so keep reading this post till the end!
5- LOWER CAPEX
One needs to be cautious when throwing numbers about a project, because there are numerous factors to consider, but it is fair to say that for comparable speeds, the investment will be less for a PS Labeler than for a shrink sleeve applicator and heat tunnel. For instance, for many craft breweries, a canning line running at 40 to 60 cans per minute is enough to meet their needs, and I would estimate the machinery budget to apply shrink sleeves will be around double the investment of applying PS labels.
For faster operations, say around 200 to 250 cans per minute, the spread of investment will be reduced, but it will probably remain higher to buy a shrink sleeving system instead of a pressure sensitive labeler. Finally, for large breweries with high speeds, I don’t think it matters because they will go for printed cans.
6- AVOIDING PITFALLS
To conclude, I want to come back on some of the points discussed and bring to your attention details that could make a big difference on your decision. Despite a biased in favor of the labeler, I must admit that I have been involved in projects with both technologies and I can see benefits in one and the other.
At the beginning of the craft beer boom, when many were going into cans rather than bottles, I really felt in love with the look of the shrink sleeves on the cans. Back than, it seems the breweries that were using the pressure sensitive labels were not doing such a great job. They used paper-based labels and had labeling machines that were often not well-suited for the task. The result was an « artisan » look, with crooked labels, wrinkles and a use of real estate that was far from optimal. It was obvious that blank cans (silver bullets) were used and it was not great for the image of the brewery. On the other hand, the shrink sleeve offered spectacular graphics, glossy finish and full coverage of the cans.
Things have changed, and nowadays some pressure sensitive labels can give you the same look as shrink sleeves. Some pressure sensitive labels are even shrinkable, to fully cover the top and bottom portions of the cans. Of course, those special shrink labels will require a heat source to shrink, but you keep all the benefits of using a pressure sensitive labeler to apply shrink labels and normal labels.
Empty or filled cans
Both shrink sleeves and pressure sensitive labels can be applied to empty or filled cans. Empty cans are fragile, so they need to be handled with care because applying too much pressure during label application could damage them. Empty cans are also extremely light, so you need to be careful not to make them tip when applying the shrink sleeves and going through the heat tunnel. Whether the tunnel is hot air or steam, there will be turbulence inside the tunnel.
If the pressure sensitive labels or shrink sleeves are applied when the cans are full, you need to be cautious about wet cans. Shrink sleeves will have a hard time to go all the way to the bottom of the cans if it is wet, and pressure sensitive labels will tend to slip or have difficulty to adhere. The wet cans problem can be resolved by installing air knifes or drying tunnels to remove excess water from the surface prior label or shrink sleeve application on the cans.
When production speeds increase, frequency of rolls changeovers is also increasing, and that is true for both shrink sleeve rolls or label rolls. There are many ways to reduce or eliminate the downtime associated with rolls changeovers. For basic machines with a single roll holder, low level sensors can give a warning to the operator to be ready to manually change the roll and limit the downtime. For higher speed productions, you can have a continuous operation by using an automatic splicer for rolls of shrink sleeves or redundant label applicators that will run in alternance. In terms of floor space and cost, the advantage goes to the pressures sensitive labeler when it comes to non-stop production.
We already spoke about the price difference between a pressure sensitive labeler for cans or shrink sleeve applicator with heat tunnel, but what about floor space requirement? In both case, higher speeds will normally mean bigger systems, and the labeler will always be smaller dimensions for the simple reason we have one machine versus two machines. In order to shrink, it is important to understand the sleeve material must be exposed to a certain temperature for a certain time, which means higher speeds requires a longer heat tunnel.
Finally, it is well known that printed cans coming from the big suppliers are less expensive than decorated silver bullets, whether with pressure sensitive label or shrink sleeve. However, for many beverage companies, the number of SKUs, the minimum order quantities and warehouse space is a problem. For more information or a meeting to evaluate your project, please contact us. https://www.gerneplabeling.com/contact-us/
Here are key questions to determine what type of labeler you need
- What kind of bottles will run on the labeler
- What label goes on each bottle
- Speed requirement for each bottle
- Do you need to apply multiple labels to the same bottle
- Do you need to perform bottle orientation prior label application
- Do you need to print variable information (date, lot #) to the label
- Do you need to inspect the information printed on the label or the label placement
- Do you know which labeling technology is best for your application (cold glue VS pressure-sensitive)