As the severe challenges of 2020 move from view, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are sharpening their focus to meet internal sustainability goals and increase their coordination with material recycling facilities to reduce waste. While recycling developments move forward across the globe — Materials Recovery for the Future pilot project — CPGs are looking for efficiencies throughout the flexible packaging supply chain.
The South African Breweries (SAB), part of the Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev group, recently switched to linerless labels — best before date — on the bottling line for its Flying Fish brand of flavored beers. The big advantage with linerless labels compared to pressure-sensitive (p-s) is the reduction of material in the converting and labeling application process, and the brewer is able to achieve approximately 51% material reduction with this beer line.
Arconvert-Ritrama, a global provider of self-adhesive solutions for the packaging industry, provides its Core Linerless Solution labeling platform used at the South Africa plant. The linerless label material consists of a p-s label without the backing liner, providing drastic material reduction. For this application, the label includes a printed layer of 30 microns (μm) of oriented polypropylene (OPP), an adhesive and a siliconized PET liner of 12 μm. The last step in the converting process delivers heat-activated lamination, where the siliconized liners are laminated onto the printed facestock. This creates a protective film layer and eliminates the need for a protective varnish, according to Arconvert-Ritrama.
“Having the liner layer as part of the final applied label enabled us [AB InBev] to dramatically reduce the thickness of both the label and the liner material, and further reduce our environmental footprint,” says Jarno-Petteri Merisalo, global principal engineer at AB InBev during a 2020 webinar. The application produces a 42 μm for the linerless solution while a traditional p-s label would produce 63 μm with a conventional PET liner. Plus, the matrix label waste generated during the converting process is removed from the material footprint.
As noted during the webinar, this turnkey solution includes the Arconvert-Ritrama label-based film while the converting is done by equipment from OMET for lamination and Spilker for finishing. The lamination and finishing of the linerless labels are done offline. “This allows any converter to start the production of the linerless label without having to invest in a brand new press,” says Sergio Veneziani, product manager linerless at Arconvert-Ritrama.
The actual labeling application at the brewery is done by the Italian Labelling Technology Industry (ILTI) srl. “In performance and quality aspects, the linerless solution has the same ice and water resistance performance as traditional p-s labels,” says Merisalo. “The adhesive clarity and performance meets our [AB InBev] requirements, along with a no-label-look visual equivalence.”
OPERATIONS AND LABEL APPLICATION
With this initial rollout of the linerless solution at brewery plant, the brewer used the packaging line’s current labeling equipment from Krones and retrofitted these machines with ILTI technology. ILTI says the linerless labeling head technology is autonomous and provides its own labeling equipment, while also offering retrofits for third-party labeling original equipment machinery (OEM).
The transfer-drum labeling equipment at the SAB plant maintained the 36,000 bottles-per-hour (bph) operational speed target for the packaging line. After applying the back label, labels are cut, and the labeling system comes with non-stick rollers to preserve the adhesive.
The labeling head technology was designed by ILTI specifically for the Core Linerless technology from Arconvert-Ritrama and can hold up to more than three times more label stock during production compared to traditional p-s labels, due to less material.
“On average, label roll duration increased from 30 to 44 minutes,” says Mondli Zibani, packaging and dispense development specialist at SAB. “There’s less line operator workload with no liner waste management, which frees up operators, and line speed hasn’t changed.” The change in labeling head technology has been a smooth transition for packaging line operators, with eight hours of training needed to learn the new technology and processes. Also, the finished label has met the brewer’s high standards by its quality control department.
Flexibility is essential for all types of plant production, and the ability to switch from p-s labels to linerless was discussed during the webinar. The labeling solution at the packaging plant allows the company to switch out different types of labels on this line — to use both traditional p-s labels and the linerless solution.
“If the construction of the labeling machine is modular, then the linerless labeling technology can be interchanged with p-s labeling equipment within two minutes, and that’s already been tested,” says Arianna Scapinelli, sales and marketing manager at ILTI.
AB InBev has also been testing larger volumes for the linerless label solution using ILTI’s Proper-LL2 labeling-head technology designed for high-speed production, with estimates at 60,000 bph. This new labeling-head technology will use standardized Pack-ML programming for quick setup, advanced diagnostics, touchscreen panel and offers remote management.
Besides meeting operational targets on the packaging line, less film material with the linerless label product optimizes the plant's warehousing activities, according to SAB. The company believes, depending on adoption of the back linerless label in production, that 57 tons of waste per year can be eliminated from AB InBev’s environmental footprint.
As with many recent examples in the packaging industry, this case study shows another example of how an integrated approach is making sustainability a reality for CPGs now.