Notes from the 2016 AWA global release liner conference

This year’s AWA Global Release Liner Industry Conference & Exhibition, held in Vienna, started with a half-day workshop and focus group in association with FINAT, centered on release liner recycling. Nothing could have been more appropriate, since, as FINAT Recycling Project Manager Mark Macaré told participants, a number of EU member states have already classified spent release liner as packaging waste as opposed to process waste – which requires them to be recycled/reused in line with specified EU legislation.

Ann Hirst-Smith


Over 60 participants, representing the world’s release liner supply chain, came together for this workshop to discuss the opportunities and challenges for release liner recycling – with the ultimate aim of identifying and moving forward practical solutions. The workshop was chaired by Calvin Frost, Chairman of the FINAT Sustainability & Recycling sub-committee.

Leadership, innovation, technology

The conference program was opened by AWA’ President and CEO, Corey M Reardon, who, welcoming the delegates, introduced the central themes of the conference: leadership, innovation and technology. He led a “real-time” industry survey with the audience, who used electronic hand-held devices to answer questions on key industry topics. The “real time” responses were instantly shared. They included estimates of business growth in 2016 over 2015, predicted by many to be 2-4%, with film liner usage said by most to be growing faster than paper.

Dean Scarborough delivers the keynote

With a long and distinguished career in the industry, Dean A Scarborough, chairman and CEO for Avery Dennison Corporation, was ideally positioned to address the delegates on the pressure-sensitive industry, its current status and future opportunities, and the sustainability agenda. “The state of the industry is good”, he observed, adding that the greatest growth opportunities are seen in higher-value applications such as RFID, although core label business growth can be expected to grow annually at 3-3.5%. He remarked on the continuing trend to lower basis weights in substrates which, he added, nevertheless “deliver more functionality”. Asked to comment on competing product decoration technologies, he emphasized: “we’re still in a good position”.

Time to disrupt the status quo

His speech was a genuine call to action. Across the supply chain, he underlined, that collaboration is today the key. “This industry does not change very quickly! Much of its materials and technology base is as it was 30-40 years ago, and, in terms of innovation, there is little inertia, which is a little disappointing.” He pointed out, that there is indeed a genuine requirement for cross-industry initiatives to create, for example, next-generation adhesives; improved film liner performance; more calipre reductions in release liner. In this technology arena, he judged, it is continuous improvement rather than game-changing activity that should be the focus. Additionally, the extended producer responsibility in Europe’s packaging waste legislation impacts the labelstock laminator as much as downstream suppliers

Dean Scarborough’s views on the industry yesterday, today, and tomorrow, were greatly welcomed by the delegates, who were delighted when Corey Reardon presented him with the 2016 Release Liner Industry Leadership Award – a presentation which AWA will now make annually at this conference.

Market update and “real-time” industry survey

Taking a key role in monitoring and analysing the release liner industry, AWA maintains a up-to-the-minute database of release liner market data. Corey Reardon’s market update and his summary of AWA’s Annual Release Liner Industry survey was a valuable complement to Dean Scarborough’s thoughts and observations. Approximately 46 billion SQM of release liners are produced annually worldwide – mostly in labelapplications, and mostly employing glassine/SCK paper. However, the tape market, he said, “is one of the fastest-growing segments, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.”

Industry leadership discussion panel

Next, Corey Reardon led an Executive Leadership Panel Discussion featuring, Dean Scarborough, Michael Apperson, CEO, Loparex; Marita Paasch, COO, Mondi Advanced Materials, and Robert Hansen, CEO, Dow Corning. The views expressed were both interesting and relevant. On the subject of globalization, the panel agreed that, as Robert Hansen summarized, “Even playing on a global stage, the agenda is really ‘localization’. We need to come across to customers as their local supplier.” “Products have to be fit for use in a particular region”, added Dean Scarborough; and Michael Apperson remarked that, long term, “Asia is going to be a big market – and one of its benefits is that it teaches you to do things differently: Fast is better, whatever you’re doing!”

Corey Reardon invited panelists’ concepts of leadership, and of developing future generations of leaders; on the challenges and opportunities that face the industry today; on the importance of sustainability; and, finally, on “what keeps you up at night?” Responses to this last question ranged from “continuous innovation” from Robert Hansen, to “because this industry is so slow-moving!” from Marita Paasch.

Talking technology

Then it was the turn of the technology experts to form a discussion panel on the status quo in silicone and coating technology, led by moderator Pablo Steenwinkel, Director, Core Innovation, Avery Dennison. Participants were: Sean Duffy, Bluestar Silicones; Hans Lautenschlager, Wacker Chemie; Alex Knott, Down Corning Silicones; Stefan Stadtmueller, Evonik, and Jos Delis, Momentive Performance Materials. Jos Delis highlighted the improvements in base papers over the years, and the fact that the silicone on release liner contributes significantly by saving a lot of energy. He underlined once again the ned of the supply chain to work together to make its downstream production more efficient.

Hans Lautenschlager agreed that co-operation with downstream customers to define and meet needs is becoming more and more important, and Stefan Stadtmueller underlined legislation as another driver. Sean Duffy noted that the chemical industry ‘is continuously making small changes’, making it hard to gauge possible innovations, particularly in the context of the extant cost reduction agenda. He also reminded delegates that non-label markets – e.g. food, electronics, composites – make very different demands on release liner. The “cost out” focus also concerned Alex Knott, especially since changes in liner substrates also involve changing use of silicones; and he observed that platinum-free siliconisation is “still not there yet”.


Over 60 participants came together for the workshop to discuss the opportunities and challenges for release liner recycling
Over 60 participants came together for the workshop to discuss the opportunities and challenges for release liner recycling

Release coatings

The day’s program continued with a supplier update from Kris Verschueren, Global Market Segment Manager, Dow Corning, on drivers, and the company’s solutions in silicone release liners in emulsion-based and low-platinum coatings for a label market that is evidencing ever more demanding converting conditions.

Concurrent interactive sessions

Delegates were then able to attend concurrent sessions: an interactive workshop on growth through innovation, led by Michael Ohler, Chief Innovation Officer for strategic business consultants BMGI, and a thought-provoking discussion – ‘Tales of Talent & Leadership’ – that explored leadership, the “talent pool”, globalization challenges, and innovation in recruitment, led by Wilco van Zwieten, CEO of Papyrus Converting Services. After a full day’s work, delegates enjoyed networking and cocktails, followed by an Austrian barbecue dinner on the banks of the Danube with live music, hosted by Mondi.

Market segments in detail

The next day, following reports from the leaders of the previous day’s concurrent sessions, summarizing the discussions and insights, the program drilled down into the individual market segments for release liner. Corey Reardon led with an overview of the label market, which in 2015 grew by 4.5% – a healthy figure, but not comparable to the growth in the medical market, at 7.4%, or the tapes market, at 7.2%. He discussed trends and developments, identifying digital direct-to-container print as “a potential disruptive technology in some applications”. Linerless labels, though continuing to gain interest, are, he said, still a niche. Pressure-sensitive labels, however, continue to offer the best-suited technology base for intelligent label technologies – including RFID.

Medical market developments

Corey went on to outline developments in the fast-growing medical market, which now represents 3% of the total release liner market at 45.9 billion square metres. Driven by an aging population and the growing use of disposable medical devices, this is a market where there is no single dominant release liner substrate – the choice is always application-specific – and it is the cleanliness and purity of the construction that is of paramount importance.

The highly-specific release liner requirements for the different transdermal delivery systems were then discussed in detail by Dr Thomas Hille, Director, LTS Lohmann Therapie-Systeme. Here, release liners are defined as ‘a part of a pharmaceutical drug product’, not as part of a container closure system, and they are, in fact, in contact with a drug-loaded pressure-sensitive polymer. Choice of substrate, and siliconisation, are both critical, and must be documented in a drug master file. In this market, said Dr Hille, “any changes in raw materials in manufacturing require the approval of clients”.

Upcoming label release liner industry seminar

The Global Release Liner Industry Conference and Exhibition is complemented annually by the focused AWA Label Release Liner Industry Seminar, held just prior to Labelexpo in Chicago and Brussels. This year’s event will be held in Chicago on September 12th, and delegate registration is now open, and can be arranged online at AWA’s website.

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