Container shape is no deterrent to decoration as now distortion printed shrink sleeve and application technology can cope with most brand owners' requirements writes Pauline Covell

The best-dressed bottles could well be wearing sleeves this season. More and more brand owners are turning to the highly graphic, glossy full body armour to tempt consumers and protect them from grazers and tamperers while at the same time provide themselves with a cost effective alternative for short runs.

The sleeve and associated application technology, such as steam shrink, also allows the use of fully decorated yet difficult shaped containers. And that too gives differentiation on the shelf.

Shrink sleeves were invented in Japan in 1960 by Fuji Seal and today the company has 16 manufacturing operations in the USA, Europe, and Asia.

Recent international launches illustrating the benefits of its sleeves and application machinery are revealed by senior manager, sales and marketing at Fuji Seal Europe, Sia Memarnia.

“Unilever Bestfoods Italy has launched Bertolli, La Bruschetteria, a tomato based sauce for bruschetta bread using our sleeve technology. The unusually shaped glass container is difficult for conventional labelling methods but ideal for PET shrink sleeves.

“The use of Fuji PET shrink sleeves combined with a 3200 Fuji Seal Intersleeve application machine and a dedicated ST6 steam tunnel has produced excellent results. In the transparent areas of the sleeve, a new lacquer which we developed has been used to minimise the ‘Sellotape’ effect without impacting on film clarity.”

The steam solution was also used for sleeving Bella Vita, a range of probiotic yoghurt drinks produced by Latteria Sociale Merano. A high speed Intersleeve sleeving machine with specialised steam tunnel operating at 450 bottles/min has been installed to run with Fuji sleeves. “This equipment has been supplied with the latest patented Fuji Intersleeve Auto-splicer to eliminate downtime associated with reel changes. The beautiful dual-language sleeves are printed photogravure on 50 micron PET sleeves,” added Sia Memarnia.

Two other recent applications exclusively revealed to Packaging Today by Fuji illustrate what is on offer for unusually moulded plastics containers. “Our brightly coloured shrink sleeves are being used by Heinz Iberia for the Spanish market. An attractive, gravure printed sleeve incorporates full length decoration for a highly shaped HDPE container.” The 50 micron Fuji PET sleeves are applied on two container sizes, 300gm and 570gm, using a 3200 Fuji Intersleeve machine plus a ST6 steam tunnel.

“And Nestle’s Nesquik Syrup has been launched in Europe with multi-lingual printed shrink sleeves in this complex project requiring Fuji Seal’s involvement from concept to commercial reality,” explained Sia Memarnia.

“The HDPE container is oval shaped with one side higher than the other. In addition, the narrow container base required specially designed chucks to sit on and introduce an under-lap. The severe hot fill conditions of 85 deg C were a further complication that had to be overcome by the use of a specially elastic Fuji OPS film which shrinks at low temperatures.

“The use of dedicated Intersleeve application machinery and steam tunnel has resulted in an excellent result on a consistent basis.”

Increasing complexity

In all these cases the company has provided a complete system. Says Sia Memarnia: “Increasing complexity for many shrink sleeve projects combined with the need to sleeve containers in-line with filling, as opposed to pre-labelling, have resulted in the need for reliable, easy to operate and efficient machinery. In today’s competitive markets, taking costs out and improving line efficiencies present ever increasing challenges.

“Our Intersleeve application machinery can handle empty or filled containers, plastics, glass or cans. The equipment has systems to hold, position and lift containers on the conveyor belt.”

Of modular construction with microprocessor controls, the application machines are supplied with a range of steam, hot air or infra-red tunnel systems, the choice of which is determined by the technical needs of a project.

Fuji also manufactures and supplies a fully automated reel change and splice system, which eliminates the need to stop the application machine during reel changes. This is suitable for high speed operations where frequent reel changes are needed.

“The many benefits of shrink sleeves should not be viewed in isolation,” says Dale Hambilton, Decorative Sleeves’ managing director. “Very often it is the combination of possibilities that makes sleeves so attractive.”

The need to maximise brand differentiation on crowded shelves and in competitive markets is a key reason for the continuing popularity of sleeves across a variety of consumer markets but it is by no means the only reason says the specialist manufacturer.

“Sleeves offer enhanced decoration possibilities, particularly in terms of the quality of the finish, the vibrancy of the colours and the intricacies of the graphics compared to other forms of decoration,” confirms Hambilton.

“In addition, in order to create shelf appeal, many packs are now distinctively and individually shaped and these are not always easy to print or label effectively. By comparison, a sleeve offers a large decoration area and, because it fits closely around the contours of the pack, the impact and effectiveness of the design is retained.”

The sleeve is growing in use particularly for plastics containers. Here it allows the use of much more innovative shapes where decoration by conventional labels would not be possible.

“The ability to offer all-over decoration, achieving a quality of print finish and registration that would not be possible by printing directly onto the bottle, opens up the design possibilities to maximise on-shelf impact,” says Hambilton.

In addition, sleeves also provide a very effective and cost-effective means of creating an eye-catching, limited period promotion, where the shrink sleeve can be applied to an existing pack, thus obscuring the normal decoration during the promotion.

For example eye-catching gold coloured sleeves from the company are used in an instant-win promotion from Nescafe Gold Blend, currently in partnership with the film Love Actually. Consumers are invited to get tactile by ‘hugging’ special heat-sensitive jars to identify winning packs. The heat sensitivity is provided by a thermochromic panel on the jar’s paper label, manufactured by Waddington Labels.

When covered with the consumer’s palm the panel becomes translucent, revealing the winning or losing copy. In order to prevent this being seen by the consumer, a full-length opaque sleeve was required.

Investing in the future

Decorative runs four units. Plain products, flexo products and short run gravure are produced out of its Kings Lynn factory while long run gravure sleeves are converted from a plant opened last year in Castleford. In excess of £5.43M was invested at the factory including a 10-colour Cerutti electronic lineshaft gravure press capable of producing 1-metre wide film and an automatic print quality inspection system.

More investment has been made at the flexo unit with new BHS printing equipment featuring UV curing.

Excellence of the print finish is another of shrink sleeves’ major advantages. The company uses a wide range of specialist inks such as glow in the dark, glitter and thermochromic to achieve eye-catching special effects. A recent example is a drink sold from vending machines. When placed in the microwave oven the ink changes colour to alert the consumer when it is hot enough.

Hambilton also comments: “While the majority of sleeves are shrunk to the bottles using a heat tunnel, the use of steam shrinking is becoming increasingly common. Steam shrinking is particularly good at ensuring an excellent fit for the more irregularly shaped bottles, while it is also appropriate for filled bottles, where it may not be possible to achieve the heat required to shrink the sleeve without affecting the quality of the product.

“The beauty of a shrink sleeve is that it can be tailored to each productÕs requirements, not just in terms of its design but also the material and application technology used.

“Bottle material and design, filling technology and type of decoration – all have an influence on the development of the sleeve. The earlier we become involved in the project, therefore, the quicker and smoother the path to launch becomes.”

Sleeves also have an important role to play in tamper evidence. “This has helped to create further efficiencies in production and pack design. In the past, tamper evidence would have been provided by a seal, while decoration, promotion and product information could have required anything up to three separate labels. These functions can now all be combined in one decorative shrink sleeve,” adds Hambilton.

Introducing a new machine and two new films, Sleever International’s UK sales director Eric Masson said that it was this “continuous development of state-of-the-art machinery and film which ensures our customers receive an integrated sleeving solution from concept to finished product”.

The machine, the Sleever, is a turnkey process solution which can be tailored to suit a customer’s production processes and has been designed to apply the sleeve on empty or filled products and in a dry or wet industrial process.

The films are dedicated OPS films adapted to IR or Steam technology: OPS IR film [Sleever International OPS-TF/050* W] is for use with IR shrinking equipment such as the Powerskinner. This is said to be a unique solution, developed to decorate complex shaped plastic containers in a dry industrial process on empty or filled products.

The film dedicated to steam technology [Sleever International OPS-TG/050* W] is for use with equipment such as the Powersteam and is used to decorate complex shaped plastic containers in a wet industrial process on filled products.

The Pentaprint product line of shrink-label films from Klockner Pentaplast has been extended to include Pentaprint 45-micron OT E746/91 regular-shrink and OT E749/50 high-shrink PETG films for full-body shrink-sleeve labels.

Now available in 45-micron thickness, this polyester film is claimed to represent a 10% reduction in available film thickness in the marketplace today. The OT E746/91 film has 56% shrink properties and the high-shrink OT E749/50 film has 78% shrink properties.

Uniform shrinkage

Both are engineered for products requiring excellent uniform shrinkage for full-body shrink sleeves, claims the company. The films are suitable for flexographic and gravure printing processes.

“The films were developed to meet customers’ requirements for a higher yield shrink film that will provide cost savings for both printers and end-users,” comments Jim Mullen, Klockner Pentaplast’s manager of shrink-label films. “Along with our existing vinyl, polyester, and Barex shrink-label films, we continue to provide our customers with the broadest selection and most cost-effective solutions in the industry.”

On the sleeve application front Krones has expanded its range to include the Sleevematic DS [Direct Sleeving] and the Sleevematic DS Inline. With this in line equipment the sleeve is transferred directly. It is pulled over the entire container by a lowering device and fixed in place on the conveyor. It is positioned flush with the container’s base.

An expanding mandrel opens the sleeve and the cutting unit cuts it accurately to the selected length using servo-controlled blades. The Sleevematic DS Inline is capable of speeds up to 20 000 bottles/hr with one cutting unit claims the company.