Adhesives are notorious within the packaging industry. Choosing the wrong type can spell disaster for converters and customers alike, with the former losing money and clients, and the latter being left with a product that isn’t fit for purpose. This small element, then, needs much attention. Emma-Jane Batey speaks to industry players and brand-owners about this sticky subject, and explores how the right adhesive can offer much more than just a good fit.
If an adhesive does its job properly, the likelihood is that you won’t even notice its presence. Should it fail, however, and you will be left with an unsatisfactory product that either doesn’t work properly or is falling apart. For converters, if a product doesn’t perform it can be can costly mistake, in terms of money and reputation.
Chris Jenkin from Penzance’s Headland Printers is passionate about getting packaging right – and, for him, it begins with choosing the right materials.
“We’ve been in this business for many years, and I still choose the materials I buy on the suggestions of the sales rep,” he says. “I expect quality products, and I love it when the rep actually knows their stuff. We mainly buy our adhesives from Intuprint and Print Graphics because I can talk to the reps and get their experience to add value to what we’re working on.”
This added value comes in the form of detailed information about how the adhesives perform on different substrates. Jenkin explains that changes in the quality of available materials mean that each project has to be assessed on its own merits.
“We assess how the packaging is going to be used, how far it’s going to travel, how it’s going to be sold, and we really test the adhesive on different substrates to see what is the most appropriate,” he explains. “For example, we’re often finding that we’re feeding looser surfaces through the machine as the paper available is changing and needs to be manipulated with care. It’s here that picking the right glue really comes into play. We’re tending to use tape at the moment as some hot and cold adhesive applications can crack and distort the substrate, and it would be very expensive to redo the job.”
Making it stick
Respected UK adhesives manufacturer Power Adhesives has a wealth of experience with hot glue, cold glue, tapes and everything in between. Based in Basildon, the company was established in 1974 and manufactures a range of hot melt adhesives and application equipment. For the converting industry, its products are widely appreciated for their fast setting speeds and easy automation. The company is also the market leader in industrial handheld glue guns that can apply adhesive in dot, bead and spray patterns.
Director Dave Sweeney explains that Power Adhesives prides itself on offering a total solution from its unique perspective.
“Unusually for this sector, Power Adhesives is a manufacturer of adhesives and equipment,” he says. “This means we can look at a user’s application with a total solution. It enables us to get an optimum balance between the application equipment and the adhesive, and allows us to develop adhesives that offer the right balance of performance and value.”
Not content to just deliver performance-driven solutions, Power Adhesives is also keen to stay one step ahead of industry trends, adding even more value to its customers’ packaging. “Basic packaging hot melts have been available for many years. It is fair to say that the market has matured and, with it, the competition between manufacturers has created pressure for increasingly lower prices,” he explains. “This encouraged some manufacturers to use lower-cost raw materials that gradually reduced the performance of the hot melts. These were less versatile, had strong odours and would degrade in bulk tanks causing filter and nozzle blockages that lead to downtime and product failures.”
Sweeney says that a focus on quality adhesives through using the most modern polymers enables reliable high performance. “These new polymers mean that more versatile hot melts have been developed and, although more expensive, the reduction in downtime and maintenance costs has seen many users convert, improving quality and efficiency. We’ve also seen a major change in the various high-quality finishes and films that are being used on many stock materials. These can be challenging to bond reliably, even more so if microwave or deep-freeze applications are involved. Fortunately, the new polymers have allowed us to formulate hot melt adhesives that are suitable for these very difficult applications,” he concludes.
Attached to brand values
While performance is essential, brand owners recognise that adhesives must also be eco-responsible. While packaging materials have been the focus of improvements to sustainability, the attention is now shifting to the unseen elements.
For up-and-coming holistic personal care brand Urban Veda, each aspect of the packaging is a marker of its brand intention. The London-based company manufactures all its products in the UK, and favours collaborating with suppliers who work to the same high standards it expects of itself.
“I had a clear vision of the final product, from the philosophy to the packaging. Everything about Urban Veda reflects our holistic approach,” explains founder Sheilesh Shah. “Founded on the ancient principles of Ayurveda, all our products are naturally formulated to provide for all skin types, while factoring in the effect that the environment, stress and dehydration have on our skin.”
With this completely natural and effective philosophy underpinning the whole Urban Veda brand, Shah explains how each element of the product ingredients has to fit in with its values.
“All our packaging is recyclable, and our bottles are made out of post-consumer recycled plastic. Recycling is like karma; what goes around comes around. We’re proud of our sourcing provenance and all of our cartons are forest-sustainability certified. It makes perfect sense that everything we use in our products is strictly controlled as it’s the very ethos of Urban Veda. So something as seemingly invisible as the adhesive used in our packaging has its role to play, its place in the creation of our product and our brand,” he concludes.
For Shah, paying attention to each product element – even those that are hidden – contributes to the overall sense of brand identity, and improves the quality of the products.
“While we use block colour on our packaging, we are fond of smaller touches and the finer details too,” he says. “We use a range of processing while manufacturing our packaging, including matt and gloss varnish for a contrasting look. We also use metallic pantones with a raised ink process to create an embossed effect. These choices obviously then impact on the adhesives required, with our demand for performance as strong as our demand for responsible and sustainable packaging. A key challenge for us is ensuring quality and consistency across our product range when working with different suppliers. It is vital to always be precise and vigilant with any design briefs, and we always ensure we perform a test run before producing large batches.”
When it comes to the converting industry, the small stuff matters. The correct adhesive can make or break a product – quite literally – and brands who take the time to consider this subject carefully ensure that they don’t land themselves with the short end of the stick.