Sunday, October 5, 2014

Components of Self adhesive Labelstocks and the part they play in label converting.

This is a very large subject and a whole big book can be written on it as exhaustive information is availabel and needs to be dwelled upon. However still I have tried to reconstruct the gist of an article that I wrote in 2002 and have moderately updated it. I hope it benefits all the producers, converters and end users in Labels to understand the self adhesive materials.
The labelstock which is the starting material for self adhesive labels consists primarily of three main components.

1. The facestock: Which can be paper, film, foil, fabric, etc.
2. The adhesive: This is anchored on to the face stock.
3. The release liner or the protective backing: This can be paper or film.

We shall discuss each of the components separately and dwell on their impact in the process of label converting. There was a time here in India, not long ago, when with just one multi-purpose coater you could cater to most of the label printers, making release liners and then coating and laminating with adhesives on the same equipment. Alternatively silicone liners were outsourced but intense competition made in house siliconising an imperative. Though this may still hold good for many a labelstock manufacturer, yet things have changed at the higher end for the better. Specialized equipments for coating the newer silicone technologies, different adhesives like hotmelts, emulsions and solvented systems and other equipments to technically upgrade the labelstocks are finding place in the manufacturing units.

Face stocks: Paper remains the most widely used face material for labels, though in recent times filmic stocks

have gained substantial market shares. The most predominantly used varieties of paper initially were the uncoated matt, the one side or two side coated semi-gloss popularly known as the chromo art paper and the cast gloss also known as mirror coat paper but in recent times semi-gloss or one side coated C1S paper is the most used variety. The usage of woodfree or uncoated paper variety is also substantial but seems limited to plain price labels, mailing labels and VIP labels. With the advent of UV curable inks and varnishes which also provide high gloss attributes to labels, the usage of Mirror coated or cast gloss paper has not grown in labels or has decreased. Moreover because of stiffness of this paper, a self adhesive label may have edge lifting defect at higher ambient temperatures.  It is advisable that for tightly curved surfaces flexible varieties of face stocks be used. Now with customer needs getting to be more specific, it is necessary to use more modified varieties of paper. General requirements of the paper include the surface and mechanical characteristics. Printability is a function of the paper surface quality while mechanical properties like lay flat property, dimensional stability and flexibility, influence the processes of printability due to curling, die-cutting, waste matrix removal and label dispensing. While papers are largely used as they are supplied directly by mills however films need to be modified if not already done so by the suppliers. Modifications of the surface characteristics include top coating, metalizing, laminating, etc. For non contact printing like inkjet on films, a relatively porous surface would be needed requiring special coatings that will make ink dry by absorption. Various pigments, compounds, fillers, binders and primers are used to coat the surface. Different pigments possess different surface energies and ph stabilities, the binders which are vehicles to carry pigments; influence the anchorage of the ink or topcoat, the stiffness, the porosity and ink absorbance. Depending on the requirement of the printing process i.e. offset, letterpress, Flexo, gravure, screen, inkjet, laser, thermal transfer, digital, etc. the top coatings are designed accordingly. The top coatings for paper are mostly done at the paper mills where the paper is produced however some coaters develop their own coatings and coating methods to achieve different qualities in face papers but this is getting to be rare. Sometimes paper is coated with a barrier or a primer on the reverse side to prevent any migration of the plasticizer from the adhesive to the face or for acting as an anchoring agent for the adhesive. However the adhesive technologies have improved to an extent that this process is not largely required now. Other surface improvement techniques include latex impregnation for weather resistance, laminating with films to achieve hi-gloss, varnishing, top coating for frozen food and long life labels, special coatings with colorless leuco dye and acidic colour developer for producing direct thermal printing paper, etc. Due to requirements of producing in line to achieve economies of scale, now paper surface modification at the level of labelstock production is almost not there. Specialised converting companies supply modified paper for thermal transfer printing, direct thermal printing, etc. Labelstocks with textured surfaces are also in use in Europe and USA, especially for wine and gourmet food labeling. Some printers in India have become innovative and use special dies to emboss and deboss paper while converting on their label presses to produce textured effects. For mechanical properties requirements, (a) the strength of the paper is important (high for faster conversion and waste matrix removal requirements and low for security labels to achieve tamper evidence), (b) Bulk and moisture content of the paper influences the dimensional stability. An ideal paper would have 6% humidity. Most widely used face papers are in the range of 70-85 GSM. Today most of mechanical properties are left to mills and labelstock manufacturers just need to select the mill from which to source paper and decide on the grammage of paper that will deliver the desired mechanical strength. The label printers use from films of 15 microns to boards of 300GSM.

Synthetic face materials are finding extensive usage, given the requirement of the no label look and the better aesthetics exhibited by the film labels. Consider a shampoo bottle and the harsh environments it has to encounter in its lifespan. The heat, steam, cold, and sometimes dry conditions all exist in the bathrooms. Add to that the continuous squeezing of the bottle, well you can understand that paper will not do the job, it will not stretch with the bottle and return to its shape, you will end up having a wrinkled label, so you really need a film label and that to a flexible one maybe like Polyethylene. To get the right kind of printing the surface properties of the film are of very high importance. The surface properties required include, the surface tension to be higher than 40 dynes. The ideal would be to have an online corona treater. Films generally have better surface finish, good gloss or matt as required, excellent aesthetics and chemical resistance. Film manufacturers now offer improved surface properties by supplying top coated films for better printability. These films come with a print receptive primer coating. This however makes the product more expensive. Labelstock manufacturers do offer pretreated film stocks but the level of treatment falls on extended storage and leads to reduced anchorage of the printed matter. It is for this reason that an online corona treater is recommended. The ideal still would be a film top coated for print receptivity. As regards mechanical properties, the films have generally improved die cutting and faster waste matrix removal provided proper dies are used. The filmic materials require a sharper angle for blades than paper. Take for example LLDPE which is neither foldable nor stiff and difficult to die cut due to increased elasticity. One ends up blaming the release liner even though the problem lies with the selection of the filmic face stock or the flexible die. For automatic label dispensing the film has to be stiff enough and flexible enough to conform to the shape of the container to resist deformation. Today companies are using multilayer construction of films or hybrid films to achieve the correct properties in terms of printability, die-cutting, dispensability and squeezabilty.

Adhesives: As regards adhesives, again here the scenario is fast changing in India. Gone are the days when you could coat only the general purpose permanent acrylic emulsion adhesive and keep servicing all the segments in labels. With surfaces becoming diverse and the usage of labels becoming complex, a label printer needs to offer a wide variety of adhesives namely acrylic emulsions, solvent borne acrylics, Hotmelt adhesives, rubber resin adhesives, etc. with different grades such as permanent, removable, low-tack, medium tack, high tack, delayed action, deep freeze, high temperature resistant, etc.
The selection of adhesive is of prime importance and needs the continued partnership between the labelstock manufacturer, label printer and the label user. Consideration of the substrates, the conditions of application, the converting process, the storage and usage conditions is imperative before deciding on the adhesive. The adhesive cannot be such that it does not anchor on to the face or the substrate on which is to be applied. In either case it will create a non acceptable situation whereby either the face will come off leaving the adhesive on the substrate or the label will not adhere well on the substrate. Another point to consider would be that die-cutting is better in emulsion adhesives as compared to hotmelts. Also the high initial tack of hotmelts make the die-cut adhesive to rebond on keeping making waste matrix removal difficult. Hotmelt adhesives have very high initial tack while emulsion adhesive attain final tack over a period of time, so if a label has been fixed wrongly in case of acrylic adhesive, it can be instantly removed and refixed but it cannot be done so with hotmelt adhesive. As it will bond immediately and removal will amount to a damaged and wasted label. It is for this reason that companies who use large sized labels prefer acrylic emulsion adhesive to have less wastage due to wrongly affixed labels.

Release Liner: These are the most performing part of the labelstock. Unfortunately they land up in the dustbin as soon as the label is dispensed and starts its journey as a part of the final product. The types of substrates being used to produce release liners are:

1. Glassine, which is the most popular in India
2. SCK or super calendered Kraft
3. CCK or Clay coated Kraft
4. Saturated papers or papers impregnated with saturants.
5. Polycoated papers
6. Synthetic liners like BOPP, PET, LDPE, etc

The above mentioned substrates are coated with silicone formulations to become release paper or release liners. The silicone chemistries available and there evolution so far is as follows:

1. Solvented silicone with Tin catalyst and thermal curing: This is a cost effective product having post curing reaction and the cross linking reaction, triggered by the heat in the drying chamber, could go on for days. In this the consistency in release levels is always in question. The usage of this chemistry has reduced substantially in recent times. In fact the technology has virtually become obsolete and is on the verge of being phased out. The usage of Tin catalyst and solvent in the system is a deterrent for any converter due to suspected toxicity of Tin compounds and Toluene. The solvent in the system is a perpetual fire hazard. A small spark due to static build up could cause massive damage by catching fire.

2. Solvented Silicones with platinum catalyst and thermal curing: It is better than the tin system as it has no or little post cure reaction but use of solvents is continuous fire hazard besides being toxic and not friendly to the environment. Many Indian siliconisers had shifted to this system as it could be coated on their existing equipments but due to the problems mentioned more development in this product cannot be expected. I am not aware of this product being used in India by anyone.

3. The solvent less platinum catalyst system with thermal curing: This system came to be implemented in India around 2003 and requires specialized equipment to coat the materials from a 100% solvent free bath. It gives a much enhanced performance with improved surface gloss ensuring increased area of contact for the adhesive, consistent and controlled release levels and is reproducible. Weldon Celloplast Ltd. was one of the first amongst the Indian labelstock manufacturers to report a shift over to solvent free silicone coating in the latter part of 2003. Today all new installations are being made employing this technology.

4. Solvent less silicone with platinum catalyst and UV curing: It is much quicker but not widely used in India. Some installations have been made in recent times and this is the preferred technology for heat sensitive films. It also eliminates the need for solvents or long heating chambers. Caution again here because the normal UV curing results in inconsistency in release levels. The UV curing of silicone needs to take place in an inert nitrogenous, oxygen free environment. The availability of this silicone is at present also an issue as the silicone has to be imported and is not formulated locally.

5. Solvent less silicone with platinum catalyst and Electron beam curing: It is an improvement on the UV curing system. Again this chemistry has not reached India as yet. There are perhaps just one or two installations at present in the country.

The additional advantages of the shift towards platinum catalysts systems is that the reaction is not post curing. All the curing is done in the heat chamber itself and the reaction comes to a stop when the substrates return to ambient temperatures. Also there exists the additional possibility of achieving different release levels by employing Control release additives.

With evolution of the label usage, selection of the right base paper or liner is also now of utmost importance. In the earlier days Indian label printers, end users and labelstock manufacturers would only want to use glassine based liners. Everything else was considered lower in quality. As the market has matured, CCK (Clay Coated Kraft) are preferred liners for the sheeted labelstock market. The base paper experiences high temperatures in excess of 150 degrees C for thermal curing of silicones and at this temperature the paper loses moisture and shrinks. On adhesive coating and exposure to atmospheric moisture the release paper expands bringing curl to the gummed sheets. This is not acceptable in offset printing. For this reason now CCK is advised because it has a porous back due to which the paper quickly regains moisture to stabilize and impart flatness to the converted sheets. In case of glassine which is a highly calendered paper which will not absorb moisture quickly even when subjected to inline humidification. Glassines are the preferred liners for barcode labels where the transparency is a necessity for sensing the labels and also in auto label dispensing glassine is preferred due to consistent caliper for die-cutting, better release levels and higher tensile strength. All these applications are for labels in roll form. These properties aid higher speeds with lesser web breaks. Similarly other varieties need to be considered for demanding applications.

Die cutting and other issues:
Die cutting is a technical operation transforming web like materials to discrete items like labels. It depends on solid state components of the laminate like face material and the release liner. Their quality and combination are important. For a good clean cut it is necessary to have a uniform caliper, densified paper liner. The thickness and density of the face paper are less important. Best results are obtained by having a highly densified paper, like glassine as liner. However where lay flat properties are of importance it is advisable to use the densified Kraft liners with porous backing. Dimensional stability of the liner is of utmost importance. As mentioned earlier in this article, if a liner is exposed to high temperature without rehumidification while siliconizing it loses its moisture content. This can cause wrinkles or curling. It is always advisable as far as possible to maintain the moisture level at 6-7% for both the face paper and the release paper. Printers often encounter problems like

1. Over cutting: This occurs if the die punctures a little into the release paper, the rest of the paper will split itself causing a thru punch.
2. Undercut: If the die blade cuts only the face and does not go though the adhesive, there is the possibility of labels coming off with the waste matrix. This happens because the adhesive has also cohesive properties due to which the adhesive film stays together. It is important to cut the adhesive layer also.
3. Clean cut: In an ideal situation the die blade should cut through the face paper and the adhesive and come

to stop just before and on the surface of the release paper. Dies employed for die cutting also play an important role in die cutting. For example in case of paper if the angle of the blade is wider the waste matrix removal becomes better. However this may not be applicable for films as for a clean cut a different angle of blade is necessary. This is a very technical issue and needs the close cooperation of the printer and the die manufacturer.
As for face stocks the best cutting is that of paper followed by PET which is quite similar in cutting to Paper and then we have BOPP and PE.

Waste matrix removal is a highly technical operation. It depends on a variety of issues. The strength of the face material is of prime importance and equally important is the release levels of the release liner. But here one has to strike a balance. If the release is too easy the labels may lift with the matrix and in case of computer labels they may come off while passing over rollers and stick to the print head and damage the same. In case the release is too tight the waste matrix will keep breaking, making converting a painful process. Other issues that confront the label printer are tensile strength requirements of release paper for the automatic label dispenser, residual moisture in the adhesive, adhesives tend to lose tack in winters due to hardening of polymers, emulsion adhesives attaining peak performance over a period of time, lack of adhesion to low energy surfaces like HDPE and a host of similar requirements. All these can be addressed effectively when all the three, the labelstock manufacturer the label printer and the label user put their brains together as partners and design the product.

The above article is written by Harveer Singh Sahni, Managing Director, Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi. Presented at India Label Show 2002 and updated moderately in October 2014

Note: Print publications are free to reproduce the above article in their magazines by giving due credit to the author.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The life of a label-I

In the first of a series of articles being written exclusively for Narrrow Web Tech, Germany, I dwell on the background of packaging and package printing, and assess the role played by labels.

Over the years, packaging experts have continued to draw inspiration from nature. There is no shortage of examples: bananas, oranges, coconut, nuts, and eggs. In earlier years these ‘natural packages’ were all that was necessary be- cause people bought and ate fresh food.
Affluence brings a change in demand

Rising literacy levels in urban India resulted in increased employment and higher disposable
incomes, bringing about a change in lifestyle. As more members of urban house- holds started to venture out to seek gainful employment, time became a commodity that was in short sup- ply. There arose a need to buy food for many days in one go. Initially, the refrigerator was enough to store food, but as the need to store food for a week, a fortnight or a month was felt, scientifically created pack- aging that could prolong the shelf life, as well as tempting the customer to buy products off the shelves in modern day retailing, became an imperative. With this also emerged the need for highly decorated and eye-catching labels!

Without label, the product looses value

The label is the most communicative part of packaging as it stirs the initial impulse to pick it up and read it. The label establishes the identity of the product and it is the direct link between the product and the consumer. A good label makes the product identifiable, and delivers the desired communication from the manufacturer to the targeted consumer. It is a unique selling tool once the product is in the buyer’s hand, and delivers more value than a sales person, because it focuses the consumer’s attention. Read more...

Written exclusively for Narrow Web Tech Germany by Harveer Sahni, Managing Director Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi August 2014 Reproduction of this article without permission is not permitted.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Vivek Kapoor: Creative Labels…the bottom line will guide!

Vivek with his ECS Label Press
Vivek Kapoor, Managing Director of Navi Mumbai based Creative Labels, is the current and longest serving President of LMAI (label manufacturers association of India). With his office in South Mumbai and factory some 40 km away in Mahape, Navi Mumbai, one is left wondering how Vivek manages to control his one man show and still find time for the label association and also indulge in an extremely busy lifestyle.  “I operate by delegation” says Vivek, he further adds, “If I have to be in the factory all day long then I would not be able to do anything else”. It is interesting to note that Vivek‘s mentor and a close relative Surinder Kapur was the founder President of LMAI. The large extended family of Kapoors has given two out of the four Presidents to LMAI since inception. The Indian label industry is appreciative of their contribution. In April 2011 I wrote about Surinder Kapur whose grandfather Lala Jai Dayal Kapur, with support of his friend Lala Karam Chand Thapar founder of Ballarpur Industries, started their paper trading business at Amritsar where they had relocated from Lahore after partition of India. Around the same time Jai Dayal Kapur’s brother Ram Lal Kapoor also started his business in paper trading with distribution agency from the then British owned Titagarh Paper Mills. Today the large extended families of both the brothers are spread in various cities around India and well established in paper and printing business. Pyare Lal Kapoor, one of the four sons of Ram Lal Kapoor had six sons who were, in typical Punjabi tradition expected to join the joint family business but one of his son Shashi Mohan Kapoor who had pursued education in chartered accountancy, drifted away from family business. Initially it was out of curiosity to try his hand in practicing he moved to Mumbai as big business was there and eventually with a successful practice in place, he never actively returned to the family business, though he remains a part of it even today passively. Shashi Mohan wanted his son Vivek to also become a chartered accountant and take over his well established practice but it appears the influence of cousins in business and the traditional Punjabi business traits of a large extended business family prevailed. Punjabis are people who hail from the north Indian state of Punjab. Vivek completed one group of in Chartered accountancy and also prepared for the 2nd group but never appeared for the final exams, because he knew if he did, he would have to be a CA like his father. He did not wish to take up that career as he feels, “it is postmortem of accounts”.
Shashi Mohan like any caring parent was a worried man, now that his son Vivek wanted to be in business. He was worried because Vivek did not have any experience. It was only his interaction with his large extended family that this decision had been made. Initially they toyed with the idea of going into textiles but the number of processes involved to reach a finished product was a deterrent. With passage of time Shashi Mohan started discussing with family and friends the options available. It was when he discussed with his cousin Surinder Kapur who was already in production of labels that Surinder suggested Vivek also make labels. Shashi mohan had been very close to Surinder’s father and also took care of their tax matters. He thought since he was in know of their suppliers and customers this would be unethical. Surinder and his father assured Shashi Mohan it was not an issue with them and they even took upon themselves to train Vivek at their Taloja factory, R K Papers. With this decision made, Vivek trained for 4-5 weeks at R K Papers and thus started his journey into the world of labels. Vivek and Shashi Mohan to this date are indebted to Surinder Kapur and his father Raj Kumar for initiating Vivek in labels. Vivek took to the label industry as if it was made out business for him, the online converting in a single pass suited his temperament and appealed to him immensely.
In 1996-97 a young 28 year old Vivek Kapoor setup his startup venture Icon prints at Navi Mumbai with a cousin as partner.  They bought their first label press, a four colour semi rotary Iwasaki. Yet, he was a novice in printing. When he went to show a printed sample to one of his earliest customer, the customer asked him to bring LSD. Vivek was stunned, thinking the guy was asking for some drug! It was eventually explained to him that LSD in print meant “Light Standard Dark”. Another nightmare happened when he was on the verge of losing a pharma customer as each time he printed, the colour would smudge. The customer wondered if Vivek could ever get it right. The solution when it happened makes him smile at how simple it was. Instead of printing orange first and then black, he printed black first and the problem was over! He was a fast learner and thereafter progressed to buy their second label press and this time an Etipole in the year 2000. Initial years were tough for Icon Prints as they started to sell plain labels which were sold mostly in the unorganized market and had to be competing with small timers who sold without invoicing on cash. The very first year they ended up with a cash loss and considered closing the business. It was only when they started to print and add value to their product that the venture started to look up. Vivek is nostalgic about his first label that he printed was for a multinational consumer goods company. At that point of time FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies were importing labels and winning an order against quality coming from foreign lands was a very satisfying accomplishment. Vivek further draws pleasure in being first person in India to produce labels for seamless tubes for packaging “Brylcream” as the brand owners were finding it difficult to print the logo, this started the trend of tube labels in India.
Ten years after starting Icon Prints, restlessness and differences between the partners started to surface. Vivek wanted to expand against the wishes of his cousin who was his partner. Expansion calls for additional investment and borrowings. Most of the time partnerships come under stress due to such differences. One would want stability and the other, expansion and action. Family differences also started showing up. Finally in 2007 the partners separated and Vivek quit Icon Prints to start Creative Labels Pvt. Ltd. at a 4500 square feet rented premises in Navi Mumbai with a new LR3 7 colour Iwasaki. This indeed was a turning point in his career so far. It was struggle from scratch once again. Giving up all that was achieved at Icon prints and building a new customer base after a gap of almost six months was like establishing his startup venture all over again. Ethically, Vivek did not want to start a business in parallel, while the partnership was in separation mode at Icon so it became all the more indulgence and hard work to succeed when eventually he started his new venture. He soon realized that if he had to bring success to his new venture, he had to adopt and accept technological changes and developments in narrow web label printing. Initially he expanded his startup by installing a Gallus EM 280 but as Creative Labels got a foot hold in the marketplace, Vivek recognized the need for a short web path in narrow web label printing to reduce wastages and reduce operator intervention and thus he decided to buy a Gallus ECS label press. Vivek like most of the other label printers feels digital will one day change the scenario but yet it is time to keep a close watch on the technology and the plunge will be taken at an appropriate time. According to him, one has to change with time. When asked where he sees himself and his company in five years, he says, “We grow as we grow. We make our efforts and growth will come naturally”. However end of the day the Chartered Accountant in him, inherited from his father says it all, “The bottom-line will be the guide”.
In 2013 Creative prints acquired an industrial plot close to their first rented factory and built it to accommodate their expansion. They now operate out of a total production floor area of 12000 square Feet 7500 in the new factory and 4500 in the old factory. They employ a work force of 60 employees and possess three label presses. Vivek’s family also has partnership interest in Kapco Prints (Offset Printers) at Chandigarh and Baddi (H.P.) in North India. It is interesting to note that Vivek’s father Shashi Mohan and his brothers, all the six of them are still partners in the printing business.

Shveta & Vivek Kapoor with Lisa Milburn MD Labelexpoat Goa
Vivek Kapoor, the only son of Shashi Mohan Kapoor, is an alumnus of Campion School, Mumbai. He graduated in Commerce from H R College also in Mumbai.  His wife Shveta is a unique pleasant personality, always seen wearing the best jewellery… a smile! She is essentially a homemaker. After completing her education in commerce, she pursued an advanced course in Jewellery design. After teaching for some time at the Indian Institute of Jewellery, she now designs jewellery privately. Their only son Vidur is a fine young teenager. Though Vivek insists that he does not see him as a label printer in the future but it appears Vidur is already there. Vidur is a part of every label event and is recognisable by most of the established printers.  We will leave the prerogative for his future to be his very own for this young man!
Vivek has taken keen interest in industry association and as the President of LMAI has been
instrumental in creating a unique platform for the Indian Label Industry, “The annual LMAI label conference”. I remember when the first conference was being organized at Goa, the kind of effort put in was gigantic and sitting at Mumbai, Vivek was coordinating all the time. Since I was a member of the managing committee then, I used to get Vivek’s call every other day. He would talk endlessly on the planning and my family would ask, “Does Vivek have a free mobile phone?”LMAI has successfully organized two conferences at GOA with global attendance from most of the reputed suppliers. The LMAI Conference is now declared to be held regularly every two years. Under Vivek’s leadership the members of the label association LMAI have been able to get subsidies on investments, on travel and participation in premier trade shows abroad like Labelexpo, from the Ministry of MSME (Micro Small & Medium Enterprises) Government of India. Vivek has also taken initiatives with support from leading industry suppliers to support schooling of operators for label presses. This is an area that is a cause of worry due to shortage of trained operators to run the high-end sophisticated presses. If his efforts succeed this will help increase the operator availability in India.
Each time I interview a leading label printer, I ask a question that is important for us and our environment. Given the fact that 50% of all the label material that label printers use, goes to landfills impacting the environment adversely, I wish to know the initiatives that they have taken in this direction. The question becomes all the more important in case of Vivek as he heads the label association. He has tried various initiatives with industry suppliers on waste management but success has been evasive. He says,” We firmly believe that it is for the better of future generations that we leave behind a cleaner earth. I will continue to find ways to implement systems and environmentally friendly production processes.”
Written by Harveer Sahni, Managing Director, Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi-110008 India, July 2014

The above article can be reproduced by publications after taking permision and giving due credit to author.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Metro Label Toronto:‘Green’ firm marks milestone 40th Anniversary!

This is a very interesting story of an Indian Sandeep Lal and his family from Allahabad, a city in the most populous North Indian state of UP. They left India after having lost their business and travelled to foreign lands where they worked their way up to glory from scratch! I wrote about Sandeep Lal President Metro Label in Canada  in April 2009 for a magazine, but somehow it escaped my attention to post it on this blog. Metro Label is now a celebrated company headquartered in Toronto Canada. Recently they celebrated their 40th anniversary which was covered by the world press. I reproduce first the article printed in newspaper "Toronto Star", a link to the video on them and then the article that I wrote on them in April 2009. 

 At the last labelexpo in Brussels 2013 many of our Indian label printers attended a dinner at my apartment alongwith Sandeep, it was a fun evening when we cooked ourselves and exchanged stories of our inheritance and the way forward. I also reproduce one of the pictures of that evening.

‘Green’ firm marks milestone 

Scarborough’s Metro Label completes rebuilding job after being hit by U.S. economic woes

 As one of the country’s leading label manufacturers Scarborough’s Metro Label has a lot to celebrate as it marks its 40th anniversary.

AARON HARRIS/TORONTO STAR Metro Label president Sandeep Lal, left, vice-president Nandini Chaudhary, Curran Chaudhary in charge of marketing and design, and chairman Narinder Lal are part of a family business that has become a top player in label manufacturing.
The company, which Narinder Mohan Lal founded in the family basement in 1974, has blossomed into one of North America’s top players. In addition to the main 132,000 square foot Progress Ave.-Hwy 401 facility, the 180-employee firm also has locations in Vancouver and Napa Valley.They produce pressure sensitive labels for a wide range of consumer goods, including internationally known cosmetic and liquor brands and the private labels of big Canadian grocery chains.“They have a very good reputation as progressive and eco-friendly manufacturers; and a tremendous reputation for customer service,” said Canadian Packaging magazine editor George Guidoni.
“The label market is roughly a $35 billion market worldwide, but there are hundreds of label printers around the world trying to get a piece of that market, so they do have to be competitive,” said Florida-based packaging strategist Michael Ferrari, founder of Ferrari Innovation Solutions LLC, who lauded Metro’s “culture of innovation and constant renewal.“There are mergers that happen all the time in this industry and obviously they are strong enough to stand on their own rather than either going under or having to sell out. Mergers and acquisitions have been rampant in this industry in the last four years.”
The family business, which transitioned from wholesaling to manufacturing on the strength of a $15,000 machine in 1976, realized exponential growth in the 14 years ending 2006 when revenues peaked at $63 million. The firm’s holdings include a golf course and residential development in Panama where they are considering launching a label business. But there have been hiccups. Business fell when the economic decline, price deflation and competitive pressures forced the 2011 closure of a fourth location in Montreal.“The U.S. recession cost us a lot of jobs; many of our customers got acquired which also cost us business,” said Sandeep Lal, who took over as president from his father in the early ’90s. “In the last two years we’ve grown our business by 30 per cent again. We’re climbing up to where we were and to get past that.”
He identified growth areas as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and beverages, more so than supermarket perishables — meat, deli, bakery — which once commanded as much as 85 per cent of their output.
The offerings have also expanded to include glue applied labels, seen on water bottles; mould labels which are part of the container like on detergent containers; and shrink sleeves typically found on beverages.Differentiation is tough in such a competitive industry, noted Lal.
“Being green was one way to do it and the rest is all about service; and today price is also important; it never used to be,” he said. “We’re trying to be more efficient in manufacturing with newer product lines that can operate at higher speeds and then produce lower waste.”But there’s no compromise on environmental aspects. The 999 Progress Ave. HQ, completed in 2005 for $13.5 million, was designed to cut energy use and emissions. Among the initiatives: rainwater is collected to flush toilets; the use of waterbased inks instead of solvent-based inks; and exhaust from printing machines is filtered to heat the building in winter. The firm is currently awaiting building permits to install solar panels on the roof.“We wanted a green plant because we wanted a good place for our employees to work,” said Lal, 59. “It may sound corny but as an entrepreneur I feel I’m responsible for the health and welfare of the people that work for me, that I have a responsibility to them.”The eldest of four children, he dropped out of university to work with his father who had been a pharmacist in India, but couldn’t get similar employment here.
“As immigrant families we all arrive here and you want to somehow get to a point where there’s some financial security for the family. I remember late at night when my parents didn’t think I could hear them talking about how the bills were going to be paid this month or next month. “Those are difficult discussions to hear. You make choices to be part of the solution. For me working in the business rather than continuing in my studies was being part of the solution.”
Narinder, 85, comes in for an hour or so each day. He signs cheques, mingles with the staff and lights incense. His daughter Nandini Chaudhary is vice-president and her son Curran Chaudhary, who joined the company full-time in January, oversees marketing and design.
“Time will tell whether he has the skills and the motivation and the determination, but definitely it would be good if he does,” said Lal of the recent graduate and only member of the third generation at the firm.Curran, 23, has been pushing Metro’s online presence through social media, search engine optimization and Google advertising.“I want to see how it goes; obviously I’d be more than happy to continue the legacy but it depends on what’s best for all of us,” he said of his tenure.
His grandfather’s daily visits are a constant reminder that “hard work is everything; and determination and perseverance are enough to achieve anything.” 

What I wrote in 2009:

Recession or slowdown…it is time to innovate!

In 2002 I was on a trip to Toronto, Canada and had the opportunity to visit Metro Labels, owned by my friend Sandeep Lal. It was an impressive factory with a huge investment, latest presses and a great setup, producing an equally innovative and awesome product range. One of the many labels samples he gave to me was an interesting shampoo bottle label. On the very face of it, it was a very normal looking well printed and decorated label. It had all the statutory information, along with good branding on it. The interesting part is that it had a small diagonal half-cut on one of the top corner. Once a user had bought a shampoo bottle having such a label on it and had placed it on the counter in the bathroom, the user could lift the corner and peel off the top layer of the two layered label. With the top layer came off all the commercial information and the branding, leaving behind a nice bottle having a label with just a good looking floral design on it, nothing else! It served the need of such users who did not wish to make their private domain an advertising space for the manufacturer of toiletries. This maybe an issue for debate on label related laws but the point I am making is the innovation involved. Such endeavors appear to be the need of the hour in the present market conditions.
At this point of time, recession is hitting the global economies and making adverse impact on industry. In India it is cautiously being referred to as a slowdown. The economic figures being reported for our country do not put us into that category falling under the definition of recession. Fortunately our GDP is still showing positive growth. However still in the present circumstances most printers, press suppliers and industry suppliers maintain a restrained optimism on revival of the markets. It is a situation that generally appears after a bout of rapid growth and expansion. I would term it as time for consolidation. There was a spate of investments in label presses during the last couple of years much beyond what had been invested in the preceding years. This seems to have led to a state of overcapacity and fierce competition. When you look back and assess the situation, you are left wondering if it is really the recession or the slowdown or the after effects of growth in installed capacity which happened because of the euphoria of inflated projections of the rate at which the market was expected to grow. Anyway, it is time to consolidate. Label printers at this juncture should use the opportunity to innovate and use the full capabilities of their equipment to develop new products that would add value for them as well as for the users.
From being a country where traditionally labels were printed on conventional flatbed presses, we have seen the gradual shift to rotary flexo printing. Lately printers have indulged in high-end combination presses with a variety of advanced printing, decorating and converting capabilities. Ironically many of them have not exploited the full potential of their equipment. This is so because of their imperative need to break even and keep their machines running. In such a situation they continue to produce the same labels that they were producing on their older equipments. Now when it appears that they have a little time on their hands, they need to indulge in development and innovative products that will give the much needed profitability adding to their bottom lines. At the time of the last LMAI Label Awards, we noticed a vacuum in many segments of the label industry. While there were a lot of entries in the letterpress and flexo segment but when it came to offset there was only one company for all the awards. The case was same in the booklet label segment and the ultimate was when there was no entry in the electronic label segment and the award was given to a company who made a pioneering investment in an HP Indigo label press to produce labels in roll form. Evidently there is still room for investments in new segments as also the need for new products. It is time printers invested in new research and developments and spent some quality time quality time with professionals involved in packaging product development to create innovations in labels.

In the beginning of this column, I mentioned my friend Sandeep Lal of Metro Labels, Toronto, Canada. It is the success story of an Indian who travelled to foreign lands and worked his way to glory. Long years ago, Sandeep helped his father at their chemist shop in Allahabad, UP. Being the only successful and reliable chemist in that area, their business was good, growing and flourishing. Many smaller shops tried their hand in the same business but never succeeded in competition. They were envied by those who wished to copy their success but were unsuccessful. Then came a day when a protégé of a local politician managed a complaint against them and they were raided for drug law violations. Their business was sealed and they had to fight it out for six months before they could get to reopen their shop. Meanwhile the damage had been done! The competitors had firmly established themselves. The Lal family was dejected and disgusted, they just locked up the shop as it is and left for Canada to try their luck in foreign land. That was sometime in the early seventies. They started by selling labels sourced from other label printers. They worked hard to make their business grow and eventually started to produce labels themselves.  The first flexo press that they had used was displayed as a show piece in their reception area when I visited them. They have since moved to a much larger facility which has to its credit a host of awards.  By far it is perhaps the most impressive label factory setup in recent times. The unit has been recognized by the city of Toronto and TLMI in 2007, FTA and Label Expo in 2009 for environmental leadership awards. The company now ranks amongst the largest Label companies in North America and the largest producer of pressure sensitive labels in Canada. Recently they have been recognized as one of Canada's 50 Best Managed Companies for 2005, 2006 & 2007. They have taken over other units and are now operating from many locations. With Sandeep Lal aggressively heading the company, Metro Labels continue to grow and make worthwhile acquisitions. I wish more and more Indians work hard to take their companies the Metro label way!

Written by Harveer Sahni in April 2009

Story collated by Harveer Sahni Managing Director weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi Indian August 2014