By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Labels are prevalent in industrial or production-like settings including construction and manufacturing facilities. They are utilized for a number of reasons from safety warnings to identification and even wayfinding or instructional use.
Industrial labels need to be durable and withstand human touch as well as intense weathering or exposure to harsh chemicals. Furthermore, these labels adhere to hard-to-stick surfaces, so an adhesive must be just right to ensure it remains in place. To enhance a label’s longevity or even combat a visibility issue, an overlaminate is often used.
A Hard Look
A range of environments and applications fall under the heading of industrial including manufacturing plants and warehouses, airport hangers, construction sites, underground tunnels, and shipping docks. Highly durable labels are used in all of them.
According to Kim Hensley, marketing manager, Mactac, the durable label market for North America makes up about ten to 15 percent of the label film market. These products are used prominently in the automotive, appliance/nameplate, lawn and garden, electronics, drum/chemical, power/lighting, and battery markets, among others.
“We see a lot of permanent adhesive usage in applications where people need to be warned or protected over the lifespans of products. They instruct us how not to use electrical appliances or warn us of the presence of hazardous material, for example. Beyond safety and instructional use, we often see durable labels used for product identification/branding,” continues Hensley.
Josh Culverhouse, graphic innovations market manager, ORAFOL Americas, Inc., lists a number of qualified applications including signage and labels for airline ground support vehicles, airline shipping containers, cargo shipping containers, incident management, OSHA and ANSI safety graphics, pipeline management, heavy and industrial equipment, and glow in the dark photoluminescent wayfinding and emergency graphics.
“Construction equipment signage is another logical application. Smooth or textured permanent wall graphics, as well. If you choose multi-purpose, versatile products, you could use them in other environments such as motocross and UTV graphic applications,” adds Shaun Jaycox, product manager, S-One Holdings Corporation.
In all instances, these types of environments or products require durable labels. “They need to withstand the rigors associated with harsh environments including high temperature, UV, and chemicals. Take care to choose the correct adhesive as well as facestock when considering a label for a particular application,” explains Julie Levins, market development manager, Tekra, a division of EIS, Inc.
Facestock options like polyester are a strong choice, shares Hensley, since it offers a rigidity and stiffness that makes it tear resistant as well as solvent, chemical, and heat resistant. Another option is a polypropylene with UV inhibitors to provide good chemical resistance and fair solvent resistance. She says polypropylene softens around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, making it unfit for some hot applications. Vinyl is extremely conformable and offers suitable UV resistance, making it an ideal outdoor film.
Another common requirement is static dissipation. “Static is a significant concern for chemical and petroleum manufacturers. The buildup of static electricity during the drum and container label printing and application process is a phenomenon in chemical manufacturing plants, and is particularly dangerous due the presence of solvent vapors in these environments,” explains Fabrizio Mandingorra, global segment manager, labels, PPG.
He notes that vinyl and polyester labels are often vulnerable to buildup of static between the facestock and the liner when used in low-humidity environments. “When labels are processed through laser printers, they are charged through an electrostatic process that causes print toner to adhere to the label surface. When printed labels are peeled, the action can inject a static charge into the workspace, threatening to combust a dangerously flammable environment made even more hazardous by the presence of chemicals, solvents, and materials with low flashpoints.”
Label media used in these applications may also necessitate a certain validation or certification on a local or federal level. “NFPA, UL, CSA, ASTM, ANSI, DIN, Reach, and RoHS may influence material specifications, performance requirements, and standards. It’s really dependent on the application which type of specification or regulation a graphic marking film or label material needs to meet,” admits Culverhouse.
Mandingorra agrees and explains that these types of applications can range from BS 5609 certified labels for chemical manufacturers transporting dangerous goods on international waters that must meet Global Harmonization System compliance and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods code, to asset tracking labels on equipment and containers.
Many surfaces found in these environments feature low-surface energy, making adherence a challenge. A label’s adhesive needs to offer a high tack in these scenarios.
Levins explains that low-surface energy plastics, as well as powder coated paints and lightly oiled metals are not easy to stick to.
“Industrial labeling often involves surfaces that make adhesion difficult—they may be uneven, coated in powder coated paints, or may just be dirty. In general, you want a durable, chemical-resistant option that demonstrates permanent adhesion and resistance to environmental factors like liquids, extreme temperatures, or UV rays,” shares Hensley.
Solvent-based adhesives resist chemicals like gasoline or acid and stand up to high temperatures, but feature sustainability concerns. “Suppliers are finding or looking for alternatives such as emulsion acrylic or UV acrylic adhesives. Rubber adhesives can be a compelling option in certain circumstances due to their quick tack, aggressive holds, and ability to fill voids for lasting adhesion, but you need to avoid high temperatures and chemical exposure,” recommends Hensley.
“An adhesive like that is specially formulated to adhere to the hard-to-stick-to surfaces. Substrates such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and powder coated paints only work with a high-tack adhesive,” cautions Jaycox.
To further protect a label, overlaminates are an option. Not only does it extend the durability, it can benefit the final appearance.
Culverhouse suggests going through a discovery process to determine where the label will be used and what elements it will be exposed to. This can help decided whether an overlaminate is required or not. “It’s important to understand if the labels and markings will be indoor or outdoor, stationary or mobile, and regularly cleaned with caustic cleaners or other abrasive methods.”
And if you don’t know the end use, an overlaminate is doubly helpful. “If you are unsure about end-use conditions, applying an overlaminate can help protect against abrasion, chemical exposure, extreme temperatures, and weather exposure,” recommends Hensley.
“Considerations to take into account when choosing an overlaminating film include whether the label will be exposed to UV, extreme temperatures, abrasion, harsh chemicals, and even graffiti,” shares Levins.
Beyond protection and durability, Culverhouse explains how an overlaminate benefits final appearance. “For example, if the graphic is placed in an area where light glare is problematic, a matte or semi-gloss overlaminate allows for better visibility. Another example would be if a label or graphic is placed on a surface in which it will be subjected to horizontal exposure and will receive aggressive and routine cleaning. A higher end polyurethane, PVC-free overlaminate will provide longer term performance in extending ink life, not yellowing or cracking, as well as provide self-healing properties.”
The correct facestock, adhesive, and overlaminate join together to create a label just right for industrial-style applications in manufacturing facilities, construction sites, and more. Whether acting as a safety label or product identification, labels in these environments need to be durable and withstand a number of outside factors to remain intact and readable for their intended lifespan.
The next article in this two-part series focuses on available label media products designed just for these types of environments.
Nov2019, Industrial Print Magazine