April 29, 2015

 Shrink sleeve labeling is one of the fastest growing segment in container decoration accross industries such as beverage, food, dairy, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. 

In the 1990s, a majority of shrink sleeve labeling applications consisted of tamper evident neck bands, similar to what can be found on tablet bottles. Generic shrink film was applied by neck banders and shrunk with hot air shrink tunnels; needless to say the objective was not to make your product stand out on the shelf.

Things have changed dramatically since than with introduction of full body shrink labels with gloss, matte and metallic finishes. Some converters can print up to 10 colors and even have embossing as part of the sleeve material, which can really turn a generic container into a piece of art that will stand out on the shelves.

Unlike other type of packaging equipments, there is no agreed-upon name for automatic shrink sleeve application machines. Depending of region or task performed, the names of equipment to automatically apply shrink sleeves vary and it can lead to confusion, so let’s try to demystify that. You will find a list of the different synonym names at the bottom of this article.

Shrink sleeving systems consist of three main components, the shrink sleeve applicator (or shrink band applicator), the shrink tunnel and the conveyor.

The main variables considered by shrink sleeve labeling equipment manufacturers to propose a machine will be type of application (safety band, decorative sleeve, multi-pack), size of products and speed. Most entry-level shrink sleeve applicators will reach speed of 50 products per minute, but this is about the only point that is common to all sleeving machines. Everything else vary greatly depending on models, whether it is maximum layflat, band/sleeve transfer technologies, cutting blades and possible options.

Different shrink sleeve label application systems will normally be used for tamper evident neck bands, full body shrink labels or shrink sleeve multi-packs. Some shrink sleeve machines are more versatile than others and can perform all three type of applications.

Most shrink sleeve label applicators can be integrated to existing conveyors, so generally speaking, replacing an older or under performing stand alone sleeve applicator is not a major engineering challenge. However, the type of conveyor to be used is more critical when it comes to the heat shrink tunnel, especially for full body decorative sleeves as the heat shrink tunnel must get very close to the conveyor chain. In many cases, the heat generated by the shrink tunnel can melt the tabletop chain used on many conveyors.

Depending on project, components of the shrink sleeving system can be acquired through different vendors or a single vendor can provide a complete turn-key system which would include the sleeve applicator, heat shrink tunnel and conveyor. Please note that special product handling (pucks, timing screws, stackers etc) may be required for some products to be sleeved. It will be important to specify to the manufacturer of your shrink sleeving system all the products that will run on the line and if they will be empty or filled and if they are made of plastics, glass, aluminum or metal.

High speed automatic shrink sleeve labeler
The vast majority of full-body shrink sleeve label and tamper banding applications will remain in speed of 300 products per minute or less. Some integrated high speed shrink sleeving systems are capable of speed of 600, 800 and even 1000 per minute. Higher speed may require twin head or rotary systems and are typically found in the beverage industry.

Shrink Tunnel
The choice of an appropriate shrink tunnel is as important as the shrink sleeve application machine. Available heat shrink tunnel technologies include hot air, radiant (infrared) and steam.