In-Mould Labelling (IML) technology for food and non-food applications at NPE2015

  • Premiere: reduced opening stroke for IML applications (patented system)
  • High productivity with 4-cavity mould
  • IML technology in a nutshell

IML has arrived in North America. Introduced in Europe more than 25 years ago, IML is currently gaining in significance in North America. Reason enough for Beck Automation to take up this trend. Beck Automation will be presenting the highly dynamic IML system B4 on the stand of the KraussMaffei Group at the #NPE2015.

IML growing in importance in North America

IML is one of the emerging decoration trends in the packaging industry in North America. It is currently gaining in significance in North America, because IML offers a visually attractive “look” for numerous food applications, such as cups or foodstuffs containers. In view of the large numbers in the USA, the 4-cavity system being shown is very interesting for the whole of North America due to its reliability and productivity.


Premiere: “In-line concept” for IML

Beck Automation is presenting an innovative IML system at the NPE 2015 for the first time that requires a reduced opening stroke of the injection moulding machine. The key to the B4 IML system system is a dynamic modification of the kinematics from a 2+2 product arrangement to 4-cavity in-line. The method of operation of the “in-line principle” (patent pending) can be described as follows: The finished cups are taken from the mould in 2+2 pairs while the labels are being placed into the other mould half at the same time. At the moment the IML cores have fully entered the mould, the finished cups are rearranged into a 1×4 line on the removal side between the two mould halves. In the next cycle the IML cores are again retracted from the mould and the main shaft out of the mould area back into the IML system.

The turnkey production cell consists of a Netstal ELION 3200-2900 all-electric injection moulding machine and a 4-cavity injection mould from Glaroform. The object is a stadium cup (44 oz cup with a wall thickness of 0.86 mm) frequently encountered in the USA in football, baseball or soccer stadiums. The reference product comes from the Churchill Container Company, Shawnee, USA.

High-speed application

This B4 IML system is a high-speed application (total cycle time: approx. 7.5 seconds, manipulation time: 1.8 seconds). According to Beck, the production capacity is 32 cups per minute, or 1,920 cups per hour. Equipped with the latest control and drive technology, the B4 IML system is operated via touchscreen. An integrated remote access provides the option to log into the system from outside in order to provide cost-efficient and fast operator assistance when required. The B4 IML system is also user-friendly when it comes to product changes and can be quickly converted for cups in sizes from 12oz to 32oz to 44oz.

Advantages for products with “unfavourable” diameter-to-length ratio

This “smart in-line principle” offers particular advantages for products with an “unfavourable” diameter-to-length ratio, such as the stadium cup. This saving pays off double with stack moulds that are very widespread in North America. With single-face moulds this allows a reduced opening stroke that is calculated as follows: Product height x 2 plus 120 mm manipulation space (e.g. for the stadium cup: 2 x 216 mm + 120 mm = 552 mm). In the conventional process, i.e. without kinematic rearrangement of the products into 4 in-line, the opening stroke is calculated as follows: Product height x 3 plus 120 mm (3 x 216 mm + 120 mm = 768 mm). That means a 39% reduction in the opening stroke of the mould halves. For the same application with a stack mould, this effect is reflected in a reduction of 39%: Product height x 4 plus 240 mm (4 x 216 mm + 240 mm = 1104 mm), compared with the convention product height x 6 plus 240 mm (6 x 216 mm + 240 mm = 1536 mm).

The are several practical benefits of the “in-line principle”:
• Increased independence, i.e. lower space requirements (smaller footprint) in the product stack on the conveyor
• Less cameras with the optional visual control on the main arm
• The use of a smaller injection moulding machine with lower clamp tonnage are possible
• Optimum support is provided for stack moulds and no increase in the opening stroke is required
• Time saving for the opening and closing of the injection moulding machine which has a positive effect on the overall cycle time

The main players:

Beck Automation expands service in North America

IML expert Nick Lewis is at the “front-end” for Beck Automation and Glaroform in North America. Beck Automation provides support for clarifications, concept proposals and financing solutions. Technical service such as for installation, maintenance or prevention is provided from Switzerland. All systems from Beck Automation are fitted as standard with remote diagnostics capabilities. In combination with the 24/7 availability of the service technician, this allows very short reaction times to be guaranteed. Beck has announced the establishment of a new service organization in North America for 2016. Certain components have already been sourced locally in the US. For example, the servo motors come from the U.S. manufacturer Kollmorgen in Radford (Virginia).

“Swiss-made” mould technology from Glaroform AG

Glaroform AG, Näfels (CH), is providing its high-speed injection mould with 4 cavities for the stadium cup. The mould has a hot runner system developed in-house with pneumatically actuated needle valve. The moulding is decorated on the side wall by IML. In order to guarantee a very short cycle time and a high, reproducible product quality at the same time, a highly efficient near-net-shape cooling system has been implemented. The thermally balanced cooling system reduces distortion of the part very effectively and reliably. And to guarantee a long service life of the moulds, the relevant components are of very sturdy design and treated using the latest surface coating processes. The moulds are manufactured with the highest precision and to close tolerances to ensure outstanding process reliability. The 44 oz stadium cup has an average wall thickness of 0.86 mm with a part weight of approx. 52.8 g and is made from the material Vistamaxx (polypropylene (PP)) from ExxonMobil.

Swiss-made mould making for IML: Four-cavity high-performance mould from Glaroform (photo source: Glaroform AG)

Swiss-made mould making for IML: Four-cavity high-performance mould from Glaroform (photo source: Glaroform AG)

Product communication through labels from IML Étiquettes/IML Labels

Labels give the stadium cup its elegant appearance. The labels used are made from a white 70 µ multilayer polypropylene film, printed and punched by IML Étiquettes/IML Labels, St. Eustache (Quebec, Canada). Although it is also common to use labels with a smooth surface, the “orange peel” effect is probably the most attractive characteristic of an IML application. In order to achieve this effect, the company uses a “hollow” BOPP film. Structured like a sponge, the film breaks open during injection moulding and changes its surface structure. It creates a brilliant visual effect that further enhances the print. Photo-realistic images, such as of fresh fruit, magically attract the viewer.

IML Étiquettes/IML Labels is a highly specializedand well established label supplier in North America. The company summarizes his own expertise as follows: “We are the only printer in North America that specializes exclusively in IML (in-mould labeling).” IML Étiquettes/IML Labels achieves 80% of its production in the foodstuffs industry where minimum residual odor and a “zero printing media migration” are demanded. The shape of the stadium cup requires labels that are stamped with the utmost precision on the one hand, and that can guarantee the fast cycle times with a good electrostatic charge on the other. The 220 lpi sheet-fed offset process guarantees highest printing quality for both four-color photographic images and for Pantone colors. The company can print IML labels with up to 8 colors including lacquer coating. The polypropylene base films can be white, opaque, transparent, matt or glossy. They protect the packaged product effectively against cold or heat, moisture and scratches.

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