"The release liner industry is innovating,” said Corey Reardon, president and CEO of AWA Alexander Watson Associates, as he opened the annual AWA Global Release Liner Conference and Exhibition. More than 150 delegates from the industry’s supply chain attended the event, which took place March 18-20 in Denver, to participate in a program that consisted of three core elements: the full conference agenda, a silicone and technical session, and a release liner workshop.

Reardon set the overall agenda with his annual market summary and an evaluation of the changing market structure, featuring new owners and
also new entrants, new technologies, and a new focus on meeting customers’ needs. Forecasting industry growth to 2019 at an average 4.8% across all regions, he also provided delegates with regional forecasts, end-use market trends, and changing choices in release liner substrates.


Live Industry Survey

Jackie Marolda, vice president and senior consultant, shared the results of AWA’s annual Industry Survey, and then Reardon conducted a live survey with the audience, using electronic counters to record and display the answers. Both surveys centered on the strategic planning horizons, strategic focus, strategy implementation, approach to innovation, and companies’ different focuses and challenges. The survey ended with questions about the liveliness of the industry and the stage in its lifecycle which it has reached—introduction, growth, maturity, or decline. Mirroring the AWA Industry Survey, respondents at the conference considered the industry to be in its mature phase.


Issues and Opportunities

The event brought together four industry CEOs and leaders to discuss and evaluate key management topics for the industry. Moderated by Corey Reardon, the Executive Leadership Panel featured Bernhard Klofat, Ph.D., CEO of Felix Schoeller Group; Anthony P. MacLaurin, CEO of FiberMark Inc.; Tomas Rink, president of Ritrama; and David Silverstein, founder and CEO of BMGI. The resulting discussion was both lively and informative, and demonstrated the panelists’diverse approaches to leadership and management in an industry that is seeking to innovate in every way.


Innovate: The Conference Keynote

BMGI, an internationally recognized operational strategy consultancy, contributed insights into the way to create pathways to innovation with two very focused presentations. In the conference keynote, Silverstein elaborated on the theme of “collecting the dots” for which he is known. He says collecting the dots must be the precursor to joining them up—and achieving success. Phil Samuel, Ph.D., BMGI chief innovation officer, went on to present case histories that demonstrated different and highly effective approaches to innovation. His premise was that “Innovation is for everybody” and anyone can unlock his or her potential using a toolset of seven key habits.

The innovation theme continued through the day’s conference program, with Wilhelm Munninger, Ph.D., technical director for Mondi, exploring it from a release liner industry supplier’s perspective. He highlighted two areas where real advances are being seen: in linerless labels and in surface structuring of the liner substrate.

Loparex’s vice president of global sales and marketing, Michael Werner, posed the question, “Are we our own worst enemy?” He pointed out that “cost-out by itself is not necessarily innovation,” and that innovation is not just about the product: customer needs should ignite the process.

One of the day’s closing papers summarized the program’s innovation content from AWA’s Marolda, who pulled together all the various threads into one overarching question: How can we take innovation learning and theory and grow the opportunities for our companies and our industry?


The Business of Release Liners

The first day of the conference also featured important updates on the financial and business aspects of the release liner industry. William Hornell, managing director of Mesirow Financial, looked at the status of M&A activity—which is currently at a high level. “We’re back in the boom period,” he said. Ian Murdoch, PwC’s European leader in forestry, paper, and packaging practice, provided an in-depth analysis of the performance and ROI of the industry’s top 100 players, ranking them by turnover both overall and by region, in his annual global survey.


End-Use Applications

The conference’s second day was focused on the broader horizons of end-use applications. Paul Roba, a leading self-adhesive graphics industry instructor, installer, and consultant, opened proceedings with a declaration that release liners are the unsung heroes of self-adhesive graphics.

Next, Greg Rucks, principal for Transportation and Industry at the Rocky Mountain Institute, introduced the institute’s technical auto-composites project, which—working with leading companies in key supplier areas—is kick-starting the mainstream adoption by the automotive industry of carbon fiber composites. A hands-on presentation about the use of pre-preg in building a graphite composite snowboard was given by specialist Steffen Hak, who demonstrated the key role of the release liner in achieving a successful outcome.


The Label Market

Of course, the release liner’s largest market, pressure-sensitive labels, was not neglected, and Dan Muenzer, vice president of marketing for Constantia Flexibles, presented a colorful catalogue of current trends and developments in pressure-sensitive labeling and its competition. Closing the formal conference program, Mike O’Connell, business development manager for AD Tape and Label, detailed the particular performance requirements for release liner in the fast-growing medical sector.


Silicone and Technical Session

The event’s agenda featured additional concurrent programs, including the Silicone and Technical Session, which provided an opportunity for technical delegates to hear about the latest trends in manufacturing; release coatings and their technology (including non-silicone release coatings); adhesives; the adhesive/release liner interface; radiation curing vs. platinum-catalysis; cellulose nanofibrils and other developments in paper release base; creating an “unbreakable” film liner; layflat; humidity control in label laminates; and anti-ageing.

Chaired by Sjaak Elmendorp, Ph.D., vice president of core technology for Avery Dennison’s Materials Group, the event presented industry technology advances for the first time. It was extremely well-attended and created plenty of discussion during the subsequent cocktail party around the tabletop exhibition.


Release Liner Workshop

The Release Liner Workshop, running concurrently with the technical session, provided an opportunity for those who are new to the industry to gain insights into the role of release coatings and liners in pressure-sensitive materials. Chemsultants International hosts regular events with AWA Alexander Watson Associates on the subject, and has created an in-depth program that briefs participants on all aspects of pressure-sensitive adhesive-coated products, from constituents to coating, converting, testing, and quality assurance.

The annual AWA Global Release Liner Conference and Exhibition alternates between North America and Europe. It is scheduled to take place April 20-22, 2016, in Vienna. 

 For additional details, visit www.awa-bv.com