The Future of In-Mold Decorating – 2020 and Beyond

It’s hard to believe that 2020 is just around the corner. This year has flown by with the industry facing many ups and downs along the way. As plastics decorators and suppliers prepare to kick off a new year, Plastics Decorating magazine reached out to a few sources to get an idea of what 2020 will bring for the industry as a whole and to individual businesses. Speaking with manufacturer Serigraph and representatives from the In-Mold Decorating Association, one of the biggest opportunities predicted in 2020 will be found with in-mold technologies.

What markets will Serigraph serve in 2020?

Serigraph’s Integrated Graphics division is a leading US manufacturer of plastic printing and decorative molding of HMI (Human-Machine Interface) and branded products. With 70 years of experience and 600 employees, we support customers in the automotive, appliance, medical, consumer products and powersports/outdoor equipment markets. Serigraph is also diversified into the point-of-purchase market, supplying printed product and fulfillment services for the quick service restaurant and retail spaces.

What will be Serigraph’s biggest opportunity in 2020?

The biggest opportunity for Serigraph in 2020 will be with 2D and 3D digitally printed IMD. This allows us to provide low volume, high mix products with customization and superior print resolution.

What will be the biggest challenge Serigraph will face in 2020, and how do you intend to respond?

We’ve seen a shift in HMI from analog to digital, especially in the automotive market. We will continue to work on complementary product in the digital world but plan on shifting focus to those customers who need high brand identity aesthetics. We plan to leverage the quality and consistency required by automotive and medical customers into other markets.

The IMDA is likewise predicting continued growth and more opportunities for in-mold technologies in 2020, even as the industry faces potential challenges and setbacks.

What will 2020 hold for in-mold decorating/labeling in North America in 2020?

Growth in injection IML (IML-I) for 2020 is forecast at 5-6%. Three non-US IML printers (IML Labels, CCL and Verstraete) have shown their confidence in this market segment by investing in new IML label plants here within the past few years to serve the projected growth in North America. Of the three major manufacturing areas – Europe, Asia and North America – North America is far behind the other two with regard to the adoption/use of the IMD technique.

Consumers, more than ever, are looking for a greater variety (greater choice, really). Brands know they must continually release new products to stay relevant. These new products require new designs. The first product chosen by a consumer when switching brands is often the product with the most eye-catching package design. With a new product, the consumer does not have previous experience to rely upon and must judge the quality of the product by the quality and appeal of the packaging. Additionally, we have been seeing growth away from thermoformed containers with shrink-wrapped labels toward containers with IML labels to increase the recyclability and decrease the cost.

Greatest growth is in the non-packaging sectors for product decoration. The spark is coming from the increasing number of products that are “on-shoring” as brands and product owners are looking to produce products domestically to avoid the volatility of tariff policies or to create solutions that can respond more rapidly to market trends. Increased “on-shoring” may also be fueled by growing trends by large product brands and retailers to reduce their carbon footprint.

What might spark further growth?

We need to continue to promote IML/IMD and show its cost-effectiveness, flexibility and reliability. It needs to mean more to people than single-digit cycle times of film-wrapped yogurt cups. While those systems are fascinating work cells, they are limited in their scope of application. The spotlight needs to be turned to components and geometries that inspire others to consider their products as candidates for the IMD process.

What technologies or processes do you foresee growing and prospering in the coming months/year?

Labels with light, moisture and/or oxygen barriers continue to grow in the food markets. This is due to the need for an increased shelf life which has been driven by an increase in the number of consumers buying over the internet. Products purchased over the internet typically spend more time on the shelf in distribution centers before reaching the consumer. Additionally, we predict the number of thin-wall packaging applications utilizing fiberboard inserts to continue to grow. These packages offer unique shelf appeal while providing excellent shelf life and recyclability. They also can greatly reduce the amount of plastic required to mold the part.

Another area of growth is the greater concentration for tactile surface treatments on IMLs to create soft touch, linen or leather patterns and sensations. New developments in film and coating technologies are making these solutions much more viable. On a related note, technologies that allow IMLs to provide track and trace functionality with the added benefit of IML permanence seem to address growing needs for product safety.

Digital printing of the images used on IMD/IML/IMF film provides some excitement for the potential of growth. The ability to decorate a part, add individual product identification or embed invisible watermarks that can act as web-triggers should incite brand owners to strongly consider making use of IMD.

Finally, more extensive adaptation of cut-in-place equipment at the molding machine reduces costs by allowing use of very thin films and little or no anti-static additives.

What challenges will IMD/IML face in the coming months?

The first challenge which comes to mind for IML/IMD is also a challenge for all plastic products: There is a growing trend of brands changing to metal or glass packaging due to recent concerns in the media with plastic waste. The second challenge is digital printing on packaging. As the printers become more advanced and cost effective, in-mold decorating/labeling will have tougher competition in the game to create the most eye-catching product.

IMLs and IMD impact the recycling stream and carbon footprint. To the extent they are accepted as a “cleaner” solution there is the potential for growth. Conversely, many of the alternative pouch solutions are challenging the IML package as the greenest solution. Potentially, “reuse” solutions for some IML packages may be a way to improve marketplace acceptance.

It is not always easy to see the IMD process in action – it is not a common process for the majority of North American injection molders. Those who do use it daily are often reluctant to publicize it too aggressively – likely for fear of inspiring their competition. We need to be able to show more examples of beautiful product, in a variety of shapes and styles.

In the IML packaging world, there is a need for more IML-capable stack mold capacity.

For more on this topic, see articles “A Look at the Global Container and Packaging Market” and “Future of Plastics Decorating: 2020 and Beyond” in the latest issue of Plastics Decorating,

Plastics Decorating would like to thank Serigraph Marketing Manager Alyssa Meer along with IMDA associates Bob Travis, president, InkWorks Printing; John Berg, director of marketing, Sussex IM; and Derek Williams, sales/project manager, Muller Technology, for their help with this article.