Mark Lackey's Field Notes from IMLCON / IMDCON / IMECON 2019

When David Lukshus and I accepted the invitation from Alexander Watson Associates (AWA) to attend this show, I thought “sounds great!” But what is it? I had no idea what to expect. That’s a lot of “CONs to deal with in one event. I did know it was in Chicago, and that’s one of our favorite cities to visit.

The CONs also addressed one of Cog’s key mission points: collaboration, so no way was I going to miss it. Beyond collaboration, the CONs focused on sustainability and new technologies in the In-Mold Label (IML), In-Mold Decoration (IMD), and In-Mold Electronics (IME) industries.

We Cogs primarily stay in lock-step with high-end premium printing and decoration technologies that we can bring back to our packaging development customers. Historically, we’ve been on the look-out for breakthrough developments in the IML industries. I was really surprised by how much innovation has happened across the board, and in particular, in the fast growing and newly segmented industry of in-mold electronics.  

IME really stole the show with all their current and projected innovations. For instance, virtually anyone who purchases a new vehicle or household appliance in the next few years will be impacted by this newest technology. I foresee us telling the youth of tomorrow that we used to say “it was as easy as the push of a button,” and we’ll get that look like, “what’s a button?”

However, as interesting as the developments in the IME industry are, we were there to learn about what’s new and cool in the world of IML, as innovations specific to this industry often directly impact our customers. Here are some key findings: 

  • Investment in starting a project that includes in-mold labeling has historically been very high and required large production runs. However, new technologies for fabricating the molds are allowing shorter runs and quicker turns. What’s of most interest here is that small-market or even test-market in-mold projects are now more feasible and easier on the budget. 

  • Advances in IML materials from companies like Taghleef, Treofan and Yupo are providing brands and designers ways to embellish packaging with premium effects. A flat surface is no longer required. They can also consider design and package techniques, like deep embossing on bottle forms, orange-peel and soft-touch textures, as well as new visual options, such as clear labels, metallic, satin or glossy labels. 

  • Sustainability is a hot topic at every conference we attend, and the IML industry is no exception. New developments in label materials and label application are far more environmentally friendly than ever before. From the elimination of tree fibers, to removal of liner sheets, all advancements from material to processes are leading to greater recyclability and less waste.

As our own Hanna Morand (Development Designer Extraordinaire) observed during the show, “Keeping up with new technologies in the IML industry is vital for productive collaboration with our customers. I think of the time we partnered with a F500 CPG company and their IML printers to explore decoration and embellishment for the relaunch of a premium product. We presented multiple rounds of deco options in the early stages of development, each proposal being verified by the IML printer for production feasibility to manage expectations and ensure our customer’s timeline stayed true. Our customer’s success happened because of that kind of proactive feedback, and because of the innovations we learn about at conferences like IMLCON / IMDCON / IMECON.”

We were quite impressed to see at the show how many stakeholders in the IML and IMD industries have collaborated for efficiencies and advancements in the products they offer. The IMD and IME industries, as well as their materials suppliers, have a culture of working closely together to innovate for brands and manufacturers. Some of their newest products will soon be at market. IML producers and their suppliers also collaborate closely to rapidly provide designers more tools for their toolbox. We look forward to seeing this level of partnership cross over between the IML and IME industry, and between brands and the world of IME. Not to mention attending next year’s IMLCON / IMDCON / IMECON in Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Exciting times for packaging nerds!