“Without competition, the industry would probably not see as many innovations”

Though small by percentage, adhesives play an important part in delivering enhanced functionality required for packaging innovation, says Nick Lehman, technical director at HB Fuller, in an interaction with Noel D‘Cunha

18 May 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

What’s happening in the adhesives arena?
In the 35 years that I have been in the adhesives industry, the most significant trends that I have observed are innovations in substrates and adhesive application systems. These trends have fuelled our own adhesive innovations, as we work very closely with machinery manufacturers, our customers and suppliers. Innovation does not necessarily come from new raw materials in adhesives production, but from close relationships and reformulations to adapt the product to new requirements.  
So have the Indian converters been able to adapt the changes?
Indian customers are like any other valued customer; they want to make profits efficiently, as well as considering the importance of safety and quality. So, the customers who adapt, have a better chance to thrive, whilst the ones who don’t, are more likely to get left behind.
Certain trends in packaging that you have seen coming in India?
The most imminent trends are related to food safety, structural packaging and sustainability. These global trends are now coming to India at a fast pace, and so India is on a positive learning curve.
When you say India is learning, what exactly do you mean by learning and vis-à-vis what is HB Fuller’s contribution to that learning?
We see Indian manufacturers adopting new technologies that are already proven in the European and global market. Machinery manufacturers and suppliers are recognised as valuable partners that can add value to their processes. One example is the interest that Indian corrugators are showing in our innovative Sesame (patented) reinforcement tapes that make packaging more resistant, whilst using lighter substrates.  
These tapes are used for?
Strengthening handles and packaging. So, if you use regular corrugated boxes and package heavier objects, there is the risk that it could fall apart. Adding these tapes to the box can make it more reliable, more sustainable and more efficient. Using lighter-weight packaging means less cardboard. Our Sesame tapes are an innovative solution to reinforce packaging and add functionality to the board.
In terms of printing, glue forms a very small part of the entire process.
Adhesives typically represent less than 0.2%. And, although adhesives may only contribute a small percentage of the total materials used in packaging products, they are playing a more fundamental role in delivering the enhanced functionality required for innovation, and meeting the changing demands of end users. In other words, typically with end-products, small parts play a big role in the functionality. Small by weight, but huge by application.
So in India, there are a handful of globally present adhesive manufacturers. So what kind of competition is there in India?
Competition is good for us. Competition can drive better results. Without competition, the industry would probably not see as many innovations. It is when people and processes are challenged that can deliver the best results. It’s people who solve problems - not adhesives.
In terms of your products what do you have?
We have a wide range of adhesives for a variety of applications. Most popular to name would be our Advantra premium hot melt adhesive range for packaging applications. It enables customers to reduce machinery maintenance related downtimes, whilst allowing for a reduced coat weight application and higher production efficiencies.
In terms of food safety, the trend is to move away from recycled board in food packaging, as it may contain high levels of harmful substances that could migrate into the food. A change in packaging substrates is always a challenge for adhesive suppliers. At HB Fuller, we have a full range of adhesives for every type of substrate, which are carefully scrutinised for food safety.
Generally competence is related to automation. So in adhesives you don’t need much automation.
Production automation often means higher speeds with improved efficiencies and reduced defect. In order to achieve this, the adhesive plays a very important role. A lot of our work is right at the interface between the customer, the equipment manufacturer and the co-supplier. That’s were innovation happens.