Rugged decoration for a “cool blonde”

Simple paper is transformed into a unique branding tool: a beer label enhances the body and neck of the bottle – and is therefore much more than just decoration. But before it can become an eyecatcher on the supermarket shelves, it must first prove its quality.

Whether as part of a cozy dinner, at a festival, or at a party – a glass of beer is integral to many occasions. On average, each German drinks around 106 liters a year (as of 2015, Source: STATISTA). Nationwide, that amounts to more than eight billion liters of the golden brew, which is bottled either in kegs or more commonly in standard bottles. 

 

Traditionally, only hops, malt, yeast, and water go into the kettles of German breweries, but even a truly traditional beverage has to be marketed – and that is where the beer label makes its grand entrance.

Visual appearance is crucial, and quality pays for itself

 

The decision to purchase a particular beer brand depends in no small part on the look of the bottle. Shoulder and body label, neck label, and seal – the bottle should immediately draw the eye of the prospective buyer strolling along the shelves of the supermarket. 


But looks are not everything – such a label also needs to be rugged. It should be able to withstand changing temperatures, condensation, storage periods, and bottle washing machines. Expectations are therefore high, as are the requirements for producers along the value chain. Many companies rely on Siemens technology for their individual production steps. The company is a partner to both the fiber industry and the food and beverage sector. 

Refined, printed, and glued

 

The beer label first sees the light of day in the paper mill. In order to refine the simple paper after the initial manufacturing steps, it is usually metallized and embossed. The resulting gloss heightens the sense of anticipation for a cool and refreshing beer. Such tasks are handled by specialty paper manufacturer Glatfelter Gernsbach GmbH, whose machines are operated with Siemens drive technology.


The next stage of the process takes place at the printers: the paper must have proper fiber runnability for optimal ink application. This can often be a real challenge, as labels are asymmetrical in structure and the surfaces of their different sides have varying characteristics. The paper has to lie perfectly flat so that nothing interferes with printing. During the subsequent cutting and punching, the labels need to be prevented from sticking to each other in blocks. In addition, the paper should be “punchable,” allowing the cutting blades to glide smoothly through many plies. 


Printed, refined, and cut, the labels go to the bottling company, usually one of many small breweries. This is where the labels pass through the labeling machine. At a speed of up to 60,000 bottles per hour, the labels have to be applied cleanly and in precisely the right position on the bottles. In the case of cold filling, the bottles also “sweat” so the glue must adhere well to the back of the label. The bottles are then usually rinsed and packaged in crates or six-packs. Integrated control technology from Siemens prevents damage, blistering, or wrinkling during this process. 

In the limelight for a 10th of a second

 

When the beer bottle is placed on the store shelf, the label can make its grand appearance. It is a short-lived one, however: the eyecatcher only has a 10th of a second before the buyer makes his decision.


But the label’s lifecycle is not over yet. After the delicious brew has been consumed, the bottle goes back to the bottling company where the label faces its last challenge: the removal process. The glass bottles are cleaned in an alkaline solution at a temperature of 80°C. The label has to be removed from the bottle without losing printing ink or disintegrating. Some of the high-quality paper fibers are then processed as raw material for new paper products.

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The label paper (“Paper Stock”: specialty paper with characteristics such as glossiness and high smoothness) is first lacquered in an offline coating machine to achieve an even higher degree of smoothness with a closed surface. In the next step, the surface is metallized. 

 

The lacquered roll is metallized in a metallization plant under high vacuum. During this process, aluminum evaporates and settles on the paper as it passes a cooling roller. 

 

The metallized paper roll is then coated with an additional layer of lacquer so that it can be imprinted in the next step. At the same time, the back side of the paper roll is conditioned. This ensures the label paper stays flat as it goes through the subsequent processing stages – embossing, printing, punching, and labeling. 

 

The metallized roll is embossed in part and sent to the printer in rolls according to the customer’s requirements. Alternatively, the paper can also be embossed after printing. For offset printing, which is selected for “smaller” print runs, the rolls can be cut to size with a cross-cutter before being dispatched. 

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