Australian material scientist Graeme Lang, a pioneer and innovator in label technology, is to be honoured in Italy in May with the Global Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the World Packaging Organisation.
Lang, who has worked for Labemakers Group for the last 30 years and currently holds the role of group technical manager, has been a significant contributor to the technical side of the labels industry for four decades in the Australasian region.
He is a member of the Australian Institute of Packaging, which in turn is a member of the World Packaging Organisation (WPO).
Ever the innovator, Lang has certainly made his mark on the industry: he holds a patent for the formation of a 3D label from a flat web, and another for a removable label for returnable plastic crates used in the logistics industry (Crate Wash-Off Label).
Over two decades ago he established the pressure-sensitive label (PSL) coatings division for Labelmakers, at the time creating one of the first vertically integrated printing companies in the world.
Achieving backward integration into materials coating meant that Labelmakers could develop adhesive technology specifically for Australia's application requirements, and delivered a competitive advantage in terms of cost, speed-to-market, end-to-end traceability of materials and local new product development capability.
Labelmakers has since grown to become the largest label printer in Australasia utilising its own adhesive technology to support a range of market categories. Labelmakers is also the only company in Australasia to be locally manufacturing pressure-sensitive materials.
Lang is currently engaged in commercialising a range of sustainable label solutions that have been informed by Australia's recycling pathway. This range will include recycled and recyclable facestocks, de-bondable adhesive systems and dispersible ink systems – adapted to specific primary container types and local recycling infrastructure.
According to the WPO's citation, over the last two decades, Lang has advocated for sustainability to be incorporated as an aspect of new product design. He has fostered co-operation between stakeholders – raw material suppliers, brand owners and recyclers – to understand, educate and address the important role labels play in maximising the recovery of the primary containers to which they are attached.
Still reeling at the news that this recognition is possible for a material scientist, Lang sid: “It is just the greatest honour that somebody in my field of activity could hope to receive...to even be considered alongside the doyens of the packaging industry who have received this award in the past is a huge, huge personal thrill. It still feels like we are talking about someone else.”
Lang said he believes the most important element in any job, or any career, is to have the sense that what you do makes a difference.
“In a big way receiving the WPO Lifetime Achievement Award gives validation to the effort that I have put in over the last 40+ years,” he said.
“My advice for future packaging professionals is to be curious. To borrow from the Kaizen philosophy, ask the five whys in any new pursuit, problem solving or product development opportunity.
“Don’t limit focus to just what you need to know to complete your immediate task. Try to build a knowledge and an understanding of your supplier’s technology and your supplier’s suppliers technology for that matter. Do the same with customer and the end user.
Lang said it’s also important to look outside your direct industry for new solutions and new innovations.
“We are in quite a mature industry today – the probability is that if there was solution it would already have been created or implemented. For me, the most significant product developments I have been associated with involved drawing from allied industries or other branches of the packaging industry I had been exposed to.”
Lang will receive his award at the 2022 WorldStar Packaging Awards gala dinner to be held during Ipack-Ima in Milan on 4 May. PKN will be in attendance, along with the AIP and other Australian packaging companies receiving WorldStar awards on the night.