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Label Industry At Full Throttle

Entering the exhibition halls, the first impression that ones’ eyes register is not only the amount of mostly huge booth spaces but the sheer number of machinery. Presses – analog and digital – finishing and converting equipment side by side and in many cases displayed as full production lines – either inline or offline. While at most shows demonstrations are not only set to certain hours, one gets the impression that all halls are constantly on the move – and everything and anything is running at once. Well, that obviously is not true but like in a normal production shop, many machines are running at the same time while the noise is not as aloud as in a single shop due to the high halls where the talks from the overall 31,795 visitors, the close to 600 exhibitors and all the running machines are deviated. The atmosphere is optimistic to say the least. Each and everyone that came to the show reflect the positive upturn that the label market seems to enjoy. Needless to say that many suppliers chose this show for the presentation of new products and new solutions – over 150 market entrances could be seen.

However, walking along the aisles, watching all the new machinery and full production lines that could be seen all over the show, one could not help to ask some questions: Is there really a big highlight at the show a breakthrough technology or solution? What has changed in comparison with previous Labelexpo shows? Will the growth in this market segment be maintained? Well, let’s try to answer some of these questions.

The changing world of labels

In his keynote Mike Fairley, Director of Strategic Development already answers some of the above in his keynote “The changing world of labels”: Worldwide growth for the labels is expected to hit 5% whereby package printing even will enjoy a growth of 8%. The current 46 billion square meters of converted labels with a sales value of $76.5 billion (2013/2014) are poised to be growing to estimated 51.7 billon square meters in 2015. While the per capita label consumption is quite high in some of the developed western regions (Scandinavia: 17-18sqm, USA 15-16sqm, West Europe 12-15sqm) many other regions are showing far lower rates. Eastern Europe for example still has a per capital label consumption of 6-7sqm and then it drops to a mere 2.2sqm in Brazil, 1.5-2sqm in South East Asia, 1.2sqm in China, 0.9sqm in India and a low 0.4sqm in Africa. Looks to me like there is a lot of room for growth in many regions.

But even in the developed regions, there is still growth potential, as Mike Fairley points out. New materials, solutions and products are entering the sphere among them wash-off label substrates, re-sealable label adhesives, linerless label production, low migration adhesives and inks, adhesives for application on condensation and silicone emulsions are just some. New production technologies such as digital label presses have enjoyed a steady growth since their introduction about 15 years ago – from a mere 15 narrow-web digital colour label presses in 1996 to 2,112 in 2012. Sure, this does not sound like huge numbers but one is not allowed to forget that the digital technology, i.e. inkjet entering the market space, is only now getting a valid alternative to analogue technologies. While toner-based machinery (dry and liquid toner, electro ink) are since the advent of digital label presses, inkjet technology only now leaves its cradle stage to embark on its journey throughout our and other industries, discovering more and more applications and areas where it can leave its mark. But nonetheless, even those 2,112 digital label presses installed are already having a market share of 20% of all new presses installed. That’s quite a share if one considers that the digital evolution of these presses is still to come. The number of digital label presses available has risen to just over 50 – so there is still some room considering that offset, flexo and gravure technology employed already have a big headstart.

As Mike Fairley points out: There are more and more private brands, coming into the market. More and more companies want to brand their products separately according to their sales companies etc. As market trends, he has made out that brand owners are moving to shorter runs in order to incorporate personalization, customization, individualization, variations and multiple languages in their labels. In addition, labels are increasingly used for promotions, for communicating with customers, for regionalization. And this is only the status quo. Market opportunities are coming up with newly developed technologies, marriage of technologies such as smart and intelligent labels (for example incorporating RFID, NFC technology) or multi purpose packaging solutions, sharing of products. The travel market is one area, that still rises as several restrictions apply and the consumer follows with smaller packaging, contents of travel accessories such as small, air travel-corresponding tooth paste, shaving cream, refreshers, soaps, creams are on the rise. Wine and beverage labels that display more than the current information. There are many opportunities that are taking label printing beyond the current use, as decoration techniques on blisters, packs, tubes, cartons and flexible solutions.

As communication medium that entices the consumer to interact with the brand, that offers more than just mere information, that can be used to promote actions, to be used as first step in a whole marketing campaign, labels are poised to enjoy even more growth. This could be going so far as if and when recalls have to be carried out, they will not be issued anymore by the stores or the brand that issues the products, but the manufacturer itself, the grower of ingredients will be the one that recalls the products. This “change of responsibility” for the purity of the ingredients, for the compliance with all regulations will subsequently offer higher transparency while at the same time relieve brands of being tarred by the “wrongdoing” of some of their suppliers. On the other hand, this also means a higher responsibility for its products by anyone in the supply chain – from origin up to end product, distribution and point of sales.

What else is coming up? Let’s listen to Mike Fairley who has identified some pre-requisites that will help to master the changes the label industry undergoes: MIS systems that link from the point of origin of the materials up to the end user; higher use of web-to-print solutions enable faster responses, faster time to market and just in time production and delivery; increasing advances using nanotechnology and; new environmental solutions are just some. Lower costs can be realized by using adhesives from natural oils. The advent of different interactive/reactive labels that only now are starting to enter the market and growing use of virtual imaging technology will enable further growth. And if one looks for growth, then it cannot be forgotten that there are opportunities beyond the pure label such as folding cartons, pouches, sachets, tubes or, blister packaging.

Walking the show floor

Looking around all the solutions, production machinery etc., one trend that up to now has mainly entered the wide format market, springs to mind: While UV technology is around for some time, UV-LED seems to be the new curing technology for the label market. Quite a lot of analogue press manufacturers as well as digital press suppliers have been showing machinery implementing this energy saving technology. It can be said, that in label printing it is the upcoming curing technology that will be implemented and used in the future.

At Dainippon Screen’s booth the Truepress Jet L350UV could be seen. The press marks the company’s entry into the label market with an innovative and easy-to-use inkjet label press that delivers photo-realistic quality, fast job turnarounds and stable, colour consistent, output. The press prints widths up to 322mm (12.6in) and prints at a top speed of 50m (164ft) per minute and requires almost no daily maintenance. To provide a wider colour gamut than is typical with the four-colour process, the Truepress Jet L350UV uses Screen’s proprietary high-definition UV inks. Optional opaque white ink further boosts colour vibrancy while enhancing application versatility by allowing printing on transparent film and metallic foil. The press incorporates single-pass greyscale piezo printheads with a minimum droplet size of 3 pico litres. Printing resolutions of 600 x 600dpi combined with the very small droplet size gives sharp, well-defined images and text.  Its high definition accuracy has led to the press being approved by Advanced Track & Trace to reproduce its precise SEAL VECTOR® authentication codes used globally in traceability and distribution management systems. Possibilities to connect inline to various finishing machinery is one of the options for this press.

EFI introduced the new Jetrion 4950LX, a 4-colour UV LED inkjet press for the label market with many options such as inline laser die-cutting, varnishing, laminating, slitting and rewinding of finished rolls. It can print on paper, foil, composites, films and tags with a resolution of 720 x 720dpi at speeds of up to 48 m/min. Employing UV LED curing enables the press to print on heat sensitive substrates thereby enlarging its application possibilities. As fully modular solution it can be upgraded in order to cater to the requirements. In addition the 5-colour (CMYKW) EFI Jetrion 4900 M employing UV curing, was shown.  This modular press can print with speeds up to 25 m/min and is available with various inline finishing options. EFI offers a full portfolio of solutions for label printers with MIS/ERP, industrial inkjet presses, inks, service and support.

The Tau 330 was the star at Durst’s booth. The narrow web label press prints with up to 7 colours (CMYK+O+V+W) that according to the company covers 90% of the Pantone colour gamut at speeds of up to 48 m/min. The press has various pre- and post-treatment as well as inline finishing possibilities. Among the optional options is an inline chill drum for foil applications, video inspection system. In comparison to the Tau 80 and Tau 150 models the Tau 330 does not display a varnish unit. The press can be used with standard UV inks or low migration inks.

More Colour, More UV

Epson introduced its new precision core technology that is employed in the company’s printheads and is employed in its first UV LED inkjet digital label press, the SurePress L-6034LVW. Available in two models – CMYK with digital varnish and high-opacity White ink (SurePress L-6034VW) and without white ink (SurePress L-6034V), the compact digital label press delivers precise quality with maximum reliability, flexibility and performance. “The SurePress L-6034VW joins Epson’s current SurePress L-4033A/AW and puts Epson in the unique position to offer two very different digital label press solutions with two different ink sets – aqueous for short-run labels, especially on uncoated and textured paper, and now UV for short- to mid-run labels on a wider range of substrates,” says Mark Elsbernd, North American region sales manager, Epson America, Inc. The new PrecisionCore linehead is the key component behind the high performance, high reliability, low maintenance, and low running costs of the SurePress L-6034VW. Each of the six lineheads in the press comprises 11 PrecisionCore print chip modules (totaling 52,800 nozzles) that deliver precise quality with fine, multi-size dot control and high native resolution. The linehead is designed to work with Epson’s new low-energy LED-cured UV ink and in-line digital varnish technology to deliver the best combination of 600 x 600 dpi quality at up to 49.2 feet per minute showing vibrant color, smooth gradations and ultra-fine text, lines and images as the company states.

Ecojet is the name of the digital UV label press from ALS Engineering. It was the only solution at the show that implements digital Braille printing. Featuring speeds of up to 24 m/min the press implements optional inline laser die-cutting, manual die-cutting, varnish, hotfoil, kiss-cut and screen printing possibilities. In addition, the machine can be accommodated with further print stations for varnish, metallic, white and other colours.

Printing with 6 colours (CMYKWW), the N610i, the new UV press from Domino is available with reel-to-reel or reel-to-finishing inline configurations. Optional the machine can implement a 7th colour and inline-inspection among others. It prints with up to 75 m/min. In comparison to the previous presses, the N610i incorporates full tension control that enable easier inline finishing. In addition, the new transport system has been developed by Domino itself. In addition, the company introduced the modular K600i versatile inkjet printer that can be implemented into existing or work as stand-alone solution.

At the Fujifilm booth, the new Graphium digital UV inkjet press, developed by FFEI, was on show. modular digital UV inkjet press that puts choice, flexibility and productivity into the hands of printers and converters, enabling them to embrace complex projects requiring a wide gamut of colours on most commonly used substrates. Graphium, in particular, represents a new caliber of inkjet press designed for the narrow web market and, when combined with the new Fujifilm Uvijet Graphium ink developed specifically for label and packaging applications, breaks new ground in terms of the performance that can be achieved from a digital label press, states Jon Harper-Smith, marketing manager industrial and packaging, Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems.  Supporting up to five digital modules, and six flexo stations, Graphium offers the unique capability of being able to integrate optional flexo and finishing stations in-line for conversion in a single pass. This capability can significantly reduce production time and cost in comparison to traditional offline finishing. “Graphium represents a new generation of digital inkjet press aimed at the narrow web market that is able to achieve high quality print at unparalleled productivity levels for the most versatile range of applications, all achievable at a low level of capital investment,” says Andy Cook, FFEI managing director.

Puma, a digital printing unit that either can be integrated into existing Gallus machinery (T180/200), or be used as standalone hybrid solution with various inline analogue technologies (screen printing, hotfoil stamping, die-cutting) including finishing is a hybrid solution. The inkjet unit is installed on a retractable cassette system that enables easy access for cleaning and service. The modular solution can be extended anytime in order to cater to differing production requirements. The Puma prints with 4 colours plus optional white at a resolution of up to 1200 x 600 dpi and 22 m/min.

Another interesting UV LED 6-colour digital label press was presented by HAPA, a Swiss company, whose Universal LP834 features speeds of up to 54 m/min and implements, among others, label thickness detection as well as print and label margin detection.

At the Gallus booth, the Heidelberg Linoprint L digital label press could be seen. The 4 colour inkjet UV LED label press prints at speeds of up to 48 m/min with 600 x 600 dpi resolution on paper, PP, PE, PET, PVC or aluminum and is available in to different widths. It can be connected offline to finishing machines. Optional color line scan cameras to check images, barcodes and texts, corona treatment, among others can be implemented.

The only digital inkjet Braille solution at the show could be seen at Gyger’s stand. It employs the company’s patented micro valve technology and UV inks. The solution can be used stand-alone or as modules that can be implemented into production lines whereby inspection systems are also available.

At Prati’s stand the new linerless label production solutions could be seen. In addition the Company is among the very few manufacturers in the world able to provide an alternative solution developed for customers that do not need an inspection system. It uses a glueless technology during lane’s hooking and uses labels (with optional ID) to close the rolls, which means big savings for the label printers in consumables and makes the entire process very clean and eco-friendly. All of this while always ensuring perfect tensioning of the finished reels. The STARplus off-line turret (four shafts) works in-line with any printing and converting machine. Its full servo technology makes it fit for the new ECO very thin materials, too. It also ensures high speed and perfect cycle continuity thanks to quick and automatic spindle change. A complete job change over needs only 15 minutes. With an eye on more traditional segments, PRATI Company also presented the SA Dual Turret semi-automatic rewinding system, which fits to the latest-generation SATURN and JUPITER models; thanks to its double shaft, production outputs are increased by 50% this automation cuts down the time required to remove the finished rolls and prepare the new operating cycle. It was on show with the die-cutting unit for pre-printed and plain labels for working cycles optimization. At Labelexpo, PRATI Company officially entered the packaging industry; its brand new ALHENA IML series is focused on one of the segments most strongly affected by technological value added: In-Mould-Labelling (IML). ALHENA IML converting machine accommodates large mother reels, it’s equipped with auto register die cutting and a conveyor unit, which conveys the labels to the stacker, where they are automatically stacked to make packaging easier for the operator.

Dow Corning has been expanding its portfolio of advanced silicone products with the launch of the new release modifier Syl-Off SL35. This next generation of controlled release additive technology for solventless release coatings enables significantly to reduce the amount of platinum used in traditional formulations while enabling cost savings at the same time. In addition, Syl-Off SL35 improves shelf life and stability and is suitable to be used in the manufacturing of pressure sensitive label stock, single- and double-sided release papers, liners for adhesive tapes and other coatings for sticky materials.

“Percept Print Solutions UAE and its software development Partner Iware Solutions India are very happy with Labelexpo Europe as it was our first attempt to promote our Print Smart MIS as well as Know Your Productivity Solution to the international market. We can happily say we have been able to get many dealership inquiries from countries like Spain, South Africa, Lebanon, Poland etc and over 40+ serious leads from various countries during the show. Hoping to see success with all these new acquaintances, which would not have happened to us if we did not participate at Labelexpo Europe2013”, says Afsal M Kottal from Percept Print Solutions in Sharjah, UAE.

The company presented, among others, its browser-based Iware DMI production management analysis tool and reporting tool that enables print shops to monitor their productivity in real time. Bottlenecks as well as operational proceedings can thus be analyzed and if need be action taken.

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