27 August 2018 Digital Printing Technologies

Canon plans to be big in packaging

Canon has announced an inkjet label press as a first step into supplying a portfolio of products for printed packaging.

Canon is planning major provider of technology to the short run packaging sector – but is not explaining precisely how as yet. This is hardly surprising. It has yet to install a machine with a packaging printer, but it has introduced the LabelStream 4000 as its first press for the packaging market.

The label press represents a relatively straightforward entry point. Of all the potential packaging applications, label print has taken to digital most extensively and is quickly moving towards inkjet technology with numerous suppliers introducing different styles of inkjet press. Here are low cost machines with Memjet printheads, water based, fast, but limited in substrates; here are the UV inkjet platforms created by suppliers with an existing customer base, but perhaps little experience of digital printing. And here is Canon with digital running through it lick a stick of seaside rock and with inkjet “as part of our DNA” as the company puts it.

Eventually inkjet technology will be provided to corrugated packaging printers, to flexible packaging and to carton converters. But first Canon must convince potential customers that its inkjet label press is the right approach.

The Label Stream 4000 is built on an Edale transport, flexo units included and using an FFEI imaging system. So far, so Graphium. But there are important differences to Graphium, says Crit Driessen, Canon’s head of packaging. It is using Xaar’s 2001 printheads, becoming the first press to do so. Rather than 360x360dpi resolution that the Xaar 1001 used in Graphium provides, the new printhead delivers 600x720 resolution and can run at 48m/minute or 68m/min in productivity mode.

There will be flexo and finishing components from the Edale stable, a varnishing unit is almost essential, likewise a flexo white. It will be managed by a single operator regardless of the length of the line, something that brings in both Edale’s and Canon’s skills.

Job settings will be stored for rapid reprints and to cut set up time to deliver a faster turnaround time for shorter jobs and to ensure that LabelStream is a highly productive system. As with the different transport and printing elements that are brought together, Canon is opting for this approach on workflow. “We love PrismaSync (its commercial print workflow) but the reality is that in the packaging market there are well established standards. It would not be wise for a new player to try to establish a new standard, so we will be connecting to Esko or OneVision as the main workflows,” he says.

It will not include the PrintBar, at least at the start. This attachment, which allows variable content to be added in different positions on the press. That uses the older printhead technology. “FFEI has not developed it to run with the Xaar 2001 as yet,” says Driessen, “but we are very interested in seeing how PrintBar could be an extension to the LabelStream.”

This alone is not going to give Canon the edge in convincing the market to consider this press. It is not an entry level machine, but one aimed at capturing the lower end of the flexo market and will require the service and support in place to deliver that. here the experience of creating high volume single-pass printing machines at Poing comes into play.

What provides the edge is more about Canon’s strength as an organisation, its worldwide footprint and thousands of support people. “We can leverage the strength of the organisation and bring that to digital packaging with two-hour response times around the clock support, the colour and workflow consultants to help customers make best use of the technology.

“We have the team and resources to make this investment. We want to build a position in digital packaging.”

And that means not just labels, but flexible, carton and corrugated. “This is not about a single press. It’s part of a broader initiative. Label printing is the most developed market and we decided that at a minimum label printing needed to be part of the portfolio. Even in labels the majority of print is still conventional and the majority of the digital is still toner based and we believe that inkjet will become the dominant technology as it has in commercial web printing and wide format simply because the technology has inherent reliability, versatility and flexibility advantages related to its running costs and productivity.

“We believe that in many sectors inkjet is already the leading technology, but it is not that developed in label printing.”

That accounts for Canon’s choice of technology. The decision on market position at the higher end relates to the customers it wants to attract. The company has been talking with the larger transnational groups with production needs in several countries and which are growing through acquisition. These understand the service requirements and the global aspect of Canon’s business. Others may be strong in one country or region, but few can offer a true international network. “It is only us or HP that can offer the large label converters the worldwide support they need,” Driessen continues. And HP is not supplying inkjet label presses – at least not yet.

Flint and Xeikon might argue with Canon’s assertion and certainly the global presence of Xeikon has been helped by Flint’s ownership indicating that a worldwide footprint can only help Canon become established.

It is also stressing its ‘inkjet DNA’ and experience in supplying several generations of machine to implant printers, to book printers and to direct mail houses over the last decade or so. “Thanks to the breadth of production solutions, it means we understand the requirements and how to support them,” he says. The LabelStream 4000 is coming from the same stable in Poing as the JetStream, ColourStream, the ImageStream and ProStream. All are designed for production environments with workflow, software, inks optimised for the market sectors targeted, and using inkjet heads appropriate to the requirement.

Its progress in packaging will be no different. The first step uses many established technologies and likewise development of carton or corrugated machines will call on components, feeders and delivery for example, that are already well established. Likewise there is already a version of the Arizona flatbed inkjet machine that is designed to cope with corrugated boards. This has additional vacuum areas to hold the material in place while the scanning print head zips across the surface.

This is not the basis for a future production machine. That must offer single-pass printing and be able to cope with much higher volumes. It must also be able to run with water based inks. This is crucial to the strategy. Success in flexible packaging, cartons or corrugated packaging depends on working with food safe inks. And the potential demand for ink is vast once these sectors convert to digital printing.

Canon discovered this in the most painful way. Having developed InfiniStream as a digital carton press, providing it with a high profile launch and installing a beta machine, it found out that the liquid toner inks it was using were not and would never be food compliant. The project was suspended with a lesson learned. It will not be repeating this error.

Labels have a slightly different requirement. The LabelStream 4000 uses a UV ink, acceptable where the the bottle or jar is there to prevent migration of ink into the product. Where labels are used close to food, other barriers are needed for UV inks, or other approaches are needed. This might be using a water based ink or perhaps one cured by electron beam. The majority of the market sector is happy to accept UV printing.

There are at present no further details for plans in wider areas of packaging, no format for a carton press for example. This will come in the next 18 months or so says Driessen. According to the form book, Canon will make announcements in the months leading up to Drupa in June 2020, preparing visitors for what they might see. In the meantime Canon’s relatively small packaging team will be gathering information and talking about specifications with the major packaging groups. “We need to develop the relationships and we know that that takes time,” he explains.

The LabelStream will get an outing at the Canon Production Days at the end of September when commercial printers descend on Poing for the latest developments in Canon world, or at least the Océ part of it. The company is planning to invite a cohort of potential buyers to the site on the day before this event for presentations about packaging trends in general and to thrust brands, specifiers and converters together. It is a model that has been successful in the book publishing world, making the Publishing Days in Poing an always stimulating event.

The first LabelStream 4000 will then go to its user by the end of the year. A further version, whether slower, wider or distinct in other ways, will follow next year. ”Not everyone needs the power of LabelStream, not everyone can afford that level of investment,” Driessen adds. “A low speed would suit a certain number of customers and is something that will be seriously looked at. Nothing is decided as yet though.”

Further installations will quickly follow the first. Canon is not going to be happy supplying a market where there are around 500 digital machines in use with ten or so machines. “That would not be a satisfactory share of the market,” he says.

Gareth Ward

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The Canon LabelStream 4000 is an inkjet press specifically for narrow web labels. But Canon's ambitions for packaging stretch well beyond the label sector and new machines for packaging can be expected next year Crit Driessen explains.

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