Every two years the label industry comes to Brussels, and despite asking if suppliers and visitors want a change of scenery, Labelexpo has become a fixture in Belgium.
Interest has exploded since digital first broke through in 2011. Since then digital machines have been corralled in one hall, but no longer. Digital presses are everywhere through the halls. As market leader, HP has created its own area, which it will occupy again this year, though has provided no great details about the approach it will be taking.
Two years ago hybrid digital/analogue presses started to emerge as a theme and a solution providing the best (and most cost effective) of both worlds. This time the question is whether this remains a valid approach to tackling the issue of shorter production runs and just in time production. Others will be looking at developments in flexo presses to gauge if these can be effective on short runs and at inkjet to see if this digital technology can print labels for the burgeoning food industry.
Here though are ten reasons to visit Brussels, none of which includes the country’s renowned beers.
It is a first inkjet press for Xeikon but not for Flint. It had invested in inkjet for label printing before selling Jetrion to EFI back in 2006.
A lot of water has passed beneath the bridge since then and inkjet label printing is now firmly in the mainstream alongside the toner machines in the market where Xeikon's products are firmly established.
And yet not every label producer has made the transition into digital printing, possibly because they cannot decide which technology to adopt.
Printers currently using toner machines who need an inkjet machine to offer products that are not suited to toner printing. Among these are health and beauty labels printed on heat sensitive materials.
Although Xeikon has the ICE toner which fuses at lower temperatures this is not addressing the whole of the possible market. This is where Panther is ready to pounce. It is a 330mm web press printing UV inks with Kyocera print heads at a resolution of 600x600dpi and speeds up to 50m/min. This is faster than the CX3 toner press, previously the Cheetah, but has a resolution lower than the 1200dpi possible with the Xeikon imaging head.
The inkjet press will be launched at Labelexpo where the company will be ready to take orders for delivery in the new year. The first beta site is in place, says Xeikon.
“Existing customers can mix inkjet and dry toner in the same workflow,” says Xeikon spokesman Danny Mertens. “A lot of users have asked us for inkjet because they have applications they cannot address with dry toner technology.
“It is the services around the machine that are as important as the press. Other suppliers cannot offer these services and that’s an opportunity for us.
“Where label printers are undecided about which technology to invest in, we are unique in offering both technologies to the market.”
Inkjet suits the health & beauty sector where a glossy finish is important while toner addresses food where Xeikon's toners are food safe qualified. In future inkjet spot varnishing may bring a little gloss to dry toner labels as part of Xeikon’s Fusion programme.
“It’s something we are looking at, but not something that we have ready as yet,” says Mertens.
Bobst Mouvent LB-702
One of the most intriguing developments at Labelexpo will be the launch of a first inkjet press from Mouvent, a joint venture company owned by Bobst and inkjet entrepreneurs Radex.
Bobst, having considered the Kodak Stream technology and implemented it on a flatbed machine for corrugated board, has switched to back the team of Swiss engineers that were behind the project that is now the Domino 6100i inkjet press. While that is a single-colour machine for books and the first outcome of the partnership is a full colour label press, the two developments have a simplicity and compactness in common.
At the heart of the Mouvent technology is a modular approach, creating a cluster comprising print head, ink delivery and electronics that can be linked in an infinite number of combinations to suit any number of applications. If so, this will reduce the time needed to produce new presses and should cut the capital cost because of this.
Bobst claims this to be a quantum leap for the industry. That is debatable. We truly believe this is a watershed moment for the future of digital printing independent of the industry or market,” says Jean-Pascal Bobst, CEO of Bobst Group.
“Current industry trends – including high demand for digitalisation, short runs, fast availability, promotion and versioning, personalised and seasonal products, and increasing sensitivity towards cost and environment – are driving demand for high quality and affordable digital printing machines.s”
A label press is as straightforward an application as is possible owing to the 340mm print width. It reckons that cost, quality, cost of inks, head durability will set new performance levels. Inks can be water based or UV through Fujifilm Samba printheads.
These make their appearance as the LB701-UV and LB702-UV seven-colour presses using two clusters per colour across the web on the latter machine, a single cluster printing 170mm on the former. A white ink is also available.
The inks are a key component of the modular approach and the water-based inks are its own development. This will print to a primer.
Nilpeter FA flexo press
Nilpeter is keeping feet in both digital and flexo camps at the show with an all-new FA flexo press due to take centre stage. Vying for attention will be the latest version of the Panorama hybrid machine.
The Danish company is claiming that the FA is the “most versatile flexo press on the market”. It achieves this through an emphasis on ease of operation to cope with the diverse needs a label printer has. There is a new intuitive user interface and fully mobile controls.
As many tasks as possible are automated so that the operator has no need to dirty his or her hands in running or adjusting the press. The press has an auto register system and can recall settings from previous runs of the job in hand at a single touch.
The plate cylinders are designed for fast removal and replacement and registration assisted by a web path which enables the press to adjust times and tensions using servo motors. The press can also be set up for fixed palette printing.
A rail system allows the web to be taken away from the press for non print functions, though Nilpeter is not discussing these until the show itself. Likewise finishing modules can be included before the rewind units.
It is, however, not intended as a hybrid press. That is the Nipeter Panorama, a machine previewed at Labelexpo two years ago. It includes flexo and converting units as well as the DP-3 inkjet unit. This is a five-colour inkjet system running at up to 50m/min printing on a 350mm web.
Such hybrid presses were a feature of the last Labelexpo in response to some of the limitations of a purely digital approach. This can be expensive and less effective, print a base white on film for example, and digital comes into its own when adding short batch variety to a core branded label. This can be printed using analogue technology with inkjet used where appropriate.
Nilpeter’s purely digital approach now focuses on the Trojan short run label printer. This is pitched at the entry level and has notched several hundred installations worldwide.
Edale, one the UK’s remaining printing press producers, is taking its largest ever stand at this year’s show with an FL3 flexo press and a hybrid machine combining flexo print units, the Graphium inkjet technology and a Printbar to apply a value add finish.
The new flexo press includes Edale’s autonomous inking, impression and registration system which uses AVT cameras to monitor the quality and accuracy of colour printing, moving the plate into position and adjusting impression to match the approved image. The process is triggered with the press of a single button. The technology handles the remainder of the make ready to approval process.
Edale says this leave an operator free to prepare the next job and removes the requirement for skilled operators across the business. Managing director James Boughton says that this is the culmination of a strategy put in place some time ago.
“One of the main concerns raised to us as a supplier to the label industry is the scarcity of new talented printers coming through. We took a decision a few years back to use this as a basis for our “innovate not complicate” design philosophy and came to the conclusion that by reducing operator input our customers would have control on quality and waste, no matter who the operator is,” he says.
At Labelexpo this will be part of a six-colour FL3 that will be demonstrated throughout the show. The press will be configured with a semi-rotary die cutter, again with automated systems to load and unload the dies and register. A 15-minute makeready is cut to two minutes with almost no material waste it says.
This will be further enhanced by fixed palette printing saving time by eliminating wash ups. The ability to achieve the range of colours that used to require special colour mixes falls within the scope of improved screening, better plates and its Uniprint system, says Edale.
Graphium, the inkjet unit developed by FFEI, makes a return with flexo white before the six colour inkjet printheads and then further enhancement options, including the EFX Digital Printbar, a rail mounted inkjet unit that can apply a spot varnish or adhesive for the application of foil. This can be positioned in a range of positions on a suitable press.
Domino DFE 2.0
Having launched new inkjet presses over recent editions of Labelexpo, Domino is now bringing a digital workflow to the event.
It is not a design to print workflow, but one that focuses on maximising throughput from the N series inkjet press. Like the previous iteration there is close integration with Esko’s software suites. Domino’s DFE2.0 will also accept input from a variety of variable data formats.
The productivity enhancements include Domino ScreenPro which combines a number of distinct processes into a single workflow, including the implementation of variable data. Domino calls the increase in throughput “significant”, noticeable when working with multiple-page PDFs. Rip to print ratio can be four to five times faster with DFE2 over the previous version.
Variable files can cover full changes in artwork to alterations in barcodes and language versions of text. JDF is supported, paving the way for further automation through integration with upstream process steps.
The processing of incoming files can be automated as can instructions that previously a press operator would need to enter manually, the length of lead in and lead out material, job length or copy count for example.
Simon Howes, product manager, digital printing solutions, explains: “While speed and automation are the two features likely to appeal the most to label printers, versatility also has an important role to play.
“The new workflow adds the ability to work with various VDP formats, such as multiple page PDF and PDF/VT files for the printing of variable data, barcodes and 2D barcodes, offering the printer a wider range of options to work with.”
The focus is not fully on the software. There will be a new white ink module to address the continuing issue of reproducing a good opaque white using an ink designed for maximum flow through a piezo print head.
Domino reckons that results from the K600i White printer and the high pigment ink will provide printers with an alternative to screen printing.
Domino keeps the ink moving before firing through two arrays of heads that can be part of the printbar or the N610i press. It will run at 50m/min or 75m/min in low resolution mode.
Gallus will show the Labelmaster for the first time at Labelexpo in Europe in two guises. One is the machine which was launched as a modular machine at its own open house a year ago. The other is the Labelmaster Advanced which adds multi-web capability and a range of options on finishing.
Core to both is the concept of building a press from a set of modules, each of two print units. Each has three levels of sophistication: the basic hits all the essential elements for label printing; the Plus offers greater flexibility for a wider choice of applications and the Advanced can be configured for greater levels of automation.
It is an approach that brings Gallus presses within the investment range of the majority of label printers while retaining the cachet of the performance associated with Gallus. The Labelmaster takes this to new levels with a top speed of 200m/minute, the fastest label Gallus has produced. A gap of 1.4 metres between print units delivers close register and helps minimise start up waste.
Quick lock up for the aluminium cylinders means these can be changed quickly while the ink chamber for the doctor blade contains just 250g of ink that also reduces waste at change over while also minimising spitting and foaming.
As well as flexo print units, the Labelmaster can be fitted with the Gallus screen print unit for added value finishing options. At Labelexpo a Labelmaster will be in operation with the Screeny print unit. A new Phoenix UV LED direct platesetter will be used to image the Screeny plates as well as litho or flexo plates.
The press can run a web to 445mm (print width is 440mm) with minimum of 220mm with a maximum print length of 635mm and a minimum of 202mm.
Gallus also plans to feature the Labelfire 340, the hybrid inkjet-flexo press running with finishing inline. This was the first collaborative effort between Heidelberg and Gallus using Fujifilm printheads to give 1200dpi print resolution.
Durst Tau 330
Durst has added Fujifilm Samba printheads to its Tau 330 inkjet label press, releasing the machine as the Tau 330 RSC, the letters standing to resolution, speed and colour. The latter refers to the configuration adding OGV and white to CMYK to reach 98% of the PMS gamut. There is a 78m/min maximum throughput and top resolution of 1200x1200dpi with 2pl droplets.
The single-pass press can come as a standalone unit, though is more likely to be part of a label production system, selected by the customer. This can include jumbo unwinder options, pretreatment (most commonly a corona unit but also including a primer unit), and finishing options that can include laser cutting, cold foil, varnishing, lamination, slitting a rewinding.
At the show a Tau 330 RSC will be set up with finishing and conventional print elements from the Omet Xflex X6 series of components. It will be operated through Durst’s own label workflow covering order entry, scheduling, Ripping, colour management, print and finishing.
A web to print feature is part of the software suite. This extends beyond labels into cartons and flexible packaging, covering specification and approval of the job online.
As well as the new top of the range Tau, there will be a version running a low migration UV ink that is suited to food and pharmaceutical work and the ‘economic entry model’ Tau 330E using a high pigment ink and running inline with a similarly priced Smag finishing line.
Codimag litho labels
Litho printed labels in the UK generally mean sheetfed wet glue applied labels used in their millions for canned food or bottled beer. Not so on the continent and particularly in France where the majority of wine labels are printed by the offset litho press.
Most are printed using waterless plates and on Codimag presses. The results are particularly fine renditions of half tones and line work that UV flexo or even digital finds difficult to replicate. With the growth of wine production in this country, there is scope for an enterprising converter to follow the French example. A single Codimag has now been installed in the UK, though its purpose has not been declared.
The Viva Evolution press will be running with both Presstek and Toray waterless litho plates. Both suppliers have new products: the Toray Imprima LA and LB and Presstek’s Zahara NWL. Toray previewed its plates at Drupa and says they are designed for durability (Imprima LA) and high resolution imaging (Imprima LB). They are now commercially available.
Presstek will run its Zahara NWL, a second generation version of its chemistry-free waterless litho plate optimised for label printing. Presstek believes that the combination of quality and durability (including UV resilience) will give it an edge.
Presstek is underwriting its commitment to the technology with the appointment of Karol Wolnikowski and Claude Zaehringer as sales managers for waterless, the latter for the new plate. Both had worked for Marks-3zet, the German technology supplier that has specialised in waterless litho technology.
The Codimag is a stop start web press that includes its Aniflo short ink chain technology. The waterless approach means high stability of colour, thanks to use of the anilox which also cuts start up waste.
At the show Codimag takes this a step further with new operating system to increase automation and extend the competitive footprint. A full makeready can be completed inside 15 minutes with the high pigment and high lift UV inks capable of hitting more than 90% of PMS colours. An IST Hot Swap UV unit allows a choice of standard mercury vapour lamp or LED UV system to be attached within minutes.
Epson SurePress 4533
Epson has brought its first label up to date for Labelexpo. The SurePress 4033 becomes the SurePress 4533 with higher quality and higher productivity. But it is still aimed at the first time digital press user, says Frank Maeder, Epson’s manager of labels production.
“When the press was introduced, it was positioned as a really good entry machine for label converters taking a first step into digital and targeted very short runs with very high quality.”
The print quality was achieved by multipass printing rather than single-pass printing. Four levels were offered involving four, six eight or 12 passes. This combined with Epson piezo printheads and a water based ink which, Maeder says, “sticks to anything”, created the selling point for the press.
“This versatility was key,” he says. “Users can print on the same stocks they have used on their flexo presses, which is important when a first time investment is always a risk because you can’t tell where the work will come from.”
The new press builds on this legacy. While the same printheads and inks have been used, the software has been changed to improve placement accuracy thus delivering sharper rendition of smaller type sizes.
Maeder says: “We also found that most printers could achieve the quality they needed from eight print passes, 12 was not used. Now with the improved resolution we think printers will achieve the same quality as before with six passes, improving productivity.”
There will also be a two pass mode, used for labels where quality is less critical, perhaps barcode only labels or where large print information is required. This also increases maximum throughput from 5m/min to 8.2m/min.
The press uses a six-olour inkset, adding orange and green to CMYK. There is also an version with a white ink as before. This is a high opacity white which someone moving from flexo or screen printing would be comfortable with he says. This is not always the case with digital whites.
The target user remains the first time digital printer. And there are plenty of these, Maeder explains. “A lot of the smaller companies have yet to invest in digital. For them it’s a question of risk because most do not know if they have the volume to fill a digital press, even one which is relatively slow like this.”
The press is driven through an Esko digital front end, at least in Europe. In other regions different solutions may be offered. In all cases the emphasis is on familiarity.
Epson has also found customers have been using the machine to print ultra short runs of flexible packaging, exploiting the capability to print on 100 micron caliper materials. With the new version the minimum thickness has been reduced to 80 microns, opening up further possibilities in flexible packaging.
Screen launched the L350 UV, its first label printing press at Labelexpo in 2013, but had previously tested the water with a concept at the previous Labelexpo and at Ipex in 2010. Neither of those projects came to anything, but happily for the Japanese supplier the TruepressJet L350 UV has delivered.
At its first appearance it was a roll to roll machine with the promise of white ink. Last time the press was connected to a full finishing line. This time Screen is launching two variants to join the core machine. These are the TPJ L350UV+ and the TPJ L350UV+LM.
The latter machine is designed for food label printing using a specially developed low migration ink that remains a UV cured ink. This prises open a door to food labels that UV inkjet has found difficult to unpick.
The press includes a nitrogen purge mechanism at the UV lamps in order to guarantee a full cure, removing the risk of taint and risks of migration.
Like the L350UV+, the press runs faster than the existing machine’s 50m/min. Screen states 60m/min at 600dpi. There are options on configuration, adding white or a gamut enhancing orange to the CMYK or with both additional colours.
There is a chill roll section to cool thin substrates which might distort under the heat from the curing section. This opens up the potential to print on thin film wrappers, those used on PET bottles for example. It will be equally effective on other thin film substrates.
The L350UV+ has the additional colour options but using conventional UV inks and running at 60m/min. The nitrogen purge unit is not needed, but the chill roller section is retained to expand the range of substrates that it is possible to print.
“We announced our first specialised digital label press, the Truepress Jet L350UV system, in 2013. Delivering world-class print speeds of up to 50 metres per minute, the combined quality, productivity and substrate compatibility attracted significant attention, adoption continues to grow internationally as does its excellent reputation,” says Bui Burke, senior vice president sales at Screen Europe.
Inkjet suits the health & beauty sector where a glossy finish is important while toner addresses food where Xeikon's toners are food safe qualified.
In future inkjet spot varnishing may bring a little gloss to dry toner labels as part of Xeikon’s Fusion programme.
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