Labelexpo in Brussels last week lived up to expectations in the way that only major trade shows can. There were plenty of launches, even with that giant show in Germany now only nine months away; there were orders announced and there were enough options about the direction that the sector might take for discussions and decisions over the months to come.
The direction towards shorter runs and tighter supply chains is felt everywhere. But the answer is not necessarily to adopt plateless digital printing. Bobst demonstrated its Master M5 flexo press with automatic flexo plate change. To be more accurate, this changes plate cylinders automatically, ejecting one cylinder for its replacement to roll into position, positioned precisely and locked in place.
Details of pressure and register are adjusted through servo motors and for the first time from Bobst, a quality control system links to its dual inking units for closed loop colour control. These units are fed from two versions of the same ink colour, one strong, the other lighter. Each is piped to a small mixing unit to create the correct density of colour and then piped again to the plate in the precise amount needed. There is no place for the conventional doctor blade nor for consumable wasting ink pans.
Others, Mark Andy, Gallus, MPS, offered fast makeready label presses in response to the direction that customers are taking and in response too to the growing sophistication of digital presses.
Screen showed and discussed the TruepressJet L350 UV SAI, but it will not be ready until next spring, convenient for a show in Dusseldorf in June. "We say it will run at 80m/minute and it will run at 80m/minute,” says Bui Burke, Screen Europe sales director.
Domino had the equally productive N610i running inline to the latest ABG finishing lines. Durst announced its 80m/minute version of the Tau RSC platform, able to print an opaque white at this speed. Digital inkjet is encroaching on what has been flexo territory.
A key question is still inline or offline? And there are advocates for both approaches. The increasingly digital nature of control technology using barcodes and servo motors, fast change dies, puts inline back on top.
Below the heavy hitters in digital there is a tier of machines that do not have this power and can be considered a complement to flexo technology, not a replacement for it: Memjet had its own stand for the first time as well as a presence through a host of OEM partners. A Colordyne was running with a pre release version of the new Duraflex printhead, which is stimulating interest from those needing to add a label of digital printing, but do not believe that a fully digital press is the answer.
Canon showed the LabelStream P4000, Dantex a number of Pico machines, Mark Andy and Konica Minolta the latest version of their shared platform. The AccurioLabel/DigtalOne has become the second most installed digital label press in Europe with 450 machines according to Konica Minolta.
Xeikon might dispute this as it shifts away from an exclusive focus on toner print for labels. It showed off the P4000 inkjet press and participated in a demonstration for show how label presses can be used to print flexible packaging. It carried the torch for digital printing with a line to produce plastic pouches alongside the M6 from Bobst to show flexo print.
The pouch is a symbol of the way that Labelexpo is spreading out. The pouch is lightweight, provides a huge area for marketing messages, and can be recycled. It is perfect for the urban consume as you go customer. HP dedicated a large area, and it was a large area, of its stand to an Indigo 20000 inline to a Karlville laminating and pouch making line. Screen could discuss a rather neater solution now in operation at a UK customer.
Other clear directions emerged. One is the spawning of all manner of finishing lines engineered for digital. Where once ABG and GM had this space to themselves, there are now multiple suppliers vying for customers beyond their domestic markets. And ABG for one has added inkjet printing to its Digicon lines, albeit to deliver a digital foiling option.
Another major trend is for hybrid printing – having both flexo and digital in a single machine each technology for what it is good at. According to industry spokesman Mike Fairley there are 160 installations that could be described as hybrid presses, ranging from those adding a digital print bar to an otherwise analogue machine, to a fully integrated press harnessing different technologies. Nilpeter, MPS, Bobst, Gallus, Omet and Mark Andy can now offer solid machines in this category. Whether the cost of two machines in one is widely affordable remains to be seen.
And, not yet a major trend, but waiting in the wings ready to take is place on stage, is water based inkjet. Memjet’s thermal technology is already there, though not on the most productive and mission critical machines. Now Mouvent, the Bobst subsidiary which burst on the scene two years ago, has been able to show water based inkjet printing in action. A first beta site will receive a machine before the end of the year.
The next chapter in label printing is beginning, one that will be a major part of the story at Labelexpo in two years’ time.
By Gareth Ward
The theme for Labelexpo was Diversify Your Business. This could be through digital printing, or spreading into flexible packaging, including pouch production. This was demonstrated in a flexible packaging area at the brussels show.