Labelexpo confirmed its position as the world’s second most important print industry event after Drupa with a host of product announcements and developments last week.
Shows in China may attract a greater number of visitors, but these are less important for unveiling product developments than Labelexpo. And while Fespa attracts a huge following, the display print sector has largely migrated to digital production with the result that printers and suppliers are looking to migrate into textiles, interiors and industrial print applications. Labels and packaging by contrast remains dominated by analogue production and workflows leaving suppliers plenty of scope to develop new applications. And this despite being a sector that represents just 10% of the printing industry.
If the 2015 event had been the battle of the whites and the introduction of hybrid production, 2017 was about embellishment and digital machines at the entry level, either as a first digital machine for unconverted converters or as a machine to take the load from more sophisticated presses.
New company Mouvent had one of these with the LB701 UV press. The Swiss company will put it into beta before the end of the year. It sets the tone for these sorts of machines, compact, limited in capability, yet not compromising on quality. It uses the modular cube inkjet unit that the company will also deploy in larger machines for labels, in textiles and shortly in corrugated.
Corrugated will be the next battlefield for digital printing with plenty of manufacturers eyeing the potential of printing on board from drinks boxes to Amazon delivery parcels. Flint digital CEO Benoit Chatelard spoke of this as an opportunity while also accounting the PX2000 an entry level inkjet press with an intermediate 220mm web width.
MarkAndy introduced Europe to the DigitalOne, a dry toner digital press that is again a compact machine. The target is first time users of digital presses, but a number have been installed at printers that already have digital machines in order to handle short run jobs. The assumption is that these companies will already have finishing lines, so inline finishing is not generally offered.
An exception is Durst with the Tau 330e, its entry level machine which has been available for a couple of years, but which now gains a purpose design Smag finishing line.
KonicaMinolta was able to announce that it had achieved global sales of 100 of its AccurioLabel 190 toner machines, the successor to the C71f. And Epson unveiled the upgraded version of its first scanning head inkjet press, now the SurePress L4533 The upgrade enables the press to run faster as two pass printing is delivering the quality that four pass printed was previously needed to achieve. The highest quality comes with eight passes rather than 12. Deliveries begin in the next few weeks to join the 100 that have been installed across Europe.
The second key trend was towards environmental printing, particularly using inks that will open opportunities in food packaging. Durst and Screen were among the inkjet suppliers announcing low migration versions of their UV inks. But questions remain over the suitability of UV of any kind for food production. Consequently others are looking at water based inks, among them Mouvent which showed the prototype of a label press using aqueous inks.
The Epson uses water based inks but is too slow for serious volume production. The need to remove water, as in continuous feed inkjet presses for printing direct mail, remains an issue. A concept to tackle this was presented by Uteco which had teamed up with INX and eBeam. The water based inks for the Gaia are developed by INX, the paper transport by Uteco and eBeam provides an electron beam curing system which creates no ozone, no odour and requires none of the photoinitiators that create concern for the food industry. The prototype in Brussels was running at 25m/minute only, with a commercial version to be launched next year specified to run at 100m/minute.
The third general trend came with inline embellishment for digital presses. HP Indigo led the way with its GEM approach, bringing together foiling, cutting, varnish and embossing in an all digital system to add to its label presses.
MGI teamed up with shareholder Konica Minolta to announce and embellishment line for a KM label press. An earlier version had been shown at Drupa. This is the 3D Jet Web with coater able to include spot UV, digital foiling as well as die cutting. It is also possible to include a flexo printing unit.
This is something that GM, the Danish finishing line specialist had also come up with. Its comprehensive DC350 finishing line includes printing possibilities. As label guru Mike Fairley commented at the start of the show “You can have digital printing with flexo, flexo with digital printing and now finishing with printing.” The boundaries are becoming blurred.