CS Labels began printing labels digitally in order to offer customers better service than they could obtain from suppliers in China. If a company was sourcing wellington boots from China, why should it apply stickers there with no chance to improve relevancy to the UK market.
The company could produce the same stickers in the UK in the quantities that suited the boot company and with a more relevant message. And so a journey into digital printing, alongside Xeikon as technology provider, began.
Along the way CS Labels has helped Xeikon with development, frequently as the pilot site for wider and faster presses, notably the Cheetah, now CX3, where it was the first in the world to run the press. It has also been one of the first to run the wider version of this machine and Xeikon’s ICE lower fusing temperature inks. In these instances Xeikon led the way in development.
The latest stop on the journey is flexible packaging, not for high volume stream packs, though form fill flow wraps are possible, but for stand up pouches. It has taken a couple of years to perfect the technology, trialling inks and materials, working with customers. CS Flexibles has been created as the brand for the venture. There is a new factory and BRC certification so that CS can work with food packaging, the key market for this type of packaging.
The project began with a Xeikon 3500 which has the print width needed for at least some formats. The first packs were for pet food where versions for different sizes and breeds of dogs. This was followed in 2016 by a project for Graze involving lots of packs but also lots of versions and Skus and has been followed by pouches for tea, for snacks and sweets.
Along the way the work has continued to optimise the toners, the materials and the techniques used. Now these are in place, both at CS Labels own plant and as far as Xeikon is concerned. This does not mean that development is finished. More needs to be done in terms of the formats supported and the substrates the Xeikon can print on.
One of the breakthroughs came with printing on the reverse of a 23 micron polyethylene film which is then laminated to other materials to create the desired characteristics of the pouch. Previously there had been trials using different materials requiring different settings on the press to deliver the adhesion and scuff resistance needed. Running a standard film also helps create the demand that means suppliers can deliver quantities that make more sense for them.
Now the team needs to prove the press can run with a 12 micron film, using additional rollers on press to keep the lighter film in place at the right tension. Trials are under way.
Likewise CS Labels is testing biodegradable plastics to meet the changing environmental demands and is planning to install a new pouch making line. There is a slight restriction currently in that the 500mm web width sets a limit on the size of the pouch that can be made from the widest Xeikon that is used in the project. The new machine, available later this year according to managing director Simon Smith, will make two-piece pouches.
“Currently the available web width is too small for everything on the market.” Consequently CS Labels is limited to a 242mm high pack with a 40mm gusset.
“At CS Labels we need to offer customers a product that is differentiated for those customers,” he says. “The flexible packaging sector is where the label market was in 2007 when we invested in our first digital press.”
And the imperative is the same. Many companies are buying this style of packaging from China with the lengthy delivery times and need to buy in volume that this entails. CS Flexibles can delivers in the sorts of numbers needed to get a product into the market and to meet unexpected demands needed faster than China can cope with.
It is not about a print run of one. The company has limits to cover the cost of materials and start up waste. “It works well for smaller SME companies where the requirement is 5,000-10,000 units across half a dozen Skus and they find that conventional flexible packaging suppliers are not interested in those sorts of volumes. That is what we are concentrating on,” Smith says.
By Gareth Ward
CS Labels' Simon Smith is looking forward to being able to produce larger pouches later this year. To date the technology has been limited by the web width of the press.