Global label and packaging sector is as vibrant as ever

Jo Francis
Friday, October 25, 2019

Labelexpo Europe pulled out all the stops for its 40th anniversary edition, putting on the largest show to date at the Brussels Expo exhibition space.

Floorspace was up on the previous European outing in 2017 at nearly 40,000sqm, and while visitor numbers were effectively static at 37,903 (2017: 37,724) that’s no mean feat in today’s industry where consolidation among label and packaging companies remains rife. 

Visitors came from far and wide, from 140 countries compared with 125 nations in 2017. The event organiser said that India, China and Japan were “especially well represented” and a special ‘China Day’ was held on day one in a first for the show that involved representatives from more than 100 Chinese label printers and converters. 

It was perhaps apt, then, that Chinese label press manufacturer and first-time exhibitor Spande had one of the largest booths at the show. One show attendee commented: “They do a lot of tobacco packaging and have moved into labels. It’s one of the most automated flexo presses I’ve seen, and possibly the most automated.”

Spande is among numerous suppliers to integrate with technology from inkjet specialist Domino, and Domino’s director of digital printing solutions Philip Easton said that a combined configuration with its N610i had already been installed at a customer, with another one in the works. 

“The key comment I’m hearing from customers is that things are getting more digital. Inkjet is starting to look like the dominant technology going forward,” Easton said. 

“Our K600i digital embellishment line now produces massively improved quality than we had before. All our customers are asking how they can make the finishing process digital,” he added. 

Also on show was Domino’s N610i seven-colour inkjet press in a hybrid configuration with conventional embellishment by AB Graphic. The hybrid press was shown running three different jobs in under 20 minutes, with the web reverse reducing job changeover waste to as little as two metres described as being “perfect for the environment – label printers love this”.

Hybrid remained a big talking point, with Bobst showing its new Master DM5 hybrid press, and a new entry-level option from Mark Andy also running live. 

Gallus showed a new repositionable Digital Printbar that can be integrated with its own, or third party, presses for applications such as language versioning and barcodes. It also sold its 100th Labelmaster press at the show.

Unsurprisingly, sustainability was a key theme for the overall event, and the issue was being tackled in a variety of ways including sustainable materials and waste reduction. 

Xeikon even went so far as to claim that pouches – another hot topic as the show morphs from purely labels to encompassing flexible packaging – were a more environmentally friendly packaging option. It showed its FleXflow pouch making line – as pioneered at the UK’s CS Labels – at the expo. 

“A pouch, compared with other packaging uses less material, and transportation requires less CO2 even if the pouch is plastic,” said director of product management Jeroen Van Bauwel. “FleXflow is more eco-friendly. It uses solvent-free print and lamination technology.”

HP, the show’s largest exhibitor, also showed a pouch-making ‘factory’ on its booth, with the setup bound for the UK’s Baker Labels after the show. The Walthamstow firm is adding pouch making to its trade label printing services with plans to go live with the new service early next year. 

Label printers were also drawn to the latest advances in low-migration inks, and materials. 

Liz Waters, chief executive at Dublin-headquartered Watershed Group described sustainability as “a business imperative”.

“I went to see UPM Raflatac and Avery Dennison to see what they are doing at a substrate level,” she said. “Avery Dennison had some interesting smart labels, while UPM was focused on the sustainability of their process including the amount of carbon emissions and the use of water and electricity. 

“They’re very much into recycled substrates and then you’re into the circular economy and it all makes more sense.”

Waters also officially signed up to use Flint Group’s Vivo Colour Solutions colour matching system at the event. Vivo involves a huge database of 180,000 different formulations based on colours, aniloxes and substrates and promises “great colour consistency, regardless of where you’re printing”, which obviously has huge appeal to brand owners and also results in reduced waste in terms of materials, and wasted time. 

“Our operators absolutely love it,” Waters stated. 

Flint Group has also turned to GEW to speed the adoption of LED. “It has serious production and environmental benefits, including no mercury and no ozone,” says Kelly Kolliopoulos, global marketing director for Flint Group’s narrow web business. 

Flint plans to help customers switch from mercury to LED by supporting the initial capex investment required for the LED lamps, which can then be paid back over time by the printing company as part of its ink contract.

And while the latest advances in inkjet printing technology took centre stage for many visitors and exhibitors, flexo was described as putting on a “fightback” with more automation and faster changeovers keeping the process competitive. 

Lisa Milburn, managing director of the Labelexpo Global Series, said label converters had more options than ever to diversify their businesses. “The global label and package printing industry remains as vibrant as ever, and this show – 40 years on – is still a vital platform at the forefront of the entire supply chain.”


Buyers must beware when assessing inkjet speeds

Syd Roberts, owner, ESSAR Business Consultancy

My objective at Labelexpo ’19 was to investigate what was new in digital production, what advances had been made by the top digital suppliers and the latest trends in digital.

All the big names in UV inkjet and toner continued with their existing product portfolio.

Each manufacturer was keen to advertise their top production speeds, which for inkjet ranges from 50m/min up to 80m/min. Durst with their new Tau RSCi even claim 100m/min, but forgetting to mention that at the very highest speed the quality and resolution is lower.

Most of the current inkjet presses on show will print at a wide range of speeds depending on the material, ink coverage, and the amount of colours required. When printing with white with a high opacity it appears that 50m/min is the maximum unless a lower opacity is acceptable.

So, it’s ‘buyer beware’ if the very high speeds are what attract you. Ensure you see high-coverage jobs with and without white printed on absorbent materials to check the effective speed. 

The obsession with speed on inkjet is driven by the need to convert not only the short-run jobs from flexo to digital but the longer-run jobs as well. Compared with the much lower production speeds of the toner based HP Indigo and Xeikon machines, a guaranteed 50m/min with white clearly gives inkjet an advantage.

With minimum resolutions of 600dpi up to 1,200dpi, inkjet is continuing to increase in quality and combined with the high speed there is no doubting why inkjet is forecast to overtake toner within the next five years.

I saw the continued proliferation of flexo manufacturers integrating digital onto their conventional press platforms, with a multitude of partnerships. Only Mark Andy and now Bobst/Mouvent can claim to be a ‘sole supplier’ of the total hybrid solution. This is an important factor when thinking about investing because what happens if one of the partners change? This happened recently with Omet when they changed from Domino to Durst – how future proof is your investment?

For me the best newcomer at the Labelexpo was the HanGlobal LabStar 330 press. A competitively priced roll-to-roll five-colour machine manufactured in China with an excellent build quality and specification. This press could provide stiff competition and I will be watching it closely. 


What did you find interesting at the show? 

Tim Fountain, managing director, Harkwell Labels

“We really enjoy the show and spend two to three days there. It was very busy and the feeling in the air was very positive. I’m toying with the idea of an HP Indigo 20000, I think that’s where we need to go next. I also loved the pouch-making setup but don’t think it’s for me. We spend a lot of money on embellishments so we also looked at varnishes, embellishments and foiling. It’s the way the market is going.”


Liz Waters, chief executive, Watershed Group

“Sustainability is coming across our desk more and more often, and it’s a business imperative for us to be part of the solution. It’s a very complex area, though and there’s a danger in instant gratification. People want solutions immediately but some of the solutions create other problems. Sustainability has become so topical that it is outweighing the changes in printing technology. We got a lot out of the show.”



David Webster, managing director, The Label Makers

“We spent time looking at the latest advances in digital finishing including what Domino, AB Graphic and Kurz were showing. There were also some interesting bits to be found on the smaller stands around the halls. I saw some security inks from Korea that changed colour using magnetisation. Some lenticular effects and RFID technology also caught my eye.”


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