Label show expands to embrace broader packaging market

By Jo Francis, Monday 12 October 2015

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It may be Labelexpo by name, but it is no longer just labels by nature. As Lisa Milburn, the managing director of the global series of Labelexpo events notes: “This is not a pure label show anymore, it is labels and packaging.”


The event, held in Brussels at the end of last month, was the biggest Labelexpo yet, with 648 exhibitors from 40 countries.

Final visitor numbers were 35,739 attendees, an increase of 12.4% against 2013. A lot of those visitors came from a global catchment area, including almost 200 printers from India, 100 from Iran, and 124 from Japan. 

Mike Fairley, director of strategic development for the Labelexpo Global Series went so far as to describe India as “becoming the new label powerhouse”.

But there is good news for label specialists closer to home as well, involving what would appear to be a knock-on print benefit of the on-going migrant crisis. “We are seeing interesting growth in Western Europe,” he says, citing growth of 5%-7%. “The population is increasing, and that means more labels.”

The show was, of course, awash with technology. If the last Labelexpo in 2013 was ‘the inkjet Labelexpo’ then this show was ‘the even more inkjet’ expo, albeit alongside other forms of digital printing and finishing kit and a notable number of hybrid systems. 

Milburn pointed to (at least) 52 different digital presses on show, while Fairley said digital presses now accounted for almost 50% of all label press installations, of which inkjet was nearly 35%. 

It was indicative of digital printing’s growth in the labels market that HP announced the 1,000th installation of its WS6000 series label presses at the event. “It was really an excellent show for us and above expectations,” says Ronen Zioni, HP graphic solutions marketing director EMEA. “We sold a very large variety of equipment from our product line.”

There was also much talk of hybrid printing solutions, where, typically, inkjet printing is combined with label lines. Nilpeter and Mark Andy showed their new hybrid lines, while Gallus used the show as the sales launch for its DCS 340 hybrid press. 

It seems potential customers are taking a long hard look at the pros and cons of this type of option. “These looked very interesting but I have some concerns and would like to have another year’s experience of them in the market before I commit,” observes AJS Labels managing director Andrew Scrimgeour. 

Xeikon, meanwhile, opted to eschew the hybrid route and instead outlined its vision for a new ‘Fusion’ label printing concept where different digital technologies are married in a single line, for example inkjet white and inkjet foiling. 

The firm believes that toner-based electrostatic printing is fundamentally more suitable when it comes to combining different processes. 

“Dry toner is one of the technologies that is most compatible with others. We expect there to be different modules, such as inkjet white, hot foiling and tactile varnish,” explains marketing director Filip Weymans. “We have been working on digital foiling for some time, but it’s not the case that all the modules will come from Xeikon.”

UK label printers were at the show in force, with Mercian Labels among the firms to have sent a substantial team to scope out the latest offerings. 

Managing director Adrian Steele found a number of points of interest. Perhaps understandably, as the world’s first user of Xeikon’s Cheetah (now renamed CX3) high-speed digital label press, he found the Fusion idea worthy of further inspection.

“From our perspective of quick turnaround work that’s a concept that’s interesting to us,” he says. 

And while Steele noted an overall hybrid theme at the show, he was also struck by the number of relatively low-cost print and finishing options.

“There seemed to be a boom in small-footprint digital and converting kit – so many I just lost count. They seemed to be going down quite well and some of the price points are quite interesting,” he adds. 

Among the equipment that caught Steele’s eye away from the Xeikon booth was Konica Minolta’s bizhub Press C71cf, which is priced at around €240,000 (£175,000). 

Konica Minolta business development manager Edoardo Cotichini reports strong interest in the roll-to-roll toner device. “Around 80%-90% of potential customers are already label converters,” he says. “And perhaps 10%-20% are traditional commercial printers who want to move into label printing. Although that seems to be growing, so it could even be 20%-30%.”

The company is about to go into mass production with the device. 

Elsewhere at the show Konica’s inkjet heads could be found in a new inkjet foiling line from Spilker, which has worked with IIJ to integrate the technology (see boxout). 

Digital foiling also drew crowds on the Domino booth which showed its new K600i digital foiling line.

“Variable data foiling is extremely difficult to replicate so it’s ideal for security applications,” says Domino director of digital printing Philip Easton. “We’ve been overwhelmed with interest for brand protection as well as embellishments, although
our focus is security and anti-counterfeiting.”

Domino also entered the hybrid field with its N610i integration module, which was shown on an AB Graphic platform. “We’ve already got our first order,” Easton added. 

Label substrates was another area that was not short of innovation. Lintec made much of its new micro channel structure, which solves the problem of air bubbles forming when applying pressure sensitive adhesive substrates. It invited visitors to put the technology to the test on its booth and described it as “totally ground-breaking and unique”.

Avery Dennison vaunted its new generation of water-based adhesives, Truecut, and pushed the right buttons with customers by saying it allowed printers to run their presses faster “sometimes 100% faster”.

And UPM Raflatac showcased a new range of print-on-demand labels as well as Vanish, an ultra-thin clear film label that gives a no-label look on jars and cans. 

It also promoted its LabelLife concept which looks at the environmental impact of the entire label lifecycle. “This is pioneering – it’s never been done before,” says the firm’s vice-president of stakeholder relations Robert Taylor. 

Overall, the mood at the show was upbeat. “My lasting thoughts are that we at AJS have made the right decisions, firstly to keep investing, you cannot afford to get left behind and secondly the investment decisions my team have made over the last few years have been spot on – Cerm MIS, quick changeover flexo, quality inspection systems, quality finishing machines, and leading-edge high-quality HP digital,” adds Scrimgeour. 

And it seems the quantity and quality of visitors was of a level that will keep exhibitors happy. 

Antony Cotton, technical sales manager at Nottingham-based label press manufacturer Focus Label Machinery, is one such exhibitor: “Two years ago, it felt like people were looking at technology and researching their options. This show, people are in the mood to buy and they’re ready to do it.” 

Labelexpo: selected product launches

The British designed and manufactured Dantex Picocolour II inkjet label press received its worldwide premiere. The £182,000 press uses Xaar 1002 heads with a resolution of 360x360dpi and eight greyscales, which Dantex said delivered an effective resolution of 1,080dpi. It runs at 25m/min at top resolution, or 35m/min at top speed, and is described as being “priced for the mid-market”.

Also banging the drum for British product development, Impression Technology Europe showed two new models: the £35,000 Eclipse LF DC220 die-cutter, a 220mm device that can interface to any suitable printer inline; and a new concept machine, the Vortex. This uses Memjet waterfall printheads and marries a label printer with an LF DC220 to create a complete inline printing and finishing system.

HP showed its new Color Automation Package for the WS6800, for automated on-press colour matching with continuous colour calibration. Media fingerprints can be exported and imported across different presses. It also highlighted its new Premium White capability, which it claimed offered the widest range of opacity levels in the market – up to “screen-like”. 

Domino showed the K600i variable foiling line and new N610i integration module for hybrid printing applications. 

Industrial Ink Jet (IIJ) was involved in two new implementations for Konica Minolta inkjet heads at Labelexpo. The firm showed the MonoPrint 500i system on its own booth. The 20in (508mm) single-colour configuration on an AB Graphic Omega platform was printing 600x1,200dpi resolution at 100m/min. Separately, IIJ worked with flexible die and rotary tool specialist Spilker on a new variable cold foiling system. The foiling line is equipped with IIJ’s 142 Colour Print system, jetting a type of varnish that the foil sticks to.  

Konica Minolta brought its toner-based roll-to-roll label printer to market under a new name, the bizhub Press C71cf. The system uses Miyakoshi unwind and rewinding technology. It was shown as a prototype at the previous Labelexpo and then at Ipex 2014 as the C70RLC. The C71cf has a maximum 330mm web width and 320mm image width, with a maximum image size of 1,200x320mm. Print speed is up to 18.9m/min. It uses low-temperature fusing technology and Simitri HDE toner, and can print on a wide range of materials. It is priced at around £175,000 and will be available early next year. 

Xeikon showed a new concept, Fusion, that pulls together different digital modules. On its booth a Fusion line featured a ‘screen white’ equivalent printed using an inkjet module prior to a Xeikon print engine. It will work with third parties on some of the options.

MIS developer Shuttleworth partnered with Esko in a move aimed at saving customers’ administration time when exporting files into Esko’s Automation Engine. The new partnership will enable Shuttleworth customers to save administration time by passing job specification details directly from the Shuttleworth MIS into a pre-defined folder, which is then imported directly into Esko’s Automation Engine.

Heidelberg subsidiary Gallus announced that it has installed two of its DCS 340 hybrid conventional/inkjet label printing presses. The show marked the official sales launch for the system, which uses Fujifilm heads. Gallus is also looking at the potential for printing lightweight carton stock on the DCS 340.

Nilpeter launched a new integrated digital inkjet label press, designed for fast makereadies and quick turnarounds. The firm’s Panorama product line, including the five-colour DP-3 UV inkjet unit, uses UV inkjet and workflow technology from Screen and a Nilpeter integrated finishing line.

Xaar showed its new inkjet print bar, which will be available in widths from 210mm-560mm and can be integrated into conventional label printing lines. 

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