The drive to digital labels is accelerating

Peter Jolly, UK&I country manager, HP Indigo/PWP
Tuesday, October 13, 2020

HP's Peter Jolly shares his vision for the labels sector and highlights the post-Covid digital opportunities open to established label houses and diversifying commercial printers alike.

Before the turn of the Millennium the commercial printing industry was just getting to grips with digital. While the digital presses were ready, the finishing equipment was still largely designed for litho and the software side was building from a low base.

Through the following decades, the R&D of the digital print ecosystem began to gather serious pace to the point where it became the dominant technology in the industry.

The labels industry is on a very similar journey, and despite taking its first steps on the path to digitisation perhaps a decade or so after commercial print, it is now becoming a very digital industry. Something perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the most recent Labelexpos have had a similar ‘digital energy’ to that of the Drupas around the early part of the century.

Labels has become the fastest growing side of the HP Indigo business in the UK&I. In recent years the changing requirements from brands and consumers has helped drive the shift to digital. Brands are seeking creative ways to engage with consumers to create loyalty and demand; digital is ready-set to support this demand.

The unprecedented events of 2020 are accelerating the drive to digital with a new set of dynamics.

The Covid factor
The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the tree in pretty much all industries. Within the labels industry it appears to have put rocket fuel in its drive to becoming a mainly digital industry. Whether it be the early impacts of empty supermarket shelves requiring rapidly restocked goods or the more long-term supply chain effect of production having to undoubtedly be nearer the end user as future lockdowns become an unfortunate likelihood.

Nothing is very certain in the world right now, and the world of print is no exception, so any certainties need to be grabbed and held on to.

Companies up and down the country will all have to be readdressing their business plans for the “new norm”. This could bring opportunity for all print companies.

Brands within the food, beverage, pharmaceutical, healthcare, chemicals industries - some of the main feeders to the labels market – will all be analysing how they reach their consumers in a new way, reinvigorate difficult sales figures and create a new message to their customers. This will probably require operational and marketing creativity like we have never seen before. Digital capability will probably have a greater part to play in the solution now more than ever.

All shapes and sizes
Our experience of who is seizing the digital opportunity in labels is exceptionally varied. Over the past few years companies investing in digital have varied from global labels and packaging businesses, flexo only family owned businesses, small start-ups and more recently commercial printers looking to diversify.

Although the start points are quite different, most of the customers have shared the same consistent outcome of growing their digital output faster than the total labels market is growing itself. Some have turned off the traditional presses altogether, some have set up separate digital departments and particularly with commercial printers, they have offered it as a bolt-on to their existing web to print platforms.

In order to successfully accommodate such a diverse customer type, we’ve had to adapt as a business.

Two ears and one mouth
When a company has very different and technically unique products it is easy to become complacent. One long standing labels customer told me that in his opinion, around ten years ago, it didn’t seem that HP in the UK&I were quite focused and prepared with its labels offering. That’s probably the polite way to put it.

Therefore, as a UK team we have worked incredibly hard over the past few years to get back on track. It is a cliché, but we all have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

We have spent many hours listening to our customers, then adapting our approach and we believe we are a more experienced, empathetic and dynamic team as a result. Across the UK our digital label presses are filling up quicker than ever and our customers are giving us consistently very positive feedback.

A portfolio within reach to more companies than ever
HP Indigo label technology enables companies to produce many different types of label and packaging from pressure-sensitive labels to sleeves, in mould labels (IML), wraparounds, and flexible packaging – all with gravure–matching quality.

What’s different about this statement than five to ten years ago is that HP Indigo has many platforms to consider within the labels space to compliment any business size, average run length or application requirement. HP Indigo in the UK sells nearly as many high end 8K and 6K presses as it does 6R and 6POP (Previously Owned Presses) in the market. Therefore, HP’s customer type is changing, expanding and the amount of digital print conversations taking place with the buyers of labels is increasing.

We recently announced our new label product portfolio for the Drupa that never was. If there was any doubt about our commitment to the long-term digital label industry it was answered in three characters – V12.

V12 the engine for the future labels industry
The HP Indigo V12 narrow-web press prints at 120 linear metres/min (400 fpm) for any job with up to six colours, comparable to analogue speed. The press also supports the digital label industry’s largest range of substrates, from 12 microns unsupported film to 450-micron board, using the integrated inline primer. The press is designed with next-generation HP Indigo LEPX architecture, and is a narrow-web press that exploits the core power of HP Indigo’s Liquid Electrophotography (LEP) technology.

First in the Series 6 platform, the HP Indigo V12 offers up to 12 colours on press, a speed of up to 120 metres per minute and multiplies productivity performance to match analog speed. A new, automated colour-matching technology, Spot Master, provides the industry’s fastest time-to-colour.

Many different types of companies are already well on their way along the digital journey.

The SME Bristol Labels – HP Indigo 6R Owner

“Digital print is forever growing and although Bristol Labels are not involved in flexible packaging, the growth in this area just goes to show the customer demand for digital print. We purchased a HP Indigo nearly two years ago and haven’t looked back. We not only needed speed but needed quality and that is what the HP Indigo gives us. The HP Indigo also enabled us to grow, become more profitable and because of that, we were able to invest again more recently. Quality of the press aside, the service from everyone at HP has been outstanding and you do really feel part of the family.”
Ben Stokes managing director

The Groups Amberley Labels (Part of the Coveris Group) – 3x HP Indigo Series 3 presses

“At Amberley Blandford, our position is digital first every time. The flexibility and speed to market is of upmost importance to our customers and production team alike, especially during the pandemic when our customers find more time to push through their projects and the pressure is on us. This is very much supported by the energy of the UK sales, technical and marketing teams at HP who support us to get the most out of our three HP Indigo presses.”
Dave Richards managing director

Adding a labels business Delga Labels – HP Indigo 6900 owner

“The decision to incorporate a label division within the Delga Group was made easier for us as we already had a route to market and an outwork spend that could be brought in house. The more difficult decision was how to structure the new business and what equipment to invest in. One of Delga Press’ main USPs is high quality multi-SKU packaging and we felt this would add value within the label sector. The HP 6900 was the obvious choice. The flexibility, quality and reliability of the press complemented with the unparalleled service and support network has enabled us to hit the ground running with Delga Labels in the middle of a pandemic.”
Ian Conetta managing director


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