- August 08, 2003, Barry Hunt, Tarsus Group
This year's main event for the label and product decoration industry is Labelexpo Europe 2003. Barry Hunt places some of the trends and challenges facing converters in the context of the show.
As a niche trade exhibition for the labels and web packaging industry, the Labelexpo series has always attracted a loyal following among exhibitors and visitors alike. The fifteenth Labelexpo Europe—being held 24 through 27 September at the Parc des Expositions in Brussels—will be no different. It will give this industry an unparalleled chance to assess the latest technical and marketing trends, as well as the usual networking opportunities. A three-day series of seminars complements the biennial event, which is organized by The Labels Group at Tarsus Group (worldoflabels.com).
Most visitors will represent the major European markets, as well as many from much further afield. Also expected is a large contingent from the fast-growing markets in Eastern Europe, especially Russia, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Their growing influence typifies the many changes taking place in this industry.
For the more established converters, the prime consideration is facing the challenges arising from a marked economic downturn in several key markets. Nevertheless, the overall feeling is one of optimism, especially as label volumes continue to grow in most markets, although at vastly different rates.
While giving a positive feel to the show, the realism of a market dominated by consolidation and globalization will never be far from the surface. For example, over-capacity in key label sectors is a real problem. It has placed pressure on margins and forced prices down in relative terms.
At the same time, more end-users and brand owners look for integrated label and packaging services, backed by supply chain management and full IT support, including digital proofing. In short, producing high-quality products is not enough. Today's converters must adapt to changing market conditions, reduce operating costs and, if possible, improve overall efficiencies through using modern process controls and management-information systems.
These issues will dominate Labelexpo Europe 2003, both on the exhibition floor and during the seminar presentations. In general, most of the nearly 400 exhibitors present will be promoting equipment and supplies for the pressure-sensitive label market, as well as substrates for this and the traditional wet-glue label sector.
Completing the picture will be the newer, alternative product decoration technologies. They include shrink sleeves, wrap-around labels, in-mold labels for plastic containers, pouches, and other flexible packaging products. Similarly, producing small folding cartons in a single-pass is sure to be a strong feature of several press demonstrations.
The Five Halls
Digitized origination and proofing systems, as well as conventional flexo and computer-to-plate technology, will be well represented at the show, with major companies like Artwork Systems, Creo, DuPont, and Esko-Graphics taking part.
Also occupying the five exhibition halls are many hundreds of separate exhibits from manufacturers of label substrates, ancillary finishing equipment, rotary tooling, UV-curing systems, anilox rolls, slitter/rewinders, label inspection systems, inks and coatings, and much else.
More specialized exhibits will include holograms, security laminates, films and foils, as well as special printing inks with anti-theft, packaging protection, and tamper-evident features. Exhibits featuring low-cost, radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology for labels, tickets, and tags will doubtless attract attention.
These are all essential components of the industry, but arguably it is the narrow web technology that provides the sharper insights into the industry's major concerns and ambitions. They [are critical to] meeting ever-shorter run lengths and turning work around as quickly as possible with minimum waste.
Over the years we have seen advances with slide-in/out print cassettes, automated register controls, web tension systemsm, and remote inking systems. Times of 10 minutes or less for complete job changes involving a minimum of four process colors in register—including die-cut register—are no longer exceptional for such set-piece demonstrations.
Narrow Web Insights
Another major issue is flexibility. Most press makers recognize that they must move on and provide application-oriented machines. This implies interchangeable print units—perhaps involving several different print processes—and ancillaries that can add value to finished products. Fortunately, narrow web technology provides unbeatable levels of customization involving a choice of all the mainstream print processes.
The overall effect has been to open up opportunities for those converters who feel the need to move from commodity products to such things as multi-layer labels, small cartons, or film-based packaging products, for example.
Multi-substrate production has encouraged the wider adoption of gearless technology based on servo-driven controls for web guides, tension controllers, and print register controls. Gidue from Italy launches the E-Combat, in widths of 280mm, 370mm, and 530mm. It also features the new IML-EDL delivery system for producing in-mold labels.
Nilpeter plans to show four new servo-driven versions of established flexo and offset presses. It will also introduce Drop-In, a low-cost, screen printing module for its FA-3300 flexo press, as well as a retrofit gravure module for its offset-based M 3300 series that uses UV-curable inks.
Ko-Pack International introduces a new Euroflex twelve-color flexo or UV flexo press designed to produce wraparound labels for PET bottles. It prints up to six colors on either side of a single web or on two separate webs.
Edale's new flagship, the servo-driven Sigma label and packaging press, is featured and available in web widths from 330mm to 620mm.
Faster job changes, as mentioned earlier, means that the cut-off point for rotary narrow web run lengths can be as low as 25,000 labels or less, or even 10,000 labels with slower, semi-rotary presses. Some argue conventional printing begins to compete with digital production printing at this level. They could also add, after a decade of development, there are still only around 200 digital presses installed worldwide.
A longer-term view sees a digital future, especially if label buyers require even shorter runs for marketing campaigns and "just-in-time" production at the end of the supply chain.
Personalization is a prime digital strength, although in reality most applications revolve around proofing, test marketing, and certain promotional applications.
Another form of digital printing is the in-line overprinting of variable data, graphics, or codes on plain or part-printed tags and labels for logistical and security-based applications. Mark Andy introduces the DT ink jet printing module, developed with dotrix (formerly Barco Graphics) and fitted on a Model 2200 flexo press. Its UV-cured inks offers four-color graphics, allowing 100% variable data and a useful short-run capability.
Also making its European debut is the digital Flying Imprint station, fitted to the entirely servo-driven Gallus RCS 330 press. Users can change copy at production speed. Demonstrations will show the ease of changing from pressure-sensitive label laminates to shrink sleeve labels on 15-micron PVC film.
Ink jet printer manufacturer Domino U.K. is introducing Domino ON-Demand, a series of variable data modules with a prepress and proofing capability.
Buyers and other decision makers naturally will view these and other developments with an eye to helping their businesses meet the many challenges they face in a changing market.
Whether they do or not is another question, but at least during the four days of Labelexpo Europe 2003 they will have the chance to see the most comprehensive collection of options upon which to make these decisions.