Rako, one of Germany’s top label and packaging converters, is back in the news again. In September of this year they announced that they had bought no less than five of HP Indigo’s latest label press, the WS6600. Roger Gehrke, Rako’s digital printing manager, reckons that the new presses run twice as fast as the ones they will be replacing. He particularly likes the Inline Primer Unit, which allow the use of standard, uncoated substrates, which in turn reduces inventory. Interestingly, Gehrke states that short runs “…are now the backbone of our business, along with the need to print or overprint variable data like bar codes and datamatrix codes.”
Another German label converter, Tesa, has been busy developing new anti-counterfeit labels. Its PrioSpot is designed specially for wine labels (wine again) and is said to be more secure than other frequently-used devices like holograms. The PrioSpot contains overt and covert information, including a security code which can be read with a smartphone so the retailer and the consumer can quickly check if the bottle is genuine.
Reports of lower growth rates in Germany do not seem to be affecting exports of labeling and packaging machinery, according to figures just issued by the German Engineering Federation VDMA. Exports for January-June 2012 were up 13% on the same period of 2011, thanks to better than expected deliveries to the US (up 14%) and to China, where the year-on-year increase was a mouth-watering 45%.
Now that the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics are over, life in UK is getting back to normal. Unfortunately, normal this year means inflation up (slightly), industrial production down (sharply) and unemployment still stuck at around 8%. John Bambery, chairman of the recently reconstituted British label association, notes that in the UK label sector “bankruptcies are now not occurring so frequently.” This is about as close as the English get to wild optimism. Performance of label converters, he adds, vary widely, but generally those in niche markets seem to be doing better. One UK company – Paragon – is generally reckoned to be the market leader with a strong presence in supplying labels for Distributors’ Own Brand labels.
The annual congress of the European Carton Makers Association (ECMA) does not normally attract delegates from the label business. However the increasing rapprochement between label and folding carton technologies brought several well-known names to the September 2012 ECMA congress in Copenhagen. Best-known was Heidelberg, whose equipment division manager Stefan Plenz gave delegates a round-up of technical developments. First among these, he said, is the digitalization, not just of the printing press but also of the whole production process. Heidelberg of course is now the proud owner of the company formerly known as CSAT, maker of digital label presses now marketed by Heidelberg under the Linopress L name. Heidelberg has also developed the Aniflo Offset technology (similar to the system used by label press manufacturer Codimag), which gives very short setup times and which according to Plenz can beat digital into second place for any run over 250 sheets. However the central plank is Heidelberg’s integrated software program, called Prinect, which enables any production job to be set up in advance for all stages of production from design to shipping. This presentation was surely music in the ears of Jan de Roeck of Esko who took the floor to explain how Esko (whose origins are in software for label production) could equally provide integrated software solutions for most kinds of packaging, and could make it work on most makes of printing and converting equipment. (The Heidelberg solution is mainly tailor-made for Heidelberg machinery.) Also speaking at the ECMA congress was another Stefan: Stefan Hagn, head of marketing for Gallus’ folding carton division. His message was simple: traditional sheet-to-sheet production is reaching the limits and further progress towards lower costs and higher productivity can only come from a change in thinking, he said. Single pass converting is an in-line technology developed by Gallus (and others). It goes from roll to sheet to finished carton in a single pass which can include flexo, and other type of printing, as well as hot or cold foiling, rotary diecutting, folding, gluing and stacking. This inline approach to production comes as no surprise to people in the label business, but for many of the folding box converters present it was little short of revolutionary. “Weight-for-weight, rolls are cheaper than sheets,” said Hagn. “And with inline lamination, HD flexo and rotary finishing, single pass printing and converting of folding boxes is the way forward.” The question of interest for label converters is: should I be running folding boxes on my narrow web label press? And the answer from the experts seems to be, in most cases, no. The logical extension for a label converting line is into flexible packaging, and while bolt-on folding/gluing and stacking units exist for narrow web converting, most inline machinery manufacturers recommend dedicated mid-web machinery for folding carton production. Around one half of Europe’s labels are pressure sensitive, and are produced on roll-to-roll converting lines. “For folding cartons, the percentage made using single pass converting is between five and ten percent” says Gallus’ CEO Klaus Bachstein, “But the percentage is rising.”
The Emballage show, held in conjunction with Manutention (Materials Handling) from November 12-22 in Paris, has announced 1500 exhibitors total for the two events. This is more than at the last show two years ago, which is encouraging given the thunderclouds hanging over European economies. Show organizer Véronique Sestrières says: “The results of a survey of packaging buyers – conducted in May 2012 – are proof of the industry’s optimism. Some 81% of these purchasers intend to invest in the short/medium and long term, and of these, 45% aim to invest in the coming year!” Another survey, carried out by the independent body Opinion Way in four European countries, including France, showed rather surprisingly that despite all the endless, and frequently mindless, anti-packaging campaigns from newspapers and NGOs, two thirds of those polled thought that packaging could be “both sexy and virtuous,” and over 90% said packaging was “environmentally friendly.” Doesn’t that make you feel warm inside?
Feeling warm inside is obviously not enough to promote the label sector, and at the Emballage show there will be a “Label Village” centered around the French pressure sensitive label association UNFEA. Events at the village will include the fifth “Grand Prix de l’Etiquette” with numerous trophies and, this being France, winners and losers will all enjoy a gala dinner afterwards.
The expense of a visit to Paris, with or without the dinner, may be too much for some readers of L&NW, particularly so soon after Labelexpo, so just to give you the flavor of the Emballage show, your correspondent will be visiting it and will give you a blow-by-blow account in the next issue of L&NW.
It is always encouraging to see label equipment manufacturers doing business in exotic places. Fur hats off, therefore, to Federico d’Annunzio, whose company Nuova Gidue held a seminar in Almaty, the main city (and former capital) of Kazakhstan, a few months ago. This huge country, one-third the size of the United States, has been independent since the breakup of the Soviet Union and like Russia (but more discreetly), is doing very nicely thank you on its exports of oil and gas. Kazakhstan is currently enjoying annual growth of over 6%, low unemployment, and per capita GDP over $11,000 for its 17 million inhabitants. Italian label press manufacturer Nuova Gidue and its local partner Gidue Rus held a seminar in Almaty, attended by representatives of twenty Kazakh printers including market leader KazMelt. At the end of the seminar, which was devoted to modern flexo technology, the CEO of KazMelt signed a contract to buy a Gidue M5 label press. This is Gidue’s first success in Kazakhstan, and follows on from the recent sale of another M5 press to Hungarian label converter Szuperprint.
Closer to home, Czech label converter Colognia is giving the lie to detractors who still associate Central Europe with lower quality products. Colognia, which uses mainly Gallus presses, has achieved Esko’s HD Flexo certification, the first Czech printer to do so. “HD Flexo allows us to print to a very high quality,” comments CEO Jaroslav Vendl, “and HD Flexo Certification officially approves the quality standards Colognia Press has achieved. We print most of our jobs in HD Flexo using 174 lpi raster, but now we can achieve results as high as 200 lpi.”
If Kazakhstan is doing well, the same does not apply to the Czech Republic, nor to most of Europe. Even Germany’s economic performance is flagging. Latest European industrial production figures show a further deterioration over the past twelve months for most countries. Russia is progressing (it’s that oil again) and so (curiously) is Greece (up 3%), and the Scandinavian countries. For the 17 countries of the Euro area, GDP is down, industrial production is down, and the only things going up are the prices and the unemployment. All this to say that in Europe, things can only get better – but if you’re thinking of buying into a European company, well, now might be the time. Remember, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.