Label converters and packaging converters both got important news recently from the world of color digital printing, that HP Indigo is installing the first of its jumbo electrophotographic presses for packaging, namely the HP Indigo 20000 for flexible packaging and HP Indigo 30000 for folding cartons. These “beta” units are setting up or testing now with customers in Europe, North America and Japan, and are significant for a few reasons:
• Both HP Indigo digital packaging printers are built off of the same engine as HP Indigo 10000, over 90 of which have been placed for commercial printing since the drupa show in 2012.
• Of the 29” web/B2 sheetfed digital presses unveiled at drupa for packaging, the HP Indigo 20000 and 30000 are the first to ship multiple units, with a total of 10 betas by June now likely.
• HP Indigo is the top supplier of color digital presses to the label industry, with likely a few hundred converter customers globally, many of whom want to expand into packaging.
For readers of Label and Narrow Web, the HP Indigo 20000 will be the more interesting of the two presses, because it’s a web press (HP Indigo 30000 for folding cartons is sheetfed, the same as the HP Indigo 10000), and because it’s suited for flexible packaging, where digital printing has only a tiny foothold, and for label printing, where digital print is well established. The new press has a 30” wide web, printing in CMYKOV colors, and also white, up to 29” wide (equal to the long side of a “B2” sheet), with a repeat interval of up to 44 inches. HP Indigo 20000 uses the same “liquid electrophotography” (LEP) as the narrow web HP Indigo WS4000 and WS6000 Series label presses, but its web is more than twice as wide. After a “priming unwinder” applies an aqueous primer to allow the use of off-the-shelf media, HP Indigo 20000 prints film, aluminum foil, paper, and other substrates from 10 to 250 microns (0.4 to 10 points), thus a range of media from thin, unsupported film up to the caliper of most labelstocks.
HP Indigo 20000 also includes the “one shot” color technology seen in HP Indigo’s current narrow web label presses. In the “one shot” approach, all color separations are assembled on a “blanket” and then laid down simultaneously in a single pass onto the substrate; the approach ensures exact registration, always a concern but especially so when printing thin films. The HP Indigo 20000 retains one other core feature of company’s latest color label presses, the ability to print in CMY only (“Enhanced Productivity Mode”). Besides saving toner costs (“clicks”), CMY-only printing allows the 20000 to reach its highest speed – 147 feet per minute.
Unique in the B2 Crew
What’s special about this digital press? The short answer is that it’s unique among existing or foreseeable digital packaging presses, because it’s designed specifically for flexible packaging. All the other B2 packaging presses for packaging from drupa that we expect to see launch in the next year (Fujifilm, Konica Minolta, Landa, Océ, and Screen) target folding cartons. At the same time, that application is also a focus for Xeikon, HP Indigo’s main rival in toner-based color label presses. The Xeikon 3500 (2011), with a 20” web, can produce B2-sized images (20” is the short side of a B2 sheet), and can be configured to print folding cartons; Xeikon, in fact, offers a “Folding Carton Suite,” which includes the 3500 plus dedicated media, workflow software, and diecutting.
Folding carton printing is a simpler application than flexible packaging in terms of media, and much less subject to scrutiny as potential food packaging. With the 20000 press, though, HP Indigo’s main target is a tough one, the printing of unsupported film for use in making mainly pouches and bags. Most will hold foods or beverages, so flexible package printing and materials are often a focus for brand owners in terms of product safety. On that, HP Indigo has heavily documented the safety of its toners, and established standards for the most common flexible packaging films as barrier materials, such as polypropylene and polyethylene. (We note that for flexible packaging, the HP Indigo 20000 is designed to print just the non-food contact side of the media.)
Out in the marketplace, brand owners are watching: Many want color digital printing to succeed in flexible packaging, because they want a cost effective option to print short runs, similar to the options they have now to print short runs of labels.
Yes, label converters
Four of the HP Indigo 20000s have been installed as of May 1, 2014, with one each placed at Innovative Labeling Solutions (Cincinnati, OH, USA), Wipf Packaging AG (Zurich, Switzerland), RAKO Etiketten (Germany), and Seikou Packaging (Japan), and one more has just been announced, Emerald Packaging, a flexible packaging converter based in Union City, CA, USA.
Note the names – two of the first four installations are at label converters, each a longtime user of HP Indigo narrow web presses. That finding is indicative; we expected the HP Indigo 20000 to mostly be placed with flexible packaging converters, but in a recent visit to HP Indigo, managers there confirmed that a good share of the letters of intent for the HP Indigo 20000, possibly as much as half, are from label converters.
Which label converters will buy an HP Indigo 20000? Probably they are big converters, with big customers. Most label converters who invest will likely be veteran users of narrow web digital presses, with Innovative Labeling Solutions and RAKO as good examples. Label converters who invest in the new press may also be printing big labels, such as paint can labels or large decals, which will impose more easily on the wider web. That said, the new press will also print a few label types where digital printing is young or small, and where higher digital productivity will be much valued. One is wraparound film labels and two others, starting in 2015, will be in-mold labels (IML) and sleeves.
Whatever their size or label segments, companies that invest will have to have enough business to keep a wide web digital press heavily occupied, since the price of an HP Indigo 20000 installation is likely $1.5 million or more.
What about label converters and flexible packaging? That application has been an adjacent one for label converters for a long time, but it has been barely tapped by users of narrow digital webs. HP Indigo has prepped the way for its wider web 20000, though, by fostering for several years the printing of flexible packaging on its narrow format HP Indigo WS6000 Series.
Flexible packaging today is a profitable side application for some label converters using HP Indigo label presses, and it is also the main application for rare digital shops that specialize in flexible packaging. HP Indigo has helped things along, such as by qualifying film media for it from Avery Dennison and others, and partnering with Karlville and AB Graphic for finishing. Those first steps by HP Indigo and its customers into flexible packaging have helped set the stage for a new, much more productive digital press for that application, a system that will be of interest to many printers, including label converters.
Bob Leahey is associate director at InfoTrends, a market research and strategic consulting firm for the imaging, document solutions, production print, and digital media industries. He is also the main analyst for InfoTrends’ Color Digital Label and Package (CDLP) continuous information service.