Narrow Web Europe

The best of both worlds

By John Penhallow | November 21, 2013

If you come from the German-speaking part of Italy, you need to acquire the best of both worlds: Italian flair combined with German precision. And if you are combining these successfully while building narrow web digital presses in the town of Brixen (Bressanone), you are probably Durst Phototechnik. This relative newcomer to the world of labels – they entered the race in 2009 – is having considerable success with its digital inkjet presses which succeed in being both stylish and solid. According to sales manager Helmut Munther, Durst’s new low migration UV inks are suitable for labeling foods, and their opaque white ink is proving a winner for clear-on-clear labels. Press speed is around 150 fpm in five-color printing, on labelstock or on unsupported film. Durst started off providing printing equipment for the pharmaceutical industry, and Munther reacts sharply when he hears it said that inkjet isn’t accurate enough. He admits however that the company will next year bring out a digital label press specially designed for pharmaceutical labels. Other new projects in the pipeline include a solvent-free silver ink. Press and finishing line together can cost up to an eye-watering $1.6 million for the top-of-the-range, complete with bells and whistles. Couldn’t one get something similar for less money from one of the 40 or more other digital label press manufacturers? “You get what you pay for,” says Munther, dryly.

A global giant in the making
Cynics have often described Austria as a backwater, but a holding company based in Traun, Upper Austria, is quietly establishing itself as a global player in the label and printed packaging sector. CTI Invest AG has over the years acquired companies in Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Columbia. Now it is present in its own home market, having acquired Ulikett (the subject of a recent “Companies to Watch” feature in L&NW). Ulikett, hitherto a family-owned and managed business founded by Gerhard Ulrich, has over 100 employees and sales of $36 million. CTI Invest has previously concentrated on the in-mold and sleeve label markets; with Ulikett under its belt it is also well placed in the pressure sensitive business.

Another region of Europe which doesn’t get much news coverage is Scandinavia. It has breathtaking scenery, clean cities and politicians who generally seem to agree on how best to run the country. But it is perhaps just a little dull. That is maybe why the rise of Norwegian label converter PSI has not set the label world a-buzzing. In June of this year, PSI acquired fellow-Norwegian Etikett-Produsenten, and in September announced the acquisition of Sydetikett, just 23 employees but still one of Sweden’s largest label producers. Both of these recently-acquired companies are specialized in digital label printing and converting. Jorgen Waaler, CEO of the PSI Group, reckons that the combined label sales of the group will be around $25 million. That makes PSI a big fish – admittedly in a smallish pool.

On a slightly smaller scale, France’s Barat Group has finally taken the plunge into digital printing, ordering an HP Indigo WS6600 during the recent Labelexpo show. According to a survey carried out by the French label magazine Etiq & Pack, Barat is the last-but-one of France’s top twenty label converters to “go digital.” Under its new owner Manuel Lenglet, Barat has built up a network of five plants in the center and South of France, covering in particular the regions of Côte du Rhône, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Beaujolais. With this coverage, there will be no prizes for guessing what type of labels Barat specializes in. The group’s distinctive advantage over other wine label converters lies in its graphic design service, employing ten specialist designers. This means Barat can offer creative ideas and mock-ups to France’s thousands of small vignerons as well as to cooperatives and brand owners. Competition in the French wine market is fierce, and getting fiercer with the recent, and so far tentative arrival of Australian and new world wines, and with supermarkets planning wine promotions which are upsetting the traditional distribution channels. “Barat Group’s aim is precisely to help clients market their wines better by providing expertise in terms of creativity, innovation and customer service,” says Lenglet. “The new digital press will mean we can now offer our customers test runs of 50 or so labels, and be certain that the bigger order, if and when it comes, will be identical in every respect to the trial run.”

The Herma team cyclced to Labelexpo, raising $55,000 for three charities.

Monsieur Chauvin rides again
French wine exports will be worth around ten billion dollars this year, despite a disappointing harvest in 2012. Since nearly all of this is exported in bottles, this translates into something over 1.7 billion labels, just for exports, to which must be added the very considerable quantity of bottles that never gets beyond the frontiers. When it comes to wine imports however, the situation is very different. Nicolas Chauvin, the man who gave his name to chauvinism, was a Frenchman, and foreign wines are still finding the French market a hard nut to crack. Last week your correspondent visited three local supermarkets and two specialty wine stores, looking for foreign wines. He found a few South American ones, a couple of entry-level Moroccan, Italian and Spanish ones, and that is all. It would have been good to find a few North American labels, if only to flatter the readers of this article, but no luck.

If Europeans don’t drink much American wine, they do buy plenty of US-made label presses. Mark Andy has been a household name in Europe for as long as most people can remember, and more recently several US manufacturers of digital narrow web presses have been making inroads into the European market. Epson, for example, reports sales of 22 digital label presses in Europe, the latest sale being to France’s Label G2, which has just ordered its second Epson Surepress (the first was installed in 2011). Label G2’s CEO Fabrice Coste reckons this six-color digital inkjet press gives him offset quality across a wide range of substrates, including structured papers for wine labels. Epson claims to be the third biggest supplier of digital label presses in Europe, behind HP Indigo and Xeikon. The other US manufacturer with a strong presence in Europe is Primera, with European HQ in Germany. Primera recently launched what it called the “Fastest Desktop Label Printer in the World,” and has had considerable success throughout Europe with its flagship label press the CX1000e, arguably the lowest cost of any roll-to-roll digital label press on the European market. Allen Datagraph, pretty much a direct competitor of Primera, is so far only lightly present in Europe, but exhibited, for the third time, at Labelexpo Europe this year. CEO Mark Vanover, meeting potential customers and agents on his booth at the show, told your correspondent “We don’t really compete with the two market leaders in the digital press business – in fact several of our customers are already using Indigo or Xeikon presses, and they find that ours are better for the really short runs, so we complement the big boys.” Helped by the favorable exchange rate, Allen Datagraph will be looking to establish itself in European markets in the very near future.

‘Linerless or less liner’
At an AWA conference held in Brussels just before Labelexpo, Mike Cooper of UK’s Catchpoint gave a short presentation entitled “Linerless or Less Liner,” giving different approaches to the economic and ecological problems of liner. He doubted whether the “thinner and thinner” strategy can go further. “I can’t see widespread use for a face material of 40 microns or less,” he said. “The rigidity required at the labeling stage requires a minimum of 50 microns.” Same thing for the 12 micron liner which, according to Cooper, is great in theory, but less efficient in practice since the end user generally does not have the skills to successfully implement such a delicate label. Having demolished the “less liner,” Cooper went on to tackle linerless. In his opinion the linerless label applicator developed by Avery, with its heat-activated adhesive, “does not meet the bill” because in his opinion it is “too complicated.” As for the ETI Converting solution with a “temporary” liner running in closed loop, Cooper described it as “ingenious” but doubt that many end users want to get involved in diecutting and disposal of matrix waste. So, no solution in sight? Not so fast! says Mike Cooper. A revolutionary solution is now hull up on the horizon, thanks to the partnership between Ritrama, Prati and Ilti, the latter being the Italian licensee for…Catchpoint. The new solution was indeed shown, the following day, at the opening of Labelexpo, but only with a video film. Will it turn the self-adhesive world upside down? Or will it be just another of the many linerless “miracles” that have come and gone over the last twenty years? The jury, in your correspondent’s humble opinion, is still out.

The magnificent Seven
When the English employees of a German firm organize a cycle race to the Belgian capital, it has to be something of a European event. There were seven of them, all Herma employees, at the start of the six-day race, and unbelievably, still seven at the finish when they were greeted on the steps of the main entrance to Labelexpo by Tarsus CEO Doug Emslie. The exercise raised a total of $55,000 for three charities, the donations coming from labelstock producer Herma, its trade partners, and the families, friends and fellow employees of the racers.
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