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April 7, 2006

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Norprint takeover strengthens Magnadata’s security label business

By Barry Hunt

Norprint Labelling Systems of Boston in Lincolnshire, was among those featured in L&NW’s Companies to Watch feature in the October 2005 issue. Things have moved along since then. The UK company is still worth watching, but it is now owned by near-neighbor Magnadata International Ltd. As mentioned in the feature, Norprint has more than 150 years of experience and is one of Europe’s largest independent labeling systems companies. It has always been an innovative company, especially in developing specialized security labeling products, many of which incorporate either a magnetic coating application or RFID technology. Magnadata says the firm will continue to trade under the Norprint name from its Boston facilities, but with a new logo.

Although widely known throughout Europe and beyond, Norprint had mixed fortunes throughout much of the 1990s. The owners, a building supplies group, finally sold the company in 1998 to a management team led by Alex Evans, managing director. Turnover is now around £18.8 million ($32.95 million) from supplying all types of labels, tags and tickets, labeling software, and services to more than 2,500 companies throughout the UK and Europe. Not surprisingly, its security division became a prime target for expansion-minded Magnadata, particularly as group managing director, Roy Colclough, was a former Norprint employee. Besides manufacturing facilities in Boston, it has a plant in Sydney, Australia. There are sales offices located in France and Spain, and Magnadata USA Inc. is based in Lakewood, NJ. Magnadata’s group turnover is £13.2 million ($24.14 million) with 193 employees.

“The acquisition of Norprint creates a stronger business. The wider product diversity will enhance our ability to grow and develop into exciting new markets,” said Colclough. “From a personal point of view and the view of my board colleagues, the opportunity to bring together the knowledge, skills and expertise of all the Magnadata and Norprint employees was simply irresistible. I strongly believe the real value in any company depends on the quality of its workforce and there is no question that this enlarged group has some of the best people in the business. Everyone connected with the company at our sites in the USA, Australia, France, and the UK is looking forward to building a strong future together.”

In its aim to become among the leaders in RFID tag and label technology, Magnadata recently spent £1.5 million ($2.62 million) in R&D and installing a new production line. It works with Thales in France and Philips in the Netherlands. Last year Magnadata gained a large contract to supply limited-use smart cards in Oslo. Other large volume customers in the transit, logistics and leisure sectors include the London Underground, New York Metro, Sydney Rail Authority, Royal Mail, TNT, Manchester City Football Club, and the Ryder Cup organization.

Why a metallic inks company is sponsoring a very fast boat

Company sponsorships among print-related suppliers were all the rage in the 1980s when brand building stepped up a gear. Inflationary pressures then kicked in and so the bean counters were forced to curb the wilder excesses of many a marketing department. There is something faintly nostalgic therefore about the decision by MetalFX, a UK licenser of metalized print products, to become the official sponsor of Quicksilver, a very fast boat that will attempt the World Water Speed record later this year. The craft was officially unveiled on April 4, the first day of Ipex 2006 at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, and displayed throughout the duration of the 11-day print show. Nigel Macknight, the pilot and full-time writer, promoted his book about the project and signed MetalFX Quicksilver publicity material.

Apparently, the world water speed record has a long and colorful history. Previous holders and challengers have included the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, Lawrence of Arabia, and four previous holders of the world land speed record. Macknight and Quicksilver are Britain’s contenders to win the World Water Speed Record — currently 317.60 mph (511.11 kph) — back from Australia. He will be piloting a three-ton craft with a 25,000 horsepower Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engine at his back on Coniston Water in England’s Lake District. Incidentally, this is the same stretch of water where Donald Campbell made his legendary, but ill-fated, attempt on the record with Bluebird on January 4 in 1967.

• MetalFX recently signed a licensing agreement that allows Sun Chemical to make and sell MetalFX inks from five locations located throughout the United States. They are St Charles, IL; Santa Fe Springs, CA; Atlanta, GA; Philadelphia, PA, and Grand Prairie, TX. MetalFX inks can be used to print up to 104 million metallic colors allowing all types of printers to achieve special effects.

Clever labels that push pressure sensitive boundaries

Labels that accurately measure elapsed time or temperatures just keep getting smarter. As an example, Timestrip Plc now offers time-lapse labels for use with ethylene absorption filters that are found on certain domestic refrigerators to help extend the shelf life of fruit and vegetables. The filters now appear in certain types of refrigerators sold in Europe by the Fagor Group, known widely in Spain and France for branded household appliances. Once activated, a non-toxic liquid dye travels across the label at a prescribed rate to show users when a filter should be changed.

In Germany, KSW Microtec AG has launched KSW-VarioSens Basic, a semi active RFID interface and a paper-thin battery. The credit card-sized label works via wireless communication in the ISM band at 13.56 MHz. KSW says it allows easy and effective monitoring of temperature sensitive goods at an affordable price with all the benefits of RFID technology. Users collect temperature information using an RFID reader for processing afterwards according to the user need. Depending on the application and measurement interval KSW-VarioSens Basic label can be re-used. The company is providing the KSW-VarioSens command set to all software integrators free of charge to simplify the development of software applications. Samples are available now ahead of series production, which begins in the next few months in Dresden, Germany.

Ciba Specialty Chemicals and FreshPoint have introduced OnVu, a new time-temperature indicator system. It allows producers of food products, retailers and consumers to check at a glance whether perishable products have been correctly supplied and stored, and their relative freshness.

The indicators are available as labels or as inks for printing on packaging.

Meeting standards for secure coded labeling system

Another clever labeling application relates to the arcane world of tracking and tracing pharmaceutical, veterinary and biological products. Prisym Medica, a UK developer of marking and coding software and hardware for labeling and packaging, has supplied a customized package to Merial, a French animal health company. The coding software, along with 2D Datamatrix code modules, will drive up to 40 variable data printers in Merial’s Lyon plant and 20 printers in Toulouse for inline printing of regulatory data on labels and cartons.

Merial’s custom made modules comply with the global standard on 2D Datamatrix codes. In practice, it takes important data such as the Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN), expiry date, batch number, and quantity and incorporates them into the two-dimensional code. This type of code has gained widespread acceptance because it can carry more information than conventional bar codes and allows more precise traceability throughout the supply chain.

“It was the only secure system we found that complies with pharmaceutical regulations worldwide, in particular FDA 21 CFR part 11 rules and the policies of the International Federation for Animal Health (IFAH) regarding the use of two-dimensional codes,” said Jean-Claude Muller, director of global supply chain support at Merial. He is also chairman of the “global traceability core team” of the IFAH.

Priysm Ltd. was formerly known as MAP80 and is based in Wokingham, Berkshire. It also has a US office in Charlotte, NC.

Smart labels that say ‘Don’t eat me’  

There's just room for yet another smart label contender. This one is a patented microbiological freshness indicator named Traceo, developed by Cryolog in France. The transparent label includes a time/temperature integrator that allows retailers and consumers to check food freshness at a glance. It can also be used in the health market, for example monitoring vaccines and  blood collection bags.

Traceo is programmed according to a preset tracing criteria and is applied directly over a bar code. Made up of a gel and microorganisms, it turns opaque when the product is no longer fit for consumption, either after excessive temperature or if storage exceeds an expiration date. When the label turns opaque, the bar code can no longer be read or scanned.

Cryolog says traceability is becoming generalized. The aim is to keep track of packaged foodstuffs from the moment of manufacture to the moment they are consumed. The label therefore warns of a  breakage in the cold chain, so heading off the risk of public health problems. Cryolog cites the recent spate of global food scares that have made consumers increasingly vigilant about the quality of perishable food products they purchase and consume. It says avian flu, mad cow disease, listeriosis, dioxin and foot-and-mouth disease have shaken consumers’ confidence and trust in the quality of food‚ and even in the whole agribusiness sector. Of course, many would argue —including some French people — that food scares are aptly named, being for the most part founded on baseless hysteria compounded by bad science.
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