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August 31, 2007

Brussels show promises further advances in full color inkjet printing

Narrow Web Europe

Brussels show promises further advances in full color inkjet printing

By Barry Hunt

Inkjet color printing has promised much, but has yet to make any meaningful impact on the digital label printing scene. Of course, the process is already well established in wide format display printing, as well for handling transactional print on high speed rollfed presses. However, its progress in printing PSA labels and packaging is looking brighter with the adoption of the latest drop-on-demand CMYK printheads, backed by UV curable inks and coatings. These were evident at Ipex 2006 and later at Labelexpo in Chicago. Here’s a taste of what we can expect at this year’s show in Brussels.

Much is expected from the Jetrion 4000 Series, now backed by EFI after it bought the company from Flint Group late last year. A new European sales team has been assembled to establish the 4000 Series as a viable digital color printer for labels and packaging. In fact, the first commercial sale was made recently to True Label of Toledo, OH, USA. The 4000 Series can print at up to 100 feet/minute in 4" and 8" standard widths with custom widths available. EFI’s Fiery XF RIP drives the machine, which will be augmented at Labelexpo with the Jetrion 3025 monochrome UV inkjet printer.

Sun Chemical, of Northlake, IL, USA, will shine some much-needed light on its four-color SolarJet. Fully beta tested, it was developed with Imaging Technology International of Boulder, CO, USA, while UK-based Xaar provided the Omnidot grayscale heads. A variety of print widths allows converters to use their existing dies and converting equipment. The company says SolarJet minimizes press setup times and prints at up to 80 linear feet/minute, making it ideal for large volumes of short run label jobs. The machine shown at Labelexpo will operate with the optional XFO system for controlling fine text and bar code requirements. It will also appear nearby at the show on Rotoflex’s booth, operating with compatible inline and offline converting options.

Interestingly, in a recent L&NW article on digital printing, a business development manager for inkjet business at Sun Chemical, said that it was a logical step for the company to enter the inkjet market: “The OEM print head providers, such as the Spectras and the Xaars, have been struggling in this area. The next level up is the integrators who are developing them into presses and the business solution, if you will. Then you have the chemistry providers.”

Nilpeter’s entry into the inkjet world will certainly surprise many visitors. It is introducing an integrated CMYK inkjet module, named Caslon, based on Xaar’s latest grayscale printheads. It can integrate with specific Nilpeter UV flexo and offset presses, or operate as a stand-alone machine when run with unwind/rewind units. The electronic systems controller allows fully variable data printing on the fly or single-copy printing of full-color labels on practically any material. Depending on choice of grayscale levels, the top speed can reach 160 feet per minute.

One of the Holy Grails of digital printing is to combine it with a method of diecutting that is not only affordable, but also complements the entire production process. Allen Datagraph Systems thinks it has the answer with its second-generation technology, included in the IL-600. Described as a “totally digital inline turnkey printing and cutting system”, it combines a VIP Color 2020 inkjet module with lamination, digital diecutting, stripping, slitting, and rewinding. The package also includes a fully functional design station with pre-loaded label design and operating software for handling a mix of short-run labeling work. The line speeds are said to be compatible with the emerging digital print engines: The tangential cutting head operates at up to 150 inches per second on a 13" web width. This is claimed to represent a stable, high-speed alternative to higher priced, laser-based systems.

Another full-color development for labels and packaging follows a collaboration between Panasonic and the French company Impika Jetting Solutions. The PBX600 boasts an advanced printhead with integrated data management giving a 600 x 600 dpi print resolution at a top speed of 492 feet/minute. The maximum web width is just under 19". Printing is from 29 modules organzed in a single one- or two-color array to obtain full color printing.

Latest technology for wine labels in Verona

Wet glue applied labels still dominate the European wine scene. Nevertheless, rollfed pressure sensitive labels are steadily increasing their share of the market, especially in Italy. This has led several converters to install fairly sophisticated webfed presses and finishing lines to either augment or replace sheetfed offset presses. The extra capacity invariably means these printers seek customers outside of wineries, with a new type of technology additionally providing an assist into producing film based products. A good example of this practice is Grafiche Seven, founded in 1969 and located in Verona. This is also Italy’s biggest province for the production of DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) wines.

The company moved into narrow web production in 2002 and a year later installed a Muller Martini A74. This move led to expansion into shrink sleeves, film and paper wraparounds and inmold labels for the soft drink, mineral water and motor oil sectors. The latest addition is a top-of-the-range Muller Martini Alprinter-V 74, fitted with six offset units and two UV flexo units. The maximum web width is 29" and top speed is around 1,000 feet/minute.

Adapted from commercial applications, the variable format V 74 uses lightweight, polymer-based sleeves for the plate and offset blanket cylinders, rather than heavy, conventional print cassettes. They allow quick job changeovers with varying repeat lengths, aided by automatic register control and a remote inking system. Turners bars allow front and reverse side printing of either paper or film substrates.

According to Luciano Venturi, founder and president, this level of technology accords with the company’s work patterns: “Years ago, runs were much longer, about 15 to 20 million labels for mineral water or milk cartons. Nowadays, due to the increasing number of promotional campaigns, the graphic variants have multiplied and consequently the production lots have been reduced. In this case, web offset technology offers interesting opportunities.”

Muller Martini now offers inline laminating and matrix removal capabilities for the Alprinta-V series. The laminating station is located on the redesigned UV flexo module and can apply a UV curable adhesive to the substrate during production. A film is then dispensed onto the web to pass under the UV lamps for curing. The matrix waste module utilizes a draw roller and doctor blades to cut labels in a rotary process using flexible plates on a magnetic cylinder.

Artwork-Esko merger creates a $249 million prepress giant

The words “prepress” and “consolidation” are intrinsically linked, but the latest megabucks deal will put many in the shade. It combines two of the industry’s largest players — Artwork Systems Group NV and Esko-Graphics A/S — into a group with combined sales of €180 million (US$243 million), based on estimated 2007 revenues. The former rivals happen to be headquartered in Gent, Belgium, with both serving niche prepress markets in the packaging and commercial printing sectors. Each has an extensive presence in Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific, giving a combined workforce of more than 1,000 employees.

The deal was put together by Axcel, Esko’s controlling shareholder and Denmark’s largest private equity group. It follows the sale by Artwork’s three founders and principal shareholders — Guido Van der Schueren, Peter Denoo and Bart Denoo — of 13 million-plus shares at €11.50 (US$15.50) each for cash. At the time of the announcement in early August, this represented a near 77 percent majority stake, valuing Artwork at €196 million (US$264 million). A mandatory public offer is underway for all of the remaining Artwork shares at €11.50 each. Assuming it eventually acquires 95 percent of the share capital, Esko will launch a buyout offer.

Carsten Knudsen, currently Esko’s CEO and future CEO of the combined group, says the merger represents a significant consolidation, especially in the packaging segment. It bundles the expertise, products and customer networks of both companies. “Our attention now goes first and foremost to protect our respective customers’ investments in our solutions, and to work closely with them to respond to their future requirements.”

Guido Van der Schueren, Artwork’s chairman, will become chief commercial officer. From the 1990s he guided the group’s growth, which includes offices in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the UK, and USA, plus support structures in other countries. Products include ArtPro, Nexus and Odystar prepress/workflow systems, Enfocus preflighting software, and CAD software. It plans to launch a label version of its Nexus-Odystar system at Labelexpo. During fiscal 2006, Artwork’s turnover was €46.48 million (US$62.65 million).

Esko was formed following the absorption of Purup-Eskofot and Barco Graphics. Products include packaging preproduction systems, CAD software, Cyrel Digital Imagers for flexo plates and sleeves, and Kongsberg cutting and creasing tables. It has more than 700 employees worldwide, with R&D and manufacturing facilities located in Belgium, Germany, Norway, the UK, USA, and the Czech Republic. Esko has regional sales and support organizations throughout Europe, North America and the Asia/Pacific region, including Japan and China. For the year 2006, Esko’s revenues reached €127 million (US$171 million).

Automated roll handling benefits Swiss printer

The trend toward high performance presses among the larger European converters has seen a corresponding increase in nonstop roll handling. Martin Automatic in particular has carved out a useful niche in the labeling sector for its MBSF butt splicers and LRD transfer rewind units. The most recent order for these units was for a 10-color Gallus RCS 330 flexo/screen combination line, operated by Permapack AG, in Rorschach, Switzerland. The Martin units will handle 40" rolls at 500 feet per minute with the dual aim of reducing waste and expensive machine downtime. Mark Lehmann, head of Permapack’s Packaging Division, says, “One machine length of material can easily represent 8 percent of the entire roll, so any saving is valuable.”

Permapack was one of the first companies to install the servo driven Gallus RCS 330 presses in 2001. Its fourth was installed in August, joining two Gallus EM 410 UV flexo presses and other narrow web equipment. Lehmann says the third RCS 330 — also with 10-color units — generates appreciably more turnover than the number two machine, partly because of the Martin equipment, but also because of the different job structure that Permapack uses on it. “Even when you take into account the more expensive substrates we are using on the number three machine, the improvement is still better than 50 percent.” Basing his calculations on triple shift working, he says the company saved the equivalent of around US$150,000 annually in reducing substrate waste alone. Avoiding press stoppages to change reels manually brought additional savings on machine downtime.

Six years ago Permapack handled around 12,000 jobs every year. This number has since fallen to 9,000, but while the runs have not lengthened, the number of versions of each job has increased typically to 30 to 40. “This contributed to the decision to invest in automated splicers and rewinds, because we now have fewer substrate changes,” Lehmann says.

Permapack remains an independent family-run business with 230 employees, of whom 120 work in its modern factory close to Lake Constance. Founded in 1958, it began by importing and selling self-adhesive tapes and moved into printing in the mid 1960s. The merchant side of the group’s business still accounts for 60 percent of turnover and includes products for the industrial, construction and DIY markets.
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