Drupa is the showcase for the latest inkjet technology
By Barry Hunt
Followers of the latest trends in industrial inkjet printing will have much to digest at Drupa, the world’s largest druckfest, held again in Düsseldorf (May 29 - June 11). Among the major suppliers of printheads, inks and systems integrators will be Nilpeter. Along with its partners, it will be promoting Caslon, the four-color inkjet press which it launched at Labelexpo. It was designed and developed jointly with FFEI, a UK based software developer and systems integrator, and uses Xaar’s latest drop-on-demand piezo printheads for printing UV curable CMYK ink sets.
Caslon comes in two web widths: 16.5" and 13.5". As a modular unit mounted on a standard Nilpeter FA platform it can be configured in stand-alone mode, or integrated within an FA-Line UV flexo press or other webfed printing and converting processes. The print quality is fairly high when printing with a maximum resolution of 720 x 360 dpi with eight grayscale levels. The top speed here is 41 fpm, but it can reach 164 fpm when printing a resolution of 180 x 360 dpi, again with eight grayscale levels. Overall, Caslon is claimed as one of the industry’s fastest inkjet printers. Furthermore, the electronic systems controller allows Caslon modules to print variable data on the fly, or print single copies of full color labels on practically any material.
Some commentators dismiss industrial inkjet as a minor niche technology, especially for label printing. That may be the case at present, but it is a prime crossover technology that has attracted some big names. For example, Kodak is showing the Stream Concept Press, a high volume printer developed in Dayton, OH, USA. The prototype is fitted with continuous flow, single-pass printheads, claimed to give near-offset quality with a resolution of over 600 dpi. The Stream can print up to 550 fpm and is due for commercial roll out in two years.
“Our strategy is based on a belief that inkjet will have a dramatic effect on the printing industry over the next 10 years,” says Antonio Perez, chairman and CEO of Eastman Kodak. “Kodak has made the commitment to invest in inkjet, based on its unmatched expertise in digital imaging and materials science.” The company will also introduce the VL2000 in the established Versamark range of fast full-color inkjet presses for mailers and billings.
Industry boosters flaunt facets of flexo at Drupa
Normally flexo plays a walk-on part at the Drupa shows. This time an alliance of 19 graphic arts suppliers intend to raise its profile and “change perceptions about using the process in packaging printing”. The platform is Flexo4All, which has organized The Flexo Tour. Accompanied by a guide, visitors will visit partners’ booths to see examples of best practice and flexo applications, including labels, shrink sleeves and cartons.
This attempt to boost flexo’s market position – which continues after the show – coincides with some important trends. In Europe, the growing influence of rotary offset is challenging UV flexo at the premium quality end of the market. Meanwhile, established and emerging digital color printing techniques have extended the short-run threshold and, while largely complementary, could effect flexo usage. Many manufacturers already include the flexo and offset processes in their label and package press portfolios. Gidue is one of them. Its president, Federico d’Annunzio, is also a vocal champion of offset, but as a Flexo4All partner his sentiments naturally favor flexo: “Flexo still has a lot to say in the flexible packaging industry, especially thanks to the development of food-compliant UV/EB ink and curing technologies. The traditional ink stability of UV technology will be enhanced by the advantages of UV flexo as a clean and environmentally-friendly process. The Flexo Tour is a really good opportunity for all Flexo4All partners to combine their experience and knowledge to show visitors how flexo can improve their business and support a sustainable activity.”
Other narrow web partners include DuPont Packaging Graphics, Eckart, EskoArtwork, Gallus, Sun Chemicals, Hartmann Druckfarben, Omet, Praxair, Rotatek and Tesa. Their aim, they say, is not to merely to sell products or services. Rather, they want to encourage networking within the flexo industry and create active cooperation among all partners. It all sounds very laudable; disparate companies and competitors working together, each sharing their experience and knowledge to perfect flexo packaging printing and promote its advantages and innovations.
Joint leaflet-label venture in India
Fix-a-Form International, the UK-based licensor of multi-page leaflet labels, has set up a joint venture in India to become an equal partner with Unick FAF & Printers. It has also funded the installation of an eight-color UV flexo press to increase the firm’s capacity and range of label formats. The total investment is worth around US$978,000.
This also happens to be the turnover of the family-owned Indian business. Based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, it supplies self-adhesive leaflet labels to FMCG, pharmaceuticals and other industries. Fix-a-Form has been working with the firm since it was set up in 1993. Tony Vasa, managing director, said the technical and machinery support from Fix-a-Form International allows the firm to upgrade faster and meet customers’ increased demand for both self-adhesive and leaflet labels.
The Bury St. Edmunds firm, a division of Denny Brothers Group, devised Fix-a-Form labels in the 1980s and now supplies them through a network of over 20 label printers in 50 countries.
GEW and Sadechaf form Benelux alliance
GEW (EC) Ltd. has strengthened its presence in the Benelux countries by forming an alliance with Sadechaf UV and IR Technology to sell and service its equipment in the region. The Belgium company is privately owned and has over 15 years of experience with UV curing systems for all the major printing processes, as well as for coating and specialized industrial applications.
“GEW is the market leader in UV equipment for the narrow web printing industry and has huge potential in other market sectors,” says director Louis Michielsen. “We have extensive experience in the integration of UV curing for industrial applications and other processes. GEW’s products are a good fit that will help us to achieve our aim to be the UV partner of choice in the Benelux countries.”
Signing off with a look back at European trends
After nine years or so, this is my final Europe column. Wearing my somewhat battered freelance hat, I will still be scribbling selectively on the labeling scene, but it’s now time to be doing other unrelated things. So, by way of a final sign off, let’s put things in context. Globally, it has certainly been a period of conspicuous change and remarkable growth. FINAT’s recent figures show that over 15,000 converters worldwide convert about 36 billion square meters of materials for all types of labels every year. European converters now account for roughly one third of this total. In terms of pressure sensitive label substrates, the European market has grown by 86 percent over the past decade. Growth in Eastern Europe over the same period averaged 17 to 22 percent each year. Led by Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Eastern Europe had an estimated 7.80 percent share of global label sales in 2007. Combined with Western Europe’s 27 percent share, the expanded European label market is forecast to outpace North America’s 28.4 percent within a year.
Looking back, these Europe columns have tracked some important technical developments. For example, UV flexo is now established as a quality-led labeling and packaging process. Simultaneously, it has provided a platform for film-based PSA converters to move into flexible packaging territory. Based on so-called “engineered” films, they can produce stretch/shrink sleeves, wraparounds, sachets and pouches. Press manufacturers have responded by building wider web models incorporating automated servo driven controls for improved web handling and print registration, plus faster changeovers between jobs. Parallel to this is a strong trend towards using rotary or semi-rotary UV offset presses, either to complement UV flexo or replace it entirely in the high-end print sectors. The past decade has seen digital color printing begin to influence label production and change converters’ perceptions about the type of services they offer. The arrival of a practical method of four-color inkjet may provide further impetus.
Other developments include more energy efficient UV curing systems, the arrival of quick change sleeve/plate systems and the adoption of CTP platemaking within digital workflows. The product profile of the industry has also seen some high-tech changes. The obvious example is RFID technology for tags and labels, although it offers questionable benefits for all but the larger system integrators. Far better in a niche business sense are the growing number of “smart” labeling applications for the retail, brand protection and industrial sectors.
In retrospect it is easy to be impressed by the industry’s overall dynamism and willingness to change. I hope that that spirit of optimism has wittingly, or even unwittingly, been evident in these columns. But given how closely the labeling industry reflects economic and social trends, it would be surprising if a somewhat darker picture should begin to emerge. Eroded margins have begun to depress profitability for many European converters, hence the emphasis on practices that improve flexibility and productivity. Many are experiencing lower rates of returns on investments in the face of rising costs, especially for materials, consumables and energy. Meanwhile, end users capitalize on excess capacity to drive down prices.
Changing market conditions are bound to reflect consumer-led environmental pressures, already strong in Germany and Scandinavia. That means more end users will question their suppliers’ green credentials. They will focus more on using materials that are biodegradable and easily recycled. Finally, increased globalization and geopolitical changes that alter the balance of trade will govern the direction of many converters and affect the businesses of most suppliers. One growing consequence is the fact that many large international brand owners seek to buy their labels and packaging from single integrated suppliers. Like the major substrate manufacturers, some groups have set up well equipped plants in Eastern Europe, India, China and other parts of Asia to service the needs of regional manufacturing plants. Several European press manufacturers are beginning to follow this lead too.
Well, that’s a whistle-stop tour of some the issues that have figured in past Europe columns, with the editor’s kind indulgence. Now it is time to hand the baton over to my successor. It should be a seamless exchange. In recent years John Penhallow has contributed several company profiles and features to L&NW. Although a fellow Brit, John happens to live in Paris. He speaks fluent French and German and will surely bring his own distinctive dimension to these regular columns. Good luck to him and good luck to all readers, too.