Narrow Web Europe

Narrow Web Europe

July 22, 2008

On the trade show trail

Narrow Web Europe

On the trade show trail

By John Penhallow

Readers of this column may recall the woes of the Russian Label Show, scheduled for October 2008, which seemed to be attracting very few exhibitors. Happily, there has been a unexpected rise in interest, and the provisional exhibitor list now counts 177 names, mostly Russian companies, but also includes Avery, Heidelberg, Flint, 3M, and Kocher + Beck. Another surprise comes from Russia’s neighbor Belarus, a country whose label and packaging industry rarely makes it into the international press. This year the Belarus capital Minsk is host to not one but two label exhibitions: one in June, the other in September. No more details at present but keep watching this space.

The big news in the European print industry this season has been Drupa, of course, which sets out to be the world’s biggest print show, based in Düsseldorf, Germany. Results just released by the organizers quote over 390,000 visitors milling around just under 2,000 exhibitors. Journalists alone numbered 3,000. The show organizers ran out of superlatives to describe the numerous innovations, the value of the deals struck and numbers of wursts consumed during this two-week extravaganza. In fact, the number of visitors was very slightly down from the previous show in 2004, and fell a long way short of the record-breaking show in 2000, attended by 428,000 people. At the 2008 show, the percentage of non-German visitors rose to 59 percent but the numbers coming from North America remained stable at 6 percent. As one of the organizers admitted to your correspondent, “With today’s euro/dollar rate, we were lucky to see any US visitors at all.” Still, the Drupa 2008 figures are a creditable performance in today’s economic climate.

Any correspondent who claims to have seen all the booths at Drupa is either a Stakhanovite or a liar, so here are just one or two pointers that could indicate which way technology and markets are going. First, and no surprises here, everyone was talking about digital printing, and particularly non-contact inkjet technology. Sun Chemical, the world’s leading manufacturer of inks, launched narrow web inkjet printers and new, higher-performing inks to go with them. EFI Jetrion was demonstrating a digital inkjet color press which Dean Haertel, director of worldwide sales for Jetrion, claimed is “as good as the best in narrow web digital printing and, in Europe, half the price.” Also on a digital theme, and at the show’s second largest booth (Heidelberg, see below, had the biggest), HP Indigo gave ample space to demonstrations of its ws6000 narrow web press.

Inkjet, though exciting, is not new. LED drying, as a possible substitute for UV, is both exciting and new. Unfortunately it is not yet available commercially, but several exhibitors at Drupa, including Germany’s IST Metz, were showing pilot devices. The consensus at the show was that LED based ink drying has the potential to offer high-performance and, above all, energy saving solutions for the world’s printers, but that the technology is still in its infancy, and (maybe) waiting for one of the major press manufacturers to put some serious development money into the technology.

Heidelberg – hard hit by the rising euro

Heidelberg is Europe’s (and probably the world’s) biggest print machinery manufacturer. Commenting on the group’s results for the year ending March 2008, Heidelberg CEO Bernhard Schreier acknowledged that poor economic prospects had taken their toll in particular since the beginning of this year. During the fiscal year, Heidelberg’s sales, operating result and net profit were all down from the previous year’s levels. As with many international companies based in Europe, the group’s business has been hit not only by the downturn in the global economy but by the strength of the euro. Business in the US has been hit badly, with the UK and Japan also showing a downward trend.

This did not deter Heidelberg from pulling out all the stops at Drupa. The company showed its full range of Speedmaster format presses for labels, as well as all its Workflow and CTP systems – all this at a “booth” of 80,000 square feet with 1,500 Heidelberg staff in attendance. This is probably the largest roofed-in booth of any trade show, anywhere in Europe, or even in the world.

Unconfirmed rumors are going around in Europe that Heidelberg, despite its disappointing results, is on the acquisitions path, and that its target could be Agfa, the company that grew big on making films for cameras, and is now trying to reinvent itself in digital printing equipment. Schreier has already dropped hints of “a planned investment of several hundred million euros to round out Heidelberg’s range of products and services.”

The burning problem of waste

National and European authorities are always on the lookout for new ways to cut packaging waste, and label converters tremble every time a new restriction is announced. Now print and packaging expert Peter Prinz takes a close look at the problem as it concerns PS labels in Germany.

Matrix waste, according to Prinz, has a calorific value roughly half that of heating oil and can easily be burned, together with other waste materials, to provide heat, hot water or electrical power. Cement factories in particular are suited to burning matrix waste as the residual ash can be mixed into the cement. For filmic matrix waste there is still a major problem as none of the technically viable solutions has so far proved economically viable (although UPM Raflatac begs to disagree).

For siliconized release liners, the law in Germany requires the label converter to take back from his customer the used liner. Some do, most don’t. One manufacturer of liner takes back used material, charging a hefty $120 per ton. He then shreds it and uses it as fuel for his in-house power station. Prinz pleads for a “global” consensus, bringing together all the actors in the value chain to share information and ideas and to find the least costly solution. In Germany, this could work; in other more individualistic countries in Europe, the idea of voluntary recycling schemes is more problematic. (See page 72 for a feature article on label waste management.)

Musical chairs

Italian press manufacturer GIDUE has been making some changes in its agents, appointing Global Print Services Ltd. in UK, changing the name of its Australian sales office to Universal Print Partners, and terminating its agreement with French press manufacturer SMAG in order to give Graphic Evolution, its agent for North Africa, the responsibility for its French sales.

SMAG, meanwhile, will be stepping up its marketing of Iwasaki presses (which it sells and services in Europe), especially the popular waterless offset models, and has just announced an agreement with US based Aquaflex to market its servo driven narrow and mid web flexo presses in both France and Italy.

More news about ‘green’ substrates

If Europe’s labelstock manufacturers were to invent a common slogan, it would probably be “anything you can make I can make greener.” Britain’s Smith & McLaurin, it seems, is not just climbing on the bandwagon but pushing its way into the driver’s seat. Its latest labelstocks use a home compostable adhesive in conjunction with a 100 percent recycled, environmentally friendly face material. To back up their claim, Smith & McLaurin have submitted the product to US based research organization Beta Analysis, whose test results showed it to have a 58 percent “green” carbon content, as against only 3 percent for standard adhesives.

And finally… Scotch labels go digital

As its name indicates, Smith & McLaurin is a Scottish company, and another product of Scotland has been in the news lately. Not everyone appreciates how just-in-time deliveries and the proliferation of sub-brands has affected the labeling problems of Scotch Whisky, and in particular the increasingly popular single malts much appreciated by your correspondent and many other discerning connoisseurs. Scotland’s 130 distilleries each use an average of 65 different labels, according to Europe’s leading expert in the industry. Glenmorangie, which recently redesigned all its labels in a major rebranding exercise needed no less than 200 different label designs, with print runs going from 200,000 down to as little as 250. A Scottish label converter, Simpson Label, landed this technically challenging piece of business, and is using UV flexo for the longer runs and digital (with its two Xeikon presses) for the distillery’s higher-margin, low-volume products.

Gives a whole new dimension to proofing systems. 
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