Narrow Web Europe
New label trade show taking shape in England
By John Penhallow
Whether it be whippet racing, old cars or madrigals, the first thing that British enthusiasts do when they meet other enthusiasts is to form a club or association, complete with statutes, chairman and annual dinner. Why, people ask, has the UK label business remained like a wallflower at a dance while Germans, French, Italians and Turks have all set up proactive label associations? The answer is that the British Roll Label Association or BRLA does – or rather did – exist, but kept a profile so low that powerful binoculars were needed to spot it.
Now all that is perhaps slated to change. Newly founded as a special interest group under the aegis of the British Printing Industry Federation, the BPIF Labels Group, we are told, “enjoys a high profile within the label industry,” and along with the British Short-Run Labelling Association and its 44 member companies, will be participating actively in “The Label Event,” a conference and mini-exhibition to be held in England in February 2010 and organized by Angel Business Communications. Details about the event are sketchy so far. Narrow Web Europe will keep you posted.
Emballage Packaging Show (Paris)
The 38th World Packaging Exhibition, held in Paris in November 2008, boasted around 2,000 exhibitors and just over 100,000 visitors, 6 percent down from the previous Paris show held in 2006. The exhibitors were international, but the visitors seemed to be overwhelmingly French, as indeed were the label converters whose booths were grouped around that of the French label association UNFEA. On- and off-record conversations with these firms helped your correspondent take the pulse of the French label sector. “It’s all a question of which end user sector you look at,” said Christophe Traineau, CEO of Etiq’Ouest. “One of our specialties is making high-tech labels for automobiles.
Today, automobile sales in France are down by nearly 10 percent, and most of the vehicles that are sold here are made in Eastern Europe. So on that front, our prospects for the next year are pretty bad. However, our sales of other kinds of high value-added ‘technical’ labels are scarcely affected by the downturn. As for food labels, the volumes sold took a dip in the late summer, but they are rising again as we approach the end-of-year celebrations.”
Stéphane Pagot of Breger Emballages was resolutely optimistic: “We are here at the show to meet our customers and show them in particular our shrink sleeve label technology. The French retail goods sector is getting even more competitive and we can show retailers and brand managers how to make their products stand out on the shelves.”
Relocation revs up
As competition for new business intensifies among the developed world’s 30 or so narrow web press manufacturers, the trend toward shifting production to lower-cost regions seems to be intensifying. Italy’s Omet looked to Suzhou, China, where it has built a 40,000 square foot plant dedicated to assembling its Flexy presses. The company’s first press came off the Suzhou production line in November 2008. This was followed by Denmark’s Nilpeter, which presented its first Indian-built press at the India Label Show in New Delhi in December 2008. Netherlands based MPS now announces a joint venture with Brazil’s Etirama to make MPS brand flexo presses in Brazil. Unlike Nilpeter and Omet, which say their Indian and Chinese built presses are only for local and Asiatic markets, MPS plans to sell its joint venture presses worldwide.
GIDUE has so far not set up production outside its native Italy, but the company, like its competitors, has not been slow to see the potential of Asiatic markets at a time when European and North American sales are in the doldrums. In cooperation with its local distributor Reifenhäuser, GIDUE has installed a total of eight presses in India over the past two years, and “confidently expects several more orders in the early weeks of 2009,” according to Sudhir Samanth, general manager of Reifenhäuser India.
Print machinery giants cut back
Two of Germany’s leading press and print machinery manufacturers, Heidelberg and KBA, both reduced working hours for their employees as of November, blaming reduced sales. Both have already started cutting their payrolls. The November issue of Bundesverband Druck & Medien’s monthly poll of business expectations in the German print industry show that more than half of the firms consulted expect further falls in sales in the first half of 2009. This is the worst prediction since these polls were started in 1991.
No smoke without beer in Russia
Hampered by falling oil prices but helped by a falling ruble, Russia’s economy is still in better shape than most other European countries (see table on next page), with an estimated 7 percent growth of GDP in 2008. Only China and – rather surprisingly – Egypt score higher, according to The Economist’s estimates at the end of December. Unsurprisingly, major brands are still hurrying to set up production plants in Russia. Recent announcements include investments by Coca-Cola (a new bottling plant in Rostov-on-Don) and by Philip Morris, whose recently expanded plant near St. Petersburg is one of the group’s biggest plants in the world. Defying health warnings, most Russians like a smoke. They also enjoy a beer or three, and Russia’s leading brewer, Baltika, has just announced a 7 percent profit increase, on sales up by 13 percent. A substantial part of Baltika’s 36 million hectolitres of annual production is sold in the form of bottled beer. This and other good news from the consumer goods sector could account for the good health of Russia’s big label converters.
Vatican library goes digital
RFID labels are now widely used by libraries worldwide to keep track of their books. They are stuck into books and are not meant to be removable. However, for ancient or very valuable books and manuscripts, another solution was needed, and has now been found. A removable RFID label which leaves no trace of adhesive on the substrate is now being marketed by Germany’s X-Ident – and one of its first customers was the Vatican!
With little prospect of rising sales in 2009, label equipment manufacturers are concentrating on cost-cutting measures. One major label converter who claims to be reducing production costs while at the same time polishing up its “green” credentials is Skanem. At its German plant in Willich, Skanem has installed waste extraction and processing equipment from Matho. According to production manager Antonius Fornefeld, the new system, which handles both edge trim and matrix waste, is not only “ecologically correct,” but has also increased press productivity by reducing downtime for removing waste material, and improved air quality with a consequent improvement in working conditions.
If you can’t stand the heat…
Germany’s Schreiner Group, which recently opened a plant in Blauvelt, NY, USA, has now set up a sales office in Shanghai. According to the company, this is “a first step towards moving out into totally new company potential.” Against a background of gloom and despair throughout Europe, and most especially in Germany, CEO Helmut Schreiner and his son Roland in a recent interview played up the importance of investing in new markets, in skilled people, and in the latest technology.
“Ever since the founding of the company,” said Helmut Schreiner, “we have plowed back profits to invest in people and processes. Yes, it’s a risky strategy, but if you don’t like risk you needn’t try to become an entrepreneur.” He should know, having built the Schreiner Group into a world leader in applying high-tech electronic label solutions for anything from credit cards to household appliances.
…come into the cold
From its headquarters in a genteel resort town on England’s South coast, Computer Imprintable Label Systems Ltd. (CILS) makes and distributes a wide range of labels for “extreme” labeling situations. One of its latest creations is a tamper-evident label for oily, uneven or other “difficult” surfaces. Said to be impervious to cold, heat, humidity and abrasion, these labels leave a clear “void” message when they have been moved or removed.
Another CILS specialty was developed recently for the cryogenics sector, where medical or scientific products are stored at temperatures as low as -200° C, often in a bath of liquid nitrogen. Most substrates and adhesives cannot resist these conditions without detaching, cracking or fading, but CILS has developed substrates, inks and adhesives to meet these extreme requirements. The company, which also has a plant in Burlington, MA, USA, says it has a product range of over 10,000 durable labels to meet almost every scientific, medical and industrial need.
Sell call for Korunas
With the media fully occupied reporting rising unemployment and world economic meltdown, one piece of good news seems to have escaped attention. On January 1, 2009, Slovakia became the 16th country to join the Euro, the European single currency that is looking increasingly like an attractive shelter in troubled times.
Slovakia, one of Europe’s youngest countries, suffers from an image problem: Few people, even in Europe, know where it is (southeast of the Czech Republic), and those who think they do often confuse it with Slovenia (and to make things worse, the Slovaks themselves call their country Slovensko, which really does not help). This aside, Slovakia in its short history has nurtured several of Central Europe’s leading label converters, including firms like ETIS, in the capital Bratislava.
Using mainly UV flexo presses from Nilpeter, ETIS markets its labels “anywhere within a 200 mile radius of our plant,” the company reports, which puts large chunks of Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic within its orbit. The new European currency is good news for ETIS, and for the Slovak economy, but if you’re still holding any old Slovak Korunas – maybe it’s time to sell.