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European press manufacturers 'down but not out'

By John Penhallow | May 8, 2009

Reports of my death,” wrote Mark Twain on one occasion, “are greatly exaggerated.” In a similar vein, Netherlands based label press manufacturer MPS, about whose future rumors were circulating, has just issued a statement saying that it is down but by no means out. CEO Eric Hoendervangers confirmed that the company’s sales in 2008 were 18 percent down from 2007, and that 15 staff people had been made redundant. However, he went on, “For the first quarter of 2009, MPS has exceeded its budget sales by 25 percent, with most of these sales being in Western Europe. For the rest of this year MPS will continue its development program, introducing several waves of new technologies for printing and converting.” MPS has just reserved extra space for its booth at Labelexpo Europe in September 2009 (see below), and two of its latest presses, one for labels and the other for rollfed packaging, will be demonstrated at the company’s 6,000 square foot booth.

Labelexpo Europe 2009 - 10 Largest Exhibitor Booths (in square meters)

Gallus - 924
Mark Andy - 720
Nilpeter - 700
MPS - 660
HP Indigo - 594
Omet - 525
Avery Dennison - 399
UPM Raflatac - 370
Manter/Arconvert/Fedrigoni - 361
Codimag - 357

Label presses from Brazil

The Grafitec Group in Northern England buys, refurbishes and sells used label presses, as well as manufacturing several ranges of printing and carton converting machinery. Now Grafitec has signed a partnership to market and service label presses from the Brazilian manufacturer Etirama. The agreement covers nearly all the countries of Europe, and your European correspondent recently visited Grafitec to see two of Etirama’s latest models now about to be launched.

Central Impression label presses are nowadays the exception in Europe, but Technical Manager John Ainley reckons that Etirama’s new Flexowine model could change this. This press was being demonstrated running standard four-color PS labels at around 250 feet per minute and was turning out near-offset quality printing. A job change was demonstrated in well under two minutes per color. The demo model had a print width of 13" (the press also comes in 14" width), and was running with water based inks. The servo driven tension control is a new feature likely to increase the model’s attractiveness for European narrow web converters. Despite tough economic times, Ainley is upbeat about the new press’ market chances. “Many of Europe’s smaller label converters don’t have space for in-line machinery. The smaller footprint of the Flexowine makes it ideal for such workshops, and with a webpath of just 25 feet you waste far less start-up material than with an inline press.” But one of the biggest advantages, according to Ainley, is being able to print on very thin substrates, down to 15 microns.

The Flexowine looks to be a simple, robust press, but why the name? Is it specially designed for printing wine labels? Nothing of the sort, says Grafitec CEO Tony Barrett. “It’s that these presses are all painted Bordeaux color. But if the customer wants it yellow or sky blue pink he can have it.” One of Grafitec’s latest sales of a Flexowine was, however, to French converter Airep in one of France’s many wine growing regions. Airep’s General Manager Jean-Claude Tretsch confirms that he is highly pleased with the Flexowine’s performance (and, presumably, its color).

Clearance sale?

News just in from Italy brings encouragement for existing and future customers of failed label press manufacturer GIDUE. The company’s assets were acquired by sister company Nuova Castagnoli and agreement has apparently been reached with the unions to retain key staff for employment in the new structure.

According to Federico d’Annunzio, the once-and-future CEO of both companies, “Despite the very uncertain economic times, the sales of existing equipment went unexpectedly fast, and in less than three months 16 GIDUE presses have been sold.” Many of these were probably 2008 orders “frozen” when the company went into liquidation, but it is nonetheless encouraging news. Even the liquidator of GIDUE, Antonio Patane, a man not normally given to exuberance, is reported as saying, “I was surprised to see how good the market response was for GIDUE’s existing stock, also thanks to the active support of Nuova Castagnoli.”

Digital presses still finding markets

UK’s Hine Labels Ltd. has announced the purchase of another Xeikon digital press, the first UK installation for this new model, the 3000, launched in September of last year. Hine Labels’ customers, according to Managing Director Bill Hine neither know nor care what process is used to make their labels. “They want quality, color consistency and fast delivery – and not necessarily in that order. Our new Xeikon press produces images at 1200 dots per inch running at 31 feet per minute. In contrast to other narrow web digital presses the Xeikon range is capable of handling a very wide range of substrates including self-adhesive films, co-extruded films, unsupported films, paper, transparent and opaque foils, and even paperboard.”

Another UK company using digital to carve out a new market is Mercian Labels. On a strictly B2B basis, Mercian now encourages its customers to get quotes, order and pay for their labels using its new 100 percent online service. Backed up by its Xeikon print engine and comprehensive converting options, the new do-it-yourself service aims to cut costs and speed production. Commenting on his company’s new business model, Managing Director Adrian Steele says, “There are significant benefits to both our trade customers and ourselves in such a system based around the web-to-print model.” Other UK label converters are already copying this strategy, but critics feel it is taking the label converting industry down the primrose path towards commoditization and a “dumbing down” of the converters role in providing advice and service.

Not to be outdone, HP Indigo announced in April the installation of its first WS6000 digital label press in Italy. The buyer is Euroadesiv, a label converter who five years ago installed an HP ws4500 press. “We recently registered an increase of requests for quick deliveries of small lots of different versions of labels,” says Nicola Motetta, general manager. “We have been very satisfied with the quality of the HP Indigo machine and also with the service we received, so the choice of a second HP Indigo press was logical.” The company reckons that its new digital press will produce an average of around one million linear feet of labels per month in one shift. Euroadesiv’s new WS6000 prints up to seven colors and should allow the company to be competitive in higher volume digital printing.

HP Indigo has also continued its deliveries of ws4500 presses, including one to UK’s Foster Packaging, where it will be used to print short-run pouches, films and bags. These are seen as an expanding niche market by Managing Director Joe Foster: “During the downturn, companies are looking for new ways to market themselves and stand out from the crowd,” he says. “Eye-catching short-run packaging is the answer to a marketing manager’s prayer.”

Swiss Converter extends International coverage

Switzerland’s Pago is one of that country’s – and the world’s – leading label converters. From its corporate headquarters in the quaintly named town of Grabs, it has just announced a reorganization of its international marketing and sales network with the creation of a “Product Decoration for International Brands” business unit. “This business unit will bring together all the relevant corporate functions, from customer advice and product development, through manufacture to marketing and distribution,” says group Marketing Manager Emanuel Schäpper, “For the very first time, a separate business unit of the Pago Group will be focusing exclusively on high volume and highly complex international business in decorative labels.”

This organizational change is consistent with moves by other leading converters to meet demands by international brand owners for one negotiating partner worldwide for their label and product decoration purchases.

At the same time, Pago has also announced the extension of its service in Asia with a wide reaching manufacturing and sales partnership with Salee Printing Company. Based in Bangkok, Thailand, Salee is one of the leading manufacturers of self-adhesive labels in Southeast Asia. “In the future, close cooperation and an intensive exchange of know-how will be established between the two businesses,” says Pago’s Dirk Lautenschlager. “This is part of our global strategy to ensure that customers benefit from transcontinental, coordinated service with local production facilities and logistic concepts for high-quality decorative labels.”

A challenge to IML

FESPA Digital is a trade show for digital printing, focusing on screen printing, industrial packaging and signage applications, and taking place in Amsterdam in May 2009. Digital label press manufacturer Xeikon will use the show to launch and demonstrate a digital transfer application, set up in collaboration with Diamond Photofoil (, a UK-based company specializing in decoration of plastic materials.

At FESPA Digital, plastic glasses will be decorated using a Xeikon-printed transfer. This application is unique, says the company, in that it is the only truly viable industrial alternative to in-mold labeling (IML) or direct printing, providing offset-challenging full color prints on virtually any thermoplastic molding. Given the high cost of producing short-run IMLs, this new development could well find a market.

Shows and conferences

Label professionals from all sides of the industry recently congregated in Barcelona, Spain, for a “Digital Label Summit,” and in Milan for the Converflex/Grafitialia show where many label machinery manufacturers were exhibiting. A report on the digital summit appears on page 17 in this issue of L&NW.

‘Still some bright spots,’ says one industry expert

To end on a more cheerful note: Corey Reardon, President of research company AWA, sees Eastern European label markets as still promising, particularly for beverage labels. “It’s partly that some Eastern Europeans are drinking their way through the recession,” he says “but more because so many wine, beer and soft drinks bottlers in these regions are going over to pressure sensitive labels.”
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