Narrow Web Europe

Labelexpo and beyond: Reports from the European markets

By John Penhallow | October 7, 2009

After four days at Labelexpo Europe being bombarded by the sights and sounds of 500 exhibitors, many visitors (including your correspondent) were reduced to a near-zombie state with the rational mind switched off. Now that he has recovered most of his faculties, it’s time to see what has been happening lately not just in Brussels but in Europe at large.

Buddy, can you spare a million?

We have become used to seeing zillion-dollar bailouts for banks and automobile companies. Just recently it was the turn of troubled printing press manufacturer Heidelberg to pass round the hat – with some success it seems. The company says it secured a credit line worth 1.4 billion euros ($2 billion) running until 2012 and heavily guaranteed by the German government. Finally concluded in late August, it clearly reflected the German administration’s wish to avoid a spectacular upset to a national champion in the run-up to federal elections.

Heidelberg, arguably the world’s leading manufacturer of printing presses, is said to be in merger talks with rival ManRoland. However, any fusion of the two companies would give them a 65 percent share of the European press market and would run into opposition from European Union anti-trust authorities. Heidelberg also owns 30 percent of narrow web press maker Gallus, which in turn is a European market leader in its specialty. ManRoland, however, has no presence in the label press sector, so that any rapprochement between these two giants would be unlikely to affect Gallus.

After the funeral

When Netherlands based press maker Drent-Goebel was declared bankrupt in July, there was speculation about which of its competitors would pick up the pieces. Given the state of the industry, no one was hurt in the rush to acquire the stricken company. Switzerland’s Muller Martini, maker of narrow web offset presses, expressed interest, but disdained to acquire Drent-Goebel’s physical assets and personnel. It did however buy the patents for Drent’s VSOP (Variable Sleeve Offset Press) technology, and a new Muller Martini VSOP series, offering flexible package, label and carton board printing, is to be launched by the end of 2009. By adding the new VSOP series to its existing Alprinta and Concepta product lines, Muller Martini hopes to expand its presence in the narrow web sector.

This, of course, is cold comfort for existing owners of Drent-Goebel machinery. Yves Rogivue, head of Muller Martini’s printing press division, has gone on record as saying that the current situation at Drent-Goebel “hinders an easy transfer of know-how and the access to spare parts. We will do our utmost,” he says, “to build up service and spare part expertise in our global sales and service network, latest by the end of the year.”

Former executives and engineers of Drent Goebel, including Peter Kloppers (former operations manager) and Remko Koolbergen (former service manager) have been quick to realize that press users with a problem need help right now, and have therefore set up, as of mid-August, a new company called DG Press Services, to provide “spares, upgrades, repairs, preventive maintenance and production support” for Drent Goebel customers worldwide.

The demise of Drent-Goebel is the end of a history going back 150 years, although the merger of Drent and the German press maker Goebel took place only in 2001. Subsequently the Drent-Goebel group acquired Giebeler and the Canadian press manufacturer RDP Marathon.

New guides to the French and Russian label markets

Launched at Labelexpo 2009, the 200-page French Label Guide gives addresses, sales, employees, and specialties of 280 leading French label converters, and the same information for more than 50 suppliers of label machinery, substrates and technology. There is no other country in Europe (yet) for which such a detailed guide has been published. A nice touch is provided by the outside covers of the guide, no two of which are identical, thanks to a partnership between the publishers, MP Medias and HP Indigo.

Other recent reports on the European label scene include a detailed survey of the Russian label market, researched and written by AWA and covering all types of labels. While acknowledging that the global slowdown and lower oil and gas prices have knocked the stuffing out of the Russian economy, this survey predicts that renewed economic growth is just around the corner and that Russia’s label converters will soon be back into double-figure growth.

The Okay corral

It is always a pleasure to mention the Okay family, owner-managers of Canpas, one of Turkey’s biggest label converters with 11 presses and more than 150 million square feet of annual label production. Canpas, (pronounced jan-pash), has just “gone digital” with the acquisition of a Xeikon 3300 press.

Aydin Okay, President of Canpas, and chairman of the Turkish label printing association, reckons that digital is “the ideal system in terms of print quality, variable data handling and enhanced turnaround times; our investment in this Xeikon press will enable us to offer even better quality and attract new business.”

Label awards

Labelexpo Europe is the occasion for several label awards, including those hosted by the show organizer Tarsus, by the Flint Group and by HP. However, these are not the only European label competitions worthy of mention.

The annual Polish Label awards, called “Zloty Gryf”, attract an ever larger number of entries, and this year’s top award went to the Krakow based converter Multipress. This label and graphic design house (which occupies a factory owned until 1944 by Otto Schindler of Schindler’s List fame) won the label award for an impressive black and gold wine label flexo printed on a press supplied by Dutch manufacturer MPS.

Poland today can count more than 150 narrow web converters, a large number of them clustered around Poznan. According to Artur Nowaczyk of the Polish label association, the country has around 250 modern roll-to-roll label presses. A simple division calculation will tell you that the average Polish label converter doesn’t run many presses, particularly with market leaders like Skanem Introl and CCL Poznan operating up to 12 presses each.

That Brussels show

After all the hype and the nail-biting, Labelexpo Europe has now taken place; if trade-shows are a barometer of weather conditions in an industry, then for the label sector, the worst of the depression is over. The show was extensively covered online by L&NW, and will get more coverage in the next issue, so come with me and let’s look at some of the smaller exhibitors, starting with first-time exhibitor IMV Label, from Riga in Latvia.

This labelstock manufacturer, currently exporting mainly to Russia, is currently in the process of doubling its capacity, according to sales manager Gleb Volovich. “With an annual capacity, as from next year, of seven million square meters,” he says, “we’re not in the major league, but we are already exporting to several West European countries, including the UK”.

Tucked away in one corner of the “Digital Label” hall at the show was the modest booth of Xaar, a research based company from Cambridge, England. “No fewer than seven exhibitors at this show are using our print heads,” Sales Director Phil Eaves said. “When we first set up in the inkjet business 10 years ago we were very much a team of scientists and engineers, so we aimed to develop and patent new ideas then license other people to build and sell the machinery. However, that idea didn’t work out the way we hoped, so we acquired a small production plant in Sweden and started making and selling our own print heads. Now if you look around this show, you’ll find no fewer than seven press manufacturers using Xaar inkjet print heads.”

Xaar is still very much a technology-based organization, and its latest 1001 brand print heads, designed for the narrow web market, use advanced fluid dynamics to reduce the twin problems of air bubbles and nozzle blockage which up to now have limited the speed and the print quality obtainable with inkjet.

To market label inks you need to be a big outfit, like Sun or Flint, right? Not so says Steve Whitby of Pulse Roll. “We employ just 12 people all told,” he says, “and we’re manufacturing and selling UV and water based inks mainly for food labels. One of our specialties is solving the ink problems for linerless labels, which are increasingly used for own-brand products in UK supermarkets.”

An alarming number of “new” press manufacturers at the show were from China and Taiwan. Your correspondent met the director of a German machinery manufacturer walking sadly away from a Chinese semi-rotary offset press, shaking his head and muttering, “How can they produce that quality and sell it so cheap?”

The town of Waterloo in Belgium is famous for several reasons, inter alia as the home of Kodak’s European organization. The US based company is present in Europe via its Graphic Communications Group, which makes workflow and proofing equipment, inkjet printing and color management systems. A regular exhibitor at Labelexpo Europe, Kodak was scheduled to show again this year, but cancelled for reasons unknown. Otherwise the “direct” US participation at the show (i.e., not counting those represented on the booths of their agents/distributors) was generally comparable to 2007 (30 US exhibitors this year, against 33 in 2007). The falling dollar may have deterred some US visitors to Labelexpo however, and more than one complained of the prohibitive cost of hotels and meals in Brussels, to say nothing of the at-the-door entry charge for the show (a whopping €60, or a whisker below $90).

The fragrant smell of stimulated sales

Last month Narrow Web Europe reported on talking wine labels. Now news comes of a development in perfumed labels. Viappiani Printing in Italy recently inaugurated a complete production line for flexo-printed in-mold labels with a micro-encapsulated varnish which releases a fragrance when rubbed.

According to company boss Giorgio Viappiani, the process, printed on a Heidelberg press with inline cold foiling, can produce “sensational graphic effects” on metalized foils. The process can also incorporate anti-counterfeit techniques. These labels are enjoying big success in Italy’s food industry, says Viappiani, because fragrances “stimulate the unconscious areas of the ‘reptilian’ brain by bypassing the rational component.”

Not unlike four days at Labelexpo, come to think of it.
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