Narrow Web Europe

No recession in pharmaceutical labels and packaging

By John Penhallow | March 13, 2014

It is an established fact that the French are Europe’s leading pill-pushers. However, that is surely not the only reason for the success of the Pharmapack show, held in late February in Paris. The themes of the show can be counted on one hand: tamper-evidence, anti-counterfeit, multi-page labels, and anti-migration technologies. Ecological concerns also featured, but for many exhibitors these have been placed on the back burner, at least for the time being.

Hologram Industries, a French company exporting over 80% of its sales, showed the ingenuity of possible solutions in the fight against product piracy. Some labels shown used triple security features, both overt and covert. Smartphone technology can now capture and authenticate covert features on a label, and when tied into a database can detect “gray” market products. This is proving invaluable for international pharma labs who sell the same product at sometimes widely different prices in neighboring countries (oh yes they do!). The Stratus Group, a major French label converter, provided the answer to the many laboratories that ask, “How can I be sure this product has been sterilized?” A color-sensitive patch on the label tells you at once. Medium-tech, but effective. The case of Schreiner MediPharm, the German-based label converter now also with a plant in the US, is instructive. While still offering “classic” tamper-evident labels, Schreiner MediPharm’s flagship products are moving further and further away from labels, and into “medical problem-solving” – witness its successful “needle-trap” safety device and its technology for identifying very small capsules.

For most forms of primary packaging, and for labels, French-based Autajon is one of Europe’s top three, producing 17 billion labels per year at its 23 European production sites (plus one in the US). At Pharmapack, Autajon was stressing quality control and traceability in its pharma labels, and eye-catching visual effects for its health-and-beauty labels. CCL had taken a modest booth at the show, and presented amongst other products 100% synthetic booklet labels which somehow manage to lay flat in defiance of the well-known trick of thin plastic film to curl up just when you don’t want it to.

Several makers of labelstock exhibited at Pharmapack, including Avery, MACtac and UPM Raflatac. All of them were promoting structures which reduce adhesive migration and withstand sterilization and low-temperature storage. For ArjoWiggins Security, Pharmapack was the chance to display its “Signoptic” security solution, a top-of-the-range security device which “reads” and digitizes the surface structure of the material, and which can then verify it anywhere in the world without needing to access a database. This technology is perfectly adaptable to labels, but its primary projected use is in producing passports and security documents. 

Keep Europe clean!
Europe’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations, which cover many hundreds of products currently used in labeling, are already in force for companies making, or importing, over 100 tons of any of the all-encompassing list of REACH chemicals. The next deadline, for annual production over one ton, is not until 2018, but it will hit a lot of smaller companies. This is already causing sleepless nights for ink manufacturers, and also for labelstock producers, plate processors and other suppliers to the label converter. The printing industry has cleaned up its act enormously in recent years, and many in the industry feel that the immensely complex REACH regulations are a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Even the highly official European Union website warns, “If you need to register by 2018, start preparing as soon as possible – it takes time to compile a registration dossier. Reserve adequate time, start now. Do not underestimate the work!” Well, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Take your partners
For many pundits, Labelexpo Europe 2013 was all about digital technology. There was another trend however: suppliers were presenting all sorts of manufacturing partnerships. Ritrama’s move into linerless labels has a full supporting team composed of Prati and Catchpoint/Ilti. Now Italian label press manufacturer Gidue is at the center of a partnership also involving Adare, Esko, Flint Group, DuPont and the Apex Group. The project, called “REVO, Digital Flexo Revolution,” will aim to let flexo compete more effectively with digital narrow web production. Details so far are scant, pending an Open House in May 2014 when all will be revealed. For those who can’t wait, there is the Digicon 3000, a digital finishing line developed by HP Indigo in cooperation with UK’s Edale and AB Graphic, and

The Pharmapack show in Paris featured several security and anti-counterfeit packaging applications.
already on the market (the prototype, displayed at Labelexpo 2013, was subsequently sold to a US customer).  Another partnership on UK soil comes from an initiative by a company called FFEI, whose name is not, or at any rate not yet, a household word in narrow web
circles. It was founded as Crosfield back in 1947, acquired jointly by DuPont and Fujifilm in the late 1980s, and relaunched in 1997 as Fuji Film Electronic Imaging (FFEI). For its work in developing various scanners and other digital imaging devices, the company has twice won the Queen’s Award for Innovation (and believe me, she does not give these away lightly). This offspring of the Fuji Group was re-born in 2006 by MBO to become an independent company under its CEO Andy Cook. “We designed the Caslon digital inkjet module for Nilpeter,” Cook told your correspondent, “and now in cooperation with Edale, Xaar and Fujifilm UK we have designed, developed and launched the Graphium, a digital inkjet label and packaging press, which has the unique capability of integrating optional flexo stations for hybrid production and optional inline finishing for converting in one pass.” FFEI showed this press on the Fujifilm booth
at Labelexpo, and it will be demonstrated again at the IPEX print show in London, England, in late March of this year. “The Graphium

project is advancing very well,” says Cook. “We have just completed our third customer machine which will travel ‘via’ IPEX, and machines 4, 5 & 6 will be shipped over the next two months. There has been lots of interest in the product and we are currently taking orders for May and June shipment. So far things have been running smoothly with very few technical issues – the Graphium did go through very extensive testing last year, so we would not expect many issues at this stage. I think the biggest surprise for us has been how customers have wanted a wide range of different inline options - flexo, diecutting and lamination to name a few. We had expected most sales to be based on simple standalone configurations, but this is not proving to be the case.” FFEI continues to use the Fujifilm sales/service network, which may explain why it has kept a low profile, attending exhibitions under the Fujifilm banner. North American converters will have to wait until September when the Graphium will be demonstrated at Labelexpo – again at the Fujifilm booth.

Playing the China card – some you win, some you lose
The IPEX print show has had bad press as several major exhibitors have pulled out, some of them noisily. Heidelberg went so far as to say, in so many words, “Our UK plant is on the route from Heathrow Airport to London, so visitors can stop off and see us here instead of at IPEX.” Not very sporting, but in these hard times…

The show will nonetheless have over 300 exhibitors, including digital press manufacturers EFI, Domino, Epson, Primera and Xeikon. There will also be, among the IPEX exhibitors, a surprising number of Chinese manufacturers, who may (or may not) stop off on their way from Heathrow to the show.

China figured largely in the recently released annual State of the Industry report by Dr. Markus Heering of the German Print & Paper Technology Association. “Our expectations for 2013 have not been realized,” he reported. “Instead of a modest rise in sales, we must face up to a fall of 8%.”  This disappointing result from the country, which is Europe’s most successful economy, is partly due to a dramatic fall in Germany’s print-related exports to China, which dropped by nearly half compared with 2012. The only hopeful signs, he added, came from the label and packaging equipment sector – so that’s a crumb of comfort.

Sistrade Goes to Qatar
Portuguese software company Sistrade was that country’s sole representative at Labelexpo Europe, and since September 2013 it has been able to announce a number of sales initiatives for its workflow systems, including sales in some of the less fashionable countries of the world. According to Sistrade’s  VP André Oliveira, “We now have systems operating in Spain, Slovenia, Poland, Ecuador, Colombia, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Turkey, Thailand, Tunisia, Germany, Belarus and Russia. When the Portuguese Vice Premier visited Qatar in December, he was joined by the Qatari Interior Minister at a presentation of our recently installed systems at the Qatari Security Printing Press.”  Tiny (it’s a bit smaller than Connecticut) but very, very rich, Qatar will host the Football (soccer) World Cup in 2022, when Sistrade’s workflow will hopefully help to stem the flow of bogus tickets for the matches.

Champagne sales steady
Economists and pollsters who study consumer expectations could do worse than look at sales of champagne. Latest figures show 304 million bottles shipped in 2013, slightly down on 2012 (but sales – at 4.3 billion euros – remained at the same level). More encouraging are the figures for December 2013, when 42 million bottles were sold worldwide, up 8% on the previous year. Over the year 2013, sales in Europe were sluggish, but Asian markets broke records. All this to conclude that champagne as a benchmark can stand steady, even if some of its consumers can’t.

And three hundred million bottles means close to six hundred million high value-added labels, and that can’t be bad, can it?