Hybrid technologies are now in vogue, but are they really the ideal solution and the answer to all the applications? As with everything, it depends on your circumstances.
There are several things to consider. Firstly, the kind of work that is needed. If you are simply producing colored labels with minimum finishing requirements, such as diecutting and lamination, then maybe an off-line or near-line digital solution works. Although you still may not benefit from reduced stock levels as the digital rolls need to be stored prior to finishing. If you are producing complex labels that need additional processes, such as low cost flexo background and spot colors, foiling, varnishing, embossing, etc., then an on-press inline solution is the perfect way. Putting one of our ColourPrint HiQ modules onto an existing flexo press gives the user the power to include variable high resolution color images and text on multi-process labels.
Secondly, material workflow and space requirements are important. For a small label company, adding another piece of standalone hardware for near-line production can be problematic and lead to additional costs of ownership. There is the extra space, services, staff, and storage of WIP, etc. This is where hybrid solutions score big–especially solutions that do not require extensive surgery on the press or require the press to be extended. Thanks to the use of Konica Minolta’s extremely compact high resolution KM1800i printheads, IIJ’s inline inkjet modules are some of the most compact on the market. This allows high quality digital label capabilities to be added to an existing press, without the need to remove multiple flexo stations, and also makes it easier for them to be added to older equipment than a system with a longer print station. The compact footprint added to the use of high efficiency LED curing allows the system to be used exactly when and where it’s needed, especially when used on a rail mounted press adaptor.
The third consideration is the label material itself. Many inkjet label systems need specific labelstocks that are more expensive than flexo stocks, but also do not always lend themselves to some of the additional processes. With an on-press solution, low cost primers can be added inline, so standard stocks can be utilized, saving money and reducing stock inventory.
Finally, production speeds. The press speed is governed by the slowest process, and for a long time inkjet solutions have been offered at between 25 to 50 m/m. This then gives an issue for inline production as it reduces production speed, undermining the value add of the digital solution. In this scenario, off-line or near-line solutions look more attractive. But what if the inkjet solution is run at 80 to 100 m/m or even 200 m/m for monochrome variable data? Then the on-press inkjet solution is no longer the limiting point. IIJ label modules typically operate at 80 to 100 m/m, and for text and variable data, speeds from 100 to 200 m/m, so they can hit this requirement, and then the world of hybrid labels is much wider.
So, are they truly the best of both worlds? At IIJ we have been supplying hybrid technologies since 2010, and we believe that actually by evolving the analog label production process through innovative use of inkjet, the result is much more powerful that the separate processes alone. We pride ourselves on delivering reliable solutions, tailored to our customers exacting requirements. Short run color self-adhesive labels can be perfectly produced using IIJ’s high resolution ColourPrint HiQ engines suitable for premium labels used in the food and beverage sector, personal care such as shampoo and cosmetics, nutraceutical labeling, and labels for consumer goods. For industrial labels, coding and marking labels, including security labels, the MonoPrint series really hits the spot.
Clothing swing tags and RFID labels are also easily produced by combining our outstanding variable data capabilities with our latest color management capabilities, giving accurate spot color identifiers required in this market. If migration and set off concerns exist for an application, IIJ also has a range of solutions using low migration inks, so pretty much whatever you are looking for in an inkjet labelling solution, IIJ can deliver. Not just for labels; the same concept works for flexible packaging, blister foil, commercial print and even corrugated board.
This year Labelexpo Europe will be more digital than ever as the market demands ever shorter runs and variable content.