This is driven in part by changing market dynamics and ever-evolving demands from label customers, with a growing number of SKUs, a dramatic reduction in average job lengths and life-cycles for mass-produced products and a significant increase of the regulatory content that is required on products. But it is also due – in part at least – to the fact that players in the label printing industry have been willing to embrace change and pioneer new printing and converting methods. The result in recent years has been an increasing number of label types and variety of labels in the industry.
So, is that set to continue? And should we look to the label industry as a weather vane for the packaging industry overall? Here we look at four key trends in the labelling industry and the potential impact these may have.
1. The integration of digital and analog – The label sector has clearly been an early adopter of digital printing. Digitally-printed labels have boomed in recent years, driven by market demands for shorter runs, more customized packaging, greater sustainability and the need to help products stand out even more.
The rest of the packaging market is following. Indeed, we have recently seen a tipping point in the industry with more new narrow web digital press installations than flexo presses. Beyond labels, analysts expect a strong growth in digital for corrugated, folding carton and flexibles applications.
The capabilities of digital printers and presses are increasing, but such breakthrough innovations can take more time than expected to become mainstream. Digital represents an entirely new way of processing jobs, from the file to the end product, and step-by-step, it will enable companies to reach new frontiers in quality, productivity and overall workflow. In addition, the online “digital product” is growing in importance; sophisticated software is enabling more of the design, approval and marketing process to be completed using the digital product. This will change the working dynamic between Converters / Printers and Brand Owners as they will share a more digitized cooperation throughout the workflow.
2. The rise of customization and premium labels – Analog printing is well suited for mid-to-long applications and will continue to contribute to a large percentage of global production. Meanwhile, demand is evolving rapidly towards more customization and promotion, which means smaller runs, greater cost constraints and eventually the transformation of the entire digital workflow. Being able to produce results with maximum flexibility and to an optimum economical value will give digital printing a huge foothold in all sectors.
Brands, small and large, are promoting so-called “targeted campaigns”, where the labels alone can enhance the apparent quality of a product. Different print effects – such as hot foil stamping, cold foil stamping and gravure printing – are used to embellish the labels to give them a more ‘premium’ appearance, as are tactile or haptic effects using processes like spot varnishing. Some of these enhancements can even be done digitally.
We will likely see a better fit in the industry between conventional flexo, Extended Color Gamut (ECG) and digital printing technologies, all used optimally to meet the increasing demand for labels.
3. Demand for better color control – from file to finished product – Understandably, Brand Owners have a great demand for color consistency. They know that their customers subconsciously look to the packaging and the label for cues about quality, so any discrepancy issues with brand colors can lead to a negative perception.
The increasing demand for color consistency is leading the drive towards the Extended Color Gamut (ECG). ECG printing uses three additional ink colors - orange, green and violet (OGV) – on top of the conventional colors of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK), making for a total of seven in total (CMYKOGV). Printing with a traditional CMYK blend only matches approximately 60% of the Pantone – but when printing with a CMYKOGV blend, it is possible to match 90%+ of the Pantone. Again, in this domain, innovation will be at the forefront to improve ink while increasing the Pantone reach.
What the industry needs to see is repeatability and consistency. Now, the digitization of color matching has made 100% color conformity with the job master request a reality. Brand Owners want to achieve color conformity on a global scale, irrespective of where their printing suppliers are located in the world. Converters have been pleasantly surprised by the outcomes that will enable them to deliver on this request. They also recognize the immediate advantages in flexibility and time-to-market when using the ECG technology in combination with digital automation in flexo presses.
4. Increasing automation and Internet of Things (IoT) – The growing demands on label printers for shorter print runs, faster turnaround, and greater flexibility and customization is driving the industry towards higher levels of automation across digital and analogue printing methods.
Ultimately, this will likely lead towards integrated workflows optimizing time to market and increasingly satisfying consumer demands. Already, systems can link to Cloud applications and monitor machines and productivity.
Higher levels of automation of course have an impact on the type of personnel needed. Human errors are the biggest reason for product recalls; step-by-step, new solutions will significantly reduce this risk. A more important role will be taken by the pre-press specialist and the supply chain people, ensuring there are no bottlenecks, but rather a smooth automated flow.
Why Bobst is labeled as the leading converting and printing equipment supplier in the industry
Bobst is one of the world’s leading suppliers of equipment and services to packaging and label manufacturers – prides itself on keeping ahead of the latest trends in labelling and other packaging sectors. It is a result of listening to customers and understanding the requirements of Brand Owners and being able to produce global and most competitive solutions.
For example, industrializing the use of a comprehensive range of printing technology, from high graphic flexo, to Extended Color Gamut (ECG) and to digital printing, BOBST has been at the forefront of increasing the product portfolio and applications domains.
The company has been an advocate of the ECG concept since 2013 and introduced, in collaboration with a team of leading flexo technology suppliers, REVO 7-color Digital Flexo technology in 2016. Its experience and expertise can take the printing industry to a new industry practice, to the benefit of Brand Owners and Converters. Digital Flexo enables the production of short and long runs with full color conformity for repeat jobs, high productivity and low operation costs.
Meanwhile, in terms of a complete digital printing process, Mouvent has been created as the digital printing competence center of the Bobst Group. Mouvent’s innovative digital label printers have been launched in Europe late 2018 and ramping up in 2019. They are the LB701-UV mini label press with 6 colors + white, which is the smallest high-productivity label press on the market; the LB702-UV label press, which allows fast and easy industrial label production at an incredible high printing resolution and optimizes the TCO; and the game-changing LB702-WB label press, which uses only 100% water-based Mouvent inks, making it 100% free of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and 100% food safe.
Bobst is fully committed to sustainability, developing technical solutions for reducing waste levels and energy use in the production cycle. An example in flexible materials is developing solutions for the production of high barrier materials that – by being single layer – can be fully recycled.
Overall, Bobst provides a wide range of solutions for the labels and flexible packaging industry, from digital presses to digital flexo, traditional UV flexo and multi-process printing units. All the solutions deliver best value for quality and combine digitalization, automation and connectivity innovations. By connecting all the systems that relate to production, IoT solutions allow users to monitor the performance of equipment along the value chain. Bobst solutions also mean a truly global service and comprehensive technical support, which is becoming more and more connected, fully equipped with online controls, with web portal access and round the clock service support.
So, as label printing continues to grow, Bobst will increase its position, supplying innovative solutions to satisfy the most demanding Brand Owners and Converters.
About the author: Federico D'Annunzio is Product Owner, Hybrid & Label Printing, for Bobst, a supplier of substrate processing, printing and converting equipment and services for the label, flexible packaging, folding carton and corrugated industries. Founded in 1890 by Joseph Bobst in Lausanne, Switzerland, BOBST has a presence in more than 50 countries, runs 14 production facilities in 8 countries and employs more than 5 600 people around the world. The firm recorded a consolidated turnover of CHF 1 635 million for the year ended December 31, 2018.