In an exclusive interview with L&NW, Alon Bar-Shany, general manager of HP Indigo, explains how the new product range, which includes the HP Indigo V12 digital press, has been engineered to “transform” digital printing. The line promotes digital printing at flexo-like speeds, without sacrificing any of the attributes that have become synonymous with HP Indigo printing technology.
“I think the V12 was not something that was expected,” notes Bar-Shany. “We thought that we would improve by 50% or 75%, but we weren’t expecting a 5-times productivity improvement. And, honestly, I think the V12 will disrupt the label industry for the next decade.”
HP has worked closely with converters and brands to design these new platforms. The HP Indigo V12 digital press can print up to 12 colors, while printing up to 400 fpm (120 m/m) at six colors. The press accommodates a host of materials, including pressure sensitive, sleeves, tubes, IML and flexible packaging, among others. The thicknesses range from 12 micron film to 450 micron (18pt) board.
“The label market is much healthier than most other segments, and it’s still growing,” says Bar-Shany. “Our customers have grown by double digits for many years, and they now produce about 5% of the total label output in the world, which is not an insignificant number. We strategically ask ourselves what we can do to help our customers print more, and we work closely with them. We needed to broaden our application range, (making improvements) around the opacity of white and our range of colors. (We’ve improved) color management, quality, and time to color. We’re seeing the average run is shortening and the complexity is increasing, and the time to deliver is getting down to the 48-72 hour range, so it’s also about improving workflow – and specifically color. Then there is always the productivity of the press. It’s beyond just the speed. It’s the whole ability to process dozens of jobs a day, from the workflow all the way to finishing.”
In addition, HP has launched the HP Indigo 6K and HP Indigo 8K digital presses for labels, and the HP Indigo 25K for flexible packaging and labels. The presses are intended to support multiple applications, from labels to shrink sleeves to flexible packaging. They also incorporate the increased demand for sustainable solutions.
“What we’ve done with the 6K and the 8K is expand the application range through a combination of new inks and improved workflow,” says Bar-Shany. “We’ve also have a huge focus on security and brand protection, because we see that being of high interest to the brands. There’s a big focus on sustainability, where we’re expanding the substrate range and looking a lot more at recyclability and de-inking.”
According to Bar-Shany, arguably HP’s biggest product development has been Spot Master, which is available across the entire line of label and packaging presses. Spot Master allows printers to reach a spot color in less than three minutes while producing three meters of waste, with an accurate Delta E.
The modular nature of the new presses serves as a benefit to current HP Indigo customers. On the 6K, 8K and 25K presses, most of the improvements are backwards-compatible. This allows customers who have bought the existing presses in recent years to upgrade software, hardware, ink sets, workflow and more.
“The intent is to help our customers grow their business with their existing portfolio, with a focus on short-order runs and higher-value applications,” says Bar-Shany. “These include personalized campaigns, multiple SKUs, complex spot colors, brand protection and so forth. The way we look at the world, we always want to introduce new products and new technologies, but we also want to protect the investment of our existing customers.”
HP has continued to develop its technology to better meet demand for growing end uses like craft beers, wine, spirits, cannabis, nutraceuticals, to name a few, but also the burgeoning market of brand protection. Brands are increasingly requiring security attributes to their labels, more than most would realize.
“There’s a big thrust for brand protection, more than I expected and more than you would hear about,” states Bar-Shany.” Many products produced today on HP Indigo have two or three levels of security. Some will just have a 3D barcode, but many will have invisible inks, a barcode and a track-and-trace system. Obviously, brands don’t talk about it because they don’t want consumers to know that it’s there. That’s been a nice driver.”
While HP has continued to see sustained growth, Bar-Shany notes that 90% of labels are still printed via analog technologies – leaving a great opportunity for digital printers. “Eventually, if you want to continue to penetrate the market, going from 5% to 15 or 20%, you have to bring printers something that is the speed of flexo but doesn’t sacrifice the benefits of digital,” he says. “You can go fast, but you don’t want to lose the media coverage or the ink set, or to slow down when there’s high coverage. That’s the logic behind the V12.”
Despite the influx of digital players in the market, HP has seen its popularity continue to grow. Bar-Shany credits HP’s customers, as well as the company’s foresight, for its sustained success.
“I think we have an in-depth understanding of the needs of our customers,” he explains. “When we design a product, we think about it from an end-to-end perspective. I also think we have amazing customers, who are very open with us and tell us what they like but also push us very hard when they want to see improvements. We’re fortunate in having a community that – when we designed the V12 – we can go to 5-10 years before the product launch and ask them what they need.”