With 600+ exhibitors at Labelexpo Europe, not all of them could get the press coverage they deserve. Grafikontrol, for example, is an Italian manufacturer of control/inspection systems for a range of different printing processes. The company’s owner and sales manager Paoli de Grandis was upbeat, saying, “The adhesive label industry is of great interest to us, and we will continue to be present at Labelexpo in the future.”
According to Mr. de Grandis, Labelexpo 2017 was notable for two trends: digital printing, increasingly present in the label industry, and – unsurprisingly – the importance of inspection/quality control. He said, “100% control is increasingly seen as a key asset in label production.”
Denmark may be a cold country, but it is a hotbed of suppliers to the label industry. Vetaphone, maker of corona treatment units, definitely has the wind in its sails, with more than 10,000 units sold worldwide just for the narrow web sector. Kevin McKell, VP of sales and marketing, told your correspondent, “A lot of visitors this year did their research beforehand, and this was a very noticeable and positive change. There is heightened awareness today about the importance of corona treatment, especially with so many new substrates coming onto the market. Label printers are realizing that quality printing is not just about the press itself but also about preparing the substrate properly. Our business is booming, and we have just opened a new facility in Denmark that doubles our capacity.”
It is a mystery where the Kyoto-based Screen Group got its name, as it certainly does not make screen printing equipment. It is, however, one of the more successful Asiatic manufacturers of digital inkjet presses now moving into the European label and packaging market (there were at least half a dozen of them at Labelexpo this year). “Our low-migration inks are one of the strengths of our digital presses,” Carlo Sammarco, commercial director of Screen Europe, told your correspondent. “The Truepress Jet L350UV + LM features recently-developed low-migration inks and a nitrogen purge mechanism that dramatically reduces the extractable ink components after printing. In addition to limiting the risk of migration, these innovations significantly reduce the typical odor of UV inks.”
Among the other advantages of the Truepress, according to Sammarco, is its refrigerated drum, which allows printing on heat-sensitive media. Its speed (up to 60 m/m) and its (optional) orange ink provide a wider color range than the classic CMYK. Several sales of this press have been announced since the show, including one to the James Hamilton Group in Northern Ireland.
Another Japanese manufacturer with eyes on the European market is Lintec. Exhibiting at Labelexpo Europe for the second time, this labelstock manufacturer has limited ambitions, at least for the time being. “We produce 35 million m2 per month,” general manager Masaaki Yoshitake told your correspondent, “but freight costs to Europe mean we can only be competitive on specialty grades.” Among the grades Lintec showcased at Labelexpo were “super-strength” labelstock for adhesion to difficult surfaces and an ultra-low-migration grade for such uses as labeling plastic pharmaceutical bottles.
Opinions differ on the future of rotary screen printing, but Hank Guitjens, commercial director of screen press manufacturer SPGPrints, is bullish about the technology. “Nothing can replace screen printing for opacity, vivid colors and a tactile feel to the label,” he insisted. SPGPrints also displayed its recently launched Pike 700, a digital inkjet press. This is known in some circles as hedging one’s bets. The same might, just possibly, be said of Flint Group, which now has divisions covering almost everything a label converter could need. During a press conference at the Flint Group booth, CEO Antoine Fady commented, “We are now a one-stop-shop for label printers, and at this show for the first time, we are bringing together our entire range from prepress, plates, inks, via digital printing right through to finishing and delivery.”
Niklas Olsson, Flint Group’s global manager for the narrow web division, opined that for inks, the future belongs to low-migration products (for which Flint has increased its production capacity), as well as for LED-curable inks. He also stated that, despite the undeniable advantages of digital (Xeikon is now part of the Flint Group!), flexo technology is becoming more and more efficient. For any job over 700 running meters (2,000 feet), Olsson – if he were a betting man – says he would put his money on flexo as the winning technology.
During the show, Martin Automatic booked several orders with new and old customers. According to Craig Thompson, director of international sales, “Labelexpo is an opportunity to learn how others are doing. The exchange of ideas helps us focus on what customers really need.” The show was also an opportunity to introduce Gaetan de Charry, Martin Automatic’s new agent for France. “Last but by no means least,” added regional sales director Ed Pittman, “we also serve very good hot dogs at our booth, an excellent tradition and highly appreciated by our visitors.”
For the third time running, Labelexpo Europe featured a “Linerless Trail,” coordinating the booths of Henkel, Mitsubishi, Ritrama and other substrate and equipment manufacturers. The question was put to Lisa Milburn, managing director of show organizer Tarsus’ Labels & Packaging Group, whether this was still a good idea, in view of the rather tepid enthusiasm for linerless. She replied, “Linerless remains a niche area of interest but with significant developments.” It will be a test of how significant the developments are when we see – or don’t see – the Linerless Trail at the next Labelexpo Europe in 2019.
Everyone in the label business is getting excited about digital printing. Everyone? Well, not quite, and for a heretical view, who better than Benoît Demol, owner/manager of French press manufacturer Codimag. “Sure, digital is for very short print runs and for gimmicks like putting different first names on soft drink bottles, but that’s all. And as for flexo/digital hybrid presses, a waste of money all along the line.”
Codimag’s specialty is its Aniflo technology, based on waterless offset, which Demol claims as giving all the advantages of both offset and flexo, with none of the drawbacks. The company’s presses sell well in Europe, China and South America (but not, curiously, in North America). At the Codimag plant just outside Paris, two presses, both destined for China, are nearing completion. But when the company invited your correspondent to visit one of their customers, it was not to China that he went but to the Champagne region (much closer and with no culture shock).
Imprimerie Billet is in a small village entirely surrounded by vines. It is by French standards a medium-sized label printer with annual sales of $20 million. “We make champagne labels and nothing else,” explained Arnold Derégnaucourt, fourth-generation owner/manager of this family business.
He reckons that around one-third of the region’s growers are his customers and that he and they like the labels coming off the new press. “Codimag’s Aniflo technology combines the advantages of flexo and offset, and the inline hotfoil/embossing unit is also very powerful and fast. Our operators especially appreciate the fast setup given by waterless offset. This sharply reduces the startup waste. With more and more short runs, it’s an important advantage.”
Surely, inquired your correspondent, more short runs call for something other than conventional printing technology? And for the second time that day he got an earful of very lukewarm praise for digital. “Two years ago, we invested in a digital label press from a leading manufacturer,” said Monsieur Derégnaucourt, “and it’s still only running a few hours per day. Our customers expect the very best in metallic colors, and digital isn’t giving us that. And it’s expensive.”
Champagne, like Viagra and Rolex watches, is often faked. In terms of anti-piracy protection, Monsieur Derégnaucourt predicts a generalization of anti-piracy systems used today on the more expensive brands. “Traceability, using RFID and QR codes, makes the forger’s work more complicated and also allows exporters to better control the gray market.”
Imprimerie Billet already offers smart labels that it encodes in-house. Among the other trends in the champagne label market, he expects to see new substrates and finishings, and in particular more tactile surfaces. Screen printing, according to him, is a process that is too slow and will have to lose importance. Lable & Narrow Web readers who follow the champagne markets of the world will know that, despite the efforts of your correspondent, the French market is declining slightly, while export markets, in particular the United States and China, are doing very nicely, thank you. This year’s grape harvest, say the experts, will give lower quantities than last year but with excellent quality, and no doubt, a satisfactory return to all those involved, label converters included.