There is a medium sized converter based in a town called Bornem, about a 30-minute drive from the Belgium capital city, Brussels. Like many of its type, it had expanded over the years with sporadic investment in printing and finishing technology, but despite the influx of new equipment, it found it was never quite able to jump up to the next level of production efficiency.
With a desire to be better, faster, and greener than its competition, Desmedt Labels has always been open to new technology, and installed digital print capability as far back as 1999 with an Indigo Omnius WebStream 50 press (pre HP). One perceived advantage of digital print was the reduced levels of wasted substrate, but Desmedt was soon to realize that while this new technology had advantages, it came at a price, and was not without its faults.
General Manager at Desmedt, Henri Köhler explains: “We have a long history of working with both digital and analog print technology, and the difference is vast, both in terms of production and business models. I’m disappointed to report that, based on our experience, the digital market and business practices within it, leave much to be desired.” According to FINAT, there were more digital than analog label presses installed in 2017, and this might indicate a major shake-up of the narrow web label market as we know it, with run lengths declining and demand for more personalization, versioning and individuality. But, Köhler sees this as something of a false dawn – it promises much that it cannot always deliver.
“Aside from its different print capability, the digital route conceals a number of hidden drawbacks – the click charge, coating, the more expensive servicing that the sophisticated technology needs, the expensive maintenance contracts involved, and by no means least, the fact that the press has no residual value as a used machine. It costs the same upfront but has to be written down to zero, like a computer,” he said.
With digital not the answer, and to move his company forward, Henri Köhler decided it was time to react to a shortfall in print capacity from his existing flexo presses and go looking for something new that would add productivity and value to his company’s capability. Initially setting out with a new 8-color flexo press in mind, Köhler visited all the leading contenders to carry out print trials on samples of his own work that would make a fair and quantifiable comparative test for all the press manufacturers. The test jobs included self-adhesive work, multi-layer labels, and some screen jobs that typified daily output at the Bornem plant.
Of all the demonstrations and print trials, one stood far ahead of all the others, and it was carried out in Warsaw at the new showroom and test facility opened by Mark Andy Europe back in 2013. Not previously a user of the American manufacturer’s technology, Köhler was impressed by the speed and quality he saw being produced on a Performance series press.
“When we tested the Mark Andy, we saw short setup times and waste levels that we did not believe were attainable – and in that instance we dreamed of making digital printing a thing of the past at Desmedt. Once a flexo press is set up, you can run very short or very long runs according to customer needs. And, the low cost of plates is far more attractive than click charges, especially on repeat run work,” he explained, saying that his digital capability would now be confined to niche work, variable data, and mock-ups.
So impressive was the Mark Andy press that Köhler completely re-thought his investment strategy from a single new press to a whole new production hall. This culminated in an order for three P7 servo presses. All are very high-spec and have the 430mm (17") web width, as well as being fitted with UV LED curing. All were installed over an 18-month period to September 2017.
The value of his judgement was fully proven after just one year of production with his first Mark Andy press – Köhler was able to get rid of his first digital machine and today is more efficient and profitable running flexo jobs of less than 300 linear meters, with the extra productivity that UV LEDoffers. While the majority of Desmedt’s output at present is for the food market, Köhler is keen to expand into the automotive and household product markets, and others where legislation is demanding multi-layer labels.
But, the three new Mark Andy presses are only part of the story at Desmedt. The rest is about the crucial role played by roll handling automation in the narrow web market. Often denounced as irrelevant on short run work, Köhler sees it as a key benefit in terms of time and cost. From previous experience with an MBSF unwind/splicer fitted to one of his previous flexo presses, Köhler knew what added productivity could be gained on a new high-speed P7, where job changes come around more frequently, especially as run lengths decline.
The decision to order two more Martin MBSF splicers and an LRD rewinder came easy to Henri Köhler. One of the new splicers is capable of matching the press speed of 300m/min on unsupported film, with a servo motor to accelerate the roll when splicing to reduce the festoon capacity and thus eliminate more waste.
With efficiency savings that are mind-boggling in today’s ultra-competitive market place, Henri Köhler reckons the Martin Automatic equipment gives him an extra 1200 hours/year on his new Mark Andy presses, which in themselves offer significantly higher output than the flexo and digital technology he was using only twelve months ago. If Desmedt is an example of nothing else, it is living proof of how judicious investment in the right technology and the use of appropriate automation, can move any label converter into a 21st century production unit capable of meeting current and future market demands.
As Henri Köhler concluded: “Digital technology has its place in the market, but many label converters see it as the answer to everything, and overlook what the latest analogue presses have to offer. Seen as complementary to the latest flexo equipment it has a unique value, but that’s all, as far as we are concerned.”
This is certainly one company to watch!