Well, believe it or not, Dutch road-making company KWS is mixing recycled, used toilet paper with asphalt to provide a noise-reducing surface for Amsterdam’s streets. The cellulose is supplied by a company called Cellvation, which runs filter installation at a sewage treatment plant just north of Amsterdam. Fine sieve screen separation technology is used to recover toilet paper from the incoming sewage water. This invention proves that when it comes to paper, nothing is truly waste and everything can be recycled. And it’s maybe coming soon to a road near you.
FINAT displays “cautious optimism”
The European label association is well-known for its sober appraisal of the economy. Its latest report on labelstock consumption blames the usual suspects, namely “a slowdown, in line with the uncertain economic climate in the face of Brexit, political uncertainty in the Eurozone and the possible escalation of the trade dispute between the US and China.” The same FINAT report gives total labelstock growth for 2018 as 1.4% up on 2017, which given the encouraging start to the year, probably means that consumption fell slightly during the second half. Direct thermal and filmic substrates were the bright spots, and the general air of uncertainty does not seem to have dampened Europe’s label converters from planning to invest in digital presses.
The annual Pharmapack show took place in Paris this year on February 6-7. By happy coincidence – or maybe not a coincidence - the new safety regulations of the EU Directive for increasing protection from falsification of medicines came into effect on February 9. This has activated the “SecurPharm” system initiated by the industry, wholesalers and pharmacists. The packaging of prescription medicines must now generally have two safety features: a tamper-evident seal and a unique serial number, which can be checked for authenticity and validity before the medicine is dispensed by the pharmacist or clinic. During a transition period, packaged medicines already on the market may continue to be sold and used until they expire. SecurPharm is embedded into a Europe-wide protective system to combat fake medicines. Initially, the safety systems will take effect in 26 EU Member States, as well as in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. By 2025, Italy’s and Greece’s systems will also be added. Roughly 22,000 manufacturers, pharmacies, wholesalers and hospitals have been integrated into the SecurPharm system, which covers all prescription drugs irrespective of their country or region of manufacture.
At Pharmapack, more than 40 of the 250 exhibitors were showing anti-counterfeit software or inspection systems, and many more showcased their anti-counterfeit labels and packaging (the new European legislation makes mandatory a double anti-reclosing device on each secondary packaging). The Japan-based labelstock producer Lintec was at the Paris show to promote, amongst other specialties, its Securafol tamper-evident face material. And according to Lintec’s Gary Dixon, 2019 could be the year that Lintec moves into Europe in a big way. Avery Dennison is of course a leading labelstock producer, but it is also working hard to develop and market its smart label technologies, and in particular its TT Sensor Plus 2, a time/temperature label for use with temperature-sensitive products like vaccines. France’s Arjo Solutions used Pharmapack to promote its smartphone application SAFE (Signoptic Authentication For Everyone), designed to give an idiot-proof yes-or-no verdict on any medical security label. Not the most glamorous but perhaps the most interesting packaging innovation was on the Schreiner MediPharm booth. Designed mainly for clinical trials, the Smart Vial Kit enables electronic tracking and monitoring of medication dispensing and intake. This simple-looking box, covered with a cardboard layer of numbered compartments, has perforated areas corresponding to individual compartments. When the user opens a compartment to remove a vial, the removal is tracked electronically.
The ambiance at the Pharmapack show was upbeat, and it seems almost mean to criticize. But several insiders, as well as The Economist magazine, have cast doubts on the cost-effectiveness of this latest anti-counterfeit measure. For a start, seizures of fake drugs in Europe are falling, according to Europol, and the latest directive only covers prescription drugs. What’s more, it only covers traditional distribution channels like hospitals and pharmacies. Those who buy online get no protection, and that is in all probability the way most of the illegal stuff goes. There are even a few conspiracy theorists, who think the whole anti-counterfeit business is a put-up job to protect big pharma against cheaper non-European imports. But whatever its merits or demerits, the latest European Directive (FMD 2011/62/UE, in case you want more details) is a boon to the developers of smart packaging and labels.
Death of a print show
Europeans like historic, traditional things: the Swiss Guard, Oktoberfest, the British Queen…the list is endless. So, scarcely an eye was dry when it was announced that the IPEX print show, first held in 1880, had breathed its last breath. The show, which at its peak, attracted several hundred thousand printers and in Europe was second only to drupa, clocked up just 7,000 visitors and around 150 exhibitors when the final curtain came down last year. What went wrong? Many blame the decision to move the show from Birmingham, in the industrial Midlands of England, to London. Others conversely blame both venues, London for being too crowded and expensive, and Birmingham for its un-sexy image. Dusseldorf, home to drupa, is not too sexy either, but it does have first-rate air, road and rail communications, as well as a spacious modern exhibition ground. As we all know, emails and computers have not helped the global print business, and drupa has clearly been holding the top cards in a winner-takes-all contest to serve Europe’s print business. When it comes to label shows, Tarsus Exhibitions, which runs the worldwide Labelexpo events, has something close to a monopoly. A show called Label & Print, held in Birmingham, England in late February, was mainly a forum where label and packaging converters as exhibitors could meet brand owners and other end users. However, several label press and equipment manufacturers, including Domino, Konica Minolta, Epson, Esko, Durst and Dantex, all chose to exhibit.
In last month’s Europe News, we reported that the British label sector is showing the traditional stiff upper lip faced with the risk of being cut out of Europe at the end of March. This is not the case with the plastics business. If we are to believe a poll carried out by the British Plastics Association: three-quarters of respondents stated that a no-deal Brexit would have a “negative” or “very negative” effect on their business.
The Association’s director general Philip Law has been lobbying members of Parliament to persuade them that a no-deal Brexit is a bad idea and would have negative consequences for the plastics industry. “We are a major importer of raw materials and equipment, much of it from EU sources,” he said. “The EU is a key market. Many of our companies have EU subsidiaries or parents. Our views must be recognized. The plastics industry is the UK’s third largest manufacturing sector, employing over 166,000 people across the country.” Many other British industries are shouting the same message. Whether Britain’s politicians are listening is another matter.
Another digital label press
Most people will agree that the digital label business is growing fast, but that the number of suppliers of digital label presses is growing even faster. That has not stopped UK-based Dantex from launching a new model, the Pico Colour, which your correspondent was invited to see at Dantex’s German office near Mannheim. His first question, predictably, was, “What can this press do that the others can’t?” Marc Fiadino of Dantex took up the challenge: “We reviewed the digital presses currently available in Europe,” he said, “and set them against what the market wanted. The subjects that kept recurring were the high acquisition cost of a digital press, the uncertainties about reliability and user-friendliness, the need for a high-opacity white ink, and, for many presses in the medium-price range, the absence of online finishing. Rapid and perfect color matching also ranked high on users’ wish lists. So, starting from the drawing board we designed the Pico Colour to provide an answer to each of these needs. And today you can see the fruit of our research and judge for yourself.” The Pico Colour is a compact press with a footprint of 330x170 cm, a print width of 8¼" and is equipped with Xaar 1003 UV printheads. The basic model prints in four colors plus white. A diecutting unit and a rewinder are also available as options. The minimum drop size is 6 picoliters, giving a print quality close to offset with a remarkable optical resolution (1018 dpi). With a maximum speed of 82 fpm at 360 x 360 dpi, this press prints on a wide range of paper or synthetic substrates from 100 to 300 microns, including structured papers.
“You’ve seen the user-friendliness and simplicity of the operator interface,” added Fiadino. “What you do not see is the color management and order preparation software that gives you a preparation and setup time of less than 15 minutes in total.”
CEO Richard Danon has a reputation for making the right business decision at the right moment. His company’s main business is distributing Toray printing plates throughout Europe. In 1988, Dantex pioneered the European launch of Aquaflex, a range of specialist water wash photopolymer plate processing equipment, and shortly afterwards this led to the supply of electronic equipment to the prepress market. Today, the company has offices in most European countries and is reckoned – by its own account – to be Europe’s biggest distributor of letterpress and flexo plates for the label and packaging industries. The Pico Colour is not Dantex’s only venture into digital press manufacturing: it also makes and markets a larger version, the PicoJet. The company has had a good nose for business opportunities in the past, and these two presses seem to tick the right boxes. But whether they can succeed in a very crowded market sector is another question. A devaluating pound sterling would help, and that is certainly in the cards.
Doing business in Europe
Every year the World Bank studies how easy it is to do business in every country of the world, looking at a range of criteria from bureaucratic complexities to ease of getting utilities. The winners and laggards don’t change much from year to year but contain some surprises. The Scandinavian and Baltic countries continue to score well, and more surprisingly so does Georgia (ours, not yours). The fact that the “most difficult” European countries include Luxemburg and Cyprus is possibly due to these countries’ efforts to counter their reputations as tax havens. However, before you get any false impressions, note that the World Bank classes all European countries without exception in the “easy” category. So if you want to invest – Europe’s open for business!