More than 12,500 converters turned out for Labelexpo Americas, demonstrating the recovery of an industry battered by stormy economic winds. Special report by Andy Thomas, Barry Hunt, Danielle Jerschefske, James Quirk and Mike Fairley
The show goes on
Labelexpo Americas 2010 saw a marked increase in visitors from the last Chicago show two years ago, with a total attendance of 12,761, writes Andy Thomas. This show helped kick start a renewed feeling of confidence among converters and suppliers, and by the end of the show 83 percent of the exhibition space had already been rebooked for Labelexpo Americas 2012.
The show saw nearly 400 national and international suppliers bringing their latest developments in technology and materials to demonstrate to the North American market. A wide range of new products were introduced and strong sales were reported by the flagship press suppliers. Nilpeter and Mark Andy reported selling 18 presses each at the show, with enquiries still coming in, while MPS and Xeikon sold 11 presses and Grafotronic reported the sale of four machines directly off the stand.
A significant feature of the show was the high number of Mexican and Latin American converters in attendance, buying top of the line machinery and demonstrating the strength of the economic recovery throughout the region.
Despite global economic uncertainties, Labelexpo Americas 2010 showed the industry in good heart and as resilient as ever. Many exhibitors reported healthy sales or serious interest, which confirms a keen interest among many converters to increase their business opportunities. As Mike Fairley, director of strategic development for Tarsus, expressed it: “Labelexpo Americas is no longer a show where the converter just looks at potential new presses and materials. Rather, it’s now part of the converter’s business process, of converter decision making, of looking for new ideas and opportunities, of understanding where they could be as a business in two, three or more years time. It’s certainly about understanding how the rapid evolution of digital printing technology and solutions is likely to change in the future.”
Visitors certainly had many opportunities to assess digital colour printing’s role as a mainstream on-demand technology. Besides the new generations of presses from HP Indigo and Xeikon, they could check out the rapid advances made during the past five years in full-colour inkjet systems. There are at least 30 different suppliers, including several small companies offering basic roll-fed platforms with a CMYK print engine and controller. Others offer inkjet retrofit services for customers’ existing presses or finishing lines.
For the first time at a Labelexpo event a series of Technology Workshops allowed attendees to compare set-up and run-time performance of four working presses in a neutral setting. They were: High Definition Flexo (HD) on a Nilpeter FB-3300S, electrophotographic liquid toner using an HP Indigo WS6000, dry toner with a Xeikon 3030 press and UV inkjet from a EFI/Jetrion 4830. The increasing importance of MIS workflows to quantify work patterns, including decisions as to what technology to choose, was explained by Tailored Solutions, CERM and EFI/Radius.
Flexo fights back
All this digital activity has encouraged the leading conventional press makers to facilitate shorter print runs by reducing set-up times with minimal start-up waste. Mark Andy’s slogan ‘It’s Not About Digital – It’s About Performance’ typifies this approach. It aimed to confront some familiar perceptions about flexo printing, such as expensive plate costs, high set-up wastage and lengthy set-up times. The company feels that the financial and breakeven models used by converters should not compare digital printing with older in-line flexo workflows. Instead they should examine the newer workflow methods and flexo platforms.
In Mark Andy’s case this means the Performance Series. On display in the US for the first time since its launch last year in Brussels, was a P7 UV flexo press. A new plate roll system gives repeat sizes as small as 5.5 inches (139mm) with reduced plate costs. Ink costs are also lowered. The web path design and advanced registration capabilities are said to reduce set-up waste by 60 percent over conventional in-line flexo technologies. Set-up for a four-colour job with preloaded inking takes just two minutes and less than 30 seconds for a single station set-up. Features include a load-and-lock inking system, self-positioning doctor blades, easy-to-operate controls and open access to units.
The new Performance Series P5 is even more focused on using in-line flexo for short runs. An interactive two-unit press module allowed attendees to experience a hands-on display focused on handling such runs. A P3 entry-level version without servo drives will be launched at Labelexpo India in December.
MPS Systems developed the Automatic Print Control system to replace manual knobs and adjustment wheels to help gain faster set-up times, reduced start-up waste and access to all digital data stored in the job memory. CrispDot and the Lean Inking option augment the servo-driven system, which is available on the EC and EF series of UV flexo presses. They are designed with short web paths and offer full lateral and running register control. At the show MPS introduced the EC 410 press with a 16-inch web width for packaging and labels. It also offers the new 22-inch wide EXL packaging press with in-line lamination, UV curing, and hot air dryers for water-based and solvent inks.
Nilpeter’ new FA-6 is another 22-inch wide press for producing flexible packaging applications or large volume PSA applications. The servo-driven press offers lightweight sleeve/plate technology and heads up the established FA-Line series. Also making its global debut was the 16.5-inch wide FG-4200 with similar sleeve-plate technology and a film package option for label and packaging materials. It is positioned between the modular FA-Line and the high-performance FB-Line. Also shown was the latest version of the 13-inch wide FB-3300S, which combined hot air drying with UV curing and water-cooled chill rollers. Its finishing functions included a leaflet/label or booklet system for running promotional products.
Displayed as a prototype, Revolver is a totally new approach to loading successive solid tooling, or magnetic flexible die plate cylinders, and indexing them in just a few seconds. The in-line module is said to save valuable set-up time and also reduces start-up waste. It also offers ergonomic benefits for operators, while helping to extend die life by eliminating handling mishaps.
Gallus adopted a road show theme for its rock star: the ECS 340 (Essential Converting System), complete with the big white truck that will transport it around North America. The so-called granite press has been installed in around 40 plants worldwide since its debut last year in Brussels. Aimed at short-to-medium run commodity label markets, the 13-inch wide ECS 340 is said to deliver low overall running costs, a short web path with minimal waste and fast set-ups. The five-colour version shown used ozone-free UV curing units from GEW, with servo controls for the front-loading anilox/impression cylinder and plate cylinder with sleeve technology. The technical granite core, along with an integrated water cooling system, is said to give the press a long service life, reduced noise and greater stability.
Omet showed the X-Flex 430 gearless combination press configured with twelve UV flexo units, plus two interchangeable rotary screen cassettes and rail-mounted cold and hot foiling units. The multi-substrate press features an exceptionally short web path between units to aid fast make-readies and reduce waste. The press helped Omet win this year’s Label Industry Award for Continuous Innovation as part of the Label Industry Global Awards announced during the show.
Codimag introduced the VIVA 420 Aniflo to the North and Latin American markets, with wine label printers as a key market. As the sole offset representative, it uniquely uses an anilox print unit with rubber blanket to distribute the ink volume, so dot gain is not related to the print pressure. The press is claimed to combine consistent offset quality with flexo’s ease of use. Demonstrations included a full print shop using EskoArtwork workflow and colour management tools, Agfa’s thermal CtP system, and a Toray plate processor. Visitors could compare printed jobs with their respective colour proofs.
At the show for the first time was a Chinese press manufacturer, Shantou Yiming Holotech Machine Company, which promoted a gravure press capable of printing holograms in-line without the use of foil at speeds up to 150 m/min. The press comes standard at 800mm wide and can print on materials 12 - 300 microns thick.
Stork Prints showed three new RSI (Rotary Screen Integration) printing modules for OEM partners Nilpeter, Mark Andy and Omet, which can be controlled through the main panel of the press. This provides simultaneous, centralised monitoring of all rotary screen positions alongside other printing and converting operations.
Front runners in any given technology like to mark company milestones. The opening of the show coincided with the tenth anniversary of acquisition by HP of Indigo. Since then HP Indigo has installed 1,000 presses - including the original Omnius series - for labels and packaging. The company now claims to be among the top three leading narrow web press makers (conventional and digital). Observing that market conditions have steadily moved the crossover point in digital printing’s favour, HP Indigo says its seven-colour WS6000 is now well placed to handle the 80 percent of label jobs that now fall within this threshold. It has installed over 140 versions of this model, which has a shrink sleeving and small carton capability, installed in over 30 countries.
The WS6000 set-up included an A B Graphic Digicon Series 2 finishing line, while the new Digicon Lite supported a similar model during the Technology Workshops. The company has introduced 20 technical upgrades, including a new blanket to improve substrate compatibility, and an enhanced unit for the photo imaging plate. Free upgrades for existing WS6000 users begin in Q1, 2011.
Also shown was the HP Indigo 5500 sheet-fed press for handling square cut and die cut label workflows. An optional thick substrate kit gives it a folding cartons capability. Heidelberg company Polar supported the sheetfed workflow with an off- line LabelSystem, composed of a Polar 78 X high-speed cutter and a DC-M stand-alone die-cutter. The manually loaded DC-M is designed for die-cutting label stacks and is claimed ideal for semi-automatic offline operation and small to medium runs.
As part of the Xeikon 3000 series, the company introduced the new high-end 3500 model. It handles paper and filmic labelstocks in widths up to 20.3 inches and takes the breakeven point to over 14,000 linear feet. It ran with an automated EskoArtwork JDF-enabled workflow system and CERM management information system. The 3500’s top speed is 63 ft/min regardless of the number of colours used or label size. The Ucoat inline finishing system applies flood varnishes and includes slitting and rewinding. The standard version offers CMYK plus spot colours.
Options include a security toner for anti-counterfeiting applications, and single pass opaque white.
The new entry-level Xeikon 3050 has a similar maximum web width and a true 1,200 x 3,600dpi resolution with support for extended gamut. The Xeikon 3030, which replaces the 3000 model, is a newly upgraded entry-level press for printing webs up to 13 inches wide at up to 31.5 ft/min. As an industry partner, Newfoil Machinery produced Xeikon-printed wine labels by adding hot foil stamping, die-cutting and embossing.
At a more entry-level Primera Technology introduced the CX1200 digital label press. Its CMYK laser print engine offers a print resolution of 2,400dpi using dry toner ink cartridges. The press prints 8.5-inch webs at 16.25 ft/min and uses powered unwind/rewinds stations. Also new is the roll-fed FX1200 finishing system with laminating, digitally-controlled die cutting, waste matrix remover, and slitting units.
The inkjet bandwagon
The latest drop-on-demand and grayscale printhead technology from OEM suppliers like Xaar, Konica Minolta, Memjet and Kyocera have increased inkjet’s appeal. By the same token, issues in respect of colour consistency, compatibility with MIS workflows, and possible limitations with substrates are receiving attention. For example, inkjet systems do not necessarily print on all substrates. Some gloss or semi-gloss labelstocks may require a primer, although not an over-varnish. More focus is being given to the cost of inks, their coverage and ensuring they are properly charged for.
EFI-Jetrion promoted turnkey packages based on the recently acquired Radius MIS business for labels and packaging.
It offers the Jetrion 4000 and 4830 driven by EFI’s Fiery XF front-end for printing CMYK with optional white to a web width of 8.3 inches. The facility to re-register webs of die cut labels is seen as a big advantage. EFI-Jetrion is seeking more opportunities to sell inkjet presses to brand owners following a breakthrough into the pharmaceutical industry.
The new 4830LED, based on a newly-developed LED-cured flexible ink set, allows users to print unsupported and heat sensitive materials, including shrink sleeve films. It retains the same grayscale printing capability, giving speeds up to 120 ft/min, for producing durable, shrinkable and flexible peel-resistant images without pre-coating or pattern-coating. LED curing upgrades are optionally available for existing Jetrion presses.
Low heat LED curing with LED pin fusing to give optimum colour matching is also standard on the ITS600, a fast and compact stand-alone UV inkjet label press from CSAT America/CSAT GmbH. It runs CMYK or four spot colours at up to 150 ft/min using Kyocera piezo printheads with four-level grayscale delivering 600 x 600dpi. The ITS600 also allows users to re-register webs of die cut labels, with its implications for in-house label production by certain end-users.
Durst featured the new Tau 150-8C. Like the standard Tau 150 it handles webs up to 6.5 inches at 157 ft/min, but in addition to CMYK and White it offers Orange and Violet modules with four Xaar 1001 grayscale printheads for each colour to cover 90 percent of the Pantone range. An additional varnish module offers any desired gloss level or spot varnish effects. The colour and varnish modules are optional for base configurations. Also shown was the high speed Tau 150 VDP option with a similar top speed for full label-to-label variability.
Durst’s Canada division launched DIVA, a digital varnishing module for the off-line Rotoworx 330. It is claimed as the first digital coater unit to produce high gloss, semi gloss, satin, matte and similar coatings using a single fluid in a single pass. It also produces special effects, such as textures and even tactile elements, and can vary the top-finish from label to label. The 13-inch wide DIVA module fully integrates with the Rotoworx 330, which offers semi-rotary die cutting at up to 160 ft/min, laminating and UV flood coating. Existing models can be field upgraded with the varnishing module.
Domino introduced the N-Series line-up to the North American market. It includes both stand-alone UV inkjet presses and modules featuring scalable print-width for OEM integration. The 13-inch wide N600 label press has a nominal CMYK print resolution of 1,200dpi (native 600dpi). It uses an EskoArtwork digital front-end and can operate in-line with a digital finishing line using a dancer roller web infeed. With four grayscales from the Kyocera KJ4 piezo printheads its top speed is 164 ft/min, or 246 ft/min with three grayscales printing onto a range of paper and plastic labelstocks. Standard features include a web cleaner, corona treater and automatic head cleaning. The company says a white ink for filmic labels is in the pipeline. Also new was the single-colour K600 for variable data printing to a 600dpi native resolution with up to four grayscale levels for widths from 4.25 to 30.8 inches.
Another Cambridge, UK-based company, Industrial Inkjet, introduced the wider ColourPrint 142HQ (print width of 142mm) using Konica Minolta printheads with variable data software, and with an imaging resolution up to 720 x 720dpi.
Roland DGA offers LED curing for the wide-web VersaUV LEC-330 and 300A inkjet printer/cutters with six and three printheads respectively. Both machines offer variable print resolutions on paper and film labelstocks up to 29 inches. As well as short-run labels, the machine’s straight web path allows it to print on semi-rigid board to produce prototypes of die cut folding cartons. Roland’s ECO-UV cartridges are available in CMYK, White and Clear (for profiled varnish effects). The company was awarded this year’s Label Industry Award for New Innovation.
INX International featured a technology demonstration of its NW100 CMYK digital press with shortwave LED curing. It prints at up to 80 ft/min with web widths of 6.3 inches. Like several other presses shown it uses Xaar’s 1001 piazoelectric printheads, while the patented Black Diamond LED lights came from Summit UV to cure Inx’s own Evolve UV inks. The press will be commercially available in Q1 2011.
Epson’s new six-colour SurePress L-4030 differs in using water-based pigmented inks and two-stage hot air dryers. It prints up to seven colours across the web with a stop/go movement. This translative method reduces the top speed to 16 ft/min, but allows webs up to 13 inches wide. Epson’s MicroPiezo printheads offer a resolution of 720 x 720dpi on paper and 1,440 x 720 dpi using film for good results with smooth gradations. The hexachrome ink set offers CMYK, Green and Orange, but no White at present.
Epson hosted Rotary Technologies’ exhibit, the Servo 3000 Infeed and Reregister unit. Described as an affordable facilitator, it is easily mounted on existing presses or die cutter/rewinds for converting digital workflows. Grafisk Maskinfabrik, which had a similar supporting role, demonstrated its DC-330mini for inline or offline finishing from digital and conventional presses. It offers print-to-cut registration, varnishing, die cutting, slitting and dual rewinding as standard. Options include corona treatment, web cleaning and lamination.
Dice Graphic Technologies introduced the GT-3000, a self-contained UV inkjet unit for retrofitting on equipment with web widths up to 22 inches. Rapid Label Systems showed the Rapid X2 for printing webs up to 25.6 inches wide for running with post-finishing equipment. Options include flexo coating, laminating, semi-rotary and flatbed die cutting. Like the narrower roll-to-roll Rapid X1 compact printer it uses Memjet printheads with water-based dye inks in CMYK plus Black. These give resolutions of 1,600 x 1,600dpi at 30 ft/min.
Telstar Engineering introduced the CAD-to-GO retrofit service which allows converters to mount variable information inkjet systems from Digital Printing Solutions & Technology between any flexo press print unit. Alternatively, Telstar provides off-line platforms using its own unwind/rewind equipment.
Atlantic Zeiser’s Gamma print engine modules have CMYK, plus White as standard. They deliver 8-level grayscales, with a native 360dpi resolution, at up to 80 ft/min. Gamma 70S and 70P versions have print widths of 2.75 inches, while the 140S and 140P have widths of 5.5 inches. Users can install the modules inline to existing equipment, or specify customized roll-to-roll platforms with integrated UV LED dryers.
Although not shown, Stork Prints promoted the DSI 4330L launched last year in Brussels. The modular hybrid system prints UV-cured CMYK to a maximum web width of 13 inches at a top speed of 114 ft/min. Depending on the level of grayscales, the drop-on-demand printheads offer an apparent resolution of 1,000dpi (360dpi native). Configurations include stand-alone operation, integration with conventional presses, or with in-line semi-rotary flexo and die cutting, slitting and matrix removal. A smaller showing of conventional presses compared with previous shows was more than counterweighted with the impressive displays of digital printing in its various guises. There were still plenty of developments among the heavy metal displays, but more significantly it reflected the start of an important stage in digital’s relatively young history.
LabelExpo Chicago 2010 was certainly a major improvement over 2008, not just in the attendance which was up a reported 5 per cent, but also the number and quality of exhibitors and their exhibits, writes Aldus’ Ian Guanaria
From an Australian and New Zealand point of view the attendance was not great when compared to previous years, but like LabelExpo in Brussels last year, the attendance was down but the clients who made the effort to attend were there to buy.
It was apparent by the large number of visitors to the combined Mark Andy/Comco/Rotoflex/Arpeco booth that the new Mark Andy Performance series line was the highlight of the show. Comments from clients from ANZ were complimentary and even some competitors commented about the large number of visitors packing the booth for the demonstrations from day one of the show.
The Mark Andy P7 flexo press made its North American debut at the show together with the worldwide release of the P5 model that was demonstrating to visitors how Flexo printing can compete with digital in the short run market. With the design of the Performance series print head for rapid job changeover and its ability to be able to handle repeats down to 127mm, the Performance series showed what the next generation press can offer for both high speed long run and short run markets.
During and shortly after the show Mark Andy sold nine Performance series presses including one destined for Australia, this machine will be the be largest ever Mark Andy press sold into Australia.
There was no shortage of newly released equipment at the show from our principals, including the new Rotoflex Varicut for digital finishing, the new Genesis advanced control system also from Rotoflex and updated UV drying equipment from GEW UK.
Teknek UK also showed a new lower cost contact web cleaner for lower speed applications & Keen Technology (KTI) demonstrated the upgraded small roll end of press KR turret rewinder, of which one was sold to an Australian printer.