Interview series: What’s the next game-changer? – Answers from Mike Fairley

Mike Fairley, director of strategic development Labels Group (Source: Labels Group)

NarrowWebTech asked label printers and converters to give their views about the past, the present and the future of the label industry. What was the most important thing to note in 2016? What will be relevant in 2017? Read here what label guru Mike Fairley think about the latest developments within our industry in the past year and in the immediate future!

Mike Fairley
Director of strategic development Labels Group


  1. Looking back at 2016, what were the most important developments in terms of technology and production workflow to affect the label industry?

 The ongoing development and innovation in digital printing, particularly in relation to inkjet and hybrid, plus moves into sheet-fed digital and flexible packaging, and the ongoing digitization of press set-up, inspection and finishing, are all having a significant impact on the industry

  1. Some describe Industry 4.0 as the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’. What is your opinion on this evolution of communications within the production chain, and how does it affect your workflow?

The impact of previous Industrial revolutions has largely been in relation to engineering and manufacturing ‒ moving from hand presses to mechanical, from wood to metal, to going wider and faster, ink and substrate evolution, mechanical typesetting and platemaking, etc. Today, the new Industrial Revolution is about knowledge, communication, immediacy, consumer impact, digitization, Cloud computing, the Internet of Things: it’s no longer engineering, mechanical, manufacturing, solutions that are changing the world. It’s also about new ways of living, lifestyle, learning, etc.

  1. What are your concerns and expectations for the label industry in 2017? What do you consider will be the game-changing developments? How does your view relate to what you might see at Labelexpo Europe 2017?

The key changes coming through, and having an impact at Labelexpo, will be related to managing information (MIS), managing colour, managing data, and the ongoing automation of workflows, leading eventually to fully automated label and package production. This will be aided by ongoing digitization of the printing process, shorter and shorter runs ‒ controlled by ever more sophisticated information and management systems using cloud computing and hand-held (WiFi) control devices. Other changes will relate to the continuing challenges of the environment and waste.

  1. Do you currently have digital printing capability? Will you be investing in a digital press (or presses) in 2017?

Digital/hybrid technology has an important place, either as fully integrated analogue and digital presses, digital presses with mechanic options, analogue press with digital options, or add-on digital units to conventional presses. It will take time for all this to settle down to determine exactly what is required, and a wide variety of solutions will be tried. It really depends on what the market needs to meet changing consumer trends in terms of personalization, more versions and variations, brand protection and security requirements. The next few years should see converters investing and trialling a variety of options.

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