NarrowWebTech editor Nick Coombes, who moderated the PackPrint Workshop at Labelexpo Europe 2015, believes that lateral thinking can save the cost of investing in specialist equipment.
BELGIUM • Labelexpo Europe 2015 was the fourth occasion on which organisers had organised live demonstrations of package printing, that is “non-label”, at its events in Brussels and Chicago, and having hosted all of them I can confirm that interest continues to grow with the size of the audience at each of the twice daily demonstrations.
On the premise that most people who attend Labelexpo are in some way involved in label converting, the number who expressed an interest in producing other forms of printed packaging is a clear indication that while there is no shortage of demand for printed labels, the demand placed on converters by brand owners and print buyers mean that profit margins are often squeezed to unacceptable levels.
But, to start at the very beginning, the whole concept of package printing at a label show is based on the relative size of the global markets. Market research indicates that labels accounts for some 15% by value, and although continuing to grow healthily, is unlikely to increase its share significantly as both flexible packaging and folding carton demand continues to grow among the nations emerging into branded packaged goods. If you exclude corrugated packaging and metal decorating as specialised markets, you are still left with a package print market that is four or five times the size of labels, and growing rapidly. Did you know, for example, that the global flexible packaging industry is estimated to be worth more than EUR 220 billion by 2020, and worldwide sales of folding cartons will exceed EUR 90 billion by then?
Why do I think that these other markets offer significant opportunity for the label converter? Simply because the narrow web industry is one of the most reactive sectors of package printing, and has been quick to respond to the changing demands of brand owners, and develop and embrace the new technology that is required to deliver higher quality at lower prices on shorter runs with faster turnarounds. And the narrow web industry does it day-in, day-out, better than anyone else.
So, my point is, why not utilise these skills to diversify from solely label production into niche markets, where competition is less and profit margins better? For many, the reason not to do so revolves around the belief that they would incur huge investment costs in order to compete. Not true! And the PackPrint Workshop was the opportunity to prove this for real.
Courtesy of Nilpeter and Xeikon, two manufacturers well known for their label presses, the Workshop was able to show how, with little adjustment and extra technology, the flexo press could produce flexible packaging in the form of sachets, and the digital press manufacture personalised promotional cartons. The fundamental principle was that neither press was dedicated to its alternative production mode, and could easily switch back to producing labels for much of its working day.
Clearly, I am not suggesting that any narrow web label house takes on the might of the wide web converters in flexible packaging, or the large sheet fed offset manufacturers of folding cartons. It’s not the volume work we are interested in here, but the bespoke shorter run jobs, which in many cases are required by your existing label customers who are currently sourcing them elsewhere. It was on this premise that we ran the twice-daily demonstrations in Hall 8 that proved popular with audiences that varied from around 30 in number to well over 100 on occasion.
The Nilpeter press was one of the company’s latest FA-4* flexo lines, specified with eight UV-flexo units and capable of running at 175 m/min (574 fpm) on a 420 mm (16.6”) web width with various repeat lengths. The demonstration was given by Paul Teachout, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Nilpeter USA, who pointed out the value of FA-4’s modular design for both operational control and high quality printing on short run work.
Nilpeter’s Press Management Centre (PMC) provides overall control and is mirrored by the Air Control Satellite (ACS), effectively a ‘tablet’ that was described as no more difficult to use than a smart phone, and the system allows instant recall of previous jobs for repeat working. This triple-axis servo press was fitted with gearless plate sleeve technology that made changing jobs during the demonstration a simple, quick, and above all clean operation.
The two jobs were run on Synthogra multi barrier material made up of a 12-micron polyester outer, a metallised sandwich layer and a 50-micron polyethylene inner, after which the web was laminated with a 15-micron high gloss BOPP for further protection and enhanced shelf-appeal. The material was pre-cleaned and corona treated with Meech and Vetaphone units, and both jobs were printed four-colour process using Flint’s Flexocure Ancora low migration inks, with one job having a white added, and the other a varnish.
Paul Teachout was keen to point out the value of the company’s Cleaninking system, which is a single component, with no pan or doctor blade, and which runs a lower ink volume in the reservoir and offers consistent colour throughout the run. To optimise temperature control he pointed to the chill drum located below the impression roller, with the UV lamp at its apex for best ink adhesion to the substrate.
The Xeikon press used at the Workshop demo was a 3500 model running the Xeikon QA-I dry toner four process colours, including “Super black”, plus orange on a 516 mm (22”) wide web at 19 m/min (62 fpm). Two white coated materials were used for the jobs, a MetsäBoard Carta Integra 265 gsm (410-micron) and a Stora Enso 330 gsm (415-micron), which were roll fed after being treated with Meech’s latest CyClean non-contact web cleaner that removes particles down to 0.5-micron, and incorporates fluid dynamic properties for higher cleanliness levels in carton production. After printing, the web was varnished in the Web Varnish Module (WVM), with food safe Actega AQ41301 gloss coating, before being sheeted and delivered into a high-pile stacker. Repeat length is variable from 250 to 1000 mm (10” – 40”).
Talking the audience through the demonstration, Xeikon’s International Training Manager Frank Jacobs explained the background to carton printing with a Xeikon digital engine, and mentioned that a number of significant carton installations have now been made across Europe. He said that the demand for shorter run lengths, variable data, and versioning, played into the hands of digital technology, and the machine’s 1200 x 3600dpi resolution allowing it to equal or better the quality standards of other printing processes, was attracting new business for Xeikon users.
The printed carton blanks were finished offline, and off stand. MBO in Hall 9 handled die cutting, waste stripping and folding/gluing, while Bograma showed how its BSR550 rotary system uses male and female flexible dies for die-cutting and waste stripping before shingling the cartons. Offering quick set-up and low cost tools, this is seen as an ideal solution for digital carton production. Elsewhere, Herzog + Heymann showed how short runs of different carton formats could be folded, glued and shingled at high speed.
Both demonstrations attracted a keen audience, and while the planned Q&A sessions proved somewhat lacking in appeal, both presenters commented on the level of interest shown afterwards on a one-to-one basis, indicating that the Workshop had tapped into a seam of interest that has perhaps been dormant up to now. At no time were the label converters encouraged to quit their traditional markets for the wider world of printed packaging, merely encouraged to indulge in some lateral thinking.
Concluding the presentation, I suggested that the limitations placed on any modern label converting business has less to do with the technology, and more to do with the mindset of those running it. Today’s printing presses, whether flexo or digital are extremely adaptable performers – you just have to maximise on their capabilities!