Labelexpo 2014: Technology raises the industry bar

USA The ubiquity of digital technology made its presence felt in strong measure at this year’s Labelexpo in Chicago. Few operations in label converting remain wholly mechanical, such is the penetration of computerized functionality throughout the production process. In the digital colour printing field, inkjet presses continue their steady incursion into the short-run arena, while the hybrid press, as evidenced by Mark Andy’s newest venture, once again vies for a place in this ever evolving industry.

Labelexpo Americas, held biennially in Chicago, has become a truly international event. Visitors from Latin America, Asia and Europe comprised a strong percentage of attendees, and the number of Asian exhibitors also increased. Suppliers large and small consider their presence at the show to be mandatory, but this year marked the noticeable absence of Gallus, the Swiss press manufacturer. Dutch press maker MPS did not exihibit its equipment, but appeared in a small informational booth.

Conventional label presses, dominated by flexography, were in full force. Fifteen years ago it was nearly impossible to find a flexo press driven by servo motors; today it is impossible not to. While still there is a market for shaft and gear driven machines, the 21st Century has hastened the transition to servo technology, which brings digital controls – including job memory and remote diagnostics – to the press room.

US press manufacturer Mark Andy attracted significant attention this year with the introduction of its Digital Series. The company had attempted unsuccessfully to produce digital print systems in the past, but this time made a bold public display of its hybrid press. It hired a team of experts from HP’s inkjet division to develop a seven-colour inkjet module (CMYKOV plus opaque white) which nestles among flexo print head(s), LED and UV curing stations, foil and embossing units and die stations. The press demonstrations at the show were routinely crowded.

Omet introduced the XFlex X4 press, with 10 print stations and a web width of 430mm (17”), featuring automatic register control and two servo drives per station. Nilpeter showed its FB-3 flexo press along with the FA-4, which featured a flatbed foil and embossing unit. Nuova Gidue debuted its Revo technology on its M1 press, utilizing digital control of diecutting, print pressure and register.

In the digital arena, HP Indigo dominated with the introduction of its WS6800, the latest in its 6000 series, along with its powerful new 20000 flexible packaging press. The WS6800 runs a slightly wider web than its predecessors, and includes prepress and colour calibration improvements.

Xeikon, which employs a dry toner print process as opposed to HP’s wet toner, unveiled its new Cheetah press, which will be available in 2015. At 30 m/min (98 fpm), the Cheetah is 56% faster than the company’s 3300 and 3500 series presses. It prints five colours at 1200 dpi, can reproduce 72% of the Pantone colour range, and is available in widths from 200mm (7.9”) to 330mm (13”).

As always, inkjet press manufacturers were present in abundance. Epson, EFI Jetrion, SPG, Durst, INX, Domino and at least two dozen others all vied for converter attention.

The NW210 from INX features a 210mm (8.25”) width, LED curing, an optional laser diecutter from Spartanics, and a speed of 25 m/min (80 fpm).

Epson unveiled its L6034 inkjet press, which will be available next year. The new model uses UV curable inks instead of water-based products employed by its earlier 4033 model, and offers four colours plus a clear ink (to fill in spaces among raised colours) and white. The 4033 press, of which about 110 have been sold worldwide, features CMYK plus OGW.

EFI notes that its Jetrion digital inkjet press, clearly the earliest entrant in the colour field, has 200 installations within the industry. On display at Labelexpo Americas was the model 4950LX, which cures with an LED lamp array. The press is now 330mm (13”) wide, operates at up to 48 m/min (157 fpm), and comes with two whites plus CMYK and a varnishing station. Optional is a laser cutting unit from CEI.

The modular DSI digital UV inkjet printer from SPGPrints offers speeds of up to 700m²/hour, and comes in widths from 135mm (5.3”) to 530mm (21”). CMYK is standard and can be built or extended with up to six additional print heads. Optional orange and violet will increase the achievable Pantone colour gamut to 90%.

Domino’s N610i inkjet press can operate at 75 m/min (246 fpm) in “rapid production mode” and 50 m/min (165 fpm) in high quality mode. Up to seven colours are available.

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Andreas Keller

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