What does the latest digital technology have to offer package printers?

Xeikon Packaging Innovations Café

Image from Xeikon Cafe: In-mould finishing carried out inline with an added flexo varnish that was dried with hot air, and the web is then fed into a film-capable rewinder

Nick Coombes visited the Xeikon Packaging Innovations Café event in Belgium to see a variety of techniques being demonstrated that extend the product range for narrow web converters.

For one thing, the numbers really stacked up: 350 visitors from around 50 different countries at an informal expo event hosted by Xeikon but also supported by 28 other manufacturers of complementary technology.  No wonder it was considered a roaring success, and is likely to make itself a permanent place in Xeikon’s annual marketing plan.  On working display was a variety of Xeikon digital presses, producing jobs that ranged from labels to booklets and cartons, while each of the three days provided the co-suppliers with seminar opportunities to showcase their technology – and there was even a programme of presentations given by existing users, each of whom had something worthwhile to say about how to maximise profitability with digital technology in working commercial environments.  There was much to see, hear and learn!

New for Xeikon was the in-mould suite, which ran labels for cream cheese tubs and covers
New for Xeikon was the in-mould suite, which ran labels for cream cheese tubs and covers

Promoting the digital concept

The premise for the event was an opportunity for Xeikon to show three fundamental principles: how digital can enhance and transform the package printing market; how it can show a profit on short and medium run work; and how it can help to grow a business.  Listening to market feedback, Xeikon concluded that one of the biggest challenges for those approaching digital for the first time was the need for a change in mindset.  To produce differently (digitally), you need to think differently, and embrace the whole digital workflow, which to many seems foreign.  It is the first hurdle, and often a major stumbling block.  What the Café event set out to do was show how, with careful planning and strategic investment, digital can match and in certain cases exceed the performance of existing and proven methods.

The 28 co-suppliers, which Xeikon calls Aura Partners, are too numerous to list, but include all the names one would expect from the fields of software, substrates, consumables, tools, and equipment.  All were working with the basic Xeikon 3000 dry toner digital engine, which was specified to suit the particular application.  There were 15 different jobs to be seen in production: three folding carton (two boxes and a paper cup); two in-mould labels; three heat transfer labels; four self-adhesive labels (including pharma, wine, and high security); booklet labels, and finally leaflet labels.  Effectively, Xeikon had all sectors covered, with application suites for each.

Short run cartons

In the carton sector, a toy box and a pharma box were run off roll-to-sheet on Iggesund Incada Exel 235gsm board, using CMYK and a durable clear toner (applied as a UV curable spot varnish).  The Xeikon had an Alpine fuser drum fitted, which was optimised for carton board.  Software used included CHILI Publisher to cope with late changes of text, Xeikon X-800 for impositioning and the application of register marks, barcodes etc, Xeikon Color Control for accurate and consistent colour management, and Vectorizer for final die making.  The paper cup had a water based Actega pre-coating, and was printed roll-to-roll on Stora Enso Cupforma, using CMYK, and was die cut using RotoMetrics dies.   Software included Xeikon X-800, Impactor for optimal cup nesting, and MIS software from CERM was integrated to handle job tickets and provide data feedback.

New solution for in-mould

For those with interest in the in-mould market, the two jobs run were a cream cheese tub with cover, and a two-litre pail for toys.  Both were printed on Treofan products (EUH 70 and ETR 57 respectively) with Xeikon ICE CMYK toner that is specially adapted for heat sensitive substrates.  The cream cheese tub job used a Michelman primer, standard fuser drum and Actega water based varnish, the toy pail had in addition an opaque white ICE toner, used Squid inks and the same Actega varnish.  In both cases, Xeikon X-800 and Impactor were the software suites used.  In-mould is a new area of application for Xeikon and these demos attracted keen interest from the visitors.

A heat transfer option

Another new area for Xeikon is heat transfer labelling, and this was shown as a pen promotion using Diamond Photofoil 23-micron PET, a petfood pail using Bomarko wax coated label stock, and a paint pail, using Siliconature PET foil.   The pen was printed CMYK plus opaque white in reverse order to convention, using a special cooling drum that allowed measurement of the control strip on the transparent substrate via an inline densitometer.  Software used included Color Magic to automate the white layer application in pre-press, VariLane to allow different size labels to be produced along the web, and OneVision for pre-flighting.  A Meech antistatic unit was used to condition the substrate.  The web was slit and rewound, and at the Café the labels were transferred to the pens on a special unit developed by Diamond Photofoil/GPE.

The petfood pail used the Therimage process, which is well known in America and Asia for decorating rigid plastics.  Printed CMYK and opaque white on a pre-conditioned wax coated material, the colours were also printed in reverse order (opaque white last) and the fuser drum was not used.  Again here, the cooling drum was used and the job rewound onto a Xeikon PMR.  The Presstrans process used for the paint pail echoed the print process of the petfood job, but this process has been developed for rigid containers that are flame-treated to improve adhesion.

Self-adhesive applications

The two self-adhesive pharma labels on demo were based on applications from one of the Xeikon users at the event, kohlpharma.  Both were printed CMYK plus orange, one on Raflabrite Opaque Black FSC and the other on 3M stock, and die cut inline on a DCoat 330 laser unit driven by Vectorizer software.  Hybrid software acted as an interface between the customer’s ERP and pre-press, and a Seal vector from ATT implemented a security feature that prevents counterfeiting.

The wine labels were pre-printed and finished live at the event.  The first, provided by one of Xeikon’s UK users, The Label Makers, used a matt structured paper and was printed CMYK.  It was finished on an ABG Digicon line, which applied a UV varnish, screen printing, foiling and embossing.  The labels were die cut using RotoMetrics tooling and then slit and rewound.  Label Traxx MIS software coordinated the job.  The second wine label was printed CMYK on a special Raflatac wine label paper, and hotfoil stamped offline by Grafisk Machinery.  This label also included the anti-counterfeit ATT Seal vector.  Production of a high security wine label was also demonstrated using a security toner that included taggants, which can be read only with special instruments.  These labels were converted on a Xeikon DCoat.

Xeikon demonstrated short run carton printing using CMYK with a clear UV-cured toner added as a spot varnish
Xeikon demonstrated short run carton printing using CMYK with a clear UV-cured toner added as a spot varnish

Booklets and leaflets

The final two jobs on working demo were both information labels.  The first, a booklet label used in the agrochemical industry for manuals or safety instructions, and the second, a leaflet label of the type use in the pharma industry as inserts in drug cartons.  Printed duplex CMYK plus orange on 70gsm coated and 40 gsm uncoated paper respectively, both had embedded guilloches printed at 1200dpi to act as security features.  Considering the light weight of the stock being used, a Meech web conditioner was used for dust removal.

Digital technology in the working environment

In addition to the machinery on display and the live job demonstrations, there was a full programme of seminars that explained the background to the technology and strategic thinking required to embrace digital technology in everyday production.  And these were supported by presentations from four existing Xeikon users who spoke of their first hand experience with the technology and why they chose it in preference to other digital presses on the market.  The Label Makers (UK) spoke about manufacturing high-end labels, kohlpharma (Germany) explained how they meet the special requirements of the pharmaceutical industry, Colebourne & Partners (UK) described why and how they became pioneers in short run digital carton production for the food market, and aL Printing (Netherlands) tackled the relatively unknown subject of digital in-mould.

For convinced digital converters there were many new applications to explore that will test their existing in-house capabilities, and for the unsure, who were approaching digital for the first time, there was information and support aplenty to allay fears.

Nick Coombes

Your Opinion