ProPrint Technology Focus: Label Printing – The big stick

This Technology Focus by Peter Kohn was published in the February 2020 issue of ProPrint magazine. To view the magazine online, please click here.

The line-up of dedicated digital presses for generating printed label stock has opened new opportunities for print houses in Australia.

It has also added a revenue stream in this lucrative sector that directly addresses a plethora of consumables and consumer durables from electronics to groceries, cosmetics, and the wine, beer and spirits industries.

To name just one burgeoning sector, it taps into the exploding demand for ever more sophisticated and attractive promotional packaging of what were formerly the “brown cardboard boxes” that deliver orders to consumers via Australia Post and courier services.

Xeikon’s ANZ sales manager Trevor Crowley sees any label application for the consumer sector as having the potential to be printed digitally.

“The demand not just locally but also globally is not only driven by the segment, but by the demand of brand owners and ultimately the end-user for customisation or changes to branding,” Crowley says.

“Converters are commonly looking for a solution or technology that is flexible, that allows them to have as broad a reach as possible, while maintaining quality as well as a competitive cost-to-print model.

“The other key offering they are looking for is after-sales technical support. In some cases, you see that the digital engine a converter may have will be their only production platform, so they need to be sure that it not only is reliable, but when there is a technical problem, support is close at hand.”

Crowley identifies product diversification, the dominance of the internet – and the emergence of web-to-print driving label printing beyond the B2B sector to B2C – as the main drivers behind shorter label runs.

“All this has allowed the labels to be more ‘personal’ and tuned for smaller customer groupings,” Crowley says.

He adds label production has for some time been about highly personalised, variable-information printing in mono, single-colour and full-colour inkjet, with combinations of variably printed components. But with the latest technology this basic printing is expanding to full-colour, variable-data printing to create new solutions or to augment existing ones.

His advice to printers looking at digital labels is firstly to define their objective – in terms of presses, consumables, embellishment, converting equipment, workflow and human resources.

In relation to technology, he says: “There are entry-level solutions which really allow you to capture up to 90 per cent of all end-use applications.”

Xeikon’s offerings include the Panther range, comprising the entry-level PX2000 and the PX3000. The Cheetah range includes the CX3, offering faster running speed, lower operating costs and flexibility to meet complex customer demands, while the CX500 suits larger sized labels, and those requiring opaque white or extended gamut. For micro-runs of 100 labels or less, Xeikon offers the Jetrion 4900M and 4950LX LED label presses.

Several factors are driving growth and demand for digitally printed labels, explains Konica Minolta’s Tatjana Ferguson, the company’s Industrial Print and Wide Format product marketing manager.

“Manufacturers fight for market share and consumer attention – and the ability to offer personalisation and customisation for short-term product promotions and marketing campaigns is quick, easy and cost effective for short-to-medium label production,” Ferguson says.

“The demand for variable data and bespoke or customised solutions that will get consumer attention continues to experience growth. Product compliance and statutory labelling regulations for food, beverage and pharmaceutical markets can require frequent changes to information presented on labels and are driving digital label demand.”

Ferguson says a broad range of industries are serviced with digitally printed labels nowadays.
These include food and beverage; cosmetics and pharmaceuticals; industrial; manufacturing; chemical and safety labelling, and event or special occasion labels. We asked her if she thought the increasing complexity of products, with multiple versions and smaller boutique brands, are creating demand for shorter variably printed runs of labels.

“Absolutely – there has been a large shift to VDP (variable data printing)and customisation. The print industry has seen a continued shift from mass-production of static print to an ever-increasing demand for small runs of digital print, down to individual runs of one. VDP is the essential prerequisite for customisation.

“There is increasing demand for variability of text and images to personalise documents and interactive print (QR codes, augmented reality and so on) that enables print to play a role in an online sales cycle.”

Konica Minolta entered the label market with its bizhub PRESS C71cf in mid-2016, followed by the release of the AccurioLabel 190.

Then in August 2019 , came the launch of the AccurioLabel 230 full-colour label printing system, notes Ferguson. The AccurioLabel 230 – one of the stars of Konica Minolta’s stand at Labelexpo Europe in Brussels in September 2019 – offers additional features and enhancements and is suited to those looking for added capability or those moving into digital production wanting the technology’s productivity, stability and features that fuel critical thinking around business applications and profitability.

Ferguson lists the AccurioLabel 230’s standout attributes as speed (the new label press will run at a faster speed of 23.4 m/min and 1000m continuously); quality (high-quality print jobs across digital production and substrates); no time-wasting warmups (the press’s fuser will be kept warm for up to 30 minutes between jobs); overprinting (it can overprint on pre-printed media); and better registration (an inbuilt speed detector for media feeding helps printers further reduce paper waste).

Terry Crawford, business development manager, Professional Print Solutions, at Epson Australia, identifies food and beverage, alcoholic beverages, household products and industrial and pharmaceutical as the main areas of demand for digitally printed labels. “Services they are looking for include fast turnaround and purchasing just enough labels to fulfil their short-run orders,” Crawford says.

“They avoid ordering and holding too much label stock as they don’t want to be caught with redundant labels because one vital component changes, such as the raw ingredient in a grocery item or a legislation change governing a product.”

Crawford says the SurePress L-6534VW is a versatile platform that can ably service the growing labels market.

“At LabelExpo 2019 Epson unveiled its latest UV inkjet label press, the SurePress L-6534VW, which delivers printers and convertors a versatile platform to service the growing durable label markets that include industrial, health & beauty, pharmaceutical and FMCG,” Crawford says.

“The SurePress L-6534VW offers high productivity, high density white and a unique digital varnish that provides value-added printing capabilities.”

Crawford finds it is very common to print multiple versions of a label for the one type of product. An example would be pre-cut ready-to-eat fruit which uses the same label design and applied to a common container, however the image and text is changed using VDP to match the contents.

“For companies looking to diversify and invest in narrow-format digital label printing equipment, the choice of which technology should it invest in calls for rigorous due diligence,” Crawford says.

“The three main technologies used today for digitally printed labels are inkjet, dry toner/electrophotography (EP) and liquid toner electrophotography (LEP). Not one technology can cover all the bases in terms of material compatibility, adhesion, durability, food safety, and so forth. However, industry experts predict inkjet will become the dominant choice for companies due to lower running costs, versatility and proven reliability.”

Epson’s entry-level production press is the SurePress L-4533AW which is an aqueous resin inkjet press, an affordable and versatile solution for short runs and smaller print volumes. Aqueous resin inks can print on a wide variety of substrates without pre-coating. The aqueous pigments are resin coated and are cured by a dual drying system, making them durable and water-fast on both synthetic and paper materials. They are also well suited to textured papers as inkjet printing is a non-contact technology which maintains texture fidelity, explains Crawford.

The L-4533AW can achieve up to 91 per cent of the Pantone range using a wide CMYK + orange and green colour gamut, with the addition of white ink to allow printing onto clear, metallic and coloured material. It also has a variable web width of 80-333mm meaning material costs can be saved by not having to print onto 330mm-wide material all the time.

“The SurePress L-4533AW is very easy to operate, and once a job is set up, operators can attend to other tasks while it is printing. The SurePress L-4533AW is the fourth-generation of the successful platform, with over 300 installations worldwide, and has proven to be a reliable, versatile, short-run label production press,” Crawford says.

Mark Daws, Director – Labels and Packaging ANZ at Currie Group, says the need to frequently and rapidly refresh content is driving the industry’s embrace of narrow-web digital as the key to printing labels for FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), healthcare and pharmaceuticals.
Daws points to changes in consumer behaviour and market trends that are prompting brands to adapt and evolve, constantly looking for ways to save money, accelerate time to market, and engage better with consumers.

For labels and packaging converters, this translates into a dramatic shift from traditional long runs to short runs and new long runs, consisting of multiple SKUs, brand protection features and variable data. He says HP Indigo, with its innovative 6900 digital narrow-web press, allows converters to seize on growth opportunities by enabling them to print a versatile array of content in the most productive manner and at the highest quality.

“As millennials quickly move front-and-centre into becoming the largest consumer demographic, label technologies need to find new ways to enhance packaging to appeal to this market segment, says Daws.

“The need to frequently refresh content and launch new SKUs to market makes digital the ideal narrow-web platform.”

HP Indigo is reporting significant market success with its 6900 press, which provides creative solutions that enable converters to generate any narrow-format label, flexible packaging, sleeve, IML (in-mould labelling), wraparound labels or folding cartons job, with easy and quick changeovers. The 6000 series enables printing of any label, at any run-length, in a simpler, more productive and profitable way.

Daws says the press supports the widest range of media in digital production, such as synthetic and 12-450 micron paper substrates. It can also print on pre-optimised substrates or any off-the-shelf media using the inline primer. It also supports eco-certified substrates and environmentally friendly primers, varnishes and adhesives.

Peter Scott, managing director of Screen GP Australia, says demand segments have shifted from small run and trial marketing labels into mainstream label production across five ‘prime’ sectors – FMCG, food, beverages, pharmaceutical and personal care.

“The explosion of mid-micro manufacturing such as craft beers, gins and preserves is certainly a factor in the secondary label sector; as are chemicals and safety labels – they all benefit from digital’s ability to produce quality, embellished labels with rapid turnarounds, in small or large quantities and with variable data.”

He sees label producers now having the ability to take on a wide range of orders, no matter how small. “With no plates and little makeready time needed, digital enables a nimble, responsive customer engagement that sits comfortably alongside flexo, offset and hybrid label production.

Converting technology tuned to digital, whether inline or near-line, has also been a contributing factor.

“Virtually all label producers have a digital production capability of some kind. Typically, this accounts for between ten and 20 per cent of their revenues and growing at a faster rate than mainstream non-digital production,” Scott says.

“For these established producers, they should look at digital presses that enable speeds of 30 linear metres per minute and upwards, white ink is essential, and they need reliability of service and high up-time.

“The digital press and converting/finishing lines need to be built up to flexo/offset/gravure standards. For new entrants, the answer is clear – start with digital and build up to flexo or hybrid production if the demand rises but it is very hard to break into the major brand label market unless you are well established in conventional production already.”

Scott says Screen’s Truepress Jet L350UV series has proven very popular and reliable, with many customers installing a second, third or even a fourth line. Screen’s latest version, the soon-to-be-released L350 SAI, “ticks all the boxes for serious digital label production”. The SAI model – showcased at Labelexpo in Brussels in September 2019 – represents the latest advances in the L350 series since its introduction in 2014. The suffix ‘SAI’ means ‘Stability, Accuracy and Integration’ – with the word ‘sai’ also meaning ‘colourful’ in Japanese.

Scott says this is a major step for digital label production as additional slots for printheads are onboard, meaning orange, blue and white inks can be added to the wide-gamut CMYK ink set.
Colour management has been developed in collaboration with German graphic colour developer CGS. Four scalable variants of the L350 SAI will be available, E for entry-level, S for Standard and the flagship Z model for the highest speed of 80 linear metres per hour. There will soon be an LM version using low-migration inks specifically for food packaging applications. LM inks are already available for the current L350UV presses.

With Heidelberg and Gallus now integrating, Heidelberg ANZ offers the Gallus Labelfire, which combines the latest digital printing technology with the benefits of conventional printing and further processing technology. Jointly developed by Gallus and Heidelberg, the digital inline label printing system features a printing module with state-of-the-art inkjet printing heads.

The strengths of digital printing combined with inline finishing processes that have been specially optimised for digital printing enable the Gallus Labelfire to varnish, embellish and further process labels inline – from the roll to the finished die-cut label – in a single production operation. The Labelfire now comes with a digital embellishment unit, an upgrade released at Labelexpo in 2019, enabling cold foiling and varnishing, with CMYK seven-colour plus white.

Gallus has also launched its Labelmaster press, in basic and advanced versions, with over 100
sold globally. The Labelmaster features a print bar, for printing one specific ink digitally, and a rotary die-cutting unit that automatically changes to a completely different die cylinder within the timeframe of one minute.

Predictions

Trevor Crowley, ANZ sales manager, Xeikon:
“Looking at the population of Australia, 20 million people, spread over such a vast continent, it is a given that the market will shift to digitally printed labels.”

Tatjana Ferguson, Industrial Print and Wide Format product marketing manager, Konica Minolta:
“Label presses will become faster, better and more economical. In addition, we also expect to see growth in demand for further differentiation and value-add with digital label embellishment in the Australian market.”

Terry Crawford, business development manager, Professional Print Solutions, Epson Australia:
“This year FINAT [the European association for the self-adhesive label industry] reported digital label press purchases overtook conventional label press purchases in Europe for the first time and we believe this trend will follow in Australia and New Zealand.”

Mark Daws, Director – Labels & Packaging ANZ, Currie Group:
“Print quality and versatility to respond to market challenges, optimising the supply chain and accelerating time-to-market will be three challenges for label printers.”

Peter Scott, managing director, Screen GP Australia:
“There are very few certainties in printing but one is the growth in digital production. There are benefits for the producer, the customer and the environment, with little or no waste, no prepress chemicals or plates and few emissions.”

Richard Timson, CEO, Heidelberg ANZ:
“Label printers are busy and looking for new opportunities. It’s quite exciting, if you compare them to some offset companies that are lacking capacity and consolidating. It’s a great spot for us to be in, especially now with Heidelberg and Gallus coming together in our offerings.”

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