Last week I was at the biggest Labelling show in the world, Label expo in Brusells, Belgium. It was a fantastic event, certainly the best of the 6 Label Expos I have been too. This is a review of my thoughts on the show and developments relevant to our customers and marketplaces in the same manner in which I did for the last show in 2009.
Its bulletted for my convenience and speed. Please quickly add your thoughts to the comments once you’ve read it – no registration needed, just type and press!
- It was a great show with a lot of buzz about the place. Everyone seemed to be pleased with attendee numbers that were up 18.6^ on last year (28k in total!) and the quality of interest.
- The venue was as good as ever – I hope it doesn’t move as its a really good venue for the show
- Twitter was big this year with a lot of visitors, major brands and journalists commenting on the show as it happened using the #lablexpo hashtag . I certainly found some new technology by visiting stands mentioned on twitter that I would not otherwise have gone to. I can only see Twitter usage exploding (try 137 tweets 831,151 impressions, reaching 80,940 followers using #labelexpo). It was surprising the number of people who knew my tweets before I arrived on their stand this year!
- The head to head EFI v HP v Xeikon digital print workshops were great, a real showcase to watch the latest developments. To me, the digital hall had the biggest and best buzz of all! The displays of packaging/carton printed were also pretty good. The best bit – watching Filip from Xeikon eating the toner to demonstrate its FDA food safe properties for direct food contact!
- Xeikon introduced their varilane software enabling multiple variable jobs to be stacked up across the web, and optimised to use the least amount of material. This seemed very clever and I am looking forward to seeing the final version when its ready in the coming months. Xeikon also showed a great comparison of the effect of sunlight fading on the same image printed using UV inkjet, Xeikon Toner and HP liquid toner. I will be posting abut this separately in the coming days. Xeikon also introduced some new toner colours for the chemical markets (red and orange) and a new dry toner printable PE was also announced from Mactac (and a direct thermal material as well, although I did not see it). Although limited, it does now mean that most substrates can be Xeikon printed, which has always been a major benefit of the HP platform over Xeikon.
- The big news from HP was the launch of their WS4600 and WS6600 machines, with the main 2 differences I could tell from the existing very successful 4500 and 6000 models were
- there was an “enhanced productivity mode” using 3 colour process (no black) rather than 4 colour, with a consequential improvement in speed and drop in click charge. However, there didn’t seem to be any comparable samples on the stand of the same job done 3 and 4 colour, and no-one who I spoke to (and I spoke to a few…) had seem a comparison either, despite asking for them, nor seen it working on the stand. So, I can not say if it was actually available, or if it works without a significant drop in quality – judge for yourself.
- There was an addition brand protection package with invisible UV inks that was good if you need that facility.
There was also the launch of an inline primer coater for the WS6600– however it was apparently not seen working to coat any synthetic substrates, and I overheard talk of an patent related issue possibly being the cause.
HP also told me that they are now the world’s biggest label press manufacturer, having installed more presses in the past 2 years than any other manufacturer. WOW – thats a really big statement, taking it away from the likes of Gallus, Nilpeter, Mark Andy etc. It just shows how the world has gone digital, with the 2 powerhouses of HP and Xeikon rumoured to have sold a combined total of over £30m of machines in the first 2 days at the show!
- Durst had a really impressive 8 colour UV inkjet system on show, perhaps the best quality UV inkjet for the labels market we have seen to date; the replacement Xaar 1001 head cost still scare me though!
- EFI Jetrion had the new 4900 printer with inline laser die cutting – again pretty good, just not the print quality of Xeikon and HP, or HD flexo really IMHO.
- The ultra slow but very high quality Epson Surepress machine was attracting a lot of interest, especially from the guys wanting to digitally print onto highly textured wine labels. Watch this space with Epson, as I can see a major new platform coming out for label printing at DRUPA 2012. The substrates are unprimed, the ink water based, the quality very good – its now all about a synthetic substrate to work with and SPEED!
- Stork / SPG had their machine on the show again, which was IMHO on a par with the Durst unit in terms of quality. In common with almost everyone apart from Xeikon however, there was no inline converting on show, but as a reel to reel solution with 8 inkjet colours, it was a pretty impressive use of Xaar print heads. Maybe 8 colours is the way to go to generate prime quality labels print from an inket platform? Even so, there were still some noticeable blocked nozzle lines on the samples on display, but certainly a lot better than we have seen from SPG at the last show. From the UV inkjet platforms, SPG and Durst appear to be battling it out for the highest quality.
- the CSAT Heidleburg launch product was again pretty good using (LED I think?) UV lamps, but again the running costs presented on the stand didnt make themselves competitive against HP and Xeikon, even with a much faster web speed. The price of inkjet heads really needs to be costed in a different manner (inclusive with ink costs?) to make them viable, as occasional consumable bill of £50k is too risky to incorporate into the running costs. Inkjet manufacturers to note IMHO!
- The water based memjet technology was present from OWN-X from Hungary and Rapid Machinery from Australia. On the right substrates the quality is pretty good most of the time, but the platforms were not really geared up for full industrial use and running many KMs of digital label material a day. The requirement to stop the machine and break the web for an inkjet head clean every few hundred meters was a significant limitation on some platforms from what I saw.
- There were a lot of entry level desktop laser machines too like the Primera machines that seemed to get a lot of interest, and seemed ideal as a first step towards digital label production for a small labelling business, or an in house solution for small label user customers.
- There was a huge number of digital converting lines on show from businesses that I have rarely come across, or never heard off. Traditionally this market has been dominated by AB Graphics and GM, but it is clear that there are many other solutions out there with the obvious semi rotary/varnish/laminating features, but also the odd multiple die station, foiling and screen printed units. Its clear than many of the slitter rewinder manufactuers are eyeing this market up very keenly a lot of the premium priced work moves to digital from flexo, and the converting needs are different from conventional slitter rewinders.
- Laser die converting was again on display with a number of different solutions from different manufacturers including one for the Xeikon from GM. At the moment it doesn’t seem to be economic to run with only 1 laser (too slow line speed) or 2 lasers (much faster but too expensive to install), and the inevitable white line problem is still there, but it is looking more attractive than ever.
- This year Flexo didnt seem to show very many big developments, with HD now well established. However I did speak to some people I thoguht would be highly focussed on digital, but in fact were shopping for flexo presses! Flexo is still the major print process by far as far as I can tell. All the focus was on quick changeover with the new FL350 platform from Edale, and Mark Andy demonstrating 32 second changeovers of a flexo print station. Its very impressive… and combined with the move towards even smaller repeat cylinders with smaller plate costs iut is very clear that pure flexo manufacturers are competing now not on quality and max speed, but how efficient they can be when matched against digital, which is getting faster and wider. The middle ground of flexo / digital changeover is getting to be a VERY crowded space.
- Rotometric had a great new device – an adjustable Accustrike Anvil roller so that you can really adjust to e tolerance between the blade and anvil without a new cutter everytime – clever.
- Gallus and Fasson combined to lauch a frozen “Cold Die Unit” with Fasson Thinstream technology that allowed the use of a 12 micron PET liner! It really was impressive, delaminating the web, die cutting the label with tiny retaining tags on a frozen anvil and then relaminating again before stripping – again very clever.
- I had a great conversational comment from one of the journalists there that I reported on Twitter “At #labelexpo 2009 digital competed with flexo. This year its all change; flexo is trying to compete with digital.” By @juan_diaz_diaz
- There were a few new substrate coaters present which was good to see, clearly targeting the emerging markets growth.
- Herma’s dual layer coating technology caught my eye, it sounds useful and clever.
- The socials were excellent too with the Global Labels awards on Wednesday evening and the Xeikon community event on Thursday really enjoyable and a great opportunity to swap ideas and thought with others.
A fantastic show with such a good vibe to it. It made me feel that the labels industry in actually very resilient to the recession, provided that we continually reinvent ourselves.
Xeikon and HP continue to battle for the top spot as industrial digital labelling powerhouses, and although it gets better and better, I think we are still a way from inkjet becoming a serious rival in the mass market to these 2 players.
I’m looking forward to DRUPA where there must be some more really exciting new developments!
I am the MD of a UK label printing company (Mercian Labels), we are are a Xeikon user, and these views are from the perspective of a label printer with interests in digital, flexo, variable data and security label printing – it is not an all encompassing independent review – if you want one, go to a journalist!)
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