Hall F of the Stephens Convention Ctr. was the hub of digital label and packaging printing and converting at Labelexpo Americas. Here’s my Converting Curmudgeon roundup on a handful of interesting developments.
After debuting at IPEX 2010 earlier this year, the production-model EPSON SurePress L-4033 (left) short-run digital label press had its North American launch at Labelexpo Americas. A prototype unit was displayed at the Rosemont show two years ago. Now, using the company’s MicroPiezo inkjet technology, the up to 13-in.-wide press uses EPSON SurePress AQ durable, water-based, resin-coated pigment inks for superior adhesion and abrasion resistance. A wide color gamut includes six-color ink set with Orange and Green, while resolutions are 720 x 720 for paper and 1140 x 720 for film substrates. No pre-coating of standard pressure-sensitive labelstocks and film is required, and the press runs paper at 16 fpm. Since 2008, EPSON has rounded out the SurePress with Wasatch SoftRIP, X-Rite spectral color measurement, compatibility with EskoArtwork software suite, the GM DC-330mini label converter for downstream finishing, and the Rotary Technologies infeed + Reregister system. More info
Also launched at IPEX and making its North American show debut, the Xeikon 3500 digital label press (right) may be the most productive system shown at Labelexpo Americas. It runs webs up to 20.3 in. wide, and prints at speeds up to 63 fpm, regardless of the number of colors used or the size of the labels. Five color stations (CMYK standard) allows for a spot color or special security toner. One-pass opaque white can create “no-label looks” on transparent substrates. Read my report on Odyssey Digital Printing, which has been using the 3500 for the past month. Xeikon also showed its new 3030 entry-level digital press, which runs 13-in. webs at 3.15 fpm. Two units were sold off the show floor to Indian label converter Webtech, Ltd. More info
The third IPEX launch displayed in Rosemont, the Tau 150 digital UV-inkjet, narrow-web label press (left) was shown in a 6.5-in., 8-C model with the DIVA™ digital varnishing module alongside a Rotoworx® 330 finishing system. Its standard CMYK + W color configuration is completed with Orange and Violet, offering more than 90% coverage of the Pantone® color gamut. The Tau VDP option allows for full label-to-label variability at high printing speeds of 160 fpm. The DIVA provides for different gloss levels—high, semi, satin and matte—with a single fluid in a single pass. It lets converters produce special effects such as textures and even tactile elements, varying the finish from label to label. Durst sold a Tau 150 to Étiquette & Ruban Adhésif Commerce. More info
Digitally expanding into the flexible-packaging market, the new EFI Jetrion 4830LED UV system (right) prints on unsupported and heat-sensitive substrates such as shrink-sleeve films. With an 8.3-in. web width, the printer’s durable, flexible inks are said to be shrinkable up to 90%, and most substrates do not require priming or overvarnishing. Some semi-gloss papers do need priming, however. The 4830LED has a list price of $549,000, and upgrade kits are available for existing 4830 models. More info
HP Indigo, the pioneer of digital label and packaging printing, celebrated the milestone of 1,000 Indigo presses installed worldwide among converting customers. There are more than 130 WS6000s now operating in 30 countries. HP’s Labelexpo Americas display included cut-and-stack label and carton production on a sheetfed Indigo 5500 with a POLAR LabelSystem cutter; a high-volume WS6000 integrated with an AVT PrintVision Helios II video web-inspection system; HP SmartStream Production Analyzer; and an Indigo ws4500 producing shrink sleeves finished on a Karlville K1 seamer. At the show, Andover, MA-based Reid Graphics bought an HP Indigo WS6000. It will begin printing the majority of its work on digital presses when it retires three more flexo presses as well as an older Omnius digital press. More info
INX Digital tries to help converters evolve with its Evolve UV narrow-web digital printer (left) designed for labels, direct mail, packaging, rigid containers and more. It uses patented Xaar Through-Flow Technology™ inkjet printheads turning out 300 x 300-dpi resolution with INX Digital UV Evolve inks. INX says that the print engine and printer are available as both standalone products or for customization and integration into existing label-printing operations. More info
The SEI Laser Converting Label Master is said to be the most complete “roll-to-roll” system for laser diecutting and digital finishing. Processing paper, polyethylene, polyester, polypropylene and other films, it uses a 10.6 um-wavelength laser (350- or 480-watts peak power) working in a 13.7 x 13.7 in. area. The laser writes at up to 18 ft/sec. With a maximum speed of 180 fpm, the Label Master also offers optional flexographic coating, hot stamping, inspection, and downstream slitting and rewinding. More info
The CSAT iTS 600 digital-inkjet printer (right) runs paper, plastics, foils and pressure-sensitive labelstock at 150 fpm, turning out 600-dpi resolution on CMYK or four spot colors. It has a maximum web width of 8.6 in. and uses LED UV curing. A user-friendly, 15-in. touchscreen operator interface, download and import of industry-standard file formats, automated printhead cleaning all unite for a system that is reportedly easy to use. More info
And while not really showing something new, inkjet-printhead manufacturer Xaar was technically on exhibit across Labelexpo Americas with its equipment being part of at least 13 inkjet printer/press companies’ systems. VP Chris Lynn speculated on what’s ahead for inkjet printing in perhaps the next 10 years. Expect head prices to fall while the number of colors and print speeds rise. Cheaper whites, metallics and functional inks and coatings are on the way with capabilities such as taggants for security and thermochromics for marketing and time/temperature benefits. More info
My Thoughts: OK, all the cachet and whiz-bang excitement about digital label printing and converting aside, analog production is NOT going away…just yet. To paraphrase Mark Andy in its booth presentations, “It’s the productivity, stupid.” Some digital presses ARE getting significantly wider and faster, but they’re still quite a bit behind the curve of, say, 24 inches wide running at 350 fpm. The day may come when digital technologies will allow for that kind of productivity, but perhaps not for decades. The proof?
IT Strategies just released its study, “PRIMIR Megatrends in Digital Printing Applications,” commissioned by NPES. It showed digital print growing 11.5% annually to 2014 and analog print falling 5% a year. A closer look at specific end markets revealed a 50% annual growth for digital-print labels. For flexible film, it’s 41%; for folding cartons, it’s 61% annual growth. Impressive, no?
Except that this is all from a VERY small overall volume. “Digital production printing would have to grow about 200% a year to even approach an overall market tipping point,” says IT Strategies vp Marco Boer. Few of the 12 applications studied will tip before 2014, though some have enough momentum to possibly tip by 2020 or later. Analog printing seems to be safe…for now. Digital is still hot on its heels.