expo Europe ’97 clocked up 15,091 registered visitors. 345 international exhibitors occupied 16,753 sq/metres of floor space in four halls at the Parc des Exposition in Brussels.

Approximately 40 press manufacturers showed over a hundred different models, many seen for the first tome. Material suppliers again made up the biggest single category, showing a huge range of coated, treated and laminated labelstocks, including holographic foils and ultra-thin plastic films.

Crowded stands and busy aisles translated into good-to-excellent levels of order enquiries. Many companies closed deals for large-ticket items. Some label press manufacturers, including Ko-Pack, Nilpeter and Comco, said they took orders off their stands from previously unknown buyers. Klus Bachstein, VP of marketing for Gallus, said the show was outstanding. ‘We had a tremendous amount of interest for our new Arsoma EMO 410 offset press. Machine sales certainly reached double figures.’

This activity suggests the industry is emerging from a period of sluggish performance. Several exhibitors especially noted an upturn in buying intentions from British, German and French label converters. Interest from non-EU countries, particularly USA, Australia and the Pacific Rim, was also strong. Stephen Boyd, CEO of Samuel Jones & CO, noted a ‘spectacular’ increase in enquiries from eastern and southern Europe, the Middle East and South America.

Whether in Birmingham, England or Alabama, converters have common goals. They all want to drive down costs and improve general efficiency. For many, adding value to products and opening niche markets to obtain better prices and profitability are prime objectives.

Of course, it is the self adhesive sector with its diversity of substrates and growing applications that provides the most opportunities. Narrow-web technology unlocks them. As Labelexpo showed, this comprises single process flexo or letterpress machines and those with two or more processes, but with noticeably wider web widths. With 500mm and above, a new generation of mid-web presses has appeared, aimed more at producing small folding cartons, in-mould labels and flexible packaging.

More press buyers are looking for standardised and automated changeover features covering different processes and UV cassettes. Mark Andy’s trend-setting answer is the Advantage Convertible Platform (ACP) press, receiving its European debut. The platform idea allows the free positioning of multi-process print heads, die stations and UV curing cassettes. Next year it will include waterless offset. The company showed a prototype unit to selected visitors (see technical highlights).

The company’s latest approach to fast changeovers between ever-shorter print runs is Super Quick Change (SQC), an upgraded version of its proprietary Quick Change system. Demonstrations on a Model 2200 produced average times of 12 minutes for five colours and a die-cut station.

In another stop-watch setting, Aquflex showed its Instant Change Technology on an InstaFlex (destined for Jarvis Porter). Launched at Labelexpo USA ’96, it uses an off-line cart and cassette-mounted inking units to give six-colour changeovers in less than ten minutes. New press features include an unwind with closed-loop tension control. Die stations now offer the same set-up or changeover features as the print stations.

Comco introduced the ProGilde system to Europe. The slide-out print station allows plate cylinder and anilox roll changes in under two minutes. It gives access to print cylinders and allows adjustments to idle stations during running. It is available on the Flexopack series (254mm to 559mm) and Commander flexo label presses.

The Italian Omet firm also promoted reduced setup times on the ET 520 Multi-film, shown printing 15 micron BOPP film wraps with UV flexo. Also new is the 270mm wide ET 255 Multiflex 2000 with rotary letterpress option and interchangeable UV curing cassettes.

Reel to Reel showed a 260 mm wide, five-colour F7 Series (260mm to 510mm) combination press with the new Rapid-Set system. Its method of using slide-in cartridges is said to allow changes between UV flexo and rotary screen changeover in under ten minutes for any sequence. Dual tension webbing allows a range of different substrates, including board.

Despite flexo’s advances, Gallus and Ko-Pack International remain fortresses for UV letterpress, although increasingly as part of a combination press. New from St Gallen is the ‘aggressively-priced’ TCS 250 for the short/medium run market. Based on the offset-oriented T250, the 265mm wide machine has single electric drives instead of conventional line shaft for accurate step feed. It includes press data diagnostics, zero positioning and a quick-release plate system.

Significantly, Ko-Pack focused on filmic, foil and thin extensible film converting with three new machines. The standard 400mm wide machine Euro 400 Film Press has six common-impression print stations, which can include rotary screen and UV flexo units. Reverse-side printing for film wraps and non-stop production using an optional flying splice unwind/rewind are possible. Contrasting with Ko-Pack’s latest 16-unit combination press, was the Emanon EL (entry level). Stack impression drums with up to four print units give a compact length of 5m. Each unit has a unique dual ink duct, giving two different colours. Users can pass a 200mm web through each unit twice to double the number of colours using turn bars and print units located on three 400mm wide drums.

Some manufacturers are attempting to reposition their products. Examples include KDO’s Green Plus, a ‘mid-range’ extension of the Seeltec range in web widths from 266mm to 508mm wide in up to eight units. It has more automatic press aids as standard, yet at around &135,000 for a six-colour version remains competitive. Focus has also gone up a notch or two with the Webflex in web widths of 335mm or 412mm. A three-digitally-controlled TTM independently covers three tension zones.

The 350mm Rotatec Newflex reflects the company’s forms press background. Ruggedly built, it retains similar tension control and in-feed characteristics with planetary gearing to give a top speed of 250m/minute. This makes the UV-equipped press ideal for longer runs of label and packaging. The Barcelona-based firm also showed an offset MP150 press adapted for label printing.

Grafische Systeme, which markets Somaflex presses, also has a foot in both camps. The modular TabPro can print and convert continuous forms or blank/pre-printed label stock, with a choice of rewound, folded or sheeted delivery. Options range from varnishing to sprocket-hole punching; in web widths of 330mm, 450mm and 520mm. Two |French companies also showed models with dual capability: Seailles & Tison with its offset Sprint 2000, producing in-mould labels, and Codimag with the Viva 340 semi-rotary letterpress machine.

UV flexo steadily gains converts where the extra cost is justified. Quality levels are unquestioned, but offset is picking up converts where the highest halftone reproduction is needed for certain prime label and packaging applications. This has helped Nilpeter sell over 50 of its M-3300 combination presses, with an added DI-3300 direct-to-plate option.

The latest offset entrant is Arsoma with the EMO 410, configured with one UV flexo, four UV offset, a rotary screen unit and another UV flexo unit. The two or three-cylinder offset units, supplied by S G Giebler, also retro-fit to the highly modular EM 410. This allows a phased investment with other print processes, using either flatbed or rotary die cutting.

Digital colour printing appears to be undergoing a period of consolidation, Indigo’s founder, Benny Lander, admitted the company had initially played up the short-run aspects, but now realised this was wrong: ‘We’re in the business of selling a product that adds value. The most profitable customers are those who add the most value’. He still thinks most printing will be digital by 2010.

Indigo promoted an upgraded version of its six-colour Omnius label/packaging press (also shown by Mobil Plastics). It now has sturdier side frames, side-to-side register and reinsertion options. IndiChrome adds an extra 17 per cent to the CMYK colour printing gamut using orange and deep violet.

The modular Gallus/Indigo DO 330 print and converting line, which can now include digitally-controlled die cutting, is currently undergoing beta testing.

Digital die-cutting also appears on Nilpeter’s revamped DL-3300 printing and converting line. With an enhanced five-colour Xeikon print-engine, it has helped to double output speed to 15m/minute.

Material choices: substrate availability is crucial to digital’s future success. Now seven major suppliers supply the specially-treated paper or filmic substrates covering all applications. Its another specialisation to add to the bewildering choice of paper and filmic labelstocks, also the synthetic grades like Synteape and Polyart. These non-paper grades and Labelexpo launches are covered in our filmic update, but suffice to say the ‘no-label’ look was everywhere, with an emphasis on polypropylene-based laminates, often with PP liners.

Also much in evidence were substrates printable by laser, thermal or ink jet to carry some form of variable information printing. More suppliers have woken up to the huge potential for security products with overt or covert features to deter counterfeiting and product tampering represent another growth area.

Increasing competition has also led to several different initiatives aimed at speeding up ordering and delivery procedures. Information technology now plays a key role, as shown by Raflatac with its Business Highway, based on e-mail, EDI and the Raflaweb Internet presence. It’s more than a home page, the company says, it is an interactive communications channel and business tool.

The IT solutions form part of MEGA Service, a 24-hour ordering service for quantities from 2,000 to 20,000 sq/metres covering 22 paper and film-based products, Net widths to customers’ specifications will be delivered with 48 hours. The company’s new Düsseldorf Euroterminal kicks off the scheme, which will eventually cover all Europe during next year.

New products include a whiter shade of Raflagloss, with a smooth, double-coated surface. Jetlaser 70 is an upgraded labelstock for A4 non-impact printing.

MACtac Europe announced it has expanded its manufacturing plant in Soignies, Belgium, to increase self-adhesive production to 300 million sq/metres annually. It has also opened a sales and distribution centre in Singapore.

New non-filmic products include CILdata TCF, a white A4 woodfree with permanent or non-permanent adhesive for non-impact printers, including ink jet. With more wineries switching from glue-applied labelling to paper pressure-sensitives, the company has introduced Verge, in crème, white and chrome. Surface treatment allows water-washability during recycling and resistance to ice-bucket temperatures.

Jackstädt also serves this emerging market with WLA, an alkaline removable wine label grade. WLR allows short-time repositioning, but adheres strongly despite the wet conditions on high-speed bottling lines. It also introduced NP1, a non-permanent acrylic adhesive that leaves no residues on glass and TR7 that allows the repositioning of labels on plastic bottles. Alsonew is a DigiLabel series for use with Indigo and Xeikon print engines. Its interactive CD-ROM product information and ordering service now supports English as well as German.

A new service from Avery Dennison (Fasson Roll Divison Europe) is to offer splice-free paper and filmic rolls as an extension of the Fasson Exact service. It follows changes in manufacturing processes and co-operation with raw materials suppliers. Splices have traditionally been an unavoidable fact of life for roll-label converters. They can seriously disrupt production, ruin print registration and, for end-users, are especially troublesome in variable information applications.

The company also introduced optimised print media for the Indigo Omnius and Gallus Indigo DO330 presses with a new top coating (three papers and two films).

Innovations at the show
Many new products were shown, but several particularly give clues to the industry’s direction, suggests Barry Hunt.

Digital boost for flexo pre-press: a partnership between Barco Graphics and DuPont saw the launch of the Cyrel Digital Imager (CDI) Compact. It is the first computer-to-plate system that realistically targets the narrow-web label, flexible film and carton markets. There is no time-consuming film stage, with associated materials and labour costs, but users would need fairly high throughputs of photo-polymer plates.

Plate quality is said to be ‘unrivalled’. A wide dot percentage range, low dot gain and reduced highlight breakout are said to give near-offset effects, including smooth vignettes.

At 106 x 76cm, the external drum Compact has half the imaging size of the original CDI now operating in around 30 flexo packaging plants. It retains the same YAG laser optics and Barco FastRip/C linked with a Barco pre-press system. New electronics give a faster speed of 30 minutes per plate at 2,100 dpi, or 20 minutes at 1,400 dpi.

DuPont offers Cyrel DPS (soft) and the new DPH (hard) plate, and is developing a DPU grade for UV flexo. Its latest AX4 Digital Cromalin proofing system, using continuous ink jet technology, integrates with the Barco front-end.

New slant on waterless offset: Mark Andy’s most innovative product for years is a company-designed waterless offset unit. Variable-size cylinders (12 or 24 inch diameter) give 95 different repeats. This approach is said to reduce the high costs associated with offset cassette changes by over 75 per cent.

Significantly, a new type of closed-loop inking ensures ink is always in balance, making the process as simple to use as ordinary flexo. The system has micro-blade metering – no keys – and unused ink returns directly to the fountain. A central distributor roller feeds two forme rollers in contact with a quick-change plate. Each forme roller works with two temperature-controlled oscillators; helping to retain consistent ink thickness until the plate cylinder is brought on impression.

Trials have produced high-quality results from 300 l/inch (120 l/cm) up to 600 l/inch (240 l/cm). The system can use any proprietary waterless plate. Several have appeared following the expiry of Toray’s patents.

Two processes – one unit: UV flexo and rotary screen are complimentary processes. Combining them in a single unit – single print head, two inking systems – is the radical approach behind the EP (Effective Printer) press from Multi Print Systems. Formed a year ago by three ex-Stork engineers, their aim was to built a short-run, high-quality press that offered both reduced downtimes and low wastage.

Features include a constant diameter impression cylinder. The gearing is designed to eliminate marking, while servo motors give digitised control over press functions. Standard EP presses are available in widths of 254mm, 330mm and 406mm and can run flexible films and carton board with quick changeovers and minimum wastage. (Guhl & Scheibler in Germany, part of the Stralfors label division, is the first customer.)

UV flexo goes green: ‘the most ecological press at the show’ was the claim made for the GLS-2200 UV flexo press from Nilpeter. Its 300 Watts/inch UV system is cold-curing and ozone-free. It was especially designed for the company to offer significant savings in energy, including standby. Non-compressing matrix waste removal aids recycling, while the web transport system handles the thinnest of filmics with stability. Also new is a touch-screen intelligent control system. It monitors operations and gives full service information, backed by training programmes and service contracts.

The 240 mm wide press can also include screen, hot-foil, varnishing and reverse printing facilities. It takes around ten minutes to make-ready six colours, aided by a pin-lock plate mounting system.

Single-pass blanks: Rotoflex International introduced the AT 5, a five-spindle automatic turret rewinder for making blank labels in a single pass. It can handle five independent operations: loading a core, gluing the web to the core and winding a roll to the desired final count. At this stage the system glues the roll end, cuts the web and delivers completed rolls.

The machine was running webs right to left, in-line with a Rotoflex automated die cutter and slitter. Reversing the web direction allows user to run the AT5 in-line with a press. Web widths are 250mm, 330mm, 400mm and 500mm.

Sun comes out for labels: several acquisitions have left Sun Chemicals as the world’s largest inkmaker. Now it has turned its attention to the label market by introducing the SunCure Flexo (SCF) range of UV flexo inks. Their formulation allows printers to obtain uniform print quality on both side of a web for reverse print applications. The inks were tested for six months in Europe using various substrates on different flexo presses. They are also suitable for pharmaceutical and
food labels.

The company also introduced SCF carton inks for the narrow and mid-web markets, also SunCure Offset label inks. One series is for press speeds below 250 m/minute, while another suits higher speeds while achieving low viscosity and tack without compromising emulsification.

Reducing foil wastage: hot-foil stamping is an essential part of prime/product labelling, but has high wastage rates. The Foil Saver from Total Register Inc is a retrofit press module that allows rotary production at over 100 m/minute with minimum waste. It synchronised foil with the web during stamping and immediately positions the foil for the next stamping. The unit also register single holograms or continuous patterned types.

Off-line roll-to-roll or roll-to-sheet modules are also available. At Labelexpo the Foilsaver was mounted on a Kluge BKTR 520 rotary foil stamping press.

Entry-level VIP from Delphax: variable information printing offers huge potential for adding value, but is expensive. Therefore, the entry-level Delphax Primer is an overdue development. It uses the same proven electron-beam imaging technology used in the heavier-duty 820 and 1440 models and has either in-line or off-line operation.

The Primer 1 images at 40 m/minute and is upgradable to a Primer II with a top speed of 76m/minute (costing around $140,000). Print width in both cases is 215mm with user-selectable resolutions of 240 dpi or 300 dpi. Output includes labels, tags, tickets and direct mail items, with variable data job creation on PressMagic, a Windows-based program.

Fast-speed application: increasing interest in forms/label combinations, or applying labels to any continuous paper web, has resulted in several novel innovations. Arguably the fastest anywhere was shown by Van den Bergh Engineering: its 1200 Turbo Label affixes labels up to 101 x 152mm at speeds up to 365 m/minute. The company’s in-line or off-line equipment – reel or pack fed – also includes the multi-module Inter Label Combination. The latest unit, the Labeller 18S, applies labels or plastic membership cards on webs without line holes at 60 m/minute.

Web viewer ensures plate integrity: TecScan Electronics has introduced label plate integrity as part of its upgraded PC-based Supervisor 2000 video inspection system. The aim is to ensure that labels have the correct information and data that conforms to original artwork and final proofs by eliminating the risk of operators mounting the wrong plate. As pointed alike, with just differences in ingredients or dosages for, say, food or pharmaceutical labels.

Besides the usual web viewing functions, special software ensures that plates are verified at start-up. Only correctly-coded plates (matched against a job number code) mounted in the correct sequence will allow the press to run. This applies during all stoppages, which also avoids the risk of incorrect plates being mounted for mid-run replacements. The system provides a hard-copy print-out of runs, with an optional certification label for reel identification.

Small and large-scale coating: In-house coating using UV-cured adhesives represents an esoteric aspect of self adhesive technology. It was shown from two contrasting standpoints. Beacon Adhesives of Mount Vernon, New York, presented its MagnaCryl 4500, intended for cold foil printing. A suitable adhesive, or silicone, is applied like a UV ink using a small retrofit unit (developed by Print Specialities Co of Derby). Foil is applied to the adhesive pattern, cured to a high-gloss and scratch-resistant film for narrow-web printing.

Nordson’s equipment allows converters to convert facestocks and liners into customised labelstock. It featured an application using high-shear UV-curable hot-melts, metered through a slot die. The UV station has two high-power Spectral-Nordson water-cooled and IR filtered lamps.

Surfing the labelling world: finally, well over 150 label-related companies now support a web site (a recent search for ‘label’ produced 865,000 references). Not surprisingly, many are major material suppliers. They were among the first to realise the value of Internet web sites as an effective way to disseminate detailed information on products and services.

Appropriately, therefore, Cowise Publishing Group publicly launched its Label Resource service. It gives users accsess to searchable lists of suppliers, also trade organisations like FINAT and TLMI, and trade events, with full browsing to anybody’s site.

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