The bi-annual Labelexpo Europe exhibition continues to grow in size and success with every event. Held in Brussels recently and organised by Tarsus the event covered five halls that also included a three-day programme of seminar and masterclass sessions. A record number of over 23 000 visitors attended.

Last year (2005) was the 25th anniversary of the event; it was also marked by the first Label Industry Global Awards to be held in Europe where four awards were presented for achievement and innovation. The R Stanton Avery Lifetime Achievement Award sponsored by Avery Dennison was given to Lars Eriksen, the owner and president of Nilpeter A/S. The Label Industry Award for Continuous Innovation sponsored by Labels & Labelling, Label & Narrow Web and NarroWeb Tech was presented to Gallus Ferd Ruesch AG. The Label Industry Award for New Innovation sponsored by Gidue and HP Indigo was won by MPS Systems b.v. and finally the European Award for Continuous Innovation sponsored by Xsys was won by Skanem.

he exhibitors
There were around 500 exhibitors, here we highlight just some of the new technology and equipment that was available to flexographers.

On the Mark Andy stand live demonstrations were to be seen highlighting the future of inexpensive on-press RFID transponders in co-operation and development with Xink. The new XP5000 narrow web press combined with the new VSR300 rewinder created a complete workflow. Limpet Labels will be the first UK converter to take delivery of one of the recently launched Mark Andy VSR300 inspection/rewind machines. Closing the deal at Labelexpo in Brussels, Paul Briggs, managing director of Mark Andy UK Ltd commented: ‘We’re delighted to have sold our first VSR300 to Limpet that last year installed one of Mark Andy’s new LP3000 lines. The two will complement each other perfectly when the VSR is installed in December.’

Swiss manufacturer Inter Label Machines AG (ILMA) enjoyed a successful exhibition. According to managing director, Christoph Bolt: ‘We had more visitors on our booth then we’d expected, including many well qualified people from Russia, India and Australia, as well as the major European markets. The presentation of our combination printing press with the four colourful dancers was a highlight, as many visitors told us.’

The press included waterless offset that was an additional feature of the ILMA hybrid printing tower which traditionally handles UV flexo, rotary screen and letterpress printing, as well as hot foil stamping, all without having to change units on the platform. The company’s introduction of its new UV Flexo Productivity Improvement Kit was well received. Developed in close partnership with ILMA users, it allows a colour change to be carried out at speed. In addition, the volume of ink required for each chamber is reduced from 1.4kg to 400g, which prompted several retrofit orders on the booth.

Nilpeter’s stand was always busy. This year the Danish press manufacturer showed two completely new flexo press ranges: The FA-Line of modular UV flexo presses and the mid level FB-Line of high performance presses. It also made the European debut of a servo-driven version of the high-end MO-Line, Jakob Landberg, sales director, explained, ‘This year’s Labelexpo was particularly important for us. We unveiled three well defined press ranges or lines. In fact the FA-Line, FB-Line and MO-Line really are an impressive line-up of presses, offered at the right price. Each line has followed extensive product development and some rationalization of existing features. They are designed to produce a wide range of label and packaging applications using a variety of substrates to help converters win niche business.’

JM Heaford Limited, the manufacturer of mounting and proofing machinery reports its most successful show ever, selling 14 narrow web mounting machines at the show itself, with the promise of further orders to be concluded over the coming weeks.

A new UV ink was announced by Sun Chemical, the world’s largest producer of printing inks and pigments. The company has introduced the brand Solarcat which is described as the most advanced cationic UV flexo ink system of its kind in the world and at least twice as fast curing than other products in the market-place. Improvements include higher cure speed, lower humidity sensitivity, low press room odour and with-out the creation of hazardous photoinitiator by-products in the curing process. The product is part of Sun Chemical’s Solaris ink portfolio that also includes for flexo Solarflex and Solarflex Speed formally launched in Europe at Labelexpo. Solarcat inks, which are now available for commercial supply, are undergoing trials at various industry leading speciality packaging, label and shrink-sleeve companies world-wide.

Lüscher AG launched two new pre-press systems for use in the narrow web sector. The new FlexPose!direct 250L direct laser ablation system has been developed specifically for the narrow web market. With an imaging width of up to 600 mm, it conveniently matches the format of presses in the narrow web sector, producing plates or sleeves for the printing process involved, be it flexo, letterpress, silk screen or dry offset.

FlexPose!, the other flexo CtP imaging system officially launched at the show, employs technology based on that of the Xpose! The system can incorporate laser diodes for flexo as well as offset applications and hence is capable of imaging plates for the flexo, letterpress and offset sectors.

Launched at Labelexpo the e-Brick system from GEW is proven to increase curing speeds by up to 35% whilst reducing energy consumption by 30%. This is of significant benefit to printers and converters operating in an industry environment increasingly under price and profit pressure. Substantial cost savings can be seen by comparing the operation of a traditional transformer powered UV system with the GEW e-Brick power supply.

Gidue launched two fully automated press lines, the I-Combat UV flexo press for printing widths 370mm, 430mm and 570mm and print repeats 304.8mm to 609.6mm. The press features conventional printing plate technology with the Gidue Flower open print deck design for speeds up to 150m/min.

Also launched was the Athena UV flexo press with sleeve technology optimised to compete in the window of opportunity evolved in the wider web packaging industry for on demand high quality short print runs. The press runs at speeds up to 270m/min and comes in printing widths of 430mm, 530mm, 630mm and 730mm with print repeats from 304.8mm to 812.8mm.

GRE Engineering Products AG launched it new GRE 200 Multi-Purpose Converter shown processing pre-printed four colour labels and applying RFID smart label technology in-line. The system applies the antenna chip by placing it automatically on the substrate where it is laminated in-line and die-cut to the finished RFID label. The machine accepts pre-printed webs of up to 220 mm (9 inches) and can be supplied with a variety of options to provide enhanced added value decoration.

American company F L Smithe, best known for making machines for printing and converting envelopes, a year ago acquired flexo press manufacturer Aquaflex. Its presence at the show hailed a significant welcome return to Europe with such brand names in the Aquaflex range of presses as the DBX, LX and Instaprep. Since the relaunch of the name in America, several of these flexo presses have been sold. The company’s presence at the show provided a resurgence of the name for printers in Europe with agency sales offices such as LPP in the UK already in place.

Kodak (Creo) was showing its new Thermoflex narrow flexo-offset computer-to-plate (CtP) device. Based on its existing CtP technology platform, this device provides users with the flexibility to image offset plates in addition to flexographic and letter-press plates and film, all on one device.

‘We’re seeing more and more crossover between flexo and offset printing. Narrow web printers are investing in offset and/or combination presses to expand their service offering, whereas commercial printers are buying flexo presses to move into multi-substrate printing,’ says Bob Dalton, product manager, Graphic Communications Group (GCG). ‘The greatest benefit of this new device is that businesses can use the same CtP for multiple printing technologies, flexo, letterpress, offset and screen.’

An exciting new feature is the availability of a multiple plate configuration. Operators can easily load any plate size up to the maximum 762 x 762 mm (30 x 30 in.) for flexo and 762 x 744 mm (30 x 29 in,) for offset plates and have the new option of imaging multiple plates simultaneously. The product’s small footprint, easy-to-use TIFF front end software and universal workflow connectivity make it an easy fit for any size of plant.

Teknek launched a further model to its range of web cleaning equipment for narrow webs. The Mini Web Cleaner (MWC) consists of an installation frame that houses two cleaning modules for either side of the web. The web that can range 100 to 345mm wide with a maximum speed rating up to 65m/min drives the cleaner.

Labelexpo came at a time when Raflatac chose to announce that it is to double its flmic production capacity at its Tampere factory in Finland. The new line is expected to start up in the third quarter next year. The company’s exhibition presence highlighted an expanding range of labelstocks for end use segments ranging from personal care and beverage to logistics and transport. UPM Rafsec a leader in RFID tag manufacture was on hand to present the latest in this technology with demonstrations of its functionality and use.

As an addition to its successful ArtPro and Nexus pre-press systems, Artwork Systems has developed a version of Odystar for the packaging and label sector. Odystar 2.5 was launched along with an intelligent plug-in-module – in PDF – that enables Adobe Illustrator to operate without restrictions in a 1.5 PDF environment. Odystar is an automated digital workflows from other manufacturers, turning existing output equipment – proofers, imagesetters, platesetters – into PDF 1.5 compliant devices. The system which runs on a Macintosh OSX platform is a native PDF 1.5 workflow and provides an extensive range of automatic pre-press production tools, including pre-flighting, correcting, advanced trapping, step and repeat, proofing, screening and printing.

In addition, the company has developed new concentric screening technology. This new halftone dot technology divides the conventional round dot into thin concentric rings. The thin rings limit ink build-up on plates thereby providing greater latitude on press. Printers are able to increase screen rulings without experiencing the traditional problems of mottle, dot gain and variability previously associated with high screen rulings.

Gallus was showing new developments on three of its presses. The Gallus RCS 330 now comes with UV offset an gravure printing units. At the same time the EM 410S comes with a new automatic anilox cleaner and the EM280 was demonstrated with six flexo print units, the screen head and a hot foil stamping station had new novelties and the press was fitted for the first time with chambered doctor blades.

Esko-Graphics introduced a new member to the CDI family of plate imagers. The Spark 2120, a small footprint flexo imager designed for narrow web, tag and label printing. Built for digital photopolymer plates, ablative film or polyester base letter-press plates of up to 21’’ x 20’’ (533 x 508 mm). The CDI Spark 2120 boasts fully variable resolutions from 2000 to 2540 ppi and is capable of screen rulings up to 200 lpi, with halftone imaging from 1-99% suitable for high quality tags and labels. The CDI Spark 2120’s small footprint is 45.7’’ wide x 27.6’’ deep x 41.3’’ high (1160mm x 700mm x 1050mm). It uses the same external drum imaging design as all CDI imagers and can image a full size plate in 16 minutes at 2000 ppi.

New from Focus Label Machinery was its redesigned Letterflex textile printing equipment and a new rotary screen printing system specifically for its range of flexo printing presses. The screen unit will use screens from most well known sources. Additionally the company was showing its new tabletop ultrasonic anilox roll cleaner called Flexosonic.

Holo-Foil King is the latest technical news from Omet. This unit can deposit up to six types of hologram having an independent pitch for each with its foil saver technology. The unit can be fitted in line on the new Varyflex press (420-520-670 mm).

UV supplier, IST Metz, presented a new lamp module named MBS-5. The pivotal attribute of the module is its efficiency, bringing up to 40% more UV energy onto the substrate surface. The system exploits available UV energy with a combination of new solutions, of which the most effective is the URS reflector technology. Its core feature is a new surface coating that also enables any desired geometry when using so called cold mirror reflectors. This has enabled designers to adapt, by means of advanced software, the reflector geometry for the MBS-5 lamp module to the specific production requirements in
label printing.

As a consequence, print shops using the MBS-5 system can change over to UV lamps that have lower power consumption without affecting curing performance, productivity or printing quality. By reducing the lamp output from 200 W/cm to 140 W/cm on an eight colour printing press, a company can thus reduce the total power costs of 21.600 EUR for the UV curing on this printing line by 6.480 EUR per year (This calculation is based on 3000 production hours per year, a lamp length of 450 mm and a power price of 0.10 Euro per kW/h).

Martin Automatic was able to show narrow web converters the saving to be made by using one of its range of automatic butt splicers. With the use of one of these ‘flying splicers’ saving in time and substrate waste was shown to be phenomenal.

Dantex Graphics, in association with Toray, was showing two new plates for the flexo market. Torelief RapidoFlex and RapidoFlex Precision, the former is basically a letterpress plate for use in flexo applications and for UV applications, these plates can be made using standard Torelief plate processors. The RapidoFlex Precision is a digital version of the UV plate and imaged through any direct imaging system and developed specifically for
label printing both plates are processed through the Dantex Aquaflex systems.

Fasson has developed what it calls Global Co-Ex Film Labelstocks. This range can be used on a broad spectrum of application substrates including HDPE, PET, PE, PP and the ‘no label’ look. At just 63 micron, this range will deliver more labels per reel, at the same time the range comprises a reduced inventory for the
label converter.

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