Interesting and enthusiastic speakers and lively question session characterised the Institute of Packaging’s latest conference on labelling held at the Institute’s headquarters in Melton Mowbray on the 13th May, with delegates from both the label producer and label user market place.

Entitled ‘The Labelling Low-Down’, the conference brought together national and internationally respected speakers from Krones, Gallus-Group, Avery Dennison, Apllied Holographics, Cumpstone Computers, Label Express, Wace Labels, The Boots Company and The Cowise Group.

In opening the programme chairman Neil Farmer, head of corporate relations for Wace UK and Europe, commented that the humble label has developed into a high security item, a high quality print salesman and a hi-tech tracking and pricing vehicle, in addition to being an anti-pirate device to boot. With retail theft estimated at £1.8 billion per year – any new anti-theft initiative had to be applauded.

‘The label market is also a vital part of overall pack design and an integral element of brand imagery,’ he explained. ‘Shelf appeal and instant attractiveness should be every label producer’s goal –harnessed of course to the correct technical requirements and most suitable application machinery. Ten to twelve colours, embossing, blocking, 24 hour lead times, it’s all in a day’s work for the modern label producer.

Continuing the theme Jeff Banks, area sales manager of Krones UK, reviewed some of the latest developments in labelling machinery and, particularly, two new labelling machines introduced by Krones to their already comprehensive range of equipment – The Linamatic and the Multimatic. Two machines at the extremes in terms of speed and flexibility.

With the development of new labelling materials – by Avery Dennison – a new type of labelling machine has been created by Krones to transfer the ‘label’ from the web to the container. The unique feature of this Thermocol machine is that the ‘label’ is, in fact, the ink which has been printed on the web and with the assistance of heat, squeezes the ‘label’ from the web onto the container, clearly giving a no-label look.

For many years the bottling industry has been looking for flexibility in terms of bottle handling. Krones have now met this challenge by introducing a ‘clamping starwheel’ which will typically handle a difference in bottle diameter of up to 12mm. This unique design eliminates the need for changeover from one bottle diameter to another and also removes the requirement for perimeter guide rails and, in some cases, wear strips, all of which are typically found on bottle handling systems on a labelling machine.

Printing presses for the label industry of today and tomorrow were discussed by Doug Clark, sales director of the Gallus-Group UK, who examined some of the pressures on the label industry, such as market pressures, buying pressures, pressures coming from marketing and buying agencies, economic pressures and investment. Such factors in turn lead to the development of presses for the future.

In the next five to ten years today’s printing technology will not disappear – but it will look very different, with the entire process of production and converting more resembling a production unit in a highly automated production plant. The main focus however, will be the web transport and its control with perhaps specialist constructions and insertions. A press which will be a work bench on which standard units of the day will be combined with specialist equipment and, together, they will convert any manageable substrate into highly sophisticated products for any application.

Extruded MDO films for the label industry were presented and discussed by Jan T Hart, business development manager, Avery Dennison, Fasson Roll Division Unit. Following information on the manufacture of co-extrusion films and the requirements of film labelstocks for in-mould labelling he reviewed the printing requirements of such materials in terms of corona treating, printing, over-varnishing and static.

New developments in optical and materials developments in diffractive OVD labelling were covered by Hamish Shearer, special projects director of Applied Holographics, whose presentation looked at a number of new hologram innovations, secure OVD’s and machine readable holograms and applications. Samples were examined and discussed.

Cost effective purchasing of labels through partnership, or how to reduce significantly the total applied cost of labels, was the subject of the talk by Mike Mencer, managing director of Label Express, who compared traditional methods of running a label business with the modern ethos, and with the Label Express partnership model. Various cost-saving case histories were discussed.

‘The trick of staying alive in the label business is to be producing and developing products which your competitors can’t be bothered with or haven’t even thought about,’ said Frank Pilborough, divisional development manager of Wace Labels. To support his view Frank presented a whole series of slides of interesting products to show the way the market is evolving. These slides covered thermochromic labels, EAS technology, security products, patterned adhesives, silicone printing, linerless labels, special effects printing, and much more. All of them, he explained, require constant liaison with developments in production techniques, materials, adhesives, silicones, and, above all, the future requirements of the most important player – the customer.

A similar review of ‘labelling innovations’ came from Keith Barnes, principal packaging technologist – innovations, The Boots company, who discussed new developments in substrates, adhesives, printing processes, including reel-fed litho and UV flexo, special processes and products.

The Final speaker of the day, Michael Fairley, publisher of Labels & Labelling International and Package Print & Design, and a regular speaker on label markets and technology worldwide, looked at the changing world of labels, market trends, the growth of filmic, labelstocks, variable imaging, digital technologies, the potential of ‘intelligent’ labels, the requirement for source tagging, demands for special label constructions and new and changing production technology.

New technologies discussed included a new in-line lower-cost holographic process, the launch of a new narrow-web, in-line purpose built, thermographic printing solution for labels, and the development of a new magnetic particle printing solution for unique label identification and authentification. At the end of the day, he explained, it will be the label user that benefits the most from the continuing evolution and growth of the label market.

Discussion and questions during the day centred on price pressures faced by label producers and the expectations of label buyers for further cost and price reductions. Although such factors might suit short-term objectives of buyers, the view was that, in the longer-term, such an approach would not be in the best interests of the label producer or user.

Altogether the programme gave an interesting and stimulating overview of the label industry today and where it is likely to be in a few years time.

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