There are two common assumptions about the narrow web Label sector – that the conventional flexo is a mature technology with only incremental advances and that digital is advancing rapidly.
But at this year’s Label Expo both of these assumptions were turned on their head with several new flexo presses, inks, sleeves and plates matched by an obvious slow down in the onward march of digital progress.
Thus there were several new flexo presses on show, and two obvious trends for this technology. The first is towards greater automation to speed up job changeovers, making a flexo press more attractive for running multiple jobs throughout a shift. The new Gallus Labelmaster Advanced is perhaps the most obvious example of this.
The second trend is towards wider presses that can take on packaging jobs, such as the new Bobst M8. This is an inline flexo press that’s aimed firmly at the packaging market with web widths up to 1070mm. It’s a highly automated press that runs at 400mpm and can handle UV, water-based or solvent-based inks. There will also be a cardboard version of the press that can take substrates up to 600 gsm.
On the digital side, one of the most interesting developments was the new Mouvent company, a recently created subsidiary of Bobst. Strangely, the Mouvent stand was hidden away behind Bobst and I met quite a few people who went looking for it but failed to find it. I’m not sure that there’s anything particularly revolutionary about the Mouvent technology – it’s just very well executed. Thus the heart of the Mouvent approach is Fujifilm Samba printheads, running at the same speed and resolution as all the other label solutions based on these heads.
Naturally Mouvent showed off the two UV label presses that were announced before the show. But there was also a prototype of a new press, the LB702WB, which uses water-based inks. It is quite a compact press, though longer than the UV machines as it incorporates a flood primer and drying unit as well as the inkjet printing and drying. Piero Pierantozzi, one of the co-founders behind Mouvent, suggested that the company would concentrate on water-based inks, which would certainly be more environmentally-friendly.
There were several other new digital label presses announced but these were mostly incremental upgrades to existing models, with slight increases in productivity. The best example of this is Durst’s latest Tau digital label press, the 330 RCS. For this model, Durst has switched from Xaar to Dimatix printheads, with the result that it runs at 78 linear metres per minute, up from 48mpm, with 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution. This is a considerable jump in productivity, with Durst claiming that it is able to compete directly against flexo presses.
Xeikon launched both a new dry toner and a new inkjet press. The dry toner CX500 is essentially a wider version of the existing CX3, which uses Xeikon’s Cheetah toner and can run at 30mpm. But the more interesting development is the inkjet PX2000, which is an entry-level press to complement the PX3000 that was announced earlier this year. Xeikon has used the Panther brand for its inkjet technology but has based these presses on an existing design, though it won’t confirm where this has come from. The Panther presses use Kyocera heads and run at 600dpi, so that although they’re faster than the Cheetah dry toner presses, they won’t challenge them in terms of image quality. This seems to be a deliberate strategy, with Xeikon’s main priority being to preserve the reputation of its dry toner technology, which doesn’t feel like the strongest commitment to inkjet as a way forward.
But then there does seem to be a general disagreement across all the vendors over print quality, with some digital printers running at 600dpi and others at 1200dpi. Personally, I think that we should be aiming for 1200 dpi, at least for any application that is looking to take short run work off a flexo press. This has led to a curious state of affairs with digital technology liberally sprinkled throughout all the halls and the overall impression that the label industry is turning to digital. But it feels more as if the industry has accepted digital printing for short run while the grown-ups still favour flexo for the bulk of the work.