The writing’s on the label

I foolishly broke my own rule about not going to press conferences and then wasted half of the first day at Label Expo listening to various corporate heads waffling on that they had the fastest press with the best imaging quality and that these things would sell faster than sliced bread.

Klaus Bachstein, CEO of Gallus with the new DCS340 digital hybrid press.
Klaus Bachstein, CEO of Gallus with the new DCS340 digital hybrid press.

Naturally I blame Gallus for this, who tempted me, and most journalists here, with the offer of croissants and coffee. Klaus Bachstein, CEO of Gallus, started off by saying that “Gallus is still Gallus” despite having been acquired by Heidelberg. However, Jason Oliver, Heidelberg’s vice president of digital printing, then went on to talk about Heidelberg’s involvement in developing the hybrid digital press, the DCS340. This uses a label edition of Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow.

The actual imaging system has benefited from Heidelberg’s arrangement with Fujifilm, using Samba heads that deliver a native resolution of 1200 dpi, running at 45mpm. Heidelberg claims to have developed the UV inks, sold under its Saphire brand. Oliver also confirmed that Heidelberg is developing a B1 digital press, also with the Samba heads, though with water-based inks, for the commercial print market. This will be shown at Drupa and will compete directly with the new Landa presses.

Even before the Gallus press conference started, and an hour before the show itself opened, somebody asked me if I’d seen anything interesting at the show. There is, of course, no point in expecting a sensible answer from a journalist – we don’t know anything – that’s why we ask all the questions. But, best not to mention this to my editors. Anyway, it took me the rest of the day to get any kind of a reading of the show.

But it’s clear that even though digital printing accounts for a tiny percentage of the label market, it is the dominant issue represented here in Brussels. Two years ago at the last Label Expo digital printing was limited to just one or two halls but for this show there are digital devices liberally sprinkled throughout the exhibition. In part this is because there are a number of new digital label presses being launched, but mainly it’s due to the wider adoption of hybrid solutions.

Philip Easton, managing director of Domino, explains: “There’s definitely a step change with a lot of the brand owners moving over to shorter runs.” But he adds: “The bigger driver is towards lead times. They are trying to target 12 or 24 hours turnaround, which is driving people to inkjet which is almost the only way of doing that.”

Philip Easton, managing director of Domino Printing.
Philip Easton, managing director of Domino Printing.

Domino itself showed a version of its seven-colour N610i inkjet set up as a module that can be integrated to other devices. It was demonstrated at the show with an AB Graphics Digicon 3, which includes flexo, varnishing and die cutting.

Xeikon also is looking at fast turnaround with integrated functions but has taken a different approach with its Fusion concept. Wim Maes, CEO of Xeikon, proved that he was in tune with the needs of modern journalism by personally serving the beers, whilst explaining that we’ll see more web to print systems in the label sector, and that these will require a short run digital production device. Thus Fusion envisages adding modules to a standard Xeikon print engine for features such as inline cutting, varnishing or foiling, which can be slotted in as needed. But the key thing is that these are all digital rather than conventional modules.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning Durst, which announced an entry-level industrial printer, the Tau 330E. It’s based around the existing Tau 330, but modified to reduce the cost of purchase and of servicing. There’s a choice of 200mm and 330mm widths, and with an optional white as well as the standard CMYK inks. There’s a highly pigmented inkset, that should cut ink consumption by up to 30 percent. It’s also possible to add a digital laser for inline cutting. Durst has also developed a browser-based workflow system, Tau Prepare, so that files can be uploaded from anywhere and the machine monitored remotely.

Durst has also developed a jumbo winder and unwinder capable of holding 4000 metres for up to two hours non-stop printing. Helmut Munter, sales manager for Durst’s label products, notes that customers of the standard Tau 330, which is designed for runs of 5-6000 linear metres, sometimes use it for jobs up to 10,000 linear metres simply because of the convenience of digital and to avoid the time and cost penalty of using a flexo press.

The new Durst Tau 330E label press, a five-colour industrial press that's designed to be cheaper to buy and to run.
The new Durst Tau 330E label press, a five-colour industrial press that’s designed to be cheaper to buy and to run.

If customers are willing to accept the cost of digital printing and to run the machine beyond its optimum economic point simply for convenience, then that would suggest that the label market is more than ready to adopt digital printing and that this show could mark the tipping point.

Then again, I’ve had quite a lot of coffee and there’s still a lot more of the show to see. Stay tuned for the next report.

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