Konica Minolta launches AccurioLabel 400 label press

Konica Minolta has announced a new label press, the AccurioLabel 400, which offers a very different value proposition to its current AL230 press and will see the company challenge for a much larger slice of the digital label market. 

Konica Minolta’s AccurioLabel 400 offers an optional fifth colour channel for white.

Konica Minolta has carved quite an interesting niche in the digital label market by taking the dry toner engines from some of its existing production printers and adding a set of winders to create robust label solutions that can print to a wide variety of media without needing any sort of coating and which are cost effective on very short runs. This has allowed Konica Minolta to pull off the very neat trick of selling its AccurioLabel machines to sit alongside other digital label presses such as HP Indigos. 

However, the new AccurioLabel 400 is a very different beast. The imaging engine is taken from Konica Minolta’s existing C14000 production printer though the company has developed a new toner formulation for the label market. Carsten Bamberg, business development manager for Konica Minolta Europe, says the particles are a bit different and there are some differences in the colour gamut though the company is still testing for this and the final formulation has not yet been fixed. 

The faster engine means that the AL400 can run at 39.9 mpm for CMYK though it slows down for some media. The press is capable of 1200 dpi resolution, which should be more than adequate for most label applications. 

More importantly, the new engine also enables an optional fifth toner station, which is filled with a newly-developed white toner. Bamberg says that Konica Minolta has been working on this for a few years in response to customer feedback. It is an obvious requirement for label applications, such as preventing the background from showing through on a clear label. Bamberg says that it has a high concentration of white pigments and can achieve with a single impression a good opacity of around 75 percent, adding: “And as far as we know that’s much better than some of our competitors when they need two or sometimes three impressions to achieve the same opacity level.” However, the speed does drop to 20 mpm when printing white. In theory, it should also be possible to develop other colours, such as orange to extend colour gamut, but Bamberg says there are no plans to do this yet. 

The new press also gains a new automatic calibration unit, the IQ-520, which is based on a similar approach in Konica Minolta’s production presses, which use an IQ-501 module. This includes a spectrophotometer that can read the colours in real time and automatically adjust density and registration as well as taking into account temperature changes during a print run. The same module can also create colour profiles. This should lead to better and more consistent images. It also greatly simplifies the degree of intervention needed from an operator, and therefore also the level of training those operators need. 

The press is run from a main touch panel that should make operating the press relatively straightforward. In addition, a tablet PC can be used instead of the main touch panel to run the press, giving the operator the freedom to work around the press. There are also further touch panels for both the winder and unwinder. 

The new press comes with Konica Minolta’s AccurioPro Flux software that allows jobs to be combined and imposed, and can also be used to export die lines and manage variable data. There’s a choice between a budget Konica Minolta IC-611 controller and a more productive VDP module from Kodak Creo. The press also includes as standard the overprint sensor kit from the AL230 that allows it to print in register on pre-printed media.

In theory you could run both the AccurioLabel 230 and 400 presses side by side, and send jobs from the Flux software to either press. However, Bamberg points out that the image quality would not be exactly the same, as the AL400 uses the IQ-520 model, which the older AL230 lacks. As an aside, he says that Konica Minolta might look at adding a similar module to the AL230 in the future.

One of the weak points in the Konica Minolta presses has been that the presses need to stop every so often to check calibration and registration, which is a hangover from adapting an engine that was initially designed for sheetfed printers. This has been dramatically improved for the AL400, mainly thanks to the IQ-520 module, with the press now able to run uninterrupted for up to 3000 metres. In contrast, the AL230 has to stop after every 1000 metres but that press is targeted at ultra short runs whereas the new AL400 is aiming for longer print runs. Bamberg says: “We need to see how practical this is, and what media you can find that runs for 3000 metres on a roll with a maximum diameter of 800mm.”

The new press will take 330mm wide media as standard though there’s an option for 250mm media. Naturally, since it prints dry toner, the press will work with a wide range of uncoated paper-based labels. It will take synthetic papers up to 270 microns, and some plastic-based substrates, including PP and PET. However, it won’t run some thin filmic materials that can be damaged by heat as the toner engine requires high temperature fusing. 

The integrated winders, which take media rolls up to 800mm in diameter, come from GM, which continues a long standing arrangement with Konica Minolta. That said, in some markets, notably China and India, the machines are sold with winders from Brotech Digital Graphics, based in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. 

Konica Minolta will continue to sell the existing AccurioLabel 230 as an entry level solution. This is specified to handle 10 to 60,000 metres per month with the average in Europe being 20,000 linear metres amongst its existing customers. But Bamberg says that the new AccurioLabel 400 is designed to expand Konica Minolta’s portfolio so it’s aimed at users with at least 50,000 metres per month and that he expects it to be used for closer to 100,000 metres per month, adding: “And maybe customers will do much more.” 

This is going to mean competing much more directly against other digital label presses for short to medium run lengths. Bamberg commented: “So now we are stepping into the playground of the bigger machines and we have now an offering that was targeting that exact area where before they always saw us as a complementary offering to their existing machines. But now we are here to take some of them out.” However, he was reluctant to put a price on the new press, pointing out that it’s still six months until the machine is officially launched, though this will go a long way to determining how successful this press is likely to be. Still, Konica Minolta claims that the running costs will be lower than its older machines as some of the parts are rated for longer lifespans.

Bamberg noted: “The digitization of the label industry will continue to accelerate with double-digit predicted growth annually. Opportunity is everywhere. It just takes a spark to make it happen.” He added: “With an estimated 7,000-plus label converters in the mid- and high-volume markets, we feel confident of capturing significant market share with our AccurioLabel 400 that will have an extremely competitive total cost of ownership.”

It’s worth noting that Konica Minolta has placed over 1000 label presses since 2016, which includes the Bizhub Press C71cf, launched in 2015, the AL190, launched in 2017 and the AL230, launched in 2019. 

In addition, Mark Andy uses the AccurioLabel machines as the basis of its Digital Pro hybrid label presses. So no surprise to find that Mark Andy is also planning a version based on the 5-colour AL400 that will include converting stations for an end-to-end solution. 

Mark Andy’s CEO, Jason Desai, explained: “Incorporating Konica Minolta digital marking technology with Mark Andy’s expertise in converting allows for business expansion and improved customer value for the label converters. This partnership is transforming the industry with the highest quality, most reliable, and cost-effective solutions as demonstrated by more than 300 digital press installations. And today, we continue to pursue practical technology solutions for converters of all sizes at a realizable price point.”

Visitors to the Label Expo show in the US this September will be able to see Mark Andy’s 5-colour Digital Pro. The AccurioLabel 400 press should be available at the start of next year. In the meantime, you can find further details from konicaminolta.eu


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