Label Expo part 3: How wide is narrow?

Most of the different segments that make up the print industry have seen growth in packaging and this also applies to the labelling market, with a lot of packaging applications on show at Label Expo. This mostly took the form of pouches, which have become increasingly popular as a more sustainable form of packaging for some liquid goods.

There’s been a general increase in print widths in flexo presses, up from the 254mm that was common for a previous generation of presses to a slightly wider 330mm in the last decade or so, with most vendors also offering widths up to 510mm or even 670mm, which is closer to mid than narrow width. 

This is also true in digital devices, with 330mm being the standard width for most presses though some vendors such as Bobst and Durst offer hybrid presses in 510mm widths and other such as Gallus also suggesting that they will follow this trend. This both helps to increase the overall productivity in labelling and opens up more packaging applications. Consequently, at this year’s Label Expo there did seem to be a noticeable uptick in the number and scale of packaging solutions that were demonstrated.

Since I’ve already covered most of the inkjet presses that I saw, I’m mainly going to concentrate on the toner machines. These have an added advantage for packaging, where toner is generally seen as safer for food packaging since there is very little risk of any harmful substances migrating to the food itself. So no surprise to find that most of the toner vendors also emphasised their packaging credentials.

Markus Weiss, general manager of HP Industrial Printing in Europe, told me that customers at the show were moving towards packaging: “We see a huge interest of label customers asking about flexible packaging and some packaging customers asking about alternative markets like folding carton or flexible packaging.”

Markus Weiss, general manager for HP industrial printing EMEA with the new Indigo V12.

HP showed both its latest models, the fifth generation Indigo 200k and sixth generation V12, both of which are nearing the end of their beta testing and with HP already taking orders for them. Weiss added: “The future is the V12 and 200K with their huge versatility because you can use it for flexible packaging and labels and we can print on different media and even paper.”

The V12 is able to print at up to 120mpm making it one of the fastest digital label presses shown at Label Expo. Weiss says: “We don’t want to replace HP digital installations so the press is really going to the flexo world. And that’s because of the industrial capability of the press.”

However he says that he does not anticipate a straight analogue to digital conversion. Instead he says that some customers will need specific digital features but adds: “The real differentiator is definitely the speed and productivity and short makeready times. And the possibility that every label can be different.”

The V12 is based on the series 4 technology, using the same core imaging engine and electro-ink. However, in the standard Indigo system there is one Binary Ink Developer unit for each colour, with all the BIDs placed around a single drum so that each colour separation can be imaged one after the other to a heated blanket. To speed the process up, the V12 has six imaging engines, each with two BID units for a total of 12 colours. This has made the press very long and potentially very complex. However, Weiss says: “Our LEPx technology is easily accessible and super easy to maintain The new LEP technology and the single print engines can be much better maintained so there’s more reliability and more uptime even if it looks more complex.”

He says that there’s been a big change in Europe with customers asking for presses that are easy to operate and maintain, noting: “A lot of our customers are including inline finishing and they have to be operated by the same person.”

HP also showed off the Indigo 200K, which was announced earlier this year and is designed primarily for flexible film packaging. I’ve already covered this in more detail but essentially HP has updated the B2-sized 25K press to the fifth generation spec, with a new, faster writing head. HP has cut the number of colours down to five – CMYK plus white – to run at 42mpm though this can be increased to 56mpm in the enhanced productivity mode, which is just cyan, magenta and yellow. 

HP does have plenty of inkjet technology and has used this in its wide format printers as well as the single pass T-series PageWide Inkjet presses and its corrugated C550 press. However Weiss says that HP will continue to use the Indigo liquid toner technology, saying: “We are not looking at developing inkjet for labels. We are using it for bigger paper-based labels. We are always checking the possibilities in the market. Today the customer isn’t only printing the labels but also the inserts.” 

He continues: “I think the biggest differentiator with the Indigo technology is its versatility. We have a lot of inkjet technology but the versatility in regards to Indigo and the special colours like the white and so on. That’s a huge advantage of the electro ink technology.”

The V12 should be released fully next year but for now HP has two beta sites in Europe and a further two in the US. The 200K is supposedly fully released though Weiss estimates that it will be six months before HP will be able to deliver either the V12 or 200K.

Xeikon has introduced this LX3000 Lion dry toner printer.

Not to be outdone, Xeikon used the show to launch its latest dry toner press, the LX3000 Lion, which is the third generation of its Cheetah press platform. I’ve already covered this in more detail but it’s essentially a faster version of the existing CX300. It’s is a five colour press with a 322mm print width and 1200 dpi resolution, but with the speed increased from 30mpm to 42mpm.

Xeikon has also developed a new Eco toner to use with the Lion series machines. The Eco toner builds on Xeikon’s previous generation of toners that are free from BPA, mineral oil, and photo initiators. In addition, around 60 percent of the base particles are made with high-grade transparent recycled PET. Also the Eco toner does not use any fluorine (either inorganic and PFAS) and is 100 percent vegan. For now, this Eco toner will be standard on the Lion but Xeikon is planning to roll it out to the older CX300 and CX500 machines at some point next year. 

In addition, Xeikon also demonstrated a new Titon toner that’s designed specifically for packaging applications. The Titon toner contains UV-curable elements. Frank Jacobs, Xeikon’s global marketing communications manager, says: “We know that UV has a bad name in labelling with food. But the UV component we are using has very large molecules so the risk of migration is very low.” He points out that inkjet requires smaller molecules to avoid blocking the nozzles but the larger molecules cure more fully. Xeikon has adapted its existing 508mm wide CX500 by adding LED lamps to cure these elements to create a new press, the TX500, which was also on show at Label Expo, along with plenty of samples. I’ll cover this in more detail in a separate story. 

Sacha Paolucci, head of industrial print business development for Konica Minolta Europe.

Konica Minolta had a fairly busy stand, having brought along both its AccurioLabel 230 and the newer AL400 printer. Sacha-Vittorio Paolucci, head of industrial printing for Konica Minolta Europe, says there is a market for both, with the AL 230, which has a maximum speed of around 23 mpm, targeted at very short run production while the AL 400 aiming for a higher end market at around 40mpm. Konica Minolta has been quite successful in carving out a useful niche for itself. Paolucci says that the company has sold 15 of its AL400 presses in Europe, though there aren’t any in the UK yet.

Both machines use dry toner technology, reusing print engines from the company’s existing production printer models. This has helped to cut down on the costs of developing the print engine and allowed Konica Minolta to undercut other players. In addition, since they are using dry toner, they can cope with a wide range of different media without requiring any kind of primer, which also helps keep the costs down.

Konica Minolta showed an inkjet module with its AL230, developed by Industrial InkJet, which is the company’s partner for inkjet integration in Europe. This uses the relatively new KM1095 heads and runs at 20mpm, which as Paolucci pointed out is enough for the printer, but it can also be added to other devices. It can be used to supplement the AL230, for example with a white ink or a varnish. However, despite being an inkjet head, it’s being sold on a click charge model. 

The company also showed a couple of converting devices from its MGI partner. This included the latest version of its JetVarnish 3D embellishment device, the  Web 400. This will take labels and flexible packaging substrates from 100mm to 420mm and offers UV spot varnish and hot foil stamping to create tactile effects with very little set-up time.

MGi also brought along its Octopus digital die cutter. This has 9 knives, all independent of each other, and can cut matrices in three lanes up to 330mm wide. Paolucci says that it has an advantage over laser cutters as there is no risk of burnt edges, adding: “We want to go fast and with high quality.”

Konica Minolta also showed its PKG-1300 packaging machine, which has been designed to print to folding carton and corrugated sheets for producing boxes. This is a rebadged version, based on the Multi 1300 from the Portuguese manufacturer Mtex NS. The machine itself is the second generation, suggesting that both Konica Minolta and Mtex NS have had some success with it. It consists of two units, the printer plus an automatic feeder/ stacker, and it takes boards up to 1.3 x 1.6m, from 1 to 50mm thick. It uses five HP thermal inkjet printheads with pigment ink and can produce 18mpm at 600 x 1200 dpi resolution. The speed can be increased to 27mpm by dropping the resolution to 300 x 1200 dpi, or the print quality can be improved to 1200 x 1200 dpi at 9mpm. 

Mtex NS itself showed off a prototype of a new packaging press, the FP6, which is designed for paper-based flexible packaging such as pouches rather than rigid boxes. This also prints with HP thermal printheads. The heads are arranged in three print bars of three heads each. They have 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution with a print width of 225mm and four channels each. 

NS Mtex demonstrated this Flexpack printer for flexible packaging.

The ink is a water-based pigment ink. It can print to either a vinyl material, which will need to be pretreated to accept the ink, or to a paper-based media, which might not need any form of pretreatment, depending on how well it absorbs the ink. The image is printed media is then immediately laminated to protect the image and create the finished material for the packaging. It will take media up to 800mm wide but with a print width of 640mm.

Nuno Coelo, CTO for Mtex NS, says that the target markets are things like pet food. Mtex NS is still waiting for the ink certification but this machine should be available by the end of the year. 

Mtex NS also brought along its Multi 800 packaging printer, which is already about a year old. This uses water-based inks, which Mtex NS says it makes itself. There’s a choice of inksets, with a blue machine running a dye-based ink while the normal red model used a pigment-based ink. The dye-based ink can be printed to a glossy substrate with a slightly shiny effect, which can be quite effective for some boxes. However most users will stick with the pigment ink, which is water-resistant. It costs around €59,000, and includes an ErgoSoft RIP, which is quite a competitive price.

For the final part of this series I’ll look at some of the flexo and finishing options that were shown at Label Expo. You can find the first part, on hybrid solutions, here, and the second part, on other inkjet presses, here.



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