The long and winding road

Earlier this month I went to the Interpack show in Düsseldorf, which as the name implies, aims to cover everything to do with packaging from the filling of different containers to the materials used for packaging.

For the organisers, Messe Düsseldorf, the show was much more than this, with large ‘Welcome Home’ signs all over the grounds. The event covered most of the available halls and there was a clear sense of relief from everyone, visitors, exhibitors and organisers alike, that Europe can still hold this kind of very large scale trade show.

Interpack proved to be a show of two halves for me. I went to the show to see what was happening in terms of printing, since packaging is such a key market for most of the printer vendors. However, not many printer vendors shared this view and there were not as many press vendors exhibiting as I had expected. I nearly gave the whole show a miss because of this and some of the press vendors that were there privately confided to me that they also had similar misgivings.

Nonetheless, several vendors did announce new presses. This included Fujifilm and Heidelberg though neither of them brought their new machines to Düsseldorf but Fujifilm did have a scale model of its new baby on its stand. 

Heidelberg announced a new flexo press, the Boardmaster, despite not actually taking a stand at the show, which seemed like a missed opportunity to engage with customers, particularly since Heidelberg is hoping to focus more on the packaging market. The Boardmaster is a highly automated wide web inline rotary device for printing cartons with a choice of different finishing options. It will run at 600mpm and there’s an option to increase this to 800mpm. It can take media up to 1670mm wide, with a choice of four print widths, starting with 850mm, then 1020mm, 1400mm and 1650mm. I’ve covered this is more detail in a separate story.

Heidelberg’s label press subsidiary Gallus did have a small stand, with a picture of a Label One inkjet press, and Gallus also announced a new UVF01 ink set for its Labelfire 340 digital hybrid press. These inks have been designed for printing tube laminates and folding carton.

Fujifilm has added a new high pile feeder to this Jet Press 750S B2 inkjet press.

Fujifilm had one of the largest stands amongst the press vendors and used the show to officially launch its Jet Press FP790 inkjet press, which has been designed to print to flexible film for packaging. Again, I’ve covered this in more detail in a separate story. But essentially this is a single pass inkjet press that takes web widths from 520 to 790mm with a printing width of 753.2mm. It runs water-based ink that comply with all the relevant food safety standards and can print 50mpm at 1200 dpi resolution. 

Fujifilm also brought two actual presses, a B2 sheetfed JetPress 75S0 and a Revoria PC1120 production printer, both of which were printing live jobs at the show. Fujifilm also had a Kama ProCut 76 on its stand, to take the printed sheets and die cut, emboss and foil them.

Manuel Schrutt, head of packaging for Fujifilm Europe, speaking at Fujifilm’s press conference said: “In packaging we want to be a major player and we want to do this by utilising the entire portfolio that we have. We want to be the driving force in the analogue to digital conversion in the packaging industry which will happen in certain areas. And we want to make packaging products more customisable, which is one of the core values of Fujifilm.”

He added that Fujifilm is “carefully moving more and more into the folding carton space”. To this end, the Jet Press 750s was shown with a new high pile feeder that was specifically designed for working with folding carton sheets. 

The Revoria PC1120 was more of a surprise since this is a six colour dry toner press that’s aimed at commercial document printers. Nonetheless, Schrutt says: “We see that the PC1120 is enabling a lot of our commercial customers to get a foothold in packaging. We also see a lot of specialist packaging being done on this machine like folding carton and labels.” The press can produce some interesting special effects and the samples that I picked up at the show were extremely good. Also, there were quite a lot of people crowding around both the Revoria and the Jet Press every time I walked past.

Besides the presses, Fujifilm announced a number of other products. This included a new low migration flexo ink for LED UV curing plus a new larger format version of the Flenex FW flexo plate processor. The PDW4260 processor is said to be significantly more sustainable than other alternatives. It is designed to work with water-washable plates, particularly Fujifilm’s own Flenex FW plates. It features a built-in air knife and spray bars for cleaning and pre-drying. This will be installed for a beta test at Creation, a repro house based in Birmingham, UK, in June.

HP demonstrated a new 108mm wide thermal inkjet print module.

HP showed off a new thermal inkjet printhead solution, the HP 108, which prints a 108mm swathe that is more than double the 45mm print width of the existing HP 45. As well as the head, the imprinting module includes the ink supply and the drive electronics. It should be available later this year. John Nash, application engineer, told me: “We are trying to get some feedback from OEMs and end users to see what sort of uses people are interested in.”

The printhead has a native resolution of 2400 dpi and can run at 180mpm at 600 x 1200 dpi resolution with one colour. It can also be configured with two colour channels but the speed halves. It’s mainly aimed at the packaging and coding markets and will print to porous substrates such as corrugated and plain paper. Nash says that HP has still to make a final decision on which ink to use with it, noting: “We are happy with this current ink but may change it to get a better dry time.”

Any potential users will need to do some work to integrate these units but Nash says: “We offer a development kit that allows the head to talk to other things. And we offer a lot of technical consultancy as well.”

Leibinger introduced a new coding and marking system, the IQJet, which is a continuous inkjet system. It’s suitable for use in the food and consumer goods sectors, as well as for applications in the industrial sector, such as printing onto cables, pipes or wires in plastic extrusion. 

When not in use, the entire ink circuit, including the print nozzle, is sealed airtight and the ink continues to circulate, which prevents the nozzles from drying out or becoming clogged. Consequently, Leibinger says that there’s no need for any scheduled maintenance for up to five years. This, together with low ink consumption of around 2.7 cc/h for MEK inks, should add up to much lower running costs. It comes with a 10ins touch display and runs a Smart.OS operating system and can be interfaced with other systems including OPC UA. 

Markem Imaje also showed off a new imprinting module that uses its Super Piezo technology, which mixes Continuous Inkjet and drop on demand with those drops that aren’t needed being rejected, which is how many other CIJ systems work. It’s a monochrome solution that uses 64 nozzles with 100 – 200 dpi resolution. The main advantage is its ability to print intricate text such as 2D codes to curved surfaces at very high speeds. It’s available now to select customers as Markem Imaje is still fine tuning it.

Marken Imaje has developed this hybrid CIJ Super Piezo system.

Substrates and sustainability

The second part of the show, for me at least, was the chance to look at some of the substrates. Here the dominant message of the show was on sustainability.

Screen showed off a number of samples of pouches, both flexible film, printed on Screen’s single pass inkjet Pac830F, and paper-based, printed on Screen’s Pac520P. Neither of these machines were at the show and there’s still no date for when either will be commercially available though the samples did look very good to me. That said, I did have quite an interesting discussion around materials and sustainability with Juan Cano, business development director at Screen Europe, who showed me a number of samples printed on the Pac830 using mono plastic materials that are more easily recycled. One of the selling points of inkjet presses is that their water-based inks are more sustainable, but of course this only counts for anything if the materials are also recyclable.

This also holds true for paper-based materials. Screen had a number of paper pouches printed on the Pac520P. Cano explained: “These are uncoated papers. I think the market in Europe will be more than 80 percent uncoated because the consumer perceives that as a recyclable solution. Coated materials are too glossy and create confusion for the consumer.” And as Cano points out, there are different standards for recycling in all the different countries across Europe, let alone those beyond the EU borders like the UK, US or India.

One problem for all the digital press manufacturers is that the presses have to work with the materials that are currently available and being used. But as the packaging market follows customer demand  for more sustainable materials, so new materials will be developed but not necessarily designed for digital printing, which still accounts for a minuscule proportion of the overall market. 

There are different approaches in developing sustainable materials. I came across a range of bio-compostable materials at Mitsubishi Chemical, that were made with multiple layers with materials optimised for printing or for barriers. The idea is that making the materials compostable can achieve better barrier protection than a recyclable mono material but without the problems of separating those materials to go into their respective recycling streams. The consumer just needs to cut up the material into small pieces and it can then go into a home compost bin. 

A Hatzopoulos produces the X-Cycle range of recycable packaging materials.

However, other vendors such as A Hatzopoulos, which is based in Greece, have concentrated their efforts on recyclable rather than compostable materials. They told me that while bio-compostable materials are a good replacement for some single use plastics such as water cups, they have a short life span and are prone to delamination and peeling. This company has developed the X-Cycle range of recyclable films which combine different layers from the same family of materials so that the package can go through the relevant recycling stream. There are different options for recycling through PP, PE or mixed PO streams.

Of course, these arguments will vary from one vendor to another depending on the specific technologies they have access to but does illustrate that there is still a lot of work to be done on developing materials that are more sustainable.

Ricoh showed off its PLAiR material for food packaging that is said to be both recyclable and compostable. PLAiR is a bio-plastic that’s made out of a foamed Polylactic Acid or PLA and is said to be lighter and stronger than conventional PLA. Ricoh has used supercritical CO2 to form it into foam sheets. It’s resistant to heat up to 120°C as well as to cold temperatures and can be microwaved. It can be thermoformed into trays and is suitable for use for ready meals, for packaging meat products or even for the lids of takeaway coffee cups.

Hideyuki Yamaguchi, general manager of the PLAiR business centre, says that it’s not suitable for those products that require a gas barrier, adding: “But we are trying to develop a version for this.” It’s already available in Japan and should appear in Europe next year. It’s also worth pointing out that Ricoh has previously developed a plant-based inkjet ink. 

Ricoh’s PLAiR is a recyclable and compostable bio-plastic.

SunChemical showed off a number of packaging samples to demonstrate various inks. This included the SunBeam Advance 5 range for electron beam curing consisting of offset inks, coatings and opaque flexo whites. It’s suitable for use with both mono-material laminates and mono-layer polyolefin packaging. The advantages of EB-cured inks is that they don’t contain the photo initiators found in UV-curable inks and are therefore safer for use with food packaging. SunChemical showed a monolayer PE pouch made up of a printed barrier layer and heat-seal resistant EB coating. There’s also a SunBar barrier primer that can be applied before printing to improve the barrier properties. 

SunChemical also showed off a number of compostable solutions including a compostable stand-up pouch, printed with SolarWave FSP, a flexo ink designed for UV LED curing for food compliant packaging and labels.

SunChemical showed off a number of packaging samples demonstrating its inks at Interpack.

In terms of software, I came across ePS, which has concentrated its efforts since splitting from EFI on improving the speed and performance of its products and developing an integrated user interface to link them all together. 

The company also shared details of its collaboration with HP Indigo, with Milo Ferchow, European marketing manager, telling me: “We started working with them the moment we split from EFI and are now seeing the benefit of this.” Essentially, ePS has integrated its existing Midmarket Print Suite, which is based around its mid-range Pace ERP, into the HP Indigo workflow to create a highly automated solution.

Most journalists left Interpack on the Friday evening so that the last thing that most of us did was attend a gathering in the press office for an update on Drupa and a chance to try a new Drupa cocktail. The Messe Düsseldorf people were clearly relieved that they had managed to fill out a large international trade show. And yet it does seem to me that there is still some uncertainty over the viability of large trade shows after the Covid lockdowns and a sense that we have not yet seen the complete return of international business travel.

I met many journalists at Interpack from Europe and even as far away as Australia, though not many Americans. I saw exhibitors from India, and met many friends from Japan and also came across some Chinese companies though not as many as I had expected. But nearly everyone I met talked about their relief at being able to visit such a large event without any further travel or social restrictions. I was surprised that this was still a talking point after a year or so of travelling and reporting on various shows. Nonetheless I think that most people will have counted Interpack as a successful event and will be looking forward to Drupa next year.

Messe Dusseldorf hosts both Interpack and Drupa.

The show itself featured some 2,807 exhibitors and attracted 143,000 visitors from 155 countries. Andreas Grabotin, Zone Director for the DACH region for Markem Imaje, summed up the feelings of many of the exhibitors, saying: “Interpack is an important trade fair for us. In 2017 we were still represented with a smaller stand, for 2023 we opted in favour of an enlargement. What we especially liked is the trade fair’s high international attendance and the new hall concept. We will be back in 2026 again.”

The next Interpack will be held in Düsseldorf from 7 to 13 May 2026. You can find further details from interpack.com.


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