Wrapped up: packaging and label developments
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By Laurel Brunner
25 July 2012
The HP Indigo 20000 for flexible packaging was launched at drupa 2012
There are only two forms of print that cannot be replicated on the internet, but that can fully exploit it. Packaging and labels are by their very nature immune to being copied in a digital format. A package is a barrier between content and external contamination, whether it is a tub of yoghurt or a cardboard box. Labels are generally applied to physical objects as identifiers, and are necessarily physical even if they are a printed barcode. Both are subject to the internet's beneficial effects, without the existential threat that plagues all other forms of print.
The internet has brought the benefits of automation and support for the on-demand model to labels and packaging, revolutionising this sector of print. Combined with advances in digital pre-press, the internet is fuelling shorter, more frequent print runs and printing closer to the point of use. Brand owners, particularly of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs), can use digital technology for short-run production to develop multiple iterations of a packaging design to see which ones work best or for localised versioning.
The biggest name in packaging production is Esko Graphics, a company specialising in front-end production technologies, flexo imaging and the Kongsberg cutting table, sales of which have increased 25 percent in the last two years. Esko has a 75 percent share of the flexo market, however, 40 to 45 percent of the company's revenues come from software, which is why it is the partner of choice for developers. Powerful plugins to Adobe Illustrator make possible incredibly complex 3D package designs which can be created in multiple versions, for prototyping or varied design concepts. In the labels business the design complexities are less demanding, but here too Esko has a strong foothold.
When it comes to output there has been an absolute stampede of digital press manufacturers moving into the packaging and labels spaces and virtually all of them partner with Esko Graphics. At last count there were over a dozen companies claiming some sort of tool for digitally printed labels, however Xeikon and HP Indigo are the best known, offering both narrow- and wide-format engines. Since 2008 when the Xeikon 3000 label press was introduced, Xeikon has doubled its market share and has seen a 40 percent compound annual growth rate in labels. The Xeikon 3030 Plus was introduced at drupa 2012 and prints at 15m/min, making it 50 percent faster.
The Xeikon 3500 500mm web with inline finishing can label or mark tubes, containers and aluminium closures, and it can also be used for commercial work. HP's seven-colour Indigo WS6600 for full-colour and shrink sleeve label printing is a 40m/min engine that can also print flexible packaging. At drupa, HP introduced the wide-format HP Indigo 20000 for flexible packaging and the HP Indigo 30000 for folding cartons, based on its series four-press technology.
Many more recent entrants to this sector are using a flavour of drop-on-demand ink-jet technology, jetting UV-curing inks. The EFI Jetrion 4900 for example is narrow-format technology that includes automatic turret rewinding so it is a complete end-to-end system. The idea with digital label and packaging presses is to combine the advantages of traditional print methods with the speed and flexibility of digital techniques, minimising complexity and lead times. For instance, Domino's new N600i label press prints across a 340mm-wide web at up to 75m/min so it is very quick, and has the benefit of an Esko Graphics front end so set-up is simple and speedy.
Although there was a lot of packaging and label production innovation at drupa 2012 in Germany, the biggest show for labels this year is Labelexpo Americas taking place from September 11th to 13th in Chicago, USA. For this show's organisers, the 'labels' label means anything that marks another product in some way. So this show presents tools for product decoration, for instance, as well as what one might expect for label printing. There will be the usual web printing and converting kit of past years but expect the emphasis to be on all things digital. In addition to label and narrow-web printing machinery manufacturers, also expect all the hangers-on including machines for quality control inspections, pre-press tools for variable data labels, consumables and security systems.
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