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Labelexpo Europe 2017: Where labels meet technology - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

16 September 2017

Brussels offers much to envy. Good food, streets to stroll, and of course the biggest ever label show, Labelexpo Europe 2017 at the Place de Belgique from 25-28 September.

For four days every two years, hundreds of companies gather to showcase their latest.

This year is no different.

Nine halls will be filled by 670 exhibitors where 200 new launches will be announced.

In this Sunday Column, Lisa Milburn, managing director for labels division at the Tarsus Group discusses label trends, the market and what to expect at the show in Brussels

lisa Lisa Milburn, managing director for labels division at the Tarsus Group

Labelexpo Europe 2017 looks like it’s going to be the biggest. Can you update us about the latest size of the show and exhibitor numbers?
That’s right, it is our largest ever edition. We’ve grown again and now occupy nine exhibition halls at Brussels Expo with 670 exhibitors and our largest floor space yet of around 38,500sqm compared to 33,579sq/m in 2015.

What’s going to be special – the highlight of the show? We saw over 50+ stand display digital solutions. Will we see more of digital this time too? What’s flexo’s response?
This Labelexpo Europe sees a wide range of digital press launches. The Bobst-Radex company Mouvent will launch a seven-colour UV inkjet press in 170mm and 340mm web widths printing at 100m/min at 1200 x 1200dpi; Uteco will enter the label market with its Gaia inkjet press which uses Electron Beam curing; HP will launch its GEM in-line digital varnish and 3D decoration unit for the WS6800; Xeikon has the worldwide launch of the PX3000 Panther UV inkjet press; Screen’s TruePress Jet350UV now prints at 60m/min with nitrogen inerting and low migration inks; Mark Andy will launch its Digital One entry-level hybrid press in Europe; Durst and Omet launch a hybrid digital-flexo press and Durst will show the new Tau330 RSC printing at 1200 x 1200dpi at 76m/min. Other digital press launches include the Dantex seven-colour PicoJet LED-UV inkjet printing 75m/min at 600dpi and Epson SurePress 4533 six-colour water-base press (which replaces the highly successful 4033).

Another key trend is adding digital capability to conventional presses: Domino, Colordyne, FFEI/Xaar and Amica will launch retrofit digital UV inkjet units to add digital varnish, white or black to conventional flexo presses. At the same time the major conventional press manufacturers are combining their flexo presses with digital imaging units to produce the digitally printed label in one pass - including flexo varnishing, flexo/screen White or flexo printed spot colours. 

On the conventional side, there are big launches due from Bobst, Edale, Gallus, Mark Andy, Nilpeter and Omet. The emphasis here is on various levels of automation, efficiency in make ready and waste reduction and materials flexibility.

Live demonstrations of machines drive a show. Are we going to see more demos in this edition in comparison to the previous shows?
It’s hard to quantify this kind of information, but there have been something like 200 new product launches announced for this year’s show alone. Also, if you take digital technology as an example, there will be 69 presses on show compared with about 58 in 2015, so a 15-20% increase. So yes, the show will be at bursting point with live demonstrations!

How is the label market faring in Europe and US? What are you hearing about the Indian label industry and how important is it to this Labelexpo show?
The market is doing fairly well. In Europe, after the ‘double dip’ recession following the 2009-10 crash, 2015 saw the industry there return to a path of sustained growth, with a healthy growth rate of over five per cent in 2016, driven mostly by Eastern and Southern Europe. The North American market has seen growth rates of 1.5 to 2%. 

India continues to develop rapidly, particularly looking at the continued growth of PS at the expense of wet glue. We expect the Indian packaging market to receive a major boost from the implementation of retail FDI, which will bring the multiple retailer global supply chain to India. This should drive massive growth much like it has done in China.

And even though India has its own Labelexpo show, Indian visitors and exhibitors are very important to Labelexpo Europe because of its international profile. 

Have you spoken to the Indian label printers about the impact that Labelexpo shows have on meeting their production requirements and the benefits to their businesses? Can you give an example or two?
Yes, visitor feedback is always very valuable. For example at Labelexpo India 2016, we actively targeted more commercial offset printers currently not printing labels. Feedback from them included how impressed they were with the print quality and efficiency of the machinery on show at Labelexpo, how the use of new materials could allow them to diversify and how beneficial and insightful it was seeing all of the key technologies under one roof when making purchasing decisions. 

The Labelexpo shows are now no longer a ‘label only’. It has now assumed a larger role that includes the packaging segment as well. Was the move intentional and why? In that sense, are you expecting the packaging segment players to visit the show, and if it’s so, what’s in it for them?
It has been a natural progression for the Labelexpo shows to widen their focus into package printing, which remains the healthiest growth segment in the wider print world. Increasingly packaging buyers are looking for a ‘one-stop shop’, where label converters can follow them into any packaging format – not just PS and wet glue, but shrink sleeves, in-mold, wraparound labels, flexible packaging and even folding cartons. 

At the same time narrow web label presses have become wider, with cold curing and web tension control systems which allow them to print these new kinds of thin, unsupported, heat-sensitive substrates alongside PS labels. When competing with wide web CI flexo or gravure suppliers, label converters can offer short runs of package printing products to a very high quality, and can include in-line decoration options which are not possible on the larger machines.

Wide web flexible packaging converters, of course, understand these pressures, and are visiting Labelexpo in ever-greater numbers to look at short run alternatives to complement their wide web presses - both digital and conventional. 

You were present at the LMAI Conference, and the focus of discussion centred around innovation, but there was quite a dose on reducing cost as well as deploying lean-mean ways to maximising productivity. How does the Labelexpo show address these challenges?
One of the key highlights of Labelexpo has to be the debut of our Automation Arena. There is an ever increasing focus on reducing costs and waste on the printer’s shop floor in response to an increased throughput of shorter run jobs and pressure on prices from the end user. A key strategy is automating the production process from pre-press through to print, inspection and rewinding. The Automation Arena will look at how the different stages of the production process can be automated using a management information system to eliminate double entry of information and automatically track the job against a customer’s specifications – for example automating colour management on a range of different print processes and materials against the customer proof. The display will include a full pre-press system, a dedicated Cerm MIS and a fully automated MPS UV flexo press feeding onto a RotoControl rewinder, demonstrating the automated workflow between each production step on wide-screen monitors.

I know this one will be a hard one, but which would be your five must-see technologies at the show?
That is a hard one with so much to see at the exhibition! I would have to list them as: automation, digital presses, digital decorating and finishing, hybrid digital-flexo presses and super-efficient flexography.

Talk to me - what’s it about? How will that work in practice for the label printers?
I think it’s critical for printers to look at these technologies and more. The main trend in the label industry – and the main challenge – is the move towards shorter runs, as well as to personalised and customised labels targeted at the millennial generation of consumers. Digital printing and converting is one way label converters have tackled these challenges, but there have also been major developments in conventional flexo technology. For example, the move to fixed palette ink systems, print sleeves, automated pressure and registration adjustment, in-line spectrophotometric inspection for automated colour measurement, and automation of the rewinder using a fault-finding camera located on the press. Also the integration of all processes into a management information system to provide vital production feedback to management and allowing automated forward planning. 

One last bit. What would you advise those Indian label printers who are still thinking about visiting Labelexpo Europe 2017? 
What’s the delay? Get your skates on and come along and join us!

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