Q: Gallus label manufacturing machine’s history dates back to the 1950s. But Gallus’ first Labelexpo Europe appearance was in 1987. Why?
A: My father was an engineer, and he believed in product development, more than product marketing. All we did at that time was print brochures. In those days, the devices were selling without any need to go out and push it.
However, in 1987 or maybe a year before, Mike Fairley came to St Gallen because he wanted to learn more about Gallus and the other way around. Fairley convinced my father to participate in the Labelexpo shows. That's how we made our entry.
Q: Since then you have been a regular at the shows here?
A: Yes, every single one of them. So, in the last 30 years, it’s been 16 appearances. Besides this, we have participated in many Labelexpo shows outside Brussels, including US and India.
Q: You wanted to run your conventional label press, the R250 live with the flat-bed die-cutting unit on the show. You couldn’t because the Gallus stand was located on the upper level. Were you disappointed?
A: We were hugely disappointment because that press was the highlight of our stand, and we had a flatbed die-cutter fitted on it. It has two levels where you could change the repeat lengths without the need to change gears. It was a patented technology. It was a sort of revolution at that time, and we were disappointed because we could not show it.
Also, as an engineer, I also thought being on the upper level was not helpful. The heavy thuds of the die-cutter would create vibrations and hence, affect precision.
That said, we did demonstrate without running the press live. We showed how the gears could be changed without any mechanical involvement.
Fortunately for us, the next show was moved from London to Brussels, which enabled us to run the machine live.
Q: Coming back to labels, were the demands from labels the same as it is today? I am talking about functionality, decoration and sustainability.
A: In the early days there was the flatbed letterpress, the Gallus T180 with flatbed screen and foil in combination. The label designs were built on line-work. There were no pre-press processes. Those processes came in much later. However, combination was already in vogue. So in those days, there were tags with string that were in use. Today, you have RFID chips.
Q: So, how did things change for "the label"?
A: The PVC came into the game. Slowly, but surely, you had plastic entering the terrain, but there were lots of paper labels. Then came clear-on-clear. Substrate development was one of the most important factor in changing the way label is looking today.
Q: What was the role of brands 30 years ago – were they as engaged as they are today?
A: Thirty years ago, there was absolutely no engagement with the brands. The printers bought the label printing machine, and that was it.
But from what I remember, the label stock manufacturers would interact with the end-users or brands, but that was for consultation on the type of paper to use. The label printers, however, did not like that at all, because it was they who were at the centre of producing labels.
But today, it is totally different.
Q: When you look at labels today and compare it with what was produced 30 years ago, what difference do you see?
A: The different is in the substrate – the thickness which is much lower than it was then and things like the clear-on-clear.
Q: Coming back to the show, which one in the last 30 years has been the most significant show and why?
A: The most significant for me was the 2001 show, which introduced the RCS machine. I think, it is still the flagship of the label printing machines in the world. It was a press where you could change the sleeve, the printing unit, the anilox with a trolley.
Q: When Gallus began in the 1950s, and later when you joined the business, did you ever imagine that you would also, be building hybrid and digital presses?
A: I think the biggest impact of digital came with the Linotype technology, where typesetting was done using digital. That was a signal for my father who said, labels will be printed using digital printing technology one day.
Q: Did Gallus invest in the development of digital press then?
A: In 1984 we had we had a cooperation with an American laser printing machine manufacturer and developed a press, which had a rewinder one side, a laser printing unit in the middle and an unwinder at the other side.
But it did not work, because the label material had glue bleeding and the heat generated by the laser machine did not really make the solution work.
Q: Was that the end result?
A: In 1989 there was a company Delphax in Boston who with Avery Dennison produced Federal Express sheets, those big numbers printed on A4 sheets, using what they called, the iron deposition technique.
But before the Delphex technique, in 1986, there was a company called, Bulls in France, which manufactured computers. They also had a technology called magnetography where there were cylinders with little magnets. You magnetise the cylinder, transfer the toner by pressure, on to the substrate. However, it was a single-colour black.
So we had two technologies, and both were single-colour black with limited applications. But today, there are many applications for black colour printing, particularly when coming to printing bills.
Q: What was it with Benny Landa?
A: Yes, in 1996, we had an exclusivity with Benny Landa with the Indigo. We sold about 15 machines. What you see as the LabelFire is actually what we had in 1996. We had an unwind, a coater, a unit from Indigo, and die-cutting, hot foiling or vanishing to finish the labels.
However, before Indigo was bought by HP, the machine was not as refined. So, a buyer had to purchase two machines, because one was always down for repair. In short, Indigo with Benny Landa was not successful, not for him or us. Shortly afterward, HP purchased Indigo, and you can see them in the market today.
Q: India has been one of the successful territories for Gallus, and the EM 280 was the most successful of the lot. It is said that inputs from people working for Gallus in the various territories are invariably incorporated during a new press development. Which is the press or presses which were built keeping India in mind? What were the inputs?
A: The EM 280 is the most loved machine in India. There are 80+ EM 280 machines running in India. It’s always running, and even if there’s an issue, the operator can solve it. I understand the label printers like it, so do our sales people.
But there a moment when you have to take the next step in technology, go to the next level. So in the Gallus ECS 340 and the Labelmaster, we have two presses which are performers for the Indian label printers. It is more efficient and more importantly reduces the production cost.
Q: Considering the popularity of the EM 280, was it made for India?
A: I would put it this way. The machine was so designed that it met 100% needs of the Indian label printers.
Q: And inputs from India when the EM 280 was being developed?
A: It was initially designed as a press with a 220mm wide web width, the EM 220. As the letterpress started to fade, and flexo started to grow, we got inputs, including the Indian market to go a little wider. The rest is history.
Now that the EM 280 has been phased out, the ECS 340 will be a good replacement. We have already installed 35 presses in India, and at the show, three more ECS 340 deals has been signed with the Indian labellers.
Q: The flexo machine manufacturing space is getting crowded. It’s no more an European forte. It’s getting challenging, particularly more acute, when convention flexo has to ward off the threat coming from digital. How do you see these developments?
A: I totally agree that there are more and more companies pumping out flexo machines. But I think the complexities of the label market is different. There are more sophisticated papers being introduced, and brands want to use them. The machines have to meet those requirements. I think a good label business will pick the right equipment to the job right.
Q: The future – will it be labels on paper/film still or on-screen?
A: I think we are living in a world of decoration. It’s very hard to get a sandwich served on the laptop, it has to be delivered physically, packed and labeled. So you need packaging and you will need labels.
There will be application like the airlines boarding card which can be accessed on a phone. The difference is in the takeaway products, where labels will be required or statutory information on medical products. You can’t have a label-less product in your hand, and the label on our phone.
While labels will always be there, the sustainability drive will decide whether the labels will be printed on paper or film.