Flexo, offset and digital cosying up

"Each process has its own pros and cons and their efficacy will be proven only after a particular job in terms of run length, substrate, number of colours," says Ranesh Bajaj, managing director of Creed Engineers, in a one-on-one with Noel D’Cunha.

02 Oct 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

PrintWeek India (PWI): A Lombardi installation, a Lead DLE installation, Iwasaki association, and a good Labelexpo India outing. How have the last two years been?
Ranesh Bajaj (BJ): The last two years have seen a change in our product portfolio. We now have a successful narrow web flexo press in the Lombardi range and our recent association with Iwasaki is also going to expand our offering to the market. With ABG continuing to offer unique solutions of label finishing, this market is growing fast. 
Yes, we have had installations of presses, booklet machines, IML finishing machines as well as our own range of slitter rewinders. 
On the digital front, we are finding some traction in the numbering and personalisation market but colour inkjet is still a few years away. 
Our growth in this segment was about 15% YOY. We would not like to share figures.
PWI: How does label printing sector look like in 2015? What are you hearing from your customers, who have been using your products in the last two years?
RJ: No doubt labels and packaging continue to grow healthily. Private label is increasing. New technologies in IML continue to find traction. However capacity is also being added at a high pace. It is very important that the new players understand the business well and do not kill the market with incorrect pricing policies. Our customers all are upbeat about the industry and are quite hopeful of a healthy growth rate in the short to medium term. 
PWI: In terms of functionality, has the role of labels enhanced or it still is a piece of decoration?
RJ: Labels always have multi functionalities. They continue to be the means of communication with the customer in terms of instructions, product information and in some cases of security labels, they provide tamper evidence and anti counterfeiting capabilities. With serialisation, they also make each product unique which enable track and trace features. A label today is like a smart person who can surprise you as much with brains as with good looks.
PWI: New guidelines for product security and ingredients disclosures are being introduced on a regular basis. Do you see labels donning a bigger role here?
RJ: Yes sure. With pharma and food guidelines becoming more stringent, it is important for labels to be able to carry more communication material in them. Also with serialisation, the data of batch numbers, expiry, etc., get added. By adding a static or unique 2D barcode , it is possible to make a “smart” label which can direct customers to a web page or a mobile phone app which carries a host of other data, promotions etc. For tamper evidence, labels are the last line of defense and they need to be strong to fight the counterfeiter. 
PWI: There are new substrates, linerless to name one, plus processes. How should the labellers address these challenges?
RJ: Any solution which addresses the issues of the industry in terms of sustainability and environment friendliness is an opportunity and not a challenge. Equipment at the label printing end or at the labeller at the dispensing line may need modification or upgradation to a little extent, but such changes are essential for the growth of the industry.
PWI: Short-run work and just-in-time delivery are fast becoming the norm. And to remain a competitive supplier and meet these changing demands, what should the Indian label printers do to improve their production methods? 
RJ: Faster set up, low set up waste and intermittent feeding are some of the tried and tested solutions which continue to evolve. For this show, Iwasaki has just launched an intermittent flexo press to ensure that existing flexo printers have a short-run solution with the same pre-press. Such enhancements will continue to drive short run productivity and TAT’s better. 
PWI: There are 52 digital presses on the show. Will digital print transforming the label industry?
RJ: Digital printing is showing a lot of promise but I think still a little more effort is needed in bringing down costs of the equipment as well as the consumables. Also the acceptability of digital inks for different substrates as well as products to be packed is the area where maximum research will be seen in the coming months. 
PWI: Rising SKU, short print runs are putting pressure on flexo presses, which were designed to handle fewer jobs because of their time consuming and expensive makeready processes. What improvements are we seeing in the capabilities of flexo presses that can turn marginal short-run jobs into sustainable, profitable ones?
RJ: The biggest is to have an intermittent press whether offset, flexo or letterpress. Other issues are to use a full servo press with automatic intuitive register which uses the correct software algorithms to achieve the register in the shortest possible time. 
PWI: One of the ways of becoming profitable is by reducing cost. Do you believe it is? Both digital and flexo presses claim to be the savours? How do you see it?
RJ: It is most important is to first quantify the costs correctly in each head. Whether it is raw material, set up waste, print waste, reel change waste, ink costs, power costs, labour costs each minute details needs to be correctly attributed and accounted for. These then need to be compared with global best practices and then improved upon. I still think that except for a handful of label printers in the world, most of the others either do not calculate it in detail or else claim ignorance about it. Only once these costs are quantified correctly can you work on reducing them.
Digital or flexo, each process has its own pros and cons and the efficacy of either process will be proven only for a particular job in terms of run length, substrate, number of colours etc. There is no one-size-fit-all for this.
PWI: New technologies in pre-press and finishing, substrate and inks, are enhancing the functionality of labels. In future, what improvements can we expect from the flexo and digital presses?
RJ: On the pre-press, the movement from photopolymer to DLE elastomers are going to be game changers. While industry leaders in pre-press try to hold out as they need to recover their investments in the existing equipment before they move to new technology, the advantages of elastomers are too many and too strong to ignore. 
Ink research form UV inkjet is the next big game changer coming in the production of food grade labels and packaging. 
PWI: What's the "next big thing" that you see is coming in the label segment?
RJ: In India, I think it is going to be a consolidation phase in 2016/17. This is going to be “the thing” in the coming year. Technically it is going to be UV inkjet.