Labelexpo unveils new talking points - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Other than the new announcements and product launches, what stood out at the Labelexpo India show (10-13 Novemberr 2022) was flexible pouches being printed on the narrow-web with UV inks. Then there were the reverse printed jobs on 12 microns PET and rendered with three layers of lamination.

Also, lots of tech-talk about which is better? Inline spot UV with matt and glossy substrates or offline? And the debate about gravure jobs being converted to flexo? Plus, what is the definition of short runs?

The Sunday Column makes sense of all the chit-chat over the four days of the show

20 Nov 2022 | By Noel D'Cunha

Have labels grown in size, form and application? Many of the industry stakeholders PrintWeek met during the Labelexpo India show agreed. According to one industry expert, the beer industry was once dominated by glue-applied labels printed on sheetfed offset. “This, today, has turned to self-adhesive filmic clear look,” says Harveer Sahni of Weldon Celloplast.

Sahni: The first Indian label specialist to win the R Stanton Avery Global Achievement Award - 2022

These labels enhance the product’s look and hence are seen as the quality of the product. Longevity is another factor. “The industry has evolved from wet-glue to pressure-sensitive adhesive labels, along with the transformation and evolution of labelling technologies,” adds Sahni. “The Indian label market has been achieving double-digit growth. I am sure the growth of all PSA labels in India is more than 15%.”

Performance labels are mostly used for tracking, branding, security, and safety instruction applications across the industries, says Ruchi Pandey, senior technical manager Industrial Adhesive and Tape Division, 3M India. “Industry norms are getting more stringent for labels used in all these applications, and demand for these labels is increasing,” he adds.

The performance label has four layers of construction — topcoat, facestock, adhesive and liner. Each layer plays an important role in the performance. “We must select the right combination of material considering the end application and requirements. For several applications, labels must apply smoothly for a bubble-free appearance and long-term adhesion. Labels can be applied on various surfaces — bare metal, powder-coated metal, glass, and plastic — and can be printed with various printing platforms, such as thermal transfer, screen printing, flexographic and digital,” explains Pandey.

Trends of flexible packaging on narrow-web
Other areas of significant growth include the use of unsupported film for shrink sleeves and in-mould labels that typically use PVC, PETG, and OPP substrates.

“Of late, we have seen a lot of flexible packaging jobs, especially shrink sleeve, moving from gravure and wide-web flexo to narrow-web UV, mainly because the run lengths are getting shorter and have a tight turnaround time. Lower development costs, quick job changeover, lower wastage and short job setup time compared to gravure and wide-web flexo are the other reasons for this shift,” says P Jaichandra of Veepee Graphics Solutions, adding, “Also, the print quality is far better with UV compared to solvent-based inks.”

Jaichandra (c): at the launch of VEE Ensure, a product authentication App

Flexible packaging and UV inks combination has been around for a long time, says Grant Blewett of Miraclon, speaking to PrintWeek/WhatPackaging? at the Labelexpo India show. “It’s not a new technology. It has its pros and cons. But it has found a very good home in the narrow-web space. That’s where it dominates. To a certain extent, UV helps drive a very robust environment,” he adds.

But, it’s less practical and has fewer applications with value, when it comes to volumes. “That’s typically where the world at this point is moving. Our focus is on the wide-web space. It’s fascinating to us because we believe sustainability will play a part in the long-term, and that’s where aqueous will come in. And far more. We believe long-term aqueous inks will be the way forward as brands aim towards greater environmental sustainability. We see a pronounced shift and a lot of investment in the wide-web space. But of course, there are horses for courses. UV will continue to play a robust part in the high-quality, narrow web space. But solvent and aqueous inks will become more prevalent in the wide-web space,” Blewett explains.

Gravure jobs are coming to flexo
The growth of shrink sleeves and stand-up pouches, compared to the traditional labels, has seen the market sector going wide, not just the 430-mm, where presses like Gallus Labelmaster have seen many installations in India. The 530- and 670-mm presses are also getting popular.

The Dehradun-based label specialist Zircon Technologies has ordered two Omet flexo presses, one of which is an X7 flexo press. Zircon’s managing director Sanjeev Sondhi, speaking to PrintWeek/WhatPackaging?, says that one of the two presses would be utilised for the expansion of label operation. In contrast, the second press, the X7, a 670-mm wide press, will be utilised for the company’s entry into shrink sleeves and stand-up pouches.

Sondhi (c) with Team Omet
With the trend of flexible packaging now moving to the flexo process using UV inks, we ask Sondhi if more mid-web flexo presses will be coming to the market. He says, “If you talk about labels, it will be narrow-web, but if you look at flexible in the label realm, such as shrink sleeves and stand-up pouches, it will have to be mid-web flexo presses. Producing these on narrow-web presses may be a challenge.”

Sondhi adds, “We have researched creating extra features or embellishments on shrink sleeves and stand-up pouches. Today, nothing can be done on the surface of the sleeves or pouches. We are looking to create those features on the surface.”

On the first day of the Labelexpo India show, HP announced the first sale of its kit at the show, to Sonipat-based Wonderpac. The Indigo 6K on display at the stand is on its way to the Wonderpac plant.

Trilok Mittal, accompanied by his wife, Minakshi, says his company will target applications, such as shrink sleeves, pouches, self-adhesive labels and VDP with the new HP Indigo. “We are using Jetsci’s inkjet UV technology successfully, but we decided to bring in toner technology as we are now moving into new product segments,” says Mittal.

Mittal next to his wife Minakshi (on his left), and team HP-TechNova
Wonderpac caters to clients in the cosmetic, pharma, FMCG, pesticides, and airline industries — premium and B-grade. “Close to 50% of our clients’ demand are short runs, ranging from 300 to 3,000 labels. These are the kind of short-run jobs that are not feasible in flexo. At present, our flexo vs digital job ratio is 65:35,” says Mittal, adding, “We believe that this will reverse as we go forward.”

The next day, Monotech announced that Wonderpac would be installing the ColorAqua Hybrid, the company’s second Jetsci kit.

Mittal (second from left) with Team Jetsci Global

So, at the show, we saw one label converter invest in a flexo press and the other in a digital press, and in both cases, the focus areas are shrink sleeves and stand-up pouches.

Which is the right technology? We ask Blewett of Miraclon.

It’s a million-dollar question, he says. “This has been a topic of discussion for 20 years, and it’s going to be a topic for the next 20 years. I genuinely believe that it will co-exist. I think those two technologies will co-exist on a personal and professional basis; there will be jobs that will be more suited to the digital space. And when the brands start conceptualising the value of the variable components, that’s really when digital will come into its own.”

Blewett (l) with Hersh Lulla of Miraclon
Blewett continues, “While producing multiples of the same size, the volumes will decide the breaking point. So, for less profitable, short-run work in an analogue context, digital is a really good and robust solution. Digital has become good today, and one can successfully split production between digital and analogue.”

So, what is driving the demand for shrink sleeves and stand-up pouches? According to Sondhi, the market is moving from horizontal to stand-up pouches. “Also, brands are looking for such products with special decoration, which was impossible to achieve on gravure. The other factor is sustainability — reducing plastic usage — which the brands drive.”
Sondhi, also informs PrintWeek/WhatPackaging? that he is now taking a re-look at bringing in digital. “We are weighing the pros and cons of going the digital way. I must be convinced that the technology can produce shrink sleeves and stand-up pouches economically. The volumes still don’t count as short-run. Yes, but producing the quantity presently in demand, gravure is certainly out of contention,” he says.

One trend we see is short-run printed, the first reverse on 12 to 15 microns wet, then rendered with three layers of laminations in flexibility. We ask Jaichandra how he sees this happening? He says that laminate is something that one can’t say no to. “Getting the same family of materials to be laminated is the trend considering the sustainability aspect. We have seen a few converters successfully do this in narrow-web, which will open up a huge market for this industry considering the demand for shorter run lengths,” he adds.

Jaichandra (r) with his wife and business partner Nalani Jaichandra
What kind of a percentage change does he see? We quiz him. And when that would happen? Jaychandra says, “I would say 15% to 20%, and it is growing. I deduce in less than five years; there will be a shift from narrow-web to mid-web UV presses, which can handle flexible packaging and labels, thereby making the investment more viable as the machine can print on multiple substrates, thereby catering to a much wider market.”

Inline spot UV with matte and gloss substrates
Embellishments have been there for a long time, but could be achieved only with multiple passes or separate processes, which increased the cost of production as well as longer turnaround time, says Jaichandra. “Whereas in narrow-web flexo, you can do your full colour print with two or three varnishes, foiling and embossing, all in one go. Embellishments, if well implemented, will not only enhance the aesthetic look of the label, but also make it very difficult for it to be duplicated,” he adds.

On cue, Vinsak announced that the digital label finishing kit that can print QR codes, high-build varnish and digital cold foil, on display at the Labelexpo India stand, will be installed at UFlex’s Noida plant.
GP Pathak, vice-president at UFlex, says that the company would be producing security labels, holograms, and multicolour barcodes, in its lineup, which also includes packaging products. “We aim to protect the labels and packaging from counterfeiting.”

Pathak (second from left) and Bajaj next to him  on his right
Pathak added that the company will also invest in narrow-web and wide-web presses with a width of up to 1,200-mm. “This kit will be installed in Noida in the division where we produce holograms. The next Vinsak UASR kit will be installed in the packaging division where the wide-web investment is planned,” he says.

Ranesh Bajaj, director of Vinsak group, says that this agreement with UFlex is strategic, where his group will be developing solutions for the company’s security products in the wide-web range. “This is the first in the series of installations as we go ahead with our association,” he adds.

Consumption patterns
“During and post-Covid, the pharma segment kept our customers and us busy,” says Jaichandra of Veepee Graphics Solutions. “Once Covid settled, and the economy was back on track, FMCG started picking up steam, with brand owners coming up with frequent design changes and offers to get back the lost market share. This phase was very good as far as trade shop business was concerned, and I am sure it was the same for converters.”

Saurabh Agarwal, senior director and general manager label and packaging materials (LPM) South Asia business in India, Avery Dennison, says, it is important for label converters to understand the consumption pattern, particularly in the FMCG, the pharma, alcohol and pesticide sectors, to reinvent and adapt themselves to meet the challenges the new scenarios present.

He adds, “The consumption patterns are changing. And not just that, the brand segments are transforming themselves at the same time.”
He gives the example of eCommerce companies and their growth. “It has a huge bearing on the labelling and packaging industry,” he says, explaining, “If there’s a dial-up on the sustainability front, it has a huge bearing on the demand that will come to the converters.”

The role that labels and packaging played earlier is changing. “If earlier it was primarily to store products or to make products look beautiful, today the expectation is more. There’s functionality, a dial-up on track and trace, on sustainability, and on consumer engagement. And we play a very important role here,” he says.

Agarwal extols the label and packaging industry to be proactive, not just reactive. “We, as an industry, can help brands succeed and make sure that we succeed too,” he says.

Liquor segment growth, good news for labels
According to a recent news report, Pernod Ricard, the French liquor firm, consumer confidence in India is at an all-time high. The second-largest distiller expanded its Indian business by 21% last quarter.

A Appadurai, country manager, Indigo and inkjet business solutions, HP India, attributes the revenue growth in the liquor segment to the liquor company’s focus on high-end products. “One of the biggest revenues to the state governments where there’s no liquor ban comes from the sale of liquor. The liquor companies are now getting out of the low-end product lines,” he says.

Appadurai (l) with Umesh Kagade of HP Indigo
Appadurai informs that earlier, only one Amrut made single-malt whiskey, but now more distilleries are making high-end liquor, such as Rampur and Paul & John, to name just two. “This also means that the label industry must produce premium labels. And according to us, the de facto standard for producing high-end labels is the HP Indigo 6K,” he says.

Appadurai claims that the HP Indigo 6K digital press, an industry standard for digital label production, is an end-to-end solution that allows the printing of any label in a simple, more productive, and profitable way.

Jaichandra of Veepee Graphics Solutions feels there was a sudden spike in the liquor segment once the lockdown was lifted. Yes, the converters catering to this industry were highly benefited. “We have done reasonably well in the last financial year compared to the previous two years. We hope to maintain this growth, invest in new technologies and build up our infrastructure to expand our production capacity,” he says.

The interesting IML
Polyart was present at the show to showcase metallised IML and security labels, a solution for self-adhesive labels for which it has partnered with Edgyn, a brand protection and government solutions specialist, for customised security solutions.

So was Nulith Graphics with solutions for IML — films and coatings from Turkey-based Polylux.

Team Nulith at the show
Ruchit Vora of Ruchit Vora, director at Arjobex Polyart India, which handles Polyart products in India, explains the development of metallised IML. “It’s a development that came from the IML Centre, which was established in Mumbai in May,” he says, “Before the centre was established, we tried doing it in India but failed miserably. We always thought it was a challenge, but now with the IML Centre, we can produce a strong metallisation on the IML.”

Vora (second from rigght) with Team Polyart
Vora informs that his company is working with a couple of brand owners, and they are impressed. Vora targets lubricants, household, pesticide and agricultural segments, and the food segment. He adds, “Lubricant is a big segment. The other big segment is household items, such as detergents and liquid dishwashing gels. These are the kinds of segments we are targeting, which are a little out-of-the-box.”

Growth areas for label
In mature markets, such as Europe or the USA, the per capita consumption of self-adhesive labels is more than 10-sqm. In India, it is still less than 1.0-sqm. India’s consumption is estimated to be 1.2-bn-sqm, and the market size of around Rs 6,000-crore. There is still great growth potential.

Ferdinand Rüesch of Gallus was at the PrintWeek stand during the label expo sharing updates about Gallus vis-à-vis Industry 4.0-related activities. Rüesch had just returned from Sonepat in Haryana, where he inaugurated the Gallus Labelmaster flexo press at Pinnacle Traxim.

Ferdinand Rüesch at PrintWeek stand during Labelexpo India 2022 show

What is his assessment, and which growth areas should the label converters look at? we ask him. “The label printer should look at specialities, complex labels with functions, multi-layer, and coupons; he has to find a niche where he can be the specialist,” Rüesch suggests.