Lisa Milburn: A Theme Song for Labels

There’s macro-economic uncertainty. But when consumer and industrial confidence bounce back, the recovery of previous demand can be rapid. Preparedness must be encouraged.

In this Sunday Column, Lisa Milburn managing director of Labelexpo Global Series discusses the Labelexpo Europe 2019 show, which is being hosted in Brussels from 24-27 September, the 40th-anniversary edition, touted to be the biggest ever

08 Sep 2019 | By Noel D'Cunha

Lisa Milburn, managing director of Labelexpo Global Series

First things first. We are hearing that the per capita consumption of labels in India has grown from 0.30 sqm about five years ago to 0.60 sqm. What are you hearing about the Indian label market?
We believe that per capita consumption in the Indian label industry is 0.60 sqm with a percentage growth close to 15% year-on-year.

Can you update us about the latest size of the show and exhibitor numbers?
The show is set to be our biggest yet. We have over 600 exhibitors, spread over nine halls, two new features making their show debut – the Flexible Packaging Arena and Sustainability Insight Café (more below) – and our most extensive educational programme to date. 

Flexible Packaging Arena is one of the two new features which, will make its debut at Labelexpo Europe. What’s special?
The Flexible Packaging Arena will give visitors an exclusive opportunity to see two press lines in action – a Xeikon CX500 (digital) with in-line lamination and pouch making and a Bobst M6 (UV Flexo) producing indirect food contact flexible packaging to the latest GMP standards. Live demonstrations will transpire throughout on all four days of the show.

And the second, Sustainability Insight Café, as the name suggests, will be all about sustainability?
Yes, it will feature a range of solutions to a range of sustainability challenges, including switchable adhesives, thinner materials, linerless, liner recycling, compostable, and biomass-based films. This is an issue that has jumped up the agenda of brands, and label converters have to be prepared to react.

The last edition saw 200 new product launches. What is the status on flexo? Is pure flexo on the wane?
There has never really been ‘pure’ flexo.

Flexo has always existed in combination with other print and decoration processes such as hot and cold foil, lamination, screen etc. Now we are seeing digital being integrated as one more combination process into flexo presses.

This is happening in a variety of ways. Firstly, we see press-wide mono digital ‘print bars’, which are capable of printing high opacity whites, blacks, spot colours or even varnishes. These are often mounted on overhead rails. Then, of course, we see the integration of full-colour digital print modules in so-called ‘hybrid’ presses, and that trend will continue at this show with the world launch of new systems from Bobst and Chinese manufacturer Spande working with Domino. 

What about die-cutting?
Worth noting is how semi-rotary die-cutting developed for off-line digital finishing systems is being implemented in high speed variants on flexo presses, with speeds in excess of 150m/min.

What about digital presses?
We see digital press manufacturers developing their own in-line finishing and decoration systems, along with off-line models. So the flexo-digital landscape is complex and ever-evolving. This show will give an insight into these key trends. 

The fifth edition of LMAI Conference in Kochi was themed Future Next. The focus was about the label industry taking a leap into digital technology. However, during the last edition of the show, 63.37% of the visitors showed interest in flexo presses while 60.31 in digital. How do you think the industry could embrace diversity?
With mid- and wide-web presses and newer technologies such as hybrid presses becoming popular, we believe technologies will co-exist and complement each other. Converters will have to focus on sustainability as well as profitability to stay in the business, and that will be possible by harnessing the benefits of these technologies in the most environment-friendly manner, while ensuring return on investment.

A trend that we have seen in flexo press installations and even the latest HP Indigo 30000 installed at Parksons Packaging, is the wider width and size. Are we going to see wider width presses at the Labelexpo Europe 2019? And why?
We will see wider-width flexo and digital presses at Labelexpo, as the industry evolves from ‘narrow’ web widths (up to 330mm/13in) to mid-web widths (430-670mm). The wider web widths – especially the 670mm/26in size - are driven by the requirements of unsupported film conversion. Two of the fastest growing film segments are shrink sleeve labels and flexible packaging (stand-up pouches), and these have much bigger footprints than self-adhesive labels.

What about the narrow-web category?
On a narrow-web press, only one-ups are possible, meaning there is a lot of waste. Wider web formats allow multiple prints across the web, reducing waste and increasing productivity.

And mid-web presses?
We see some trends to producing self-adhesive labels on these mid-web presses, particularly in the 430mm segment. Any wider than this and the handling of die-cutting cylinders becomes an issue. For this reason some converters are finishing PS label rolls produced on mid-web presses off-line -slitting down to narrow web widths for die cutting.

Labelexpo Europe 2017 moved from being a ‘label only’ show to include the packaging segment, too. You had then said, it’s 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. What was the impact then, and what will it be now?
Throughout its 40-year history, Labelexpo has evolved along with the label industry and has been a major force in moving the industry forward. What started as a purely PS label-focused show has evolved to embrace sleeve, in-mould and wraparound technologies and flexible packaging is simply the next evolution.

Is that why flexible packaging has been introduced?
Our research and Finat’s research demonstrates that more label converters are now looking at adding flexible packaging to their product offering. At the same time, more flexo and digital press manufacturers are building presses which can handle flexible packaging. One issue for UV flexo when converting flexible packaging - and some categories of labels is - ensuring ink component migration is within defined limits. Hence we brought in the Flexible Packaging Arena to this year’s show, which will look at this issue.

The recent Finat Radar report has confirmed that the consumption of self-adhesive label material in Europe amounted to just under 7.5-billion sqm in 2018. This is a marginal increase of 1.4% on 2017. What’re the latest numbers for 2019? What are the concerns, and way forward?
We are aware that there has been a slowdown in demand for self-adhesive labels, however, this isn’t something we’ve seen reflected in exhibitor demand for Labelexpo Europe 2019. This remains, strong as ever. 

Your assessment of the situation?
The demand for labels and flexible packaging follows trends in the wider economy. Currently, we are in a position of macro-economic uncertainty, with factors including a slowdown in key European economies, Brexit and the China-US trade war. As consumer and industrial demand fluctuates, the need for labels also fluctuates. This is something we have seen in the 40-year history of Labelexpo. When consumer and industrial confidence bounce back, the labels industry rapidly recovers to previous demand levels.

Your advice for converters visiting Labelexpo?
Of course, in a tightening market, label converters need to invest in the latest and most efficient machinery and workflow systems to survive and thrive by offering value-added products, cutting waste and improving productivity. Labelexpo has always offered those new solutions, at the forefront of moving the industry forward.

What can one learn at the show?
Learning is key to that process, which is why, away from the show floor, we are offering our most extensive educational schedule at our biggest show to date. There are three in-depth masterclasses and a workshop covering inks and coatings, digital label, and package printing. Also, for the first time, there is a session on flexible packaging and self-adhesive materials. These half-day sessions are led by industry experts Mike Fairley, founder of the Label Academy and Andy Thomas-Emans, Labelexpo strategic director.

And finally, why did you pick up the theme – Moving the Business Forward?
As already mentioned, the key objective of the Labelexpo shows has always been to be one step ahead of the label and package printing industry and move it forward. This year’s edition of the show is particularly special as we mark 40 years of Labelexpo, so it is the perfect moment to highlight this. It’s hard to believe how much the industry has moved on, not only since our last edition in 2017, but over the last four decades. So with Move Your Business Forward, we look to the future, while simultaneously celebrating the achievements of the industry over the years.

An update on key live demos

 There are several live demos taking place at the show to mention here, but it will include the Flexible Packaging Arena – with three demos taking place each day of the show at 11am, 1pm and 3pm. 

In addition, HP Indigo will be offering live demonstrations of digital pouch making showcasing the HP Indigo 20000 digital press, Pack Ready Lamination, and the Karlville pouch-making machine at their stand. I would urge visitors to get along to at least one live flexible packaging demonstration!

Many of the leading press manufacturers are launching new machines at the show, with live demos taking place. This includes Bobst with their new hybrid flexo press, Canon, whose Océ LabelStream 4000 series UV inkjet press is making its show debut, and MPS, who are launching a new 17”/430mm edition of the hybrid EF Symjet press. This is presented for the first time with an exclusive Domino digital N617i inkjet printer, in a wider 17”/430mm width and in a new colour scheme. 

Omet is launching its new X7, the latest in its XFlex line, a flexo printing machine for labels and flexible packaging with 670mm (26”) web width. Lombardi is launching its Invicta i2, a brand new line created for flexible packaging in the mid-web sector.

Others demos to look out for include Gallus’ Digital Printbar digital embellishing unit designed specifically for opaque white and using inkjet-based digital print technology. Konica Minolta is premiering the recently launched AccurioLabel 230, a new version of the 190 digital toner press.

Mark Andy is unveiling the latest version of the Performance Series line and a new entry- to mid-level digital hybrid press, demonstrated with advanced in-line converting. Nilpeter is unveiling its 17” wide FA-Line press, featuring cold foil, lamination, and Nilpeter’s new high-speed semi-rotary die-cutting unit.