Trends at Labelexpo Europe 2023: Are you ready?

The key to profitable growth will be to integrate new technologies and utilise them to their fullest potential

10 Sep 2023 | By Andy Thomas

Labelexpo Europe 2023 is going to be an amazing show. It will be the first time we gather as a European Labelexpo since 2019, and it's clear that there have been numerous innovations since then.

So, what key trends can we expect to see at the show?

The first one is to look at flexo developments. There was no flexo in Chicago Labelexpo Americas last year. Many people say - flexo is dead; digital will take over. However, there were valid reasons for the absence of flexo presses in Chicago, such as production delays and difficulties obtaining necessary components. The upcoming Labelexpo in Brussels promises to showcase exciting new developments in flexography.

The key technology there is really automation. At Labelexpo, you can expect to see a significant number of highly automated machines with automated pressure settings and automated register control.

You'll even see the automated exchange of plate cylinders on a Bobst Master M6 press—a very interesting development.

Omet is showing the power of modular flexo with the debut of its KFlex machine, which is all about the fast changeover of printing and converting units.

Exciting trends are also seen in the increased width of flexo presses in the ‘mid-web’ range of 26-inch/670-mm. Nilpeter unveils its FA-26, while Lombardi previews its upcoming Invicta I2, a 26-inch press and Bobst its mid-web Master M6. This all indicates a trend towards larger-format machines primarily used for package printing - flexible packaging and unsupported film materials like shrink sleeves.

Furthermore, there will be increased use of Extended Colour Gamut (ECG) printing.

We have a very interesting ECG presentation daily on the Automation Arena. ECG means you do not need to wash down presses between jobs and can implement an automated colour management workflow.

We are seeing advances in digital printing in terms of sheer speed – an example being the European debut of the HP Indigo V12 - higher print definition and higher opaque whites being printed in line. Digital is also becoming a major player in the flexible packaging market, with key press launches from HP Indigo, Xeikon and Screen.

Digital embellishment is another key trend. We now see high-build digital varnish, digital metallisation, and laser die-cutting in the same converting line. Additionally, semi-automated high-speed die-cutting units, which can reach speeds of 150-160 meters per minute with automatic plate loading and ejection, result in a high degree of automation in the converting process, both for flexo presses and digital label finishing lines.

‘Lights Out’ automation can be seen on the Automation Arena feature, where visitors can see a fully automated workflow from file creation to turret rewind with automated inspection and MIS integration without any manual intervention. I strongly encourage you to see it.

If we turn to materials, sustainability is the key feature here. Post-consumer recycled plastics and waste are increasingly used to drive a circular economy. Labels are being used to enable circular reuse or clean recovery of both PET and glass containers. So labels are also promoting recyclability and sustainability in other materials.

There is a push towards prime label linerless systems. The Core system developed by Ritrama many years ago is now being joined by the ADLnrSave system developed by Avery Dennison in a joint project with Bobst, including dedicated rotary and linear applicators.

In terms of workflow automation, we will see many examples at Labelexpo. This puts the printing press and equipment as nodes on a wider factory network. Job bags will no longer be required, and information will no longer be double-entered into machines. Instead, everything will be driven by factory automation systems. With end-to-end colour management in the Cloud, individual press profiles will be digitally available to the whole supply chain, making colour on the final output predictable and consistent.

It's definitely worth checking out the equipment demos, but also take a stroll through the aisles to see what's new in terms of varnishes, coatings, and inks. So much to see in just four days.

Andy Thomas-Emans is strategic director at Tarsus Labels, Packaging and Brand Print Group