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Labelexpo Americas: Conventional, hybrid and digital presses

Hybrid and automation were the two key themes of this year’s Labelexpo Americas. 

The adoption and acceptance of hybrid printing in the label industry has been propelled by the decision of all the major conventional press manufacturers to harness digital engines to their own flexo press lines. Hybrid presses can either include fully fledged 4-7 color digital units – with white and even digital varnishing included – or rail-mounted mono units integrated onto flexo presses, typically replacing a screen or flexo white or a mono spot color or black.

Both approaches have been adopted by Mark Andy. The company has its own in-house digital integration team, which displayed the new Digital Series HD press. As well as an increased imaging resolution of 1200 DPI, the press is now driven by a powerful Global Graphics RIP for high throughput full color variable data applications at full press speed of 240ft/min.

Mark Andy demonstrated mono hybrid technology on its new enhanced Performance Series press, the P7E, launched at the show. This was shown with a rail-mounted Digital Screen station which, Mark Andy says, provides the opacity to fully replace a rotary screen unit. This press also featured semi-rotary die – switchable to full rotary – for added flexibility.

Omet and Durst announced a global partnership in the narrow web market, which sees Durst become an exclusive OEM product supplier to Omet and allows the company to showcase its technology at Omet demo facilities. 

Introduced at the show was the hybrid Omet XJet which merges a Durst Tau 330 RSC print engine with modular components from the Omet XFlex X6 press range. Helmuth Munter, segment manager Labels & Package Printing at Durst Group, said this was the two companies’ first joint product, but in the future there would be other ‘engineering possibilities. ‘This is not a short-term co-operation but a long-term alliance, which benefits from the two companies being geographically close.’

The XJet runs at 78m/min with up to 8-colors using FujiFilm Samba G3L printheads imaging at 1200 x 1200 DPI native resolution with a 2pl drop size. Running White underprint slows the speed to 52m/min as the ink needs more time to flow. Multi-stage inter-color pinning prevents bleeding and gives text a sharp definition, and nozzle compensation means missing or deviated nozzles get switched off and compensated with bigger drop from neighboring nozzles. The press is now at a beta customer site. 

Marco Calcagni, sales director at Omet, explained the features of the X6 modules of the XJet including the Monotwin Cut die-cut unit, which uses a single cylinder for all formats but remains fully rotary, complete with auto pre-register. ‘With semi-rotary you stretch the material when you transport the web – this approach allows much better registration.’ Calcagni said the hybrid format of the XJet means ‘far less waste and downtime’ on the converting end compared to off-line finishing. The latest X6.0 print units now include auto pressure adjustment as part of a comprehensive Industry 4.0 automation package.

Nilpeter was demonstrating for the first time in the US its Panorama hybrid press fitted with the company’s new semi-rotary die-cutting system. This same system is now being developed for the FA line. Automated press design ‘for a new, younger generation of label printers’ was a key theme. The new FA line, shown here for the first time, incorporates Nilpeter’s ‘Clean Hand’ approach to press automation, implemented by seven direct drives on each print head. Automated systems now include pressure setting via torque measurement and auto register setting during makeready, with all parameters, including web tension, fully recallable. 

Nilpeter made an important announcement about its global manufacturing operations. From now on its newly upgraded FB press line will be manufactured for global markets in India, rather than Cincinnati. The Cincinatti plant has now shifted to manufacturing the same FA and Panorama press lines manufactured in Denmark. 

A new 9,300sqm factory has been purpose built in the ‘Green’ township of Mahindra World City in Chennai, employing 80 people. The FB line represents the ‘entry level’ Nilpeter series, and has been overhauled with new design and automation features – although tooling remains compatible with the older FB machines. 

Heidelberg was present for the first time at a Labelexpo Americas, announcing the full integration of Gallus into its North American operations. Gallus users now have full access to Heidelberg’s national service network, including dedicated phone support based out of Kennesaw, Georgia. 

Felix Mueller, president Heidelberg US, described how the LabelFire hybrid press sits alongside Heidelberg’s other digital presses: the B1 PrimeFire B1 packaging press (with which LabelFire shares much technology), and the Omnifire direct-to-container inkjet press. ‘We have combined both Gallus and Heidelberg R+D departments so technology transfer is a reality. And Heidelberg already has a strong basic presence to build on in the wet-glue label and IML sectors,’ said Mueller. 

Christof Naier, head of Business Unit Label at Heidelberg, confirmed that the hybrid LabelFire press is now available with an integrated Gallus Screeny unit in front of the digital module for laying down opaque whites, with the digital module followed by the new Digital Embellishment Unit (DEU). Digital cold foil will be an option by the end of the year and Gallus has now combined these technologies to create a metallic doming system, now in beta testing at a site in Germany.

In another example of product integration, Gallus’ Screeny now comes bundled with the Heidelberg LED UV Phoenix platesetter.

Michael Ring, head of digital products at Gallus, explained the rationale behind the entry- level SmartFire press launched at the show, calling it ‘A simple, easy solution for the lower end of the digital market.’ The Memjet-based press comes with both digital plotter and semi-rotary die-cutting and Caldera Grand RIP. ‘It plugs into a wall socket and installation takes just four hours,’ said Ring. 

Ring said the press would be promoted to Heidelberg’s commercial customers who want to move into labels, label converters looking to print remotely at a customer site and in-plant operations. Because the press is water-based, it does require pretreated material, and Gallus is exploring development of its own coating technology.

MPS’ stand featured its EF Symjet hybrid press, which combines the Domino N610i engine with the MPS EF-series flexo print and converting modules. MPS joint founder Bert van den Brink said the success of the hybrid line at the show, with multiple sales announced, demonstrated that the new generation of label converters wanted to dispense with the ‘hassle’ of flexo platemaking where multiple jobs are changed in a shift. 

MPS also ran a fully loaded EF multi-substrate press in the Automation Arena printing shrink sleeves with 100 percent print automation on each print deck for both sleeve and anilox positioning. The MPS ‘talk to me’ connectivity platform was shown in bi-directional interaction with the Cerm MIS, eliminating the need for manual inputting of job data in a demonstration of Industry 4.0 implementation. 

Bobst is a company that has stood out against the hybrid press trend, concentrating instead on automation and IoT-integration of its flexo presses, which, it says, are highly competitive against digital even on short runs. At the show Bobst demonstrated zero-time job changeovers on its top-of-the-range M6 press line, configured to produce value-added applications including multi-layer labels, coupons and laminated tubes.

The M6 was equipped with the full range of Revo/Digital Flexo automation features, including simultaneous unloading and loading of plate cylinders in the same print unit followed by automated pressure and register setting for a fully ‘hands-off’ makeready with minimal waste. 

Key to the Revo process is 7-color extended color gamut (ECG) printing, and Bobst and its Revo partners (Apex International, AVT, Bobst, DuPont, Esko, Flint Group, Saica Flex, Stora Enso, UPM Raflatac, X-Rite Pantone) held hour-long ECG masterclasses at the show.

The M6 was fitted with remote IoT connectivity allowing the exchange of data with an MIS to improve production efficiency, workflow and press room organization. Visitors were able to view the production data available on the presenter’s mobile phone. Similar connectivity was demonstrated on an ‘entry level’ M1 in-line flexo press, claimed to be the first time a mechanical shaft-driven label press has been remote-connected. A number of web-based productivity apps and benchmark services were demonstrated. 

FujiFilm took major strides towards becoming a central player in the narrow web industry with the announcement of a North American alliance with Edale. FujiFilm will now distribute and service the UK manufacturer’s presses on the continent. 

FujiFilm’s stand contained both an Edale FL-3 press – with full AiiR automation package including automated pressure setting – and the GraphiumX hybrid press line. The latter incorporated the Graphium Printbar, a mono UV inkjet imprinting unit which makes use of Xaar’s 1003 heads in either 1- or 2-up configuration (GS6 for fine detail or GS40 for coatings). This allows conventional presses to add VDP white, varnish or digital cold foil at any position. Maximum speed is 246ft/min, although high opacity white runs at 40m/min.

FujiFilm showed a complete flexographic workflow for the FL-3, including water-wash platemaking technology and LED inks and curing systems. FujiFilm is also active in both conventional and digital color management through its Colorpath Sync eco system. Its Sync Align seeks to bring G7 standards into flexo, while Colorpath Sync for Digital allows the accurate simulation of spot colors on inkjet presses.

Despite the rise of hybrid presses and growing automation on the top end of flexo technology, there is still room for entry-level flexo presses, particularly in developing markets. Brazilian manufacturer Etirama, for example, successfully demonstrated a 6-color FIT model flexo press printing with Wikoff inks.

Digital developments
Digital printing is, of course, now firmly established as a production technology in the label industry, and this Labelexpo showed the industry rapidly maturing. 

Electrophotography remains the dominant technology, and both major players showed technology new to the US.

HP Indigo’s 6900 digital press was shown along with the company’s latest Pack Ready for Labels program, which gives added robustness in industrial label applications where resistance to water, chemical and temperature exposure is critical.

HP Indigo also launched a brand protection kit for the 6900 which includes Invisible Yellow and Blue ElectroInk, which are only visible under UV light. Coupled with new software and cloud-based options, this allows converters to offer implementation of anti-counterfeiting marks, micro text fonts and protected track and trace. Also new was HP Indigo’s ElectroInk Silver, which allows converters to produce variable metallic effects in a wide range of color shades.

HP Indigo has developed its own hybrid system with the GEM in-line digital embellishment unit, and at the show announced a new digital cold foil capability. Both Kurz and K Laser foils have been approved as compatible. Innovative Labeling Solutions (ILS) was announced as the first US beta customer for the GEM, which will operate in-line with the company’s HP Indigo 6900.

HP has further developed its PrintOS Cloud-based operating system, which now includes Site Flow for Labels and Packaging, OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency) monitoring, EPM Analyzer and Marketplace. Christian Menegon, global business development manager at HP Indigo, said the system was open to compatible third party applications – for example AB Graphic was demonstrating a Cloud-based OEE app which monitors its finishing equipment.

HP also previewed SmartStream Collage, developed from HP SmartStream Mosaic, which allows automated manipulation of multiple graphic elements to create wholly new designs.

Xeikon launched an entry-level digital printing and converting system called Label Discovery, formed of a Xeikon 3030 press and entryDcoat compact converting line consisting of a varnish, semi-rotary die-cut and rewind station. It can be used either in- or off-line. 

Xeikon also launched QB toner, which replaces the QA-I and ICE toners for the Xeikon 3000 series and Cheetah digital label presses, and like them is certified food safe. Existing customers will be able to upgrade in early 2019. There are different formulations for high (QB-I) and lower fusing temperatures (QB-IC and QB-CH). ‘Xeikon has removed components from these new toners that could lead to misinterpretation, such as tin,’ said company vice president of marketing Filip Weymans.

Other announcements included UL certification for Panther UV inkjet technology in combination with Flexcon pressure-sensitive films. PantherCure UV inks are used with Xeikon’s PX3000 and PX2000 digital presses.

Xeikon also added a new OEE component to its aXelerate services program which automatically collects data from presses and peripheral equipment to show current productivity status. 

The latest version of Xeikon’s X-800 digital front end was announced, upgradable to all UV inkjet and Xeikon toner press models. X-800 v6.0 enhances automation processes, now including impositioning. 

Xeikon also featured a press with in-line laser die-cutting on the Automation Arena stand as part of an Industry 4.0 presentation. 

Inkjet moves
Turning to inkjet, Bobst’s Mouvent digital division demonstrated the Cluster imaging technology behind its digital press systems. Built around the 1200 x 1200 DPI FujiFilm Samba printhead, the 3D-printed ‘clusters’ bring together imaging units, ink supply and alignment systems, so there is no ink supply behind the machine. Cluster width is 170mm and print speed up to 100m/min. The versatile clusters form the basis of both sheet- (under development) and web-fed press systems for applications ranging from textiles to labels and folding cartons. Promoted at the show were the L701 (170mm-wide) and 702 presses (340mm) using either UV or water-based inks and available in six colors plus white. Mouvent is now working with Bobst on developing in-line finishing. These presses will soon be joined by the LB705 for flexible packaging. 

Epson launched the latest UV LED digital press in its SurePress line, the L-6534. The press is an upgraded version of the L-6034VW and increases web speed from 15 to 50m/min. The L-6534 is in all other respects identical to the L-6034. Both presses will stay available, and L-6034 presses are field upgradable to the new specification. 

The L-6534 uses UV LED both for pinning and final cure, with a mercury UV lamp station available to be switched in as necessary. The press uses Epson’s own PrecisionCore head technology and CMYK+White inks and includes an in-line LED-UV cured digital varnish station. Maximum print width is 13.39in and resolution 600 x 600 DPI. 

Also on show was the L-4533AW aqueous inkjet press, successor to the highly successful L-4033, and this included a beta version of an in-line spectrophotometer and a robotic automated head cleaning system. Currently, spectrophotometric calibration is carried out off-line. The new system will allow fully closed loop color management. 

Epson additionally announced that all its SurePress machines are now compatible with the Wasatch RIP automated workflow. A customizable HTML interface allows customers to remotely submit print jobs via mobile devices and for factory managers to receive hourly status reports. The Load Balancer feature is designed for users with multiple presses, and automatically sends print jobs to the first available press. 

INX launched its widest and most powerful UV inkjet press to date. The NW340 has a web width of 340mm, imaging resolution of 1200 x 1200 DPI and speeds up to 300ft/min (90m/min). ‘With the NW340, we’ve taken huge leaps from where we were,’ said Jim Lambert, vice president of digital sales – ink and hardware, INX International Ink. ‘We’re now able to compete with offset very well.’

Lambert said INX is looking at how best to bring the press to market. ‘As an ink company it can be difficult to sell hardware. We’ve done well penetrating our print engine into a number of platforms already, so I’m excited about where it sits and who could sell it.’

Lambert’s colleague John Sweeterman added that a collaborative effort between INX and converters could help open doors at brands. ‘We need to move upstream and take on the responsibility to educate the brands, and to go in as partners to really tell a story. Together we can go into the biggest brands, educate them and explain all benefits of the technology.’

Konica Minolta Business Solutions USA had announced a partnership with Memjet before Labelexpo, and used the show to display a range of equipment developed jointly by the two companies which Konica Minolta will sell to label converters.

The Precision Label Series 475i – shown together with the matching PKG-675L laminator – uses Memjet printhead technology to produce finished corrugated materials, including folding cartons, displays and traditional cardboard boxes. It allows short-run, customized and personalized packaging production for label converters looking to diversify. 

Konica Minolta also demonstrated its AccurioLabel 190 dry-toner electrophotographic digital press, which prints CMYK at 1200 x 1200 DPI. The engine supports a new unwinder/rewinder design allowing larger diameter roll media to be used. The company promotes a GM finishing unit to partner the 190 but is looking with GM at options for fully in-line finishing.

Colordyne has made a successful business both with standalone digital presses and with bolt-on full-color digital units which turn flexo presses into fully fledged hybrid systems. At this show the company launched its 2800 Series Mini Laser Pro, a compact line which includes full color print, lamination and laser die-cutting in one pass. 

Colordyne also announced plans for a second-generation 3600 Series AQ bolt-on module with long-time strategic partner Memjet. The plan is to roll out the first installations in the second half of 2019, and Colordyne is looking for additional sub-OEM partners and beta sites for the first engines.

The 3600 AQ units employ Memjet’s latest DuraLink technology, which uses more durable pigmented aqueous inks at imaging resolutions of 1600 x 1585 DPI. 3600 Series AQ technology will be offered as a retrofit, a standalone unit and an engine integration kit. 

Another new development for Colordyne was a partnership with UV ink developer Kao Collins. The intention is to offer bespoke new ink formulations to users of the 3600 Series UV-Retrofit unit. Benefits will include increased printhead life, improved durability and a wider color gamut.

Uteco, in partnership with ebeam Technologies, meanwhile continued its foray into the narrow web market, demonstrating the modular Gaia electron beam inkjet printer. The press offers food compliant short run print capability for the food and pharma markets and prints on a wide range of substrates including aluminum, paper and films at speeds up to 320ft/min. It can be configured up to 36 inches wide. 

Uteco has also collaborated with Kodak to bring to market the 650mm-wide Sapphire Evo digital press for labels and flexible packaging. The press uses water-based inks to print on films and paper at speeds up to 900ft/min. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Thomas is strategic director of Labels & Labeling.

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