A record attendance at Labelexpo Asia in Shanghai showed the Chinese labels market moving into a new phase of maturity. Andy Thomas reports
Labelexpo Asia, held in Shanghai last November, was the biggest event in the show’s history, attracting over 18,000 visitors – an increase of nine percent over the 2009 show. The show also boasted 270 exhibitors, up by 21 percent on 2009, and attracted the highest level of space rebooking for 2013 as exhibitors enjoyed high levels of onsite sales of machinery and materials.
Picking up on this buoyant mood, Roger Pellow, Labelexpo managing director, commented: ‘Not only has the show matured, it has grown to a new level where it is attracting top level executives and decision makers to do business on site. Interestingly, we are seeing Chinese manufacturers increasingly look at opportunities outside of the domestic Chinese market as we’ve taken exhibitor bookings for our other major international shows.’
David Jones at anilox cleaning specialist Alpahasonics, has been exhibiting at all five Labelexpo Asia shows in Shanghai, and agreed the visitor mix has changed significantly: ‘At each event we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of serious potential customers. The ‘tire kickers’ are gone for sure. The Chinese printers are becoming more sophisticated in their equipment requirements, so as to be able to deliver good, consistently high quality labels to an increasingly discerning market. There will always be locally produced ancillary equipment on offer in China, but we see a growing awareness among the higher end label producers that buying the best helps to keep him ahead of the competition, even if you have a locally made press. Without doubt we’ll be going back in 2013.’
Another important factor in China today is the impact of government five year plans, which impact directly on the labels industry. For example, the new plan states that every form of pharma packaging should have a unique ID, down to item level. This will create major new challenges and opportunities for the inspection industry among others.
The growing sophistication of this market can be seen from the high end materials being promoted by the leading international materials suppliers. A lot of high end manufacturing already takes place in China, particularly in the consumer electronics sector, and it is the demand for high performance PET substrates for computers, tablets and smart phones which attracts companies like South Korean substrate manufacturer Saelim. This company was promoting its range of durable labels and launched at the show its Water Peel label series, a line of clear films designed to peel off returnable beverage containers in an alkaline solution without leaving any adhesive residue behind.
China already has an extensive network of retail stores owned by the big global players like Carrefours and Walmart which have helped the global FMCG brands establish strong positions. But Chinese brands are fighting back and in the process raising the quality of their labels and packaging.
These trends led Avery Dennison CEO Dean Scarborough to introduce the same range of new technologies launched at the Labelexpo Europe in September. This includes Global MDO Clear, a clear, co-extruded film with a new permanent adhesive and PET liner specifically developed for the HPC market; the Curve Appeal system and ThinStream 12 micron liner die cutting system developed with Gallus. Avery Dennison has also brought its global sustainability commitments to the China market. The company’s Guangzhou coating plant, for example, now sends zero waste to landfill.
Similarly, UPM Raflatac felt the time was right to launch its Proliner PP30 thin filmic release liner range at this Labelexpo show, part of the company’s new Thin range of downgauged materials.
Ritrama president Thomas Rink was meanwhile promoting the company’s new 14,000 sqm factory in China, which is entirely under the management of Chinese nationals. ‘Our main problem is getting approved at mid-sized and large printers and end users here. These companies are very conservative.’ Rink says the major Chinese brands are pushing back hard against the multinational FMCG groups, which will have to fight hard to retain their growing market share in China’s increasingly sophisticated retail market.
Material supplier SAS Coat was at the show promoting the specialist self-adhesive products from its new factory in Vietnam, which started production in March last year.
Dow Corning’s Christian Velasquez spoke about the pressures the coating industry in China is under with the increasing cost of raw materials, particularly platinum, along with rising energy and labor costs. Dow’s strategy in China as elsewhere is to reduce platinum useage in its second generation Syl-off Advantage system, which also exhibits reduced misting for the high coating machines now being installed in the country. Food contact Advantage formulations are now available, and the system is suitable for lamination with water-based acrylic and hot melt adhesives.
In terms of liner materials useage, PEK remains popular in Asia, says Velasquez, but is being gradually replaced with films and locally made glassine papers. As environmental issues become more important in China, solvent-free release liner modifiers are becoming more popular.
Press technology Flexo
Flexography is still slow in coming to China, and this is one significant reason why Western press manufacturers are struggling here. Omet was the only Western press manufacturer exhibiting a working press at Labelexpo Asia, showing its latest entry- level Flexy F1 press with the same shorter web path seen on the X-Flex range. The press is specified with both water-based and UV flexo stations, silk-screen, and inline hot and cold foil units. The machine on the stand at Labelexpo was sold at the show.
Omet has now stopped manufacturing presses in China, apart from specialist converting units for presses shipped from Italy. The company will continue to operate its demo center in Shanghai and to hold educational training days with other flexographic equipment and consumables suppliers.
DuPont was demonstrating its latest plate exposing and processing equipment and had samples of high quality flexography on its stand. Particularly impressive was a job jointly produced with Chinese plate maker CymMetrik using an EskoArtwork CDI imaged at 200 lpi/80 lpcm screen ruling, then printed using Cyrel DPR45 plates on Avery Dennison AW1130 substrates with a 1,000lpi anilox.
Offset and letterpress
There were many offset and letterpress developments on show. The Donghang company based in Weifang City, launched a new intermittent offset press using top quality European components including Rexroth servo motors and BST camera equipment system. The DH320L press is designed for short to medium runs of high quality labels with fast changeover, and its heavy duty cast iron base provides a high degree of print stability for printing at up to 180 m/min.
Print register is controlled in real time by independent motors for vertical and horizontal adjustment and the press incorporates computer-controlled storage and pre-setting of repeat length for print and die cutting cylinders. Optional extras include flexo varnish station, rotary die station, cold foiling unit, overlaminating station, ozone emission unit, slitting unit and sheeting station with belt stacker or conveyor. The company reported multiple press sales directly from the show.
The press will be shown at drupa in May as part of a major push by Donghang into the European market. A new technical support and sales network is now being set up by Richard McGuire, who set up the European agency network for Ko-Pack in the 1980s. Donghang moves into a major new factory 660,000 sqm complex later this year.
Taiyo Kikai recently signed a manufacturing and distribution agreement with Martin Automatic, and showed a new press running continuously with Martin Automatic splicers and rewinds. On the stand was a Taiyo central-impression cylinder letterpress with a Martin MBSC butt splicer and STR turret rewind. Martin also supplied a Model MBS butt splicer and LRD transfer rewind on a new Taiyo offset press. Taiyo Kikai also demonstrated a new digital inkjet press.
Lintec had a Chinese built LPM-300 intermittent letterpress on its stand and announced the press will be available with LED curing from 2013. The LPM press series is already commercially available with LED curing in Japan, but the units are still too expensive for the Chinese market.
DG press ServiceS, a specialist in refurbished Drent Goebel presses, made their debut at the show. ‘We have seen a high interest in our machines, especially the Vision SP and Gazelle presses,’ said Peter Kloppers, director of DG press ServiceS. DG recently installed a used Drent VSOP press in China, coming from Mexico.
The presence of high level global manufacturing in China is producing a new breed of Chinese suppliers geared up for supplying world-class inspection equipment. One such company exhibiting at Labelexpo Asia was Beijing Lusterlight. The company’s core market is inspecting products like fibre optics and circuit boards, and it was making a major move into label inspection with the launch of its Label Roll 330S inspection rewinder.
Company general manager Yates Yao cites the specification of an Intel Inside label as typical. ‘We are inspecting 30–50 micron dots and pick out scratches less than 20-30 microns wide, because that is what the human eye can pick up. This level of resolution means we can also pick up die strikes.’
The Lusterlight system can inspect reflective and 3-D features using multiple cameras and a high power diffused light source. ‘This is required in cigarette packaging, for example, where there is extensive use of foiling and holograms even on mid- market packs, as well as for Braille verification,’ said Yao. ‘We can even generate pictures of the structure of a foil or hologram. We use the same technology and imaging system to test scratches and bubbles and adhesive ooze on the label surface.’
Chinese government print body PEIAC has asked Lusterlight to formulate a national quality standard for labels, and the company is already working closely with leading suppliers like Avery Dennison, UPM Raflatac and ExxonMobil.
Another Chinese company launching ancillary products at the show was Wenzhou Rhyguan Machinery, which showed a modular intermittent die cutting machine with options including digital printing, flexo printing, cold stamping, hot and cold film laminating and slitting. The machine runs up to 280 impressions/min.
Among Western ancillary suppliers at the show RotoMetrics was exhibiting for the first time in China with flexible dies developed jointly with the Gerhardt design teams. The AccuStar flexible die is for thin film and thermal transfer applications. Shaun Pullen, RotoMetrics' recently appointed regional sales director, commented, ‘Most importantly for our customers in Asia, RotoMetrics now produces the entire line of flexible dies from our state of the art facility in Bangkok, Thailand, offering unbeatable lead times.’
The keynote speaker at Labelexpo Asia 2011 was Jouko Lähepelto, senior vice president, Americas and Asia Pacific at UPM Raflatac. The lead presentation on the second day of the show was delivered by Dean Scarborough, chairman of Avery Dennison Corporation. A full report will appear in the next edition of L&L.
HP took a big stand at the show – a measure of the company’s commitment to this fast emerging market. As can be seen from the report on Eternal Printing in this edition of L&L (p.73), converters in this fast developing market are now making the first investments in digital printing.
HP Indigo demonstrated its top of the line WS4600 with in-line coater as well as a WS6000, a sheetfed HP5500 and a wide range of finishing and workflow systems.
Andrew Ng, graphic solutions business marketing manager at Hewlett-Packard Asia Pacific, commented: ‘Having the coater in-line with the new WS6600 digital press takes away some of the materials issue we find with converters in China.’
HP Indigo now has some 20 digital presses installed in China, mostly older series One machines and WS4000-series presses. The first WS6000 was recently installed in China at Avery Dennison’s Kunshan converter training center.
HP Indigo brought to Shanghai an interesting range of partner suppliers, demonstrating fully the versatility of its presses.
Among the company’s finishing partners was Kama – a partner of Heidelberg – which showed on the HP Indigo stand its ProCut 53 short run carton converting unit, converting very high quality carton blanks printed on the HP5500. Among other HP Indigo partners were Color Logic, showing a digital metallic printing system, and Advanced Track & Trace, a French-based group offering an innovative security print system which will be covered more fully in a future edition of L&L. ABG was showing its advanced digital label finishing systems. It can also operate as part of an ABG digital web finishing line
Xeikon, meanwhile, showcased its 3030 entry-level digital label press in a roll-to-roll configuration. The press is 330 mm (13in) wide and prints at a maximum speed of 9.6 m/min (31.5 ft/min). For companies in developing markets, it can be upgraded in the field to handle wider web widths (516 mm or 20.3in) and/or faster print speeds (19.2 m/min or 63.0 ft/min) to match the business as it grows.
Pictured: Opening ceremony of the biggest ever Labelexpo Asia show in Shanghai
This article was published in L&L issue 1, 2012