At the back of a small print shop, Comprint has created a new niche. Carol Houghton reports
Started in 1870, Comprint is a family run business based in the Dutch village of Sappemeer. It was taken over by Andries Slagter in 1995. Since then, he has replaced most of the machines and applied new technologies such as moving pre-press to computer to plate and running a chemistry-free operation.
It is Slagter’s philosophy to keep investing and he prides himself on returning all profit into developing the business. ‘It is very important that all investment is done at the right time for the right purpose. It is the reason we are still in business today when the prospect for printshops is not too good. It proves there is room for a small company if it can find a niche.’ For Comprint, the success has been in printing leaflets and labels for pharmaceutical applications but the company has recently found a new niche with the help of laser technology.
The idea to use laser die cutting first arose in 1999, when – on behalf of Comprint – a student investigated the technology, exploring the possibility of applying laser on sheets. The conclusion was reached that laser was not yet ready; it was too slow and more lasers would have been needed to increase speed, making the system too expensive.
Ten years later, the company needed to produce labels on roll and once again, considered using laser technology. Slagter approached IGT Testprint Research to discuss building suitable equipment, designed for cutting sticker material supplied on rolls. Sander Lenten, managing director, IGT Testprint Research explains, ‘we offer customer driven technology’.
In 2010, the Label Laser Cutter – named the Laser-GT by Slagter – was installed. He explains, ‘It was a large investment and we had to find new and innovative ways to use it.’ The first production run – completed while the Laser-GT was still in its testing phase in April 2011 – was a full color printing run of paper price labels for a chain of retail shops. Slagter continues, ‘We are building up experience with the Laser-GT and it is very promising. In fact, I would say it is close to perfect.’ The company is also looking for a way to recycle its matrix waste.
Slagter says it is now cost effective to print from one to 10,000 labels, all in full color and cut in any shape. This increased flexibility has provided a huge advantage for Comprint. He continues, ‘Before, customers said they were forced to take 1000 labels to be cost effective, this way they can do less, and cheaply. It’s a new niche! We’ve created a new market for those who make their own labels and were cutting by hand. For example bee keepers making honey and biological farmers making jams. They want nice looking labels – most are black and white and hand cut – and Laser-GT provides professional looking labels at a nice price.’
The Laser Label Cutter is suitable for applications requiring on the fly cutting of labels – and label and carrier material – in any shape and on a wide range of label substrates, as well as engraving. The 60w CO2 single laser works at a field width of 210 mm, with a maximum roll diameter of 300 mm.
A key demand during the building of the machine was that it could keep up with the company’s laser printer. Slagter is satisfied this has been achieved. Dependent on the shape, it can print up to 10 m/min.
The laser is used offline, as Slagter explains, ‘Printing and converting in line causes tension problems. This way production and finishing are separated, which offers more flexibility.’ Adds Sander Lenten, managing director, IGT Testprint Research. ‘It could be used in line but a buffer system would be needed as the printer and laser work at different speeds.’ The company uses a Degrava laser printer printing to a 21.6 cm web width. ‘This is where we make money. It works for us and the customer,’ explains Slagter. All labels are printed digitally, with offset used for the pharma leaflet and other commercial work.
Bevelling is an unavoidable issue with laser technology and was a topic of discussion in the development process. Slagter admits there is a limitation that some materials show a small brown edge, caused by the heat of the laser. However, polyethylene and polyester both perform well. Paper is the most difficult material but as it is often used for labeling brown cardboard boxes, Slagter says this is not a major issue. He continues ‘We tried reducing heat from the CO2 laser but this also reduces the power of the laser. We are currently searching for a material which is resistant to browning.’
Slagter is also investigating the smoke which occurs when the laser marks the labels, mostly the result of burning paper or PE and a small amount of glue. ‘We want to have it investigated to establish what exactly is going to be emitted during the marking process. If necessary we will take precautions to avoid unwanted emission of fumes. As it is now the smoke goes into open air.’
Slagter says he supplies to a good group of customers and expects an increase in demand as the success of the Laser GT continues. He adds ‘we hope to build another machine in cooperation with IGT Testprint, perhaps a more powerful one, but for now we need to communicate to our customers that we have created this new market’.
Comprint has set up a project with Avery Dennison Luxemburg to investigate using a double layer of polyester to avoid heat variations in laminates with a paper-based release liner. Polyester shrinks at a different rate from the paper backing liner as it cools down after laser cutting, leading to ‘crinkling’ in the finished roll. ‘We have one supplier who delivers a PE white gloss with paper backing that is adequate, but also quite expensive. Currently we are in the process of investigating alternatives,’ explains Slagter. ‘Another test roll is on its way which we will be testing shortly. Paper-based materials we found to be OK already but minor improvements can be made to achieve even better results.’
Pictured: (L-R) Sander Lenten, managing director, IGT Testprint Research and Andries Slagter, Comprint with the Laser-GT
This article was published in L&L issue 2, 2012