Confidence returns at upbeat American label show

Digital printing developments, advances in smart label technology, and new inks and substrates were all vying for visitors’ attention during Labelexpo Americas, in Chicago, last month. But the best news of all was the buzz of renewed confidence running through the booths and aisles. Exhibitors and attendees alike were talking in positive terms that promised brighter times ahead for the narrow web market in the US.

The first anniversary of the September 11 atrocities, which was commemorated by a simple service and a three-minute silence on the second day of the show, inevitably cast a shadow over the event. But it didn’t dampen the air of confidence in the halls, where the overall mood was a feeling that the industry was finally starting to climb out of the depression of the last couple of years. Nearly 13,000 visitors attended the show.

The digital press displays included HP Indigo’s new ws4000, a seven colour machine designed to “cost effectively produce” short and medium runs of high quality labels on demand – at much higher speeds than previous models (52.5ft/min for full colour, 105ft/min for two colour). Full colour makeready is said to take “approximately four seconds, with minimal waste”.

“The ws4000 represents an enormous step forward for label converters,” boasted Rick Mangold, general manager, HP Indigo North America. “This is an industrial strength machine, capable of delivering 24×7 production.” It was revealed that Dutch label manufacturer Altrif has ordered two of the new machines. They will be used to handle print runs of less than 3,000m.

A dotrix SPICE (Single Pass Inkjet Color Engine) unit was demonstrated as part of Mark Andy’s integrated flexo/inkjet label printing solution. The SPICE has been integrated into the new DPS (Digital Productivity System). It is positioned between standard modular flexo print units. The inkjet heads remain stationary, allowing the web to pass through the line without stopping – thereby maintaining production integrity with the flexo modules. With a range of finishing units including die cutting at the end of the line, the 330mm wide press offers printing of fully variable data up to six colours and an in-line solution to label printers.

John Eulich, president of Mark Andy, said: “We’ve undertaken extensive tests and we are very happy with the results. Job changing is simple and set-up times, maintenance and consumables costs are minimal. SPICE is also much faster than ordinary digital printing.”

Las-X Industries has linked with the company to offer an integrated laser converting unit as part of the new digital technology offering.

Mark Andy also premiered the LP 3000 Labelling Productivity system. Claimed to “take label production to the next level”, it features faster plate loading, an improved drying system, and higher production speeds – up to 230m/min. Available in 10, 13 and 17in widths, the press is designed for a wide range of label and tag applications on 0.05-0.36mm material, printing both water based and UV flexo.

Another option offered by Digital Print was a turnkey service that provides custom designed variable data printing solutions for mechanical printing and converting equipment.

Without doubt, smart labels are at the forefront of current narrow web development, and RFID technology was a major topic in the conference programme that accompanied the exhibition. One speaker, RFID Journal editor Mark Roberti, said: “The market will explode. There will be rapid adoption from the ‘network effect’ and huge investment in tags, readers, software and information technology infrastructures.”

Out among the booths, two of the leading smart label equipment suppliers were revealing their latest advances. Melzer’s offering was a system for integrating contactless electronic data carriers such as I-code and Tag-it into tags and tickets. Bielomatik was promoting its TLA-100 transponder and label attaching machine – now featuring 100 per cent inspection of the inlays, with removal of out-of-spec’ transponders. And Rafsec, believed to be the world’s largest supplier, revealed that smart tags costing as little as one cent may not be far off. Six of US supermarket giant Walmart’s largest suppliers are currently testing smart labels on pallets.

On the flexo front, PCMC made its narrow web debut with the Webtron X-10 press. The company says it incorporates the best features of the Webtron 750 in a completely re-engineered platform, designed to print up to a 10in width. The X-10 is claimed to offer the shortest web path in the industry and will accommodate tooling from existing Webtron 650 and 750 models.

Also new from PCMC was the Evolution in-line converting press – a “truly gearless”, multi substrate system available in 18, 22 and 26in print widths. Suitable for flexible packaging, as well as label and carton applications, it also boasts an industry shortest web path, while eight colour change-overs are said to take less than 30min.

During the exhibition, Nilpeter clinched the first sale of its FBZ4200 flexo press to US based folding carton converter Fort Dearborn. The new press will be configured as a six colour machine with UV and hot air drying and interchangeable screen and hot foil units. The FBZ is the first design to be produced jointly by the Nilpeter and former RotoPress engineering teams, and built in the US.

Also featured on Nilpeter’s booth was a new combined die cutting and stacking system from Dan-Mekano. The company has applied for a patent for the CDP (Controlled Die to Pack) system, which is designed to overcome static and other problems in the production of inmould labels.

Stork Screens introduced its Rotamesh 405 rotary screen integration module, which with 25,500 holes/cm2, each 25 micron in diameter, is said to achieve high quality resolutions down to 95 micron, and sharpest possible reproduction of both positive and negative lines as thin as a human hair. Applications include counterfeit protection labelling and clear reproduction of small text.

AVT debuted the first fruits of its recent acquisition of Geiger Vision Systems. The Printinspector/Prima is said to provide 100 per cent inspection of all labels on moving webs from 50-400mm wide at up to 200m/min. Aimed at printers using digital files, the ProoFit compares the printed job with the digital data ‘master’. It will also compare PDF data with printing plates, screen prints, film, print or other digital data.

New from BST Pro Mark was the ekrPRO series of integrated web guide controllers – at 7 x 3.25 x 2.25in, claimed to be the smallest ever. This then allows it to be fitted directly on the guiding device, or wherever most useful.

New substrates at the show included Yupo’s IML inmould pressure sensitive, and direct thermal synthetic papers. The “super smooth” papers are claimed to provide exceptional print quality, a uniform coating surface, predictable convertibility, and powerful brand appeal.

Avery Dennison introduced Fasson Demand Jet, a range of label products developed to combine with the VP2020 inkjet printer from VIPColor Technologies for ‘on demand’, full colour printing of short run label jobs.

Ferd Ruesch announced his return to Switzerland after 10 years heading the Gallus operation in the US. His successor is Jon Guy, formerly of Heidelberg Used Equipment.

Ink innovations included Akzo Nobel’s Flexocure Gemini, a UV flexo ink said to offer high colour strength, excellent printability and curing properties, with low odour. The company also launched Flex-onic, a cationic UV flexo ink, again offering low odour.