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Innovations in digital printing and waste reduction are promoting a competitive label converting industry. MJ Deschamps reports on moves towards greater efficiency

Between rising costs for raw materials and a global push towards more environmentally friendly production, label converters and equipment manufacturers are becoming increasingly focused on getting things done right the first time; and getting them done quickly, at that.

“Label converters are under cost pressure,” says David Baumann, product manager at the Gallus Group. “There are ongoing cost reduction activities throughout the value chain, and at the same time there is a growing demand for consideration of sustainability in each step of manufacturing, logistics and distribution,” he says.

These goals, according to Tony Bell of AB Graphic International, have promoted the use of digital printing, while conventional flexo printing remains fairly stagnant. Currently, AB Graphic is focusing on new, non-stop features that streamline production with its new machinery. The Omega Digicon Series 2, for example, has label converting lines that feature non-stop operation with semi-automatic turret rewinders to eliminate additional finishing, while the Omega ATR inspection rewinder is equipped with a turret rewinder that allows the operator to virtually inspect the web while maintaining non-stop finishing.

Heidelberg’s Linoprint is another example of a company exploring the potentials of digitisation in label manufacturing: its DriveLine B reel-fed press – primarily used for pharmaceutical jobs – enables complete personalisation of customer data on packaging, using a digital workflow system. This also provides a clear overview of the current production status, which allows an entire job to be processed digitally, saving time and reducing workloads.

The new Gallus EM 430 S also has high-tech features, with a shorter web path in the press, faster response times for register adjustment, and a newly integrated, energy-efficient UV drying system – a definite bonus in the worldwide push towards energy savings.

Dedicated solutions

Rotomec also incorporates UV lamps into its MW 60/80 gravure press, boasting typical savings of up to 7,500m² in printing of flexible packaging production runs, which can reduce web length in the press by 50% and substrate wastage by 47%. “The trend in label printing has been towards shorter production runs and personalisation, which requires dedicated printing solutions that make the gravure process economic and competitive with other processes,” says Bobst General Rotomec spokesperson Silvana Ilari.

Bernhard Grob, export sales director of Edale, agrees there is currently a focus on speciality label converting. Grob says that demand for bespoke types of labels has encouraged off-line converting: “Due to additional functions which are needed – such as multi-layer and booklet labels, RFID labels, tickets and tags, full and partial adhesive coating, numbering/personalisation, magnetic strip, special foiling and more.”

According to Grob, it is much more cost-effective to run commercial printing at a high speed on a standard printing press, and then take the preprinted reel onto a “dedicated, but extremely flexible” off-line converting/finishing machine, such as Edale’s Lambda.

This is a fully servo-driven machine concept for not just one, but several bespoke applications, allowing the end-user to change any sequence of modules or the position of any idler or winder. Edale has seen an increase in enquiries from small, medium and larger converters alike, and says that currently 80% of the company’s business is in bespoke printing and converting machine solutions.

Flexible challenge

Windmöller & Hölscher has also been working through difficult technical converting challenges, producing shrink sleeves through MDO (machine direction orientation) processing. More bottles nowadays are being labelled with shrink sleeves, and to reach the desired shrink characteristics for the sleeves, the film is processed on an MDO line, which orients it in the correct machine direction.

Through an MDO unit, film properties and characteristics can be enhanced and tailored to specific applications, so that after processing, film has higher tensile strength and stiffness as well as improved gloss and transparency. The process reduces film thickness and passes on savings in raw material costs.

Meanwhile, for companies that need something other than smooth and flat labels, EMB Emmendinger Maschinenbau has a new range of high speed punching and embossing machines (DS-320, DS-530 and DS-600, all tailored to different widths), which are used by customers in the packaging, dairy and beverage industries.

These machines punch small shapes out of unprinted and printed aluminium, paper and plastics foils directly from reels, for use as either sealing lids or labels.

On the materials front, Ritrama offers a range of special adhesive papers along with ‘no label look’ films, and has been developing innovative self-adhesive materials based on natural and gloss papers, polyethylene, polypropylene and polyester, in its wine and digital roll ranges.

The company has new products in a pharma range as well, which include special face materials and adhesives to meet the stringent requirements of the pharmaceutical industry. AP 912, for example, is an acrylic permanent high tack adhesive suitable for small diameter substrates.

Communicating pharma

Elsewhere in the pharmaceutical industry, recent EU legislation, effective October 2010, concerning the inclusion of Braille on every pharmaceutical product, has also sparked some innovation among suppliers to the label industry.

Convertec, for example, has a new unit for digital Braille printing – DigiBraille – which has a modular design that can be retrofitted to any printing press or converting line for either inline or offline Braille production. The central impression design of the system allows labels to be printed with great accuracy while inspection is done on the same drum.

Stork Prints, and Gallus both use rotary screen printing to add Braille to labels, with Stork’s self-contained, single-colour printing unit able to be easily integrated onto an existing press.

Fortunately, though, label converters can sit back and relax when it comes to the varying labelling laws and languages of EU member states.

“Translation and implementation of different languages affect the pharmaceutical manufacturer, parallel importers and so on, not the label converter and printer,” says David Baumann, of Gallus. “Label converters get the job file with text and illustration from their customer.”

Jakob Landberg, sales director of Nilpeter, adds: “Translations come with the design from brand owners – as do the corrections.” He says that while the biggest challenge of exporting EU-wide is all the different languages, which means “more variants of each label design”, it has “always been the case if you supply large brand owners pan-Europe.”

Pressure on silicone

Yves Lafontaine, spokesman for Canada-basedETI Converting Equipment – which has installations in European countries such as Germany and France – thinks that the biggest issue in the worldwide label converting industry at the moment is that of silicone. “With pressure-sensitive labels, the biggest trend is to reduce the use of paper silicone, for two reasons: it accounts for 50% of the cost of construction, and it is not recyclable,” he says.

With this in mind, ETI Converting has recently come out with a couple of different environmentally friendly labelling solutions: its liner-less Cohesio printing and converting equipment, which works at a speed of 150m/min, along with ultra-thin (12 microns) clear PET or a BOPP Miniliner, a patent-pending release liner which is aimed at reducing waste.

“Without a liner, the cost of the entire construction is 30% to 40% lower,” says Lafontaine, emphasising how important these savings now are in label converting. “Twenty years ago, the label industry was extremely profitable, and today it’s incredible how competitive it is – there are fewer profits, so sustainability and innovation are more important than ever.”

Edale’s Lambda allows the end user to change any sequence of modules Lambda ETI’s ultra-thin release liner Miniliner is fed into the company’s liner-less Cohesio printing and converting machine Miniliner Rotomec’s MW80 press minimises waste and is easily configured for
specific labelling applications Rotomec Windmöller & Hölscher’s MDO line MDO Speciality shrink sleeves produced through Windmöller & Hölscher’s MDO processing Speciality shrink sleeves

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Windmöller & Hölscher