Applications grow as digital printing equipment suppliers advance the technology
The growth in adoption of digital printing technology by the converting and packaging industries is confirmed by the results of recent research conducted by market analyst InfoTrends. Its 2011 report Colour Digital Packaging and Labels Market Forecast: 2010-2015 estimated that converters worldwide spent $166 million on this category of colour digital presses in 2010, and that this total will grow at a 10.3% annual rate to 2015.
Report author Bob Leahey states: “Right now label and packaging converters worldwide bill about $2 billion annually for the output of their colour digital presses. While about 95% of that value is for labels for consumer goods, the young folding carton and flexible packaging applications are themselves growing.”
Technical developments by the equipment suppliers are helping to stimulate this growth, and to meet the demands of the printers as they, in turn, extend their use of the technology.
For example, Atlantic Zeiser says its Gamma 70 P print engine enables users to bring complex production in-house and produce full-colour variable labels. This single-pass UV system can be integrated in-line with sheetfed, web or single-product systems. It employs Xaar 1001 greyscale printhead technology to create a powerful solution that includes a UV printer, UV inks, and UV curing capability.
The machine is claimed to deliver exceptional ink adhesion on films, foils, cartonboard and paper.
Primera has added the CX1000e colour label printer to its range for in-house production of short to medium run jobs in various sizes. It offers 2,400dpi print resolution, a print speed of 5m/min, and will print laser-qualified label materials including pressure-sensitive plain papers, and white and clear polyesters. A wide range of approved matte, semi-gloss, high gloss and speciality food and beverage label materials are available. Primera has also qualified a new range of ‘eco-friendly’ substrates made of up to 100% post-consumer waste.
Agfa Graphics claims that its :Dotrix Modular industrial UV inkjet digital press is faster than traditional flexo printing, offers greater colour reproduction, and gives brand owners the ability to be more flexible with their promotions and adapt to changes more quickly. With a 650mm printing width, the :Dotrix can handle flexibles such as HDPE, PET, PVC and self-adhesives, as well as board up to 24 point. Its modular construction allows addition of flexo stations, in-line slitting, diecutting and sheeting facilities.
Drop on demand driving developments
Piezoelectric ‘drop on demand’ (DOD) inkjet technology is beginning to have a significant impact on high quality colour digital printing of primary and secondary packaging, says Mark Alexander, Xaar’s director of marketing.
“Label printing is moving from analogue to digital for the same reason that other areas of print are changing: better economics for short runs, shorter cycle times, reduced waste, and the possibility of printing variable data. With product varieties proliferating, and product life cycles becoming ever shorter, the ability to print labels or packages on demand is becoming increasingly critical. Add to this the need to meet changing regulatory requirements for label text in a variety of languages, the need for product traceability, the need to improve supply chain efficiencies and to reduce waste, and the case for digital becomes compelling.
“This transition to digital is accelerating in the packaging industry. Toner-based systems have been available for a while, but in the last two years a number of significant DOD inkjet printing projects have been getting underway. DOD is well established in secondary packaging (outer case coding and marking). So what is driving the sudden surge in interest in inkjet for prime labels and direct-to-package printing? The answer lies in recent improvements in both print quality and printhead reliability.
“The Xaar 1001 has become the printhead of choice for leading label printer manufacturers offering true industrial inkjet printing. Its impact was evident at the last Labelexpo, for example, where a record number of companies demonstrated the printhead’s unrivalled reliability. The range of digital printers offered a choice of four to eight colours plus varnish, variable widths and speeds, and all able to turn unprofitable short run jobs on conventional presses into profitable print jobs.
“The long-anticipated advent of high quality inkjet printing at a reliability level suitable for industrial production is now at hand. It does not meet all user needs and, at the moment, is somewhat slower than some conventional analogue printing methods. However, print speeds are increasing all the time as printhead technology develops. Ultimately, inkjet’s flexibility in terms of ink and substrates, the environmental benefits of reduced waste, the ability to offer fast turnaround times and to print short runs economically will ensure it a major role in the future development of package printing.”