Market trends shape technological development
If there is one thing that can be said about today’s narrow web market it’s that narrow web is not ‘narrow’ – not in outlook, nor capability, and certainly not in market application. These days, the web width barely limits the use of what began life as a sticky label press. The move into new markets that require high quality converting across a range of substrates from unsupported film to lightweight cartonboard for all the major global brands has channelled copious amounts of R&D funds and all the technological know-how the industry can muster into satisfying the demands of today’s packaging specifiers, who take top quality product and service as the norm, and brook no shortfalls.
The recently held Labelexpo Europe, in Brussels, certainly highlighted the scope of the industry and showcased the latest technology from all the leading press manufacturers. Aside from what was on show, the interesting aspect was the underlying trends that were clearly noticeable. Principle among these is the growing demand for film labels and the development of presses to accommodate these substrates. What was once the domain of high end specialist machines has now become an everyday requirement for many more narrow web presses which, out of necessity, have absorbed the technology.
Mark Andy made this point on its stand at the Brussels show by highlighting the film capability of all presses from its entry level 2200 up to its all servo XP5000. Global marketing manager Mary Sullivan said: “Film capability is what everyone wants right now – it’s moved labels into new market areas and we, as technology providers, have had to come up with the means to support it.”
Another noticeable trend is the continued growth of servodrive technology, with Italian manufacturer Omet launching its new press, the X-Flex at the show, and Comco using the opportunity to introduce its high tech C2 servo line to the European market 12 months after its debut in Chicago. Ultimate controllability for the best print quality is what servo offers, along with a far greater degree of production flexibility.
Gallus pioneered much of this sector of the market with its highly prized and highly priced RCS 330 line. When it was launched, in 2001, the company had to embark on an extensive missionary programme to educate the market. The benefits of servodrive were demonstrably clear, but it carried a large price tag, and converters were wary of its reliability for everyday use.
Seven years on, the market acceptance of servo is far greater, the price relative to traditional line shaft drive is considered reasonable, and the reliability is proven. Paul Mattle, speaking for Gallus commented: “At the beginning it was very difficult to convince label printers that the additional cost was viable, so early customers tended to be the larger companies in the developed markets. Now, we have over 80 RCS lines installed across a wide cross section of the market and around the world.” In Brussels, the company launched its larger RCS 430 line. Adding 10cm to the web width was what the market asked for, and the company responded.
The new Comco C2 takes servodrive a step further with what the company is calling its I-Drive system (“I” for Intelligent). According to the manufacturer, the advanced control it offers brings “offset print quality” to a variety of substrates at high speed (300m/min). Another feature on this and many other presses is the use of sleeve technology and multi process print stations.
Combination presses are far from new, but the demands from many customers today for a variety of print options, including flexo, offset, screen and gravure, combined with hot and cold foil, has led to the creation of flexible technology for single pass production that requires a new breed of machine operative and a new way of working.
Narrow web, for so long the domain of flexo and letterpress, has spread its wings. As the demand for labels has broadened from simple selfadhesive on paper based substrates to filmics in one direction and cartons in the other, the technology has moved into markets previously dominated by wide web flexo, rotogravure, and sheet-fed offset.
Gallus has launched an offset version of its RCS series, Gidue has spent much of 2007 promoting what it believes to be the way ahead for narrow web in the form of its new Xpannd offset range and, of course, Nilpeter has long been successful with its offset line, and promises to reveal “something new” in the shape of its MO-4.
Like Gallus, Nilpeter offers both servo and shaft driven lines, and sees the advantage of offset in its print consistency, which is vital in the global market. Other players in the offset arena include Drent Goebel, with its VSOP (Variable Sleeve Offset Printing) range, as well as the likes of Muller Martini and Edelmann. Both Muller Martini and Edelmann enjoy a broad experience of offset technology, but as yet have made few inroads into the traditional narrow web market for labels.
Simpler, and therefore cheaper, prepress and the ability to print flesh tones and vignettes to a higher quality than flexo have been traditional arguments in favour of offset. The development of high quality UV flexo answered many critics on the quality front, but the market still demands offset, if only for its ‘light kiss’ on textured stocks. Wine labels come quickly to mind here, but there are many other applications for which narrow offset is well suited, and make it a trend to watch out for in the future. Keys to its success may well be the degree to which waste can be controlled on what is relatively a more complex process than flexo, and its ability to maintain quality at low running speeds.
Elsewhere, reducing downtime with automated and off-line set-up, and the on-going drive to limit waste levels attracted the attention of visitors to Labelexpo. Typical of the latest generation of presses is Omet’s X-Flex, which made its debut in Brussels. New from the ground up, it is said to embody everything an operator needs to make life simple, effortless, and productive. From an intuitive control system, known as ‘Operator Eye’ to interchangeable units, motorized set-up, sleeve technology, combi drying options and, reputedly, the shortest web path in the business, this servodrive press is the type that looks destined to become ‘the norm’ within the industry in no time at all.
Sales director Marco Calcagni commented: “New technology needs to answer all the questions asked of it. Today’s converter has to be a one-stop shop for all his clients’ packaging needs, so our technology has to provide him with this capability.”
With most presses capable of, if not actually, running at high speeds, the question of waste is never far away – and not just material waste, but a general awareness of how precious resources need to be used effectively. These include highly skilled (and highly paid) labour, and the inefficiency of machine downtime, in terms of breakdowns and maintenance, as well as job and roll changes.
As alluded to earlier, the need for new and different operator skills to run the latest presses has led one leading European converting group to recruit exclusively from the IT departments of local colleges. Surely as good an example of the industry re-inventing itself, as one could find?
Material waste is a study in itself, and at Labelexpo Martin Automatic, which works closely with many of the press manufacturers and their customers on the development and implementation of new technology, was quoting short payback periods for its new equipment.
Marketing manager Craig Thomson explained: “We are, by nature, a conservative company, so tend to err on the side of caution with our predictions – it’s our customers who rave about the benefits of automated reel handling and the money it saves them. After all, what value a racehorse that has to keep stopping?”
The narrow web market, like most others, is driven hard by its customers. The pressure to respond to their constantly changing demands brings heavy pressure to bear on the technology manufacturers. Recent developments show what a very inventive industry this is – long may it continue.
Closer cleaning capability
The NWP narrow web cleaning system from Teknek can deal with both contaminants and static. A specially formulated elastomer roller runs in contact with the web, penetrating the boundary layer of air that non contact systems cannot reach. The roller removes all particles down to microscopic sizes, which are then transferred to a pre-sheeted adhesive roll, where they are permanently trapped. When the adhesive roll becomes saturated, the outer layer is simply removed, exposing the next layer ready for use.
A powerful anti static system can be incorporated to ensure that dust is not re-attracted to the moving web. The NWP is available in cleaning widths of 254, 345, 430, 520, and 750mm.
New from Newfoil
At Labelexpo, celebrating 25 years as a manufacturer of hot foil, embossing and converting machines for the label printing industry, Newfoil launched a digital printing system capable of four colour process at 600dpi and spot colours by hot foil.
Developed in partnership with the print engine supplier, the system is said to be capable of producing top photographic quality digital print “comparable with the industry’s best, whilst reducing capital costs to a new low”. The laser toner system employs a ‘cool fusion’ process that limits the substrate temperature rise, and is claimed to be inexpensive in use and service costs. All routine service to the printer’s principal parts is carried out by the operator.
The output of 6m/min means it is efficient for short to medium runs on conventional labels and a complete option for four colour variable data labels. By using optional Newfoil equipment, the product can be completely finished in-line, in one pass.
Newfoil has been involved in off-line finishing of wine and spirit labels since 1982, and new methods and techniques are still being introduced. The latest trend is in the use of special effects created by micro-embossing and texturing of the label during the hot stamping operation. This combination process is said to ensure perfect foil-emboss registration every time, with low set-up and change-over times.
Films that go further
Two new co-extruded selfadhesive labelling films from Avery Dennison have been engineered to deliver additional benefits over the first generation products they replace.
The new, lower caliper, Fasson FasClear Plus and Primax Plus are said to allow narrow web label converters and their customers to benefit from the cost savings inherent in longer reels – more labels per printed reel, reduced on-press downtime for reel changes, and reductions in reel changes on the labelling line. At the same time, they continue to offer the combination of machine direction stiffness with cross direction conformability, which characterized the first generation films.
This is said to make the films very conformable, particularly over compound curves and on flexible containers. These features make them suitable both for primary product labels, especially in the health and beauty market, and for the growing market in film labels for long life functional track-and-trace applications.
Fasson FasClear Plus (clear) and Primax Plus (white) feature a special satin finished print skin that will accept all the traditional reel to reel print processes, as well as thermal transfer print for variable data. The films are supplied as standard with Fasson S692N adhesive, approved for direct contact with dry and moist non fatty foodstuffs.
Avery Dennison Roll Materials Europe
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