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Getting into labels

UV inkjet technology is migrating to narrow-format label production, but there’s also plenty of opportunity to produce labels on wide-format kit as Melony Rocque-Hewitt finds out.

Labelexpo Europ e, which took place in Brussels at the beginning of October 2011, was a sell out. In fact, it broke all records in the show’s 30-year history both in the number of exhibitors, attendees and equipment sales. While the halls were awash with new UV inkjet narrow-format presses from the likes of HP, Durst and EFI, wide-format players such as Roland DG, Mimaki and Esko Graphics were plying their wares too.


So what are wide-format digital print players doing at a labels expo? Well, traditionally speaking, labels production is all about volume, utilising processes such as flexography, screen-printing, litho, hot foil and thermal transfer. However, over recent years a trend has been emerging – the call for much shorter print runs, with the possibility of more colour and complicated shapes, in part fuelled by Internet trading and marketing. And it is here, where digital wide-format output and digital cutting technology fits in beautifully.

Take for example, the Devon-based labels screen-printing company Brushwood Design. The company has a Mimaki JV33 130 printer that it uses along side a Mimaki CG75 FX plotter that it purchased back in 2005 when it bought its first Mimaki machine.

“We were finding that customers were less happy with screen printing sticker runs of 2 – 5,000. They wanted less, sometimes under 100 for a job,” says Peter Hilton, Brushwood’s technical manager.

While the company continues to screen-print labels, Hilton says that the adoption of digital has not only bought in new customers but has consolidating existing work, removing the need for existing clients to go elsewhere for their short-run needs. The CG75 FX plotter allows for the cutting of complicated shapes and Brushwood utilises it both for labels output on the JV33 130 as well as those that have been screen-printed.

The ability to cut out complex shapes has bought work in that the company could not have done previously says Hilton. For example, one of Brushwood’s regular clients is a manufacturer of medical equipment for the third world. The client provides the label artwork which Brushwood outputs from the JV33 130, followed by complicated cutter work that can accommodate switches, dials and the like.

Hybrid, the exclusive UK and Ireland distributor for Mimaki, says it is experiencing an increase in demand for its wide-format printers - including the CJV30 series with its built-in cutters.

This rise in demand for such systems is not only coming from where you’d expect - the traditional customer base of sign makers, graphics houses and print shops - but from customers fitting wide-format machines into a pure Web-to-print configuration for the delivery of on-demand labels for the general public.

Take Park Lane Champagne for example. The company has been importing high quality champagne (as well as other selected liquor products) from independent producers in France since 1995. The main labels on the front of the bottle and around the neck are available for customers’ own designs, branding and messages.

When the business began, the focus was on delivering products in manageable quantities (of hundreds as opposed to thousands) to five-star customers including hotels and financial institutions.  Labels were litho printed onto special paper stock, which meant a minimum run of 2,000 and many incorporated metallic finishing, which was outsourced. Customer set-up costs were expensive – approximately £1,000 per customer - with orders taking up to four weeks to complete. An extensive and expensive inventory of label stocks was also needed.

The 2007/2008 economic crises that hit the City hard also had a knock-on effect for Park Lane.  It realised that it needed to be more flexible supply-wise, recognising that the fulfilment of a greater number of smaller orders was the way forward.

Updating its business model, Park Lane visited the Sign and Digital show where it met Mimaki reseller GPT (Graphic Printing Technologies).  Under its guidance Park Lane opted for a Mimaki print-and-cut machine, the CJV 30 600mm. Said Park Lane’s managing director Alastair Harrison: “We had a lot of other elements to get right with the new business model, not least being able to sell bottles straight off the internet. The software needed to be easy to use and encourage customers to create a design based on our size and layout templates or even produce something 100% developed themselves. Once the order gets taken, we want to be able to fulfill it quickly and the hardware GPT recommended allows us to do just that.  We print the labels, apply them to the bottle or bottles and ship them out and we aim to do this the same working day.”

Manufacturing is another sector that Hybrid is seeing investing in in-house label printing capabilities. “Frequently, short-runs of products will naturally require short-runs of labels. If these labels need to be different – for example, detailing a serial number – then digital print and cut is the ideal solution," says John de la Roche.

Over at Roland DG UK, the original home of integrated print-and-cut wide-format digital printers, the production of labels, stickers and decals have always been on the applications menu for its traditional eco-solvent display customers.

“While we’ve always been involved in labels, the focus was on the fact that we could produce them. Our customers were using standard labelling materials for their eco-solvent machines, but we realised pretty quickly that the materials were the important thing,” says Steve Chappell, business manager, Packaging, Proofing and Industrial Labelling, Roland DG UK.

However, with the introduction of the company’s UV-curable line of VersaUV LEC printers – in particular the VersaUV LEC 540 launched in 2010 - Roland DG UK upped the stakes when it came to labels.

The approach is varied, offering viable improvements to its existing eco-solvent customer base whilst also making ‘industrial’ or ‘performance’ labelling a key focus for the company this year.

To help access this industrial market, Roland DG UK began to capitalise on its long-standing, relationship with Lintec Graphic Films about three years or so ago.  “The LEC UV 540 is an ideal device for label printers to move into digital and other markets they have not been in before,” says Lintec Graphic Film sales manager Steve Bird. “Lintec Graphic Film’s media has been optimised to compliment the Roland device, with all our customers testifying to the great results they achieve when using it in this combination.”

With the Lintec stamp of approval, the VersaUV LEC 540 is arousing the interest of the industrial label fraternity. “We see selling this machine to our customers as a value added-service to them and we will help them develop a solution such as variable data if they so wish,” says Bird. t;/p>

The Label Centre is one of Lintec’s current customers. Situated in the Midlands, it started in 1999, offering industrial labelling solutions using traditional printing techniques. However, like so many labels printers, Derry Bryan, MD, noticed that customers were increasingly asking for shorter run-lengths and more colour.

In order to add more strings to its bow, says Bryan, it purchased a Roland SolJet XC 540. Three years ago it installed the Roland VersaUV LEC 300 and has recently added the VersaUV LEC 540 to its stable. The UV machines have enabled the company to print labels on a wide range of materials such as aluminium, polypropylene and polyester, and while it has the facility to run Roland’s metallic inks, for this industrial labels printer the printing of white is far more important. “We often print on clear and back up on white,” says Bryan.

The purchase of the Roland machines has been good for business. “We had total sales from our two existing Roland machines (XC540 & LEC300) of £110k in 2011. The LEC300 accounted for £21k of the total. My guess is the new LEC540 will add about another £35k if we can find enough suitable work of course. It is true to say though, that not all this work is new – some is switched from other presses for convenience.”

These figures include some work that has migrated from the old presses for the sake of convenience and efficiency. Currently, the company is looking to add to its wide-format digital arsenal with the purchase of a cutting table and a water-based printer for the production of paper based labels.

Back now to Roland DG UK. The company is working closely with 3M through its reseller Revolution Transfers to develop a number of serious labels solutions.

“There’s a phenomenal amount of development at the moment. It’ll be an interesting year,” says an enthusiastic Jan Edgecombe, the company’s managing director.

These developments include a new range of label materials designed to run with its eco-solvent machines. “Think sticky polyesters,” says Edgecombe, which translated means the replacement of PVC with polyester-based materials using 3M adhesives that provides the all-important, resistance levels. This, says Edgecombe, is the key to the wider world of performance labels, adding that industrial processes already specify the use of 3M adhesives.

New materials too, have been developed for Roland’s UV printers providing even greater durability, scratch-resistance and the like, vital to the requirements of the manufacturing/plant sectors.

At the Sign and Digital show this year, Revolution and 3M will be unveiling these UV and eco-solvent label solutions in package form – an eco-solvent or UV printer, 3M media profiles using ColorGate Production Server 7 Rip and a range of printable, 3M eco-solvent and UV label stock. The full offering is available to view at www.labelsondemand.co.uk. Revolution has a 3M polyester label solution for the Roland BN-20 VersaStudio, a great entry level product, through to the Roland LEC-540 VersaUV.

Currently, Roland and 3M are jointly developing a one sheet, one product concept, aimed at JIT manufacturing, such as automotive and fast moving consumer goods. If you currently export your products to several different language and regulatory areas around the world, it’s likely you have a very large and costly inventory of labels to fulfil your requirement. The single sheet concept allows a manufacturer to produce all of the labels on demand, significantly reducing cash tied up in label inventory. The ability to customise details for individual customers and print only the labels you need on the production line during 24/7 manufacturing, reduces down time and manufacturing delays, waiting for that ‘special roll’ of labels to arrive from the printer. This technology advance should also bring traditional label printers closer to their manufacturing customers if they embrace it. Prototyping and micro production runs for emerging markets should no longer be held back by the cost to set-up short run labels and packaging.

The Final Cut

“You can’t sell a label unconverted,” says Steve Bennett, VP, Digital Finishing Business at Esko Artworks, a global supplier of integrated solutions for packaging, sign and display finishing, commercial printing and professional publishing. The company, which sells the hugely successful Kongsberg cutting tables, has seen the demand for its highly popular software suite i-cut grow this year by 18 times on the last year.

Owners of UV and latex machines printing onto polythene, brass, aluminium, magnetic and thicker-substrates can charge a premium for high-value, unique products but, Bennett believes, the market still needs educating about the potential of digital finishing.

At Fespa Digital 2012 in February, Esko showcased its ‘design-to-print-to-cut’ solutions spotlighting the Kongsberg i-XP24 and Kongsberg i-XE10 Auto cutting tables plus the newly launched i-cut Automate, which automates the entire production process, reducing costs. At Drupa, Bennett says that Esko will be showcasing a major upgrade to its i-cut suite that will be of interest to the wide-format producer.

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