Show points to digital and diversification9 October 2006
Pauline Covell reports from Labelexpo in Chicago
Raising the bar in narrow web technology, the 450 exhibitors at Labelexpo Americas saw a six per cent increase in visitor traffic to the Donald E Stephens Convention Center over the show two years ago. The September event recorded 13,256 visitors with over 20 per cent from outside the USA.
For the first time the digital offering had a distinct focus, bearing out director of strategic growth at show organizer Tarsus, Mike Fairley's research. He reported: “Fifty eight per cent of converters surveyed saw digital print as an opportunity for future growth. This is the first time this has been so high.” Those converters were not to be disappointed, with two digital presses and a coater launched at the show.
Montreal company PAT Technology Systems attracted plenty of interest with what it claims to be the first truly digital UV coating systems. Two years in development and part diversification for the company, the web-fed, semi rotary converter/digital coater, the Rotoworx, featured on our cover, uses inkjet head specialist Xaar's new hybrid side-shooter (HSS) technology. A sheet-fed version (the Varstar) is also available).
Paul Hebert, vice president sales, explained: “Rather than using anilox rollers and plates to apply coating to digital print we achieve this with an array of Xaar heads.” PAT's system uses the first printhead from the HSS family, the Xaar 1001, which will be produced at the company's new UK manufacturing facility and is scheduled for full production from January, 2007. “The print is scanned for a registration mark, the coating printed only where needed and then cured by UV. The intensity of the lamp automatically increases or decreases with the speed of the web and the amount of fluid being deposited,” he said. The equipment on show also included a die cutter.
Flood, spot coating, textures, variable gloss levels with a single fluid, and special effects can be achieved requiring only a digital file. Xaar's HSS platform combines advanced piezoelectric, drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet technology with its patented 'through-flow' (TF) technology, to provide jetting reliability and to enable self recovery. In addition, the new platform features Xaar's patented multi pulse grayscale technology. This combination of high productivity in a single pass and exceptional print quality is crucial to the equipment's ability to deliver images, textures and special effects that were either impossible to produce or not cost effective with traditional technologies. Added Paul Hebert: “By using grayscale (different sized drops) we have taken coating from being just a protection to also a design feature. For example, we can put down gloss or matt varnish from one fluid and in the same pass. And as it is no longer necessary to coat the whole width of the web so it also cuts waste.”
The Rotoworx has been beta tested and is available in two widths: 330mm and 508mm. “There has been massive interest in North America and Europe is definitely in our plans. We are now investigating how we will sell it there,” said Paul Hebert. The coating fluid is currently priced at $60/litre (more expensive than traditional UV coatings). “But of course you only use it where needed and there are no plate costs.”
"The project required very close collaboration between development teams; becoming a launch partner for Xaar's HSS technology was a key aspect to its success," commented Wayne Baird, president of PAT.
Digital inkjet moved ahead with the launch at Labelexpo of the four colour machine promised by Jetrion at IPEX. The 4000 Series has been developed for short and medium length narrow web production runs, as well as variable data imaging. Said Ken Stack president of Jetrion: “The UV digital inkjet colour technology holds tremendous promise with its grayscale quality of print making it a perfect fit for secondary labels and industrial labels, a sub segment that makes up over 50 per cent of the market.“ The press features Xaar heads.
Speeds are up to a claimed 20m/min and 100, 150 and 200mm versions will be available. Shipping in the first quarter of next year, the press will be priced at $299,000, $350,000 and $400,000 respectively. The company also developed the UV4000 set of CMYK UV inks used. It is the only consumable needed, making “usage costs of the Jetrion 4000 significantly lower than those of other types of digital colour printing”. Said Ken Stack: “Running costs are approximately half that of other digital presses. This press pushes out the breakeven point for digital up to 40,000 labels. It really is cost effective for short to medium runs.” Range of substrates capable of being printed includes papers, films, foils and tag stocks, and as the process is continuous the web can run into conventional die cutters. “I think the press will be huge in Europe where there is a need for multilingual versions of warning labels and shelf labels, for example,” he predicted.
One of the big holdbacks for digital has been speciality inkjet inks, but now Jetrion has claimed a breakthrough with its single pass opaque white. It also launched its metallic effect three-layer process first revealed in Converting Today's Ipex report (archives April).
Productivity and quality advances were the motivators for HP's new press launched at the show. Based on its ws4050 label press technology, the ws4500 offers an automated workflow and further improvements in colour capability. Geared for continuous production it is also claimed to provide cost efficiencies when incorporating custom colours by a new fast ink replacement feature that enables “seamless job switches". Speed is up to 15.91m/min and it is engineered for cost effective production of jobs of around 2,000m. The first press was beta tested by Label Art, California.
An optional digital front end can reduce colour matching time by as much as 50 per cent, revealed Alon Bar-Shany, vice president and general manager, Indigo division, HP. At Labelexpo the company revealed it had signed an agreement with Esko to be a value added reseller for Esko Optimise Pack and the Scope pack. During the show, these Esko solutions were driving live jobs on the ws4500 and ws4050 in the HP booth.
“Our successful integration with Esko is a major win for the label industry as HP continues to expand its digital end to end workflow solutions for industrial printing,” said Alon Bar-Shany. “We are supporting hybrid environments where analogue and digital printing co-exist, enabling converters to choose the right technology for each job. HP will maintain market leadership by offering new products and innovative solutions that enable a smooth transformation to digital. Having a brand like Esko shortens the wrap up of the sales considerably.”
Carsten Knudsen, chief executive officer of Esko added: ”We are honoured to be a partner of HP. This development will have the added benefit of allowing the converter to take decisions on whether to print conventionally or digitally right up to the last minute.”
One future product planned in the HP and Esko collaborative relationship is a variable-data label printing application that was shown as a technology demonstration during the exhibition.
On the hybrid press front Aquaflex and Jetrion announced a partnership where the two companies will co-design mounts and other critical components to enable Jetrion's 3025 UV inkjet press to be used on the Aquaflex flexo presses, including the new ELS servo press. Said vice president of Aquaflex Mac Rosenbaum: “This gives our Argio customers a clear upgrade path with a well respected digital technology platform.”