Smart engagement

22 July 2019

Labels are ingrained in the very fabric of our lexicon, and so it is unsurprising that their importance in converting can never be overstated. As the link between consumers, brands and regulation on pack, they tell us how to use things, when, in what quantities and where they come from, as well as providing a life of the product to track it back if needed to point of manufacture. If the label fails to support any of these activities brands can find themselves in very deep and dangerous waters.

Nick Tucci is the vice-president and general manager of Avery Dennison North America. He believes that intelligent labelling, particularly through radio-frequency identification (RFID), is making the move from clothing and footwear to other categories. Last year saw a rise in food, beauty, beverage and aviation uses and, as he explains, “teamed with the breakthrough innovation launches that we are making in 2019, we feel confident it will be another growth year for intelligent labelling and smart packaging”.

Furthermore, he remains convinced that sustainability will continue to be a focus for organisations as its not only smart business but such a key decider and influencer in consumer motivation, dominating feedback from the market.

“Our priority in 2019 is to focus on waste across our entire value chain – ensuring that we have an increased range of products available with recycled content, that our products themselves enable or do not impede recycling, and that we ourselves are making bold steps forward in collaborating across our value chain to reduce labelling waste. It is a journey that we have been on for some time and for which we are proud of our achievements so far, but one where we have huge, long term ambition, some of which we will realise in 2019.”

Andy Cook, managing director of FFEI, expects 2019 to be a year marked by a rise in automation and Industry 4.0 technology. In particular, the ability to collect and collate vast amounts of data through print production, in conjunction with increased use of artificial intelligence systems “will enable vastly more accurate job cost estimation, production choices and management control – especially in the complex production environment of multiple printing and finishing processes.”

To enable this technology adaption trend, hybrid presses will become more widespread, as companies seek to run an increasingly wide variety of jobs while reducing waste and maintaining the highest-possible consistency. “These trends will lead digital hybrid systems to dominate the medium-run-length market, especially now inkjet speed is approaching a level that’s comparable to traditional flexo.” However, he is keen to clarify that it’s not just about speed. “Hybrid presses can provide a lower operational cost than either traditional or pure digital, particularly when combined with AI systems for control. In addition, automation is key to reducing waste and improved consistency – automatic changeovers, automatic set-up pressure, registration, automated recall of set-ups for specific substrates – maximising uptime and deskilling operators.”

With a drive on productivity and added value, more hybrid solutions will have digital embellishment and finishing options, including single-purpose print bars. Convertors will fuel this as they increasingly look for digital solutions for application ‘problems’ – rather than digital solutions looking for an application problem to solve. We expect to see a greater range of applications, with very specific requirements, being met through such technology – printing spot colours on the backside of labels, for example. Furthermore, we are seeing digitalisation of traditional technologies. Press set-up has gone from nearly 30 minutes to just a couple of minutes with only a few meters of waste. The devices are highly automated, sophisticated, easier to maintain and most importantly interconnected to management systems and support systems.”

Dr Thomas Baumgärtner is the managing director and self-adhesive materials division head at Herma. Agreeing with Tucci’s earlier assessment, he also feels sustainability “is not a fad, but rather a basic attitude that we are seeing more and more in our direct customers. Man-made climate change is a very serious problem. Last year, the member states asked the EU Commission to present its strategy against further warming in the first quarter of 2019. Next year, the EU will also continue to exert its influence to decrease the huge mountains of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. Plans include blanket bans on various plastic products as well as drastically increased recycling quotas. Both topics will certainly affect our industry in 2019 and beyond”. As a provider of self-adhesive materials, they are doing their part by choosing the best materials and adhesives, and focusing on resource efficiency in production and enhanced recycling methods for end of life.

Baumgärtner continues, “Against these factors, linerless labels will certainly play an increasing role in the market in the future. By eliminating the liner, these labels can be used without leaving behind any residual materials. There is still potential in conventional labels, as multiple smaller contributions can provide a substantial result. For example, we offset the carbon emissions of our fleet of vehicles by collecting and recycling discarded siliconised release liner. In doing so, we somewhat counteracted current resource scarcities. Furthermore, end users are increasingly interested in the origin and recyclability of packaging. Biodegradable, compostable materials have become interesting alternatives to petroleum-based polymer substrates. For me, the main challenge is not making the products more sustainable but the production process itself.”

Jokin Iruretagoiena, the sales director for the labels business unit at Lemu Group, is anticipating a solid revenue growth of about 5% and feels one of the main drivers is the move towards short runs, especially for value adding labels. However, “simple labels with one or two colours and linerless labels will expand very rapidly with the boom of the e-commerce and organized retail worldwide. That means a more polarised market: short runs of value added labels and long runs of simple labels.”

The essential challenge for both types is the same; reducing the cost of changeovers, increasing the variability of products and speeding up the delivery period. “The solution for these goals is what we call ‘automation3’ – automation of information flow, automation of changeover operations and automation of handling. Our goal for next year is to present to label manufacturers our industrial production concept for long runs of standard and linerless labels.”

Chris Ellison is the managing director of OPM (Labels & Packaging), as well as Finat president. As a supplier and a representative of one of the largest labelling bodies in the world, his views cover both roles and perspectives.

He doesn’t feel automation has yet delivered what it could; many of the press features that are web enabled don’t quite interface smoothly with the other software used in most average printing companies today. “If we cannot receive and record new data and send it as integrated data throughout the entire business, it renders some of this cutting-edge technology available almost useless. Many of the existing MIS press or web-to-print apps are nowhere near as sophisticated as the software we all have on our modern smartphones.” Until there is a corresponding development in the software, driven by demand in the same way apps have proliferated our smartphone usage, this will remain an obstacle.

Part of the problem is how the data gets to printers. The building blocks are there; connectivity, computing power and the data itself, but integration and knowledge sharing between press, management systems, quality assurance and tooling is not quite at full efficiency. “What’s been missing is a means to interact with that data in a seamless and smart way, using common naming conventions and platforms. A super user group of those willing to collaborate to drive integration and change will hopefully come out on top in 2019. That’s what artificial intelligence (AI) will change. A breakthrough of on-press AI and algorithm solutions will be the most important next step in label printing technology in 2019. We have Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home – maybe our assets will be able to take instruction via recognised voices and phrases?

“Integration of artificial intelligence and predictive capabilities to the presses will allow assets to personalise the printer experience. By learning what you need and how you use the machines, these systems will be able to configure and set up automatically and remotely, streamlining repetitive tasks, this is an evolution we should see more of in 2019.”

Maintenance of these presses can also benefit from AI servicing and efficient management, so that each individual press is operated to maximum capability – lubrication, roller alignment, doctor blades, safety guards and register, for example, could all be done automatically. The press would be able to predict when a part will fail and pre-emptively order it without need of human intervention. “The few remaining things that we might need to set up or configure ourselves will be configured through voice commands. No more need to push levers and buttons. With AI becoming the new user interface, connected presses, cameras, finishing equipment and tooling will become truly useful and integrated into our connected businesses. When it comes to industry digitisation and the Internet of Things (IoT), converters tend to be ahead of the press manufacturers and OEMs who will continue to invest in IoT and cloud technology capabilities in 2019 to deliver the platform – for example, in areas like supply chain management and IT.”

Another key term that he is mindful of is agility. This is crucial in sating rapid changes in market demands. By becoming more connected, converters’ IT infrastructure and systems will be more high performing and profitable. “This will lead converters to streamline and automate all areas of their businesses, especially in non- productive areas like finance, HR, marketing and sales, or even customer service. The OEMs know this, which is why they are investing in cloud technology to support this higher agility, lower costs and capability to fluidly manage demand fluctuations.”

As to printing, he continues, “While progress in printing technology will continue to be made in the next 12 months, the breakthrough to fully automated presses will not come in 2019. There are still numerous technical challenges preventing us from reaching higher levels, and the technical skill required by an operator on-press means that it still remains a great career opportunity for the next generation. Label printing remains a creative industry that embraces change and technology to take brands into the future.”

His final thoughts were on virtual reality, which he feels will have a lesser impact than augmented and mixed reality which are much more developed technologies and accepted by the market.  “We will see even more AR use, in brand marketing, training and patient care for an aging population. The shift to more AR will boost the rise of another somewhat new technology in virtual 3D representations of physical products.”

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