Digitisation in the labelling industry

28 June 2018

Digital tools are transforming the labelling industry, impacting aspects of production across the field, including output efficiency, customisation and capabilities. Ceri Jones asks whether converters can afford to ignore the digital movement, particularly in such a competitive climate.

The North American tag and label printing industry is at a crossroads, according to Craig Moreland, TLMI chairman and one of the judges of the 2017 Global Label Industry Awards. Of all the printed packaging markets in the country, the labelling sector holds the biggest portion of digital presses, he explains, at “an estimated 10–11% of North America’s total tag and label production. This growth is quickly transforming the way labels are designed, specified, sourced and delivered. Whether digital or conventional, presses are more sophisticated and operators need different skill sets now than when the industry was essentially a craft-based one.”

Although the percentage varies by geographic region, the rise of digitalism is a global movement and steady change is filtering through the supply chain, becoming more tangible and irrepressible. “Given this changing environment of increasing ‘compliance’ demands from our customers, where converters have to meet various customer certification and quality requirements, label converters have to bring more innovation to the table than they ever have.”

With prime labels reaching higher print quality levels and consumers demanding more customised and eco-friendly packaging, the current trends in the labelling industry aren’t so much about individual features, but rather establishing a set of core principles for success. A number of award-winning firms explained the impact of digital across printing, the pioneering technologies enabling faster runs and the materials being developed in parallel to support the new generation of high-speed printers.

Digitising the chain

This year saw the launch of the first ever information management system specifically designed for the labelling industry. In the many years of working at Nyssa – their father’s self-adhesive label converter business in Buenos Aires – Argentine brothers Ignacio and Sebastian Morrison were unable to find an effective software system that suited their needs, so they decided to create one that put label converters at the fore. Following an 18-month testing period, Madiwor was released in March.

“Madiwor cloud software solution is designed and focused on the specific processes of this industry,” says Ignacio Morrison. “Our main objective is to provide a high-end automation solution for small and mid-sized businesses that allows you to easily implement essential competitive advantages, such as raw material and finished product inventory, production planning, tools management, product specifications and B2B ecommerce.”

The system uses graphic visualisations to log the status of resources and tools available, as well as the amount required for each process stage. “A really smart functionality of the software gives the user the option to store the complete order or some of the items in stock instead of shipping,” Morrison says. “Additionally, they can retrieve products from stock that can help to complete the order total or ship a partial order. And the great thing about the raw material module is that it not only allows you to cut rolls into the size required by each order, but it lets you have them assigned to a production job. This reduces scrap, saves time when retrieving inventory and automates the need to trace any material used.

“The reality for label manufacturers is very different from that of conventional industries. Technology is a tool and should be a logical extension of your existing business model. In this way, resources are extremely optimised, which are key factors for small and mid-sized converters.

“Digitalisation transforms not only our capabilities but also allows the converter to provide a differential service to their customers. First you get major flexibility; you can offer improved services to customers that we never thought we could, like printing a proof with almost no cost, which gives the converter an unbeatable advantage.

“Additionally, there is a clear global trend in the democratisation in electronics and digital technologies. Entry-level digital presses have been reducing costs considerably, whereas the same didn’t happen with conventional equipment. Moreover, with entry-level conventional presses, it is harder to do the same as with top-of-the-line equipment. But with a digital entry-level press, despite perhaps being restricted to certain substrates, you are ready to compete with high-quality labels.”

The personal touch

While some believe the consumer appetite for product personalisation is tiring, others, including the Dow Chemical Company, think the trend is moving beyond a gimmick to an industry standard. As the printing capabilities are becoming increasingly available, this puts real-time and direct marketing opportunities into the hands of more manufacturers.

“The shift to digital printing is very positive for ebeam. The ebeam Compact is the world’s most compact electron-beam (EB) inkjet dryer, enabling inline curing with narrow-web digital inkjet printers, making industrialised EB curing a reality for numerous applications, including label printing,” says Elsa Callini, business development manager at ebeam Technologies.

“With instantaneous curing, production performance is significantly increased, enabling immediate die cutting, stacking and shipping with higher conversion and more consistent output than with alternative drying technologies.

“The production of limited and special-run materials is most cost-effectively done on digital inkjet printers. By incorporating ebeam curing into the digital inkjet printing process, companies can expect high-gloss finishes and tougher surfaces with superior scratch, tear, puncture and fade-resistance.

“Real-time marketing needs to be supported with agile processes that can rapidly and cost-effectively produce materials for market testing and quickfire promotions. Because of its instant curing abilities, ebeam is ideal for this sort of rapid production and the GAIA solution from Uteco, which was developed in collaboration between Uteco, INX Digital and ebeam Technologies, is a commercially available end-to-end digital inkjet production line with ebeam curing for producing a variety of products, including real-time or short-run marketing materials.

“Digital inkjet is the print process used in variable printing and personalisation. Because there are no photo-initiators in ebeam inks, digital inkjet printing with ebeam curing can be safely used for the personalisation of indirect food contact packaging. Personalisation and variable printing is a great way to reach consumers, as it appeals directly to them – increasing personal or even timely contextual relevance of the product to the consumer. As such, the marketing possibilities are huge.”

In partnership with HP Indigo Division, ebeam is extending its capabilities with the ebeam Core 100/760, which has been optimised to cure overprint varnish applied to labels and flexible packing printed on HP Indigo 20000 digital presses.

Mach Machikawa, HP Indigo’s global flexible packaging segment manager, said, “The combination of HP Indigo 20000 and ebeam Core 100/760 with either an inline or near-line coating unit is a perfect fit for surface-print flexible packaging, such as form-fill seal reel-fed lidding applications, which require highly demanding and durable protection for HP Indigo ElectroInks.

“The potential for faster turnaround times, new market opportunities through high value-added embellishment and sustainability offer HP Indigo 20000 users a genuine competitive edge.”

Clean and clear

Moreland believes that, “as an industry, our success will be contingent upon our ability to constantly innovate and provide solutions moving forward”, and nowhere is this more evident than in the advantages that new technologies present, not only in themselves, but by the ability to access and capitalise upon emerging and fast-paced trends. As Morrison puts it: “Every day it is becoming more difficult not to digitalise.”

The eBeam Compact is the world’s smallest electron-beam inkjet dryer.

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