Labelling industry becoming more attractive with UV flexo printing
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EFTA wants to be there for label printers, which is an industry that ensures that buyers understand what a product is all about, are seduced by it and make sure it ends up at the right place. Flexo printing is the unmistakable basis for decorative labels; time to pay attention to this!
Along with EFTA's labels committee, we paid a working visit to Eric Hoedervangers, the director of MPS. He is one of the founding directors of MPS in Didam, which is a Dutch manufacturer of label presses (02-03). MPS is a trendsetting international manufacturer of successful, narrow web flexo printing technology. MPS has installed more than four hundred label/packaging presses since 1996, all of them with a narrow web range. Right from the outset this young press producer decided to focus on UV flexo printing, combined with rotary screen printing. Hoendervangers' knowledge and experience of flexo rotary label printing significantly contributed to this article.
UV flexo printing
UV-drying flexo printing (04) was developed towards the end of the Eighties by the German company Kobusch Folien and Sengewald GmbH, which was under pressure from rigorous German VOC standards, which is a European programme for combating acid rain and solvent-based flexo printing was a contributing factor (post-combustion did not exist at that time yet). The labelling industry quickly embraced UV flexo printing, especially line constructed narrow web presses and the quality of flexo rotary label printing has continued to improve ever since. MPS also added the so-called Crisp.Dot system, which is in principle more than just hard flexo templates, in combination with polyurethane-coated counter-pressure cylinders. The result is a printing quality that is virtually the same as offset printing because of MPS' 'Crisp.Dot' UV flexo printing.
Separated branch pillars
We noted that narrow web and wide web flexo rotary printing are not different from each other in principle, but the drying technique, printed substrates and further technical application are different. Narrow web printing often makes use of line construction presses with UV drying. Wide web printing is often done on Ci presses (central impression drum) with hot air drying and post-combustion of the vaporised solvents. Both techniques provide final products that are wrapped around rolls or semi-finished products in full-colour flexo printing, so why are these two commercial pillars virtually separated from each other? Hoendervangers outlined the commercial pillars and details (completed by the editors and illustrations added, 05). He noted in his capacity as an expert of mechanical engineering and the packaging market that there is no symbiosis between the two pillars in the industry as they each have their own periphery. We also noted that nobody considers this to be a hindrance, although the printers could be missing out on some purchasing advantages. Specialisation of both of these commercial pillars has also caused a separation in the consumer markets, but the same brand owners still control the sector. Narrow web UV flexo printing is the top industry technology for self-adhesive label printing in various designs and materials, including plastic printing for sleeve labels and more. Wide web flexo rotary printing is the domain of flexible / plastic containers and aluminium substrates. Folding cartons and (kraft) paper packaging print on wide web line construction flexo printing - which is in competition with offset printing - of e.g. BHS/Gallus, especially for beverage and milk cartons (06). Market niches between the two branch pillars, such as limited runs of sachet packaging, limited amounts of pouch packaging and loose packaging parts (e.g. sealing lids) are available from narrow web flexo printers, which competes with intaglio. Hoendervangers: "Extensive and flexible inline converting/finishing is often an industry speciality, which provides narrow web printers with a huge margin. They have always managed to find an efficient solution for specific customer requirements." We noticed a 510 mm wide nine-colour narrow web press (07) during our tour at MPS, which was ready for shipping to a Russian customer. "Growth area for MPS," explained Hoendervangers. The inline distribution and conversion options, right up to the hot foil/embossing and die cutter units are breath-taking. "You will never see this with wide packaging presses or with digital printing!" Hoendervangers stated confidently.
Various inline conversions
Inline conversions always begin with inline die units, which are essential for turnkey processing of self-adhesive labels in label applicators. After hot foil stamping - with or without embossing - inline cold foil printing (08) was first developed on narrow web presses. Offset followed after that. "This type of technique is frequently requested by the wine/alcohol, perfumery and body care markets. Holographic foils are processed in the same manner, which is often intended to serve as a security feature. UV flexo label printing is often combined with rotary screen printing. This arose from the need for powerful colour opaque surfaces, glossy or not, when flexo printing was not capable of doing this properly yet. Screen printing is now printed on the labels, supplemented with insert units for certain colours with specific additional features. This is sometimes done for extra relief, braille, spot varnish, glitter inks or creative gimmicks dreamt up by marketing professionals. We work with printing units in our EP machine that are interchangeable for screen printing and flexo printing. At the top of this EXL are two mobile screen printing inserts (09) with which we want to provide our clients with more screen printing creativity on several points in the printing web. These units are also used for electronic / smart packaging functions." "RFID or something along those lines?" we asked immediately. "Could be, but we stick it on labels from prefabricated RFID tags (10). This provides the most efficient solution," explained Hoendervangers as he led us past hybrid printing and conversion options of a narrow web press that are intended for export.
MPS' label market wanted a press series that would provide them with the best possible competitive edge in the label market. "We developed our 'Rolls Royce' and also the EF type (Effective Flexopress). Look, here is a 510mm wide seven-colour UV flexo printer with a converting rail at the top (11). The EF is our 'bread & butter' type of machine. It contains our servo drive, Crisp.Dot and presetting, but by simplifying the construction it is cheaper, but still capable of reproducing the top quality produced by our flagship models. Worldwide, this is currently our most popular model. As you can see it is now at a width of 510mm. This one is ready for shipping," said Hoendervangers, while also explaining how quickly MPS managed to adapt to the label market, which is ever becoming more critical. "We have noted that reconditioned units are sometimes a more attractive solution for customers who want to become more effective. This six-colour top model EP510 from our early years (12) can be overhauled by MPS so that it operates at top performance". Our tour finished in the MPS 'competence centre' where label printing customers are attending an MPS training course. "This eight-colour UV flexo printer (13) is used for presenting refresher courses for customers and for thorough basic training when they first procure our printing techniques in-house. It may be a luxury to have a complete press set aside, but we see it is going both ways and it is a part of the service that we provide."
After UV flexo
As became clearly evident during our discussions, MPS is not standing still with flexo printing. "A few years ago the market demanded variable size offset from us. This is understandable because the cost advantage that offset printing provides is unmistakable. Quantitatively offset also ties in 1:1 with digital (ElectroInks) label printing. That's a big advantage when it comes to varying quantities. Besides our flexo programme we also introduced our EXL sleeve offset press in the middle of 2011, whereby we managed to integrate the sleeve offset technology and experience of Goebel. We have already sold twelve of them." "What does this mean for UV flexo label printing?" we asked. "That is difficult to predict," said Hoendervangers. "Solvent and UV flexo printing provided a considerable increase in quality and it is difficult for offset rotary when compared to flexo rotary. Even if they provide the same format options, offset printing is more expensive, there is more start-up waste and the image cannot turn around the plate cylinder. A plate clamping channel is needed, which sometimes requires extra substrate length. But yes, offset runs faster. We can say that be label packages and other order packages per customer are decisive. It has always been like this during all of the years that offset printing was also provided by our competitors. MPS simply does not simply ignore the competitors anymore!" said Hoendervangers meaningfully. "Is that perhaps at the expense of the plano-offset market?" "Same difference. The contents of labels (inmould and cut sheet paper labels) only change when requirements change. We react to this in the same manner that our competitors do." "Are fewer labels printed by means of digital printing?" "This remains a market for relatively small labels runs, but it is nevertheless very popular. The migration towards digital label printing appears to be stabilising and it is currently hovering at around 4% of global label volumes. I do not foresee any major changes here, partly because there are some aspects that digital printing simply cannot do well, which is precisely where UV flexo printing excels, e.g. inline converting and special ink applications. MPS is nevertheless regularly approached by digital printing producers for our inline converting systems. You could say that the label printing market is showing stability on the surface, but it is never quiet underneath the surface." "Does Landa's Nanoprint sometimes cause additional unrest in the label market?" Hoendervangers: "I can't say yet. Maybe we will know more after LabelExpo (24-27.09.2013 in Brussels)," concluded Hoendervangers.
Author: Jan Vroegop