Labelexpo Global Series’ managing director Jade Grace couldn’t be more clear when she introduced this year’s Labelexpo by stating that the event is less and less limited to label converting and that, increasingly, both its organizers and exhibitors are considering Labelexpo a packaging printing show, or, as they put it, “the world’s leading event for the labels and package printing industries.” It is probably the main reason for moving the next Labelexpo Europe from the Brussels Expo to the larger Barcelona Fira, to allow the participation of a growing number of players in packaging converting.
Labelexpo Europe 2023 largely centered around flexible packaging, and most of the machinery and materials on show in one way or another featured printing and converting applications for flexible packaging and, to a lesser extent, cardboard. In terms of substrates, the emphasis has been on sustainable initiatives meeting the growing number of legislative and brand mandates for the circular materials economy, such as the use of thinner materials, post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics, and biomass-based label face papers, release liners, and films.
Next to automation and digitalization, the mutual overlaps between flexible packaging and label production – still a timid trend at Labelexpo Europe four years ago – have become the main issue for most participants at this show. A dedicated Flex Pack Trail incorporated some of the leading manufacturers of presses and converting equipment, such as Bobst, Lombardi, Nilpeter, and others, but most of the other exhibitors – both multinational brands and companies from China, India, Brazil, and Turkey – had included flexible packaging features in their portfolio as well.
Despite the four-year gap since Labelexpo Europe 2019 caused by the Covid pandemic, both exhibitor and visitor numbers were down this year: 637 and 36,000, respectively, as compared to the nearly 700 exhibitors and 38,000 visitors in 2017 and 2019. Companies from Asia again numbered about one-third of the exhibitors, including 160 from China and Hong Kong, 19 from India, a dozen each from Korea and Taiwan, six from Japan (Epson, Fujifilm, Iwasaki, Miyakoshi, Toyobo, Yupo), and a few companies from Malaysia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Sales staff from Asia also manned the booths of most of the multinational exhibitors.
Flexo press manufacturers such as Comexi, Edale, Gallus, Lombardi, Mark Andy, MPS, Nilpeter, and Omet all had inkjet presses and/or hybrid presses with inkjet components at the show, in addition to their flexo platforms. Next to toner-based systems from HP, Mark Andy, Xeikon, and Konica Minolta, other recent inkjet developments were presented by Bobst, Dantex, Dilli, Domino, Durst, Epson, Fujifilm, Miyakoshi, Screen and a few others.
However, contrary to Labelexpo Americas 2022, which was entirely dedicated to digital presses, flexo technology remained the central focus at Labelexpo Europe. Brazilian flexo press manufacturer Etirama launched two new presses, whereas a panoply of the latest converting machinery and inspection systems was shown by ABG, Baldwin, Brotech, BST, Cartes, Delta ModTech, Grafotronic, GM, Kurz, Lemu, Polar, Prati, Schober, SMAG and many others. An increasing number of Chinese, Korean, Indian, and Turkish companies showcased narrow-web presses as well as printing and converting modules.
Highlights from the show:
Narrow- and mid-web presses
Bobst launched the Digital Expert 340, an entirely digital press based on Bobst’s LB70X-UV platform which was not at the show but complemented its Digital Master series which was. The Digital Master 340, is an ‘all-in-one’ modular and upgradable UV-inkjet label press with an installed worldwide base of 100 presses in print widths of 340 and 510 mm. Along with its ‘all-in-one’ inline flexo presses, Bobst also introduced a new inkjet module for rapid high-opacity white printing. However, the central part of Bobst’s presence at the show still was the highly automated Master M6 flexo press, combining its oneECG technology for extended color gamut printing with V-Flower printing units that enable fast changeovers without stopping the press.
Dantex presented its PicoJet hybrid press launched at Labelexpo Americas last year, which can be configured reel to reel with additional OVG printing stations and a range of inline finishing capabilities including white ink with 92% opacity in a single pass, tactile finishes, and SuperText technology enabling ultra-fine print capable of producing 2pt text at high speeds.
Durst came to the show with the latest upgrade of its Tau 510 RSCi single pass press, equipped with a double-white feature and a new Tau RSC LED ink set available in CMYK, OVG, and white. Moreover, Durst used Labelexpo to introduce its brand-new Hawk-Eye technology, using artificial intelligence to assist operators and automate print quality on the Tau RSC presses.
Edale introduced an entirely new FL5 single-pass carton production line, with a web width of 600 mm and repeat size of up to 711 mm, showing label converters how to diversify to carton production.
Etirama launched a new flexo press, the SP3 at a web width of 350 mm, equipped with up to ten printing units and options such as cold foil, lamination, delam/relam, sheeter, and turn bar for reverse printing. The company announced that a fourth press in the range, the SPS4, will be launched in the first quarter of next year. It will feature a 450 mm web width and a chill drum for high performance with unsupported flexible films and conventional UV drying.
For Gallus, Labelexpo Europe was the occasion to showcase the Gallus One, a 340 mm wide roll-to-roll UV inkjet label press based on the Labelmaster and launched a year ago. The company also announced the option to upgrade an existing Gallus ECS flexo press with a digital printing unit (DPU), transforming it into a Gallus Labelfire 340 hybrid press without the additional platform investment. This upgrade option considering the large number of ECS 340 presses installed in markets such as India is likely to attract attention.
HP Indigo staged most of its demonstrations around the recently launched V12 and 200K presses in addition to its popular 6K press. According to the company, the V12 press ensures non-stop production, whilst the 200K press delivers significant improvements in speed and productivity, opening the door to flexible packaging converters who want to enter the digital market. At the show, the 200K was used to demonstrate the production of pouches.
Lombardi showcased the latest versions of its Synchroline and Invicta presses along with a prototype print unit of the next generation of its mid-web flagship press, the Invicta i2. The 670 mm wide Invicta press line is targeted at the market for short-run flexible packaging and unsupported label film applications including shrink sleeves. The Synchroline press platform was presented with a new electronic control system for integration with full-color VDP or digital embellishment modules.
Mark Andy launched a modular and upgradable Pro Series flexo platform at the show, as well as its recent Digital Pro Max electrographic press, available in widths of 254 and 330 mm, that can be combined with flexo units and converting features.
Nilpeter centered its presentations around the new FA-26 for short-run flexible packaging and labels, its proven FA-17 flexo press, and a press combining Screen’s Truepress Label 350 UV SAI with Nilpeter’s FA flexo printing units and finishing features.
Omet focused on its iFlex UV flexo presses and a new range of KF-flex UV flexo and X-Jet hybrid flexo+inkjet printing presses, the latter developed in a strategic partnership with Durst. These presses can handle materials from 12 microns mono films such as PET, PVC/PET shrink, BOPP, IML, and foils to 600-micron paper-based packaging such as cartons, paper cups, and liquid packaging, covering a wide gamut of packaging materials.
Screen showcased its Truepress PAC520P water-based inkjet press optimized for printing on paper-based flexible packaging materials. The press can handle uncoated, machine-glazed barrier papers from 40-250 gsm at widths of up to 520 mm and a maximum reel diameter of 1000 mm. With this press, Screen responds to the growing trend of ‘paperization,’ i.e., brands looking for a sustainable alternative to multi-layer plastic packaging.
Xeikon introduced a new highly automated press aimed specifically at volume label printing, the LX3000, nicknamed the Lion. With a web width of 330 mm, the LX3000 is a 5-color dry toner press developed for the mass production of digital labels, using ECO toners formulated with >60% high-grade recycled PET for maximum sustainability. Free from fluorine, Bisphenol A (BPA), TPO, and mineral oils, as well as being 100% vegan, ECO toners comply with restrictions around food safety and animal welfare.
Large spaces at Labelexpo Europe 2023 were taken by Chinese press manufacturers, such as Flora, Han Global Label Source, and Weigang, with new ranges of flexo, offset, and inkjet presses for both labels and flexible packaging.
Converting and finishing equipment
AB Graphic, with its largest Labelexpo booth ever, presented 17 finishing systems around its ABG Connect automated workflow solution in addition to ABG equipment at the HP, Lundberg, and several other booths. The company’s own displays included the 430 mm wide Digicon 3 Series, the 530 non-stop winding and ASU unwinding systems, the Vectra turret rewinder series in widths up to 670 mm, a Digicon with screen and Ecoleaf unit for sustainable metallization, DigiLase 4.0, DigiJet 330, DigiLite, and the SRI3 430 with monochrome inkjet, shrink sleeve seaming (SR), doctoring solutions (DR), an entry-level SRI, in addition to a booklet module.
Brotech came to the show with the SDF Plus Smart Modular Designed Digital Printed Label Converting & Finishing System supporting multiple processes like hot foil stamping, flexo printing, cold foil and adhesive lamination, screen printing, varnishing, die cutting, slitting, snowball waste removing and dual rewinds; the SDF-E Digital Label Finishing System which can be expanded with options such as additional flexo stations for coating, printing, cold foil or lamination in one pass, hot air dryer for water-based primer or printing, auto-slitting unit, sheeting and IML stations; the SMS Shrink Sleeve Label Seaming System specially used for seaming PVC, PET, PE, POF and other shrink film materials; the CDF Digital Label Finishing System featuring flexo printing, spot varnish, super varnish, cold foil, lamination, full-rotary and semi-rotary die cutting, slitting and dual rewinds; and the TR Turret Rewind System including hot melt gluing or glue-less core loading and non-stop rewind.
Cartes showcased six new machine configurations, including the GE363VJL digital finishing system consisting of a Jet DScreen (JDS) on a Gemini platform combined with laser die cutting; the GT360 series consisting of a JDS integrated with flexo, silk screen, hot stamping, and semi-rotary die-cutting; the GE362WL+turret rewinder laser die-cutting machine with automatic change-over; the ILC laser cutter for the cutting of substrates without leaving white edges or for removing white borders from dark labels; the GE361L, an entry-level laser die-cutting and converting machine; and the GE364VHWR equipped with hot stamping on a Gemini platform and with two flexo stations and a semi-rotary die-cutting unit.
Delta ModTech demonstrated an updated Crusader Converter incorporating precision RFID antennae placement, integrating multiple processes such as rotary die-cutting, winding, and conveying.
Grafotronic brought ten machines to Labelexpo, of which eight had completely new developments. Highlights were the Revolver, a fully automated turret; modules for full in-register lamination, crossover and printing on the glue side; the Haptic with two new screen modules, a new hot stamping solution and the latest digital embellishment system powered by Kurz; the SCI-FI laser for the digital converting of printed labels and stickers; the flagship DCL-2 in different configurations; and Boon-Tech auxiliary machines: slitter/rewinder, fan-folding equipment, core cutter and label cutter.
GM (Grafisk Maskinfabrik) had nine machines at its booth, including the DC350Flex+ wine line with foiling and embossing capabilities, high-impact screen colors, and flexo varnish effects; the HF350 hot foil device for embossing and foiling effects in a compact size; the DC350Mini compact label finisher; the ultra-compact DC350Nano; the SR350 slitter inspection rewinder for high-speed slitting; the LR250+ inspection rewinder, which can be configured for pharma labels and even turned into a mini-inkjet digital press; the CC160S semi-automatic core cutter; and the CS350 high-speed sheeter.
The LemuGroup introduced a new LI 220 RFID converter for multilayer label production and NFC/RFID chip inserts.
Pantec launched the Cheetah N rotary embellishment system for applying single 3D images to shrink sleeves, which cannot be achieved on shrink sleeves by embossing. The customized 3D images are applied to the shrink sleeve by heat and pressure from a carrier film at up to 20 images a second.
Schober showcased the new RSM410 IML/MX, designed for the high-speed die-cutting and stacking of in-mold labels including the Spider robot-automated stacking and counting system.
Voyantic demonstrated the Tagsurance 3 inline quality testing system for RFID tag and label production lines, offering full visibility into the RF performance of labels and measuring the performance of UHF and HF RFID inlays, tags, and labels at different production stages.
Substrates and sustainability
Actega presented its new line of Ecoleaf digital metalization technology, which eliminates foil waste by adhering metallic flakes from a donor roll to a printed target.
Ahlstrom launched its Acti-V RF Natural glassine release paper, which contains a minimum of 15 percent post-consumer recycled cellulose fiber and enhances its sustainability profile by using unbleached cellulose fibers.
Avery Dennison showed its new ADLinrSave liner-less system targeted at the prime label market. ADLinrSave is a joint project with Bobst, which developed the inline silicone coating head, and Harland Machine Systems, which developed the applicator. In addition, Avery Dennison showed its range of recycling-friendly adhesive constructions for both glass and PET containers.
Bio4Life showcased a range of certified compostable materials with a focus on applications for fruit labels, including face materials coated with BioTAK compostable adhesive and paper fibers sourced from agricultural waste and a variety of bioplastics.
Dow had its Invisu 7007 washable adhesive for filmic labels on show, allowing for PSA labels and PET bottles to be recycled separately.
Innovia Films showcased its Rayofloat APO and APO-HS (high shrink), floatable polyolefin shrink sleeve films designed to improve the purity of recycled PET bottles.
Jindal SMI launched its polyolefin-base conformable PP, 40% thinner than usual PE films. The company’s PCR PP, also at its booth, is made with 30% post-consumer recycled content.
Klöckner Pentaplast introduced SmartCycle Pro, a shrink sleeve label film that is recyclable in the RIC (Resin Identification Code) 1 stream and made from 30% certified post-consumer recycled material.
Kurz demonstrated its range of digital metalization technologies, including an inline solution for Xeikon’s TX500 press.
Lintec launched MMP Mono Material Polyester (PET) designed for application to single-use PET containers. Both film and adhesive are manufactured from polyester, reducing the risk of contamination if the labels are not removed before the washing and grinding process. A special top coating also enables the labels to be de-inked in an alkaline washing process.
Maan Engineering had a linerless label converting line at the ABG booth, signaling a new partnership between the two companies. The Maan line allows label converters to manufacture both laminated and liner-less PS label structures.
Polyart Group showed r-Polyart, a synthetic paper made of 30% post-consumer recycled material, and Fiberskin, a weather-resistant synthetic paper that is recyclable, biodegradable, and printable by dry toner.
Sihl demonstrated films manufactured with up to 90% recycled content.
Synthogra introduced SYN-BOPP transparent HB top-coated film, made with 70% used cooking oil and available in 26 and 32-micron grades. The film is suitable for direct food contact and is designed for use in horizontal and vertical form fill and seal flexible packaging machines as well as in overwrapping applications.
Taghleef Industries presented its biobased PP films and reLife films manufactured with PCR content and Shape360 TDS, a floatable shrink sleeve label film.
UPM Raflatac introduced Ocean Action Labels, made from ocean-bound plastic waste, and the PureCycle paper wash-off labels that cleanly separate from primary packaging in PET and HDPE recycling streams. In addition to linerless label stock, UPM showcased its RAFNXT+ paper label material range, certified as carbon neutral.
The next edition of Labelexpo Europe, which welcomed between 25,000 and 35,000 visitors every two years at the Brussels Expo after it moved from London in 1985, will take place in Barcelona from 16 to 19 September 2025, a move decided after extensive consultation between industry stakeholders and Labelexpo owners Tarsus since the latter has been acquired by Informa. Jade Grace, managing director of Labelexpo Global Series, explained that “the benefits for both our exhibitors and visitors in moving Labelexpo Europe to Barcelona are clear. We have reached maximum capacity at the Brussels Expo, and Barcelona Fira heralds the next phase for Labelexpo Europe’s growth. The bigger halls promote an easier flow of visitors around the show and the infrastructure lends itself to the technical needs of our exhibitors. The modern halls are equipped with a ventilation system to continuously replenish the air and the fast, complimentary wifi can link up to 128,000 concurrent users. There are extensive catering options, and the venue has a strong commitment to green energy and sustainability – the Fira has over 25,000 solar panels installed on the roof.”