Digital takes on flexo at Labelexpo Europe 2022

Andy Thomas-Emans looks at digital print trends and new technologies

Labelexpo Europe
Labelexpo Europe 2022.

The Labelexpo Europe show in April 2022 represents a major milestone for digital press technology. When narrow web digital presses were commercialized in the late 1990s, digital was seen not as a challenge to flexography, but as a complementary technology, designed to take away the pain of short-run jobs at a time when changing jobs on an 8-color flexo press could take the best part of a morning.

Fast forward to 2022 and the digital landscape has been completely transformed. Digital presses have become faster, wider, and with print resolutions and color gamut to match flexography.

The greater productivity of today’s digital print engines has also changed the equation of off-line versus inline finishing. Narrow web converters have traditionally been used to print, decorate and convert labels in one pass on modular inline presses. With digital, finishing was, in the early days, predominantly an off-line process since conventional converting and finishing systems were so much faster than digital print speeds.

But faster and wider digital print engines soon made inline finishing a more viable proposition, and we have seen the development of both hybrid digital-flexo presses and digital press manufacturers adding in-line finishing and flexo print units to their presses.

Inline finishing is by no means universal, however, even for faster digital presses. For many applications, off-line remains the preferred option, particularly where rolls contain multiple short-run jobs with varying die cuts and decorating requirements.

New modern digital presses will be launched at Labelexpo Europe

The main takeaway is that the modern digital press platform is highly flexible and well suited for a wide range of applications from multiple short runs to increasingly challenging flexography on medium and longer runs. All these trends can be observed in the exciting new digital technology launches at Labelexpo Europe 2022 in April.

Durst provides an excellent example of all the points made above. Explains Martin Leitner, product manager Label and Flexible Packaging, Durst Group, ‘Durst has full commitment to Labelexpo Europe 2022. We are looking forward to meeting finally in person again, to present our technology to all label converters and to show them why UV Inkjet technology can add high value to their business.’

Durst will be introducing the 510mm (20in)-wide Tau 510 RSCi, printing at speeds up to 100m/min (80m/min at full resolution). The press will be configured with flexo decks both before and after the 1200 dpi print engine. Also on the show will be the Tau 330 RSC.

Workflow automation is another key trend in digital press technology, and Durst will be showcasing its latest software, including pre-press process automation and new features like Save-Ink mode.

Working with industry OEM partners, Durst has also developed hybrid digital-flexographic print systems alongside its own digital print ecosystem, and the company will promote the ‘advantages and disadvantages of hybrid configurations at the show, says Leitner.

Leitner believes this Labelexpo marks a turning point for UV inkjet digital printing. ‘Digital is competing with flexo in terms of print quality – the Tau RSC print quality is as good or even better than flexo. Some customers compare it even with offset. Also productivity-wise the presses are extremely competitive with low setup times combined with high printing speeds. Keep in mind that the minimum printing speed on our presses is 40m/min, so the operator cannot go lower, which he is often doing on other technologies.’

Leitner says Durst already sees multiple customers substituting conventional flexo presses with UV inkjet technology. ‘To give you some numbers, we have several customers which really produce volume jobs on our presses. In 2021 we had customers printing in 12 months more than 2m sqm on a single press or multiple customers with regularly daily productions between 20-25,000sqm, so 60-75,000 linear meters a day.

‘I do not say that UV Inkjet is today a full substitution for flexo. Each technology has its space and advantages, but in the past two years UV Inkjet made huge steps forwards and provides customers with more and more advantages.’

Xeikon is another digital press manufacturer promoting the benefits of wider print webs, and Labelexpo Europe 2022 shows its 520mm-wide CX500 press, printing full rotary at speeds up to 30m/min. The company says the press’ 1200dpi print resolution makes it ‘impossible’ to distinguish any difference from flexo, and its productivity also now approaches the flexographic process, as Filip Weymans, VP marketing at Xeikon, explains.

‘The CX500’s unique print width and print speed make possible the printing of large volumes of many variants using the same die-cut and also larger sized labels compared to a 13in web. Think oil labels, cosmetic labels for example, which are 160mm high and which fit only 1x across on a 13in web. This makes the CX500 press very cost-effective and enables applications beyond self-adhesive labels such as pouches and sachets.’

Xeikon of course also now plays in the UV inkjet arena, which it promotes mainly for durable label applications. At Labelexpo the company demonstrates the entry-level PX3300 and the PX30000 for longer runs and where a wider color gamut (CMYK+OVW) is required. ‘This is indeed the ideal substitute for older UV flexo presses,’ says Weymans. ‘From speed and color gamut the Xeikon PX30000 can replace a UV flexo press but with digital values, no tools, no setup time, so you gain a lot of efficiencies.

Xeikon will make further exciting announcements about the show closer to the opening date of Labelexpo Europe 2022.

Screen, meanwhile, continues to build on the success of its Truepress Jet UV platform, and at Labelexpo shows both the Truepress Jet L350UVSAI S and its high-end counterpart the Truepress Jet L350UVSAI S. Both machines were announced at the last Labelexpo show in 2019 but will be seen here for the first time at a print exhibition.

The Truepress Jet L350UVSAI S can be equipped with up to seven colors (CMYK+Orange+ Blue+White) and prints at speeds up to 60mpm. Screen promises new features for the press at the show, with details currently confidential.

The Truepress Jet L350UVSAI E is now Screen’s standard model and can be equipped with up to 6 colors (CMYK+Orange+White) and optionally configured to print at speeds up to 60m/min.

Screen also demonstrates its latest workflow, Label Workflow for Industry 4.0.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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