Hybrid label presses are talk of the town

Flexo plus digital – The best of both worlds

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The biggest question for label converters these days is to look beyond flexo at the possibilities of digital. Many converters wonder if it’s the right move from analogue to digital label production. For those who already own digital presses, the question of growth arises – if the existing setup is good enough to expand the business successfully. There is another hot possibility that has caught the eye of brand owners as well as experienced label converters – hybrid presses that combine several processes that can take advantage of the value that digital adds.

Analog print technologies, be it letterpress, flexo, screen, gravure or offset have dominated the package printing industry for a long time. Historically, it was not uncommon for a label printer or converter to grow at double digits. Converters shared a loyal relationship with packaging buyers or brand owners. However, the packaging demands of brand owners have changed significantly.

Food and beverage manufacturers have evolved over time and have generated new flavours, colours, varieties, formats and sizes. The SKUs in a typical supermarket have also increased over the last decade to tens of thousands of items and the demand for innovative ways to differentiate products by their packaging and labels has grown significantly. Each brand wants to make certain you buy – and keep buying – its products and so companies are doing everything they can to grab and hold the attention of shoppers.

At the same time, brands and packaging buyers are adopting lean manufacturing and just-in-time (JIT) processes, for quicker turnaround, reduced inventory and reduced waste. In order to achieve this, the production of the products and everything associated with these including the packaging and labels need to be in sync. This adds pressure on label printers and converters to deliver what the customer and when he wants it. Anything less and the brand owner may look to find a new label converter. In such a scenario, label converters must look at their processes and be equipped with the right kind of tools to produce what’s expected from them.

Flexographic printing for labels

A label printer must also look at various printing technologies for his business to grow and succeed. Flexographic label printing is an ideal choice for longer runs with minimal SKUs. Since flexo uses printing plates and inks must be changed for each specific job requirement, its best to have the press running continuously for a longer time. When one SKU’s label is printed and completed, it takes time to setup another one and it is a laborious task. In line flexo presses allow enhancements to labels, as printing, converting and finishing is combined in a single process.

Digital printing for labels

Digital printing is an ideal choice for short run printed work that involves multiples SKUs, multiple versions, frequent graphic changes or when variable data is required. Digital printing provides consistency in production with computerized colour management. Hence, label to label, job to job, colours are consistent and repeatable with no variation between operators. From an efficiency standpoint, many label printers or converters are looking at digital to complement their flexo label printing business.

Hybrid printing for labels

The average downtime for conventional presses is 30%, which is mainly because of excessive short-run work. Demand from brand owners requiring more versions and necessitating shorter run lengths has caused conventional flexo makeready time to increase and become a more critical ‘under the microscope’ factor. Press downtime is one of the biggest enemies of a label printer.

Hybrid presses are usually a combination of flexo and digital. This combination bridges the gap between both the technologies, offering unlimited options for inline printing and converting. It’s an ideal platform for producing longer runs, and higher label counts and provides options for embellishments, spot colours, varnishes, inline variable printing and converting. All in all, it integrates the best attributes of flexo and digital worlds. Hybrid can be used for producing short-run marketing promotions, entering new markets and achieve value added production.

In the world of labels, technology is the means to advance. For sustaining and growing business, one must think about customer demands, while maintaining internal tools and efficiency goals. Lastly, while flexo and digital have been long thought of as competing technologies they must now be thought of and looked at, as complementing technologies – whether flexo and digital label presses are physically separate on the shop floor or integrated together as hybrid platform. It cannot be either ‘this or that’ – it must be ‘this and that.’ Domino a leading supplier of digital technology for label and hybrid label presses will be at Label Expo Europe 2019, from 24 to 27 September 2019 in Stands 9A60 and 9B50.

For further information or live demo of Domino N610i, please write to marketing@dominoindia.com.

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Harish Penumarthi
Correspondent. Harish has done Btech in Mechanical Engineering. First worked for a startup that conducted student competitions for designing and fabricating go-karts and eBikes in Hyderabad. Then worked for Food Marketing and Technology magazine. Joined Indian Printer and Publisher and Packaging South Asia in June 2017.

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