Digital printing in labels – The way forward

LMAI networking and marketing event in Chennai

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Harveer Sahni, LMAI board member and chairman of Weldon Celloplast. Photo PSA

The Label Manufacturers Association of India (LMAI) organized a networking and marketing event called ‘Digital Printing in Labels – The Way Forward’ in Chennai on 20 December 2019. The first LMAI event in Chennai was sponsored by four companies offering digital solutions for labels – Xeikon, HP, Domino, and Astronova.

LMAI board member Harveer Sahni kicked off the event by talking about LMAI and the evolution of the Indian label industry. In his brief history, Sahni recounted the advent of narrow-web flexo presses in India in the 1970s, to the incorporation of UV curing on flexo label presses in 1993, and to the subsequent arrival of digital label presses in the first decade of this century – the topic of the event.

Presentations by AstroNova, Domino, HP and Xeikon

In his presentation, Goutham Reddy, regional sales manager for US-based AstroNova, emphasized the growing need for digital. Reddy said, “There are various factors that are driving converters to go for digital setups. For instance, there is a shift towards shorter runs and shorter turnaround times. The factors include globalization, product variants, environmental pressure, peer pressure, competition, in-store merchandising where new brands are cropping up, and private labeling.”

According to Reddy, mass brands earlier dominated the market, but now there is a sudden proliferation of new and smaller brands in the market. Versioning, serialization and variable data labels are driving the demand for digital setups. Another factor is the rapid increase in SKUs. Reddy then talked about drop-on-demand and continuous inkjet systems and explained the difference between thermal DoD and Piezoelectric systems.

Vikram Saxena, general manager – Xeikon sales, Flint Group (India).
Photo PSA

“When it comes to ink systems, we have two types of aqueous inks – dye-based and pigment-based. Dye-based inks are less expensive than pigment-based inks, and their viscosity is much lower. When it comes to durability, pigment-based inks are better. These are some of the advantages when compared to any other ink system. Aqueous inkjet printing systems have very low initial capex . . . . Moreover, aqueous inkjet printing is extremely eco-friendly, making it a preferable choice for food and pharma applications,” Reddy said.

He then shared details of the various AstroNova printers and the features and specifications of AstroNova’s Trojan label products, based on the Memjet print technology. AstroNova is associated with Weldon Celloplast in India, of which the aforementioned Harveer Sahni is the founder.

The flexible solutions from Domino

The second presentation by Ajay Raorane, assistant vice president for Sales at Domino India, described the variety of technologies used in digital printers and the benefits they offer. “Our digital printing business talks about monochrome solutions used for high-speed variable data printing. We have a digital color press, and we have controllers and binary printers, which print at 400 meters per minute. Our digital printing solutions are used mostly by label and packaging converters. We understand customer requirements and offer solutions accordingly,” Raorane said.

He next explained how digital printing entered the labeling segment. “The problem that label converters face is that of run lengths getting shorter and SKU proliferation from the brand owner side. Digital printing has a very low setup cost. Today customers want shorter lead times and minimum raw material wastage. Brand owners, on their part, want to launch their products much faster to the market, and speed is where digital printing helps. However, we cannot say that digital can altogether replace conventional printing technology. Digital is only complementary to a converter’s conventional printing setup. In multiple printing technologies, one of the printers can be digital,” he added.

According to him, with digital printing, many printers have been able to offer supply chain simplification benefits to their customers. Digital is a powerful way of adding value to a product in terms of customization and personalization. There are many pharma customers today who get their labels printed within 24 hours with the help of digital printers, he said. “It offers value-add, faster time to market, product versioning, target marketing, differentiation on shelf space, mass serialization and reduced response time,” said Raorane.
Talking about the digital printing offerings from Domino, Raorane explained the advantages of Domino K Series machines for monochrome printing and the Multibar N-Series, which is a complete digital label solution.

Combination solutions & ePac coming to Asia

HP’s Business Manager for HP Indigo Inkjet & Printing Solutions – India and Sri Lanka, Ashok Pahwa, talked about the changes in the consumer space that are leading to the shift towards digital. He emphasized on changing consumer behavior, whereby online shopping requirements dominate, and visits to physical stores have become a thing of the past. “If this is the kind of change that has come about in consumer behavior, imagine the condition of a brand that wants to sell its product! Adding to the challenge is the stiff competition out there. If your customer is facing such a problem, how do you see them as a converter?” he asked.

Pahwa added that while electricity, labor and material costs have risen, the price of labels has come down. The solution to this, he said, was for label converters to join hands with the customer and give value to a brand so that they reach a consumer perfectly and get the sale out of them. Campaigns and limited editions have become a way of life for marketers of big label brands. He added, “What brands want today out of a label convertor is for them to come up with an idea to engage with consumers. They want increased returns on their marketing investments. They want to cut costs but not on labels – to cut costs on the overall productivity of their system. They also want to optimize their supply chain so they can introduce new products in the market – to connect digital campaigns to the real product, reduced time to market, and, most importantly, they want to be eco-friendly.”

He asked label converters to think from a marketer’s perspective and see what they can do to help brands overcome their concerns, “The answer to all these problems is digital, and the technology that we are talking about here is from HP Indigo . . . . You should invest in technology, which helps you achieve higher revenue and higher profitability.”

He pointed out that there are many label converters in the pressure-sensitive labels business but none who are in the combined activity of pressure-sensitive plus shrink sleeve business or pressure-sensitive, shrink sleeve and wrap-around market plus in-mold. Urging converters to think beyond PS labels, he said, “We are stuck with the first business segment, which is pressure-sensitive labels. But we never thought of actually going a little beyond and working with the other business segments. As a brand, I look forward to a solution from the label convertor. The solution is not limited to only labels. The solution of engagement with a consumer may be a label, or a shrink sleeve, folding carton, or flexible packaging. If, as a marketer, you can cater to all those needs, then you will emerge as a complete service provider,” he commented.

Citing the example of various campaigns and limited edition labels that HP has delivered, Pahwa talked about ePac, which has ordered 24 HP Indigo 20000 presses in its disruptive move to expand to 52 presses operating from 20 sites in the US, Canada, and the UK. The deal, at over US$ 100 million, includes hardware, supplies and services over several years. “This is the largest packaging deal to date for HP, and the good thing is ePac is coming to Asia very soon,” concluded Pahwa.

Xeikon – The final word

Vikram Saxena, general manager – Xeikon sales, Flint Group (India), made the final presentation. A division of the Flint Group, Xeikon manufactures digital presses for labels, cartons, and commercial printing. “We are amongst the earliest companies to bring in digital printing in the industry. Right from the year 1988 when we started, and over the years, we have invested heavily in R&D and proved our supremacy. I always tell people to be more receptive to digital. However, since the time I joined the labels and packaging segment of the business, I have met a lot of converters who have an interesting misconception about digital. They feel buying a digital press would mean changing one’s complete press environment, but that is not true. If you sit down and work it out with the press manufacturer, you can really avoid additional investment in prepress. You can print with a PDF, which you use for your flexo environment. So, there is no additional investment,” he said.

He emphasized that digital can reduce the cost of short runs and also open up new income streams. This was followed by a presentation of Xeikon’s portfolio of presses, starting with the entry-level Xeikon 3020 to the Xeikon 3300 flagship digital label press and the Xeikon Panther PX 3000, which offers LED plus mercury cooling and comes with Fusion technology.

“With a single Xeikon machine, one can do all kinds of labels – self-adhesive, wrap-around, peel and reveal, scratch application, cartons and paper cups. Xeikon has FDA-approved toners and expertise in heat transfer, even on very low density soft, squeezable bottles, pouches, security printing applications and long banners,” he shared.

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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