We first had occasion to see the new CEO of Heidelberg Gerold Linzbach at the Gallus factory in St. Gallen in September of 2014 when the first prototype of the Gallus Labelfire 340 was shown to Gallus customers from around the world. The press was configured with Fujifilm Dimatix Samba inkjet printheads printing UV inks with a resolution of 1200 x 1200 dpi. At that event Linzbach openly said that it was one of the first results of Heidelberg’ strategy to work with best-in-class technology partners. That it was no longer possible for a company to build new high technology industrial products on its own. The event also demonstrated that although Heidelberg has several constraints such as a large human resource and financial repayments on its borrowings over the past five years, Linzbach seems nimble in both acquiring assets and at times divesting them.
Amongst the most public actions that Linzbach has taken in the past three years are the full acquisition of Gallus in which Heidelberg was a 30% shareholder and acquired the balance 70% of Gallus that was owned by Ferdinand Reusch. With about 9% of Heidelberg stock, Reusch is now the single largest private shareholder of Heidelberg which he says gives Gallus the access to technology and the industry clout that it needs to undertake projects such as building the DCS 340 digital label press in collaboration with Heidelberg and Fujifilm.
The Gallus Labelfire 340 was again shown and demonstrated live throughout Labelexpo Expo in Brussels in the autumn of 2015. And we saw it again at St. Gallen last month at an event organized for trade journalists from the Asia Pacific region. The fully integrated web-fed label press with flexo and foiling stations preceding the 8-color UV inkjet engine is based on Fuji drop on demand heads leading to a varnishing, semi-rotary diecutting and slitting and rewinding stations.
On 17 February in St. Gallen, as a prelude to its presentation at drupa 2016 as the Gallus Labelfire 340, the 8-color digital engine configured to run white and Heidelberg’s own Multicolor fixed set of UV inks consisting of CYMK, orange, violet and green, the system was once again demonstrated printing a 4-color label on labelstock. Already running 24 x 7 at a beta site, the first installation of series production presses is expected in April with as many as 20 delivery slots in Europe and America in the first year.
Both Heidelberg and Gallus frequently use the word ‘industrial’ – by this they mean robust and complete products – designed to be productive and efficient. In the case of the Labelfire 340, this is a completely integrated hybrid solution running at 50 metres a minute and driven by the Heidelberg Prinect digital front end. Even discounting the fact that the Labelfire 340 is likely to be configured as a hybrid solution including semi-rotary diecutting, its speed is approximately three times that of the most widely sold digital press.
Michael Ring, vice president – worldwide sales and marketing, Digital Solutions Gallus, with the open engine of the Gallus DCS 340, now known as the Gallus Labelfire 340. Photo PSA
Gallus sees considerable headroom in the digital label press market where less than 7% of labels are currently printed digitally. Nevertheless in 2015 in the US market, the sales of digital presses exceeded those of narrow web flexo presses for the first time. The Labelfire 340 is not just meant for short-runs where 1000 to 2000 metre jobs are considered break-even; it is meant to replace many of the jobs that are printed on simpler flexo presses and using its variable print capabilities to also pitch in for projects requiring randomization, security and intelligent logistics for downstream collation of variable labels. According to Christof Naier, “Digital is useful downstream and there is the possibility of creating labels that are not possible today.”
The digital UV inks for the Labelfire will be supplied under the Heidelberg Saphira consumables brand and the sales and service networks of both organizations are being re-aligned and streamlined according to the respective dynamics of each market. Speaking of printers who are showing interest in the Labelfire 340, Naier says, “We are seeing two completely different approaches amongst the early adopters. One is for a press with just a digital printing engine; and the other is for a fully loaded hybrid press with all the flexo, finishing and semi-rotary diecutting modules integrated right from the start.”
It was apparent in St. Gallen even in September 2014, that Gallus was also considerably revamping and upgrading its existing label presses. This was confirmed both at Labelexpo with new units and computerized consoles on its RCS presses and again on our recent visit to the factory in St. Gallen. Gallus has been able to upsell many of its existing and even new label press customers to the ECS 340 with a record number of sales in South Asia in the past year and it seems to have a strategy of continuously improving and upgrading the technology of its established workhorse label presses. These technology upgraded Gallus flexo and offset label presses are of great interest to South Asian printers since it is not likely that the Labelfire will be sold in these markets till perhaps 2017-18.
Packaging South Asia is the cooperating media partner for drupa 2016 which is scheduled to be held from 31 May to 10 June at Dusseldorf, Germany.