In this week’s episode of the Karstedt Partners TV “Packaging Spotlight” series, Kevin Karstedt of Karstedt Partners interviews John McKay, President of the Flexo Label Advantage Group, LLC (FLAG) discussing trends in the narrow web labels sector.
An interesting chat that includes how John formed the group and how FLAG helps membership with a competitive edge in very challenging times. John can be reached at www.flexolabeladvantagegroup.com or by phone at +1-603-589-8078.Continue reading
Coming out of Drupa, I see history repeating itself for digital package printing. In the early 1990s Indigo entered the narrow web labels sector with their Omnius digital press which paved the way for single pass digital printing of labels. Also in those early days Xeikon, offered the DCP/32S a dry toner press and others introduced UV inkjet single pass systems. The common theme was that all these companies entered the labels market as digital printing specialists rather than label specialists. In hindsight, I think all these vendors would admit that back then they ‘didn’t know what they didn’t know’ about the labels business. In these early the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufactures) had a very limited understanding of the business dynamics driving the labels sector.
In the mid 1990s as digital label printing was gaining a slight foothold in the sector, the OEMs decided it was a good idea to bring laser die cutting into the discussion. At the time, lasers were in the early days of development for this application but showed a great deal of promise, just like the digital presses. I remember many heated discussions among vendors as to the merits of placing the laser die cutter inline with the digital press or leaving it offline as a stand-alone station – a question still being asked today. I recall seeing a very painful LabelExpo demonstration in 2004 of a MarkAndy flexo web press with the Dotrix SPICE (Single Pass Inkjet Color Engine) with laser die cutting stations added. The purpose of the demo was to show how well the “combo” would work, but problems with the laser and the rewind did not help the demo showcase a ‘solution’.
Timing is everything, and it was not viable in 2004. LabelExpo 2011 and Drupa 2012 however, featured vendors such as Jetrion among others, who showed fully integrated laser die cutting options within their new modular systems. Timely solutions, delivered to a market that is ready to adopt them into a production environment.
So what is all this talk about history? As a packaging guy this Drupa really resonated with me as “the we think we have a digital solution for Packaging” Drupa. There were so many companies showing systems that could handle “board” and they used that as license to say they are “packaging” presses. Let’s take a look at a few digital solutions that caught most of the packaging (in this case for cartons) press (pun intended). On the digital press side the obvious introductions are those of Landa, the S10 (S standing for Sheetfed) and the HPIndigo 30000 presses that have been designed from the ground up to address folding carton production.
It is clear to me that both Landa (who by the way was the father of the first digital systems and the Indigo printing system) and HP did their homework before coming out with these presses. Both companies are building on lessons learned in the days of developing digital label systems. For example, both companies used outside expertise to expand their core strengths for component development such as sheet handling. Both went to the carton marketplace to understand the needs of carton manufactures before they came to market with a machine they thought would work. And biggest of all, both seem to understand the business and manufacturing dynamics of the carton market better than their predecessors did in the label sector 10 years ago.
The next digital carton related technology that was shown was the Euclid system by startup HighCon. This system is the first of its kind digital die cutting system for short run cartons. There is a lot written about this system so I wont go into it in detail here. I do see the Euclid as a well conceived and developed first attempt at addressing the next bottleneck in the carton workflow. I also think more systems will be seen at Drupa 2016 that address this need. I expect acceptance of digital die cutting for the carton sector will progress, as the presses will, much faster than they did in the label sector. This will be partly due to the advancement in the laser technology itself, which is significant, but more so but the understanding OEMs are seeking of the marketplace they are trying to serve.
I also commend the HighCon team for understanding that this system should not just be tied to the digital printing engines, that it has a place in all of short run cartons. This is illustrated by their collaboration with Presstek and their 75DI digital offset press. This combination can be used for economical short carton runs of 500 to 20,000 impressions. This type of collaborative thinking is happening much earlier in the development cycle for cartons than it did for labels and bodes well for the evolution of the digital process for cartons.
For these reasons and for the fact that digital printing technologies (liquid toner, dry toner, Inkjet, and now nanography) have come so far over the past decade, I feel by next Drupa digital carton presses will be seen as viable production press options rather than cool new technologies that aren’t even in beta yet.
Kudos to the OEMs for learning from the past and for looking to the future…Continue reading
After our third day at Drupa we are getting more convinced that Drupa 2012 is the “we think we have a digital solution for Packaging” show. All indications we’ve seen on the showfloor predict that Drupa 2016 will be the “Digital Printing for Packaging Drupa”. What does that mean? It means that the old standbys, Xeikon, HP Indigo (with their label and narrow web machines), Jetrion, Durst, and a few others are here this year showing continuing improvements in packaging technologies for labels. These systems are still very viable solutions and will be solid workhorses for their owners for some time.
It also means that there are now a group of what I will call “the new breed” of presses that are being shown here for the first time with packaging “stars” in their developers eyes. These new breed offerings will fall into two categories, group one has all the 30 by 20 inch sheetfed systems (they are all calling B2 format, a topic for another blog) that are able to handle paperboard of up to 20 or even 24 point, which the developers are using as license to say they are “packaging” presses. These offerings are coming from Screen, MGI, Memjet (through OEMs) and some others. There will likely be some carton work done on these presses but for the most part they are commercial printer centric presses that may end up doing some small-scale carton work.
The second group are the presses that are specifically designed for their particular market segment such as Folding Carton or Flexible Packaging. This group is small in number but large in noise and potential, Landa and HP Indigo have four systems in this group, one each for Folding Cartons and Flexible Packaging. All four systems are positioned as production presses and are being targeted at packaging converters. The other similarity of this group of offerings is they are on a similar track to the market, going into beta testing in early 2013 and targets for general release are late 2013.