Labelexpo Americas 2018 was a superlative experience: Three days of exhibits in five halls, and twelve conferences sessions, master classes and more. This was an event unmatched in the world of label production.
Attendees had an excellent way to gain an overview of the state of the industry and the technology. Exhibitors were able to benchmark their products and to rub elbows with prospective buyers and other exhibitors.
Asking “what’s new?” implies that “one knows what’s old” – and it´s only too often that one finds that one did not …:
Analog and digital
Although analog is still the dominant print technology for labels it was digital that dominated discussions on the show floor. However, experience tells us that, even when vendors focus on the latest technology, it does not mean that the market is fully ready to buy. The full move to digital label printing will take time.
My observation was that digital inkjet has not yet been fully accepted by mainstream high production environments. There is a way to go before digital inkjet takes over what analog technology can do. Meanwhile, HP´s electrophotography dominates the digital market, for the time being.
Seeking the best of both worlds
While chatting with various attendees, I often heard that they were evaluating available technologies hoping to find a solution that provided the best of both the digital and analog worlds, integrated and automated, and inline.
The closest answer to that wish was the hybrid systems presented by several vendors like Mark Andy, MPS, Domino, Gallus.
When I asked attendees what their main motivation was for a purchase decision the answer was usually "now is the time to make the investment to be ahead of the competition."
The Search for qualified personnel
Another point of vital interest at the conference was the search for qualified personnel capable of operating the latest presses. It seemed to be of more importance than the technology search. Therefore, vendors would do well to focus more attention on simplifying the operation of their digital presses.
I found it interesting that parts of the conference, like the educational sessions, were poorly attended. Maybe that was due to the session themes, which often seemed to be intended to address the brand owners and print buyers (which were the smaller part of the audience, apparently) than the label producers.
From wider web – to narrow
The industry seems to have been migrating from wider to more narrow presses, then to hybrid and digital production with integrated solutions.
Avery Dennison’s Tina Hart quoted a study published in 2017 saying that narrow web presses are advantageous. This is especially true in terms of setup time: where a narrow web press will take 40 minutes compared to 90 minutes on wide web presses. In addition, valuable production time is lost waiting for the wide web to fill with its 25 gallons versus the narrow web’s 4 gallons. The cost for plates also is reduced for a narrow web system.
Hybrid and print bars
I was astonished that so few of the vendors (who could have done so) suggested digital head mounted printers, print bars, as a flexo alternative. This is especially surprising given that the current precision color limitation will likely to be solved in the very near future.
Small decisive innovations – integrating solutions
The show floor, like the label market as a whole, was dominated by vendors of substrates, presses and auxiliary equipment. From an innovation perspective, it was a show of few innovations. However, the vendors had done their homework to introduce enhancements for cheaper, smarter designs to benefit the user investment ROI.
The label converter community has been going through numerous consolidations over the past few years and the same is now true of the vendors. Established vendors are acquiring and integrating other companies' products, solutions or business divisions for competitive positioning. An example is Flints’ acquisition of the Jetrion from EFI.
Workflow integration is key to label profitability; however, it was not a major theme on the show floor. That was astonishing to me, but I do expect that will change at the next Labelexpo Americas with more workflow and color related software demonstrated.
Paper shortages and environmental regulations will continue to become more pervasive. Regulators, in both the US and Europe, are preparing to regulate polymers used in labels as they have done in the paper markets. However, the show gave very little attention to sustainability.
Only a small crowd paid attention to the TLMI Ecovillage which represented exhibitors who provide products or services with the environment in mind.
Click here to review the World Economic Forum’s excellent whitepaper on Sustainability in Print
Compared to other industries the label market is characterized by the immense modularity of production systems installed. This leads to implications of coming challenges. Two of them are worthwhile to mention in this article:
- The complexity of highly modular environments is justified by the large number of variations of applications. The back side of the coin is that the more variations, the more difficult automation becomes. But as run lengths continue to decrease automation is required for profitability. Consequently, we will have to see more automation in the future requiring even more intelligence as modularity will also continue to increase.
- Labels themselves are not the solution, they are made to enhance a product or inform an auxiliary machine or an end customer. For that reason, it is likely that labels will become a product’s localized and personalized messaging center to provide even greater value through the entire supply chain.
I look forward to seeing more about sustainability, automation and enhanced label messaging at the next Labelexpo Americas.
Labelexpo Americas 2018 was a conference that served those well who are making decisions between analog and digital production technologies.
Thanks for reading,
Submitted by a European Labelexpo Visito