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Labels in the spotlight

New feature areas and technologies in the spotlight at this year’s Labelexpo Americas, the region’s largest trade event for the label and package printing industry.

Spread across five halls, some 400 exhibitors are showing their wares at Labelexpo Americas. Gill Loubser provides some highlights.  

 THIS year’s Labelexpo Americas, taking place from September 25 to 27 at Chicago’s Rosemont Convention Centre, is the 16th edition of the show and the region’s largest trade event for the label and package printing industry.

Making its début in North America is the ground-breaking Automation Arena (introduced to great acclaim at last year’s Labelexpo Europe), giving visitors an unparalleled opportunity to experience first-hand the future of label and package printing, and to connect with companies at the forefront of this evolution.

The 13 hardware, software and materials suppliers taking part in the Automation Arena are Accraply, Avery Dennison, AVT, Cerm, Esko, Grafotronic, Klöckner Pentaplast, Kocher + Beck, Matho, MPS, Xeikon/Flint, WLE and Zeller+Gmelin. Between them, they’re digitally printing self-adhesive labels and flexo printing shrink sleeves on two fully-automated lines. Demonstrations cover job creation, through to prepress, printing, inspection, finishing, waste removal, warehousing and customer invoicing – all centrally managed by a Cerm management information system (MIS), and integrated with an Esko software platform, supporting end-to-end label and shrink sleeve workflow.

As witnessed by visitors at last year's Labelexpo Europe, the Automation Arena in Chicago features Industry 4.0 automated flexographic and digital label printing processes - flexo printing on an MPS EF 430 and digital printing on a Xeikon CX3.

Initial job creation, artwork uploading, MIS order processing and workflow automation for both presses takes place in Cerm’s system before label personalisation, pre-flighting, quality checks, colour management, proofing and customer approval are progressed using Esko’s software and automation engine. This is followed by Cerm’s scheduling and substrate checking, tool ordering and sending JDF files for digital printing on a Xeikon CX3 press, integrated with a Xeikon laser die-cutting unit, turret rewinder and Matho’s waste removal. Printing is on Avery Dennison’s white top-coated self-adhesive facestock using Flint’s Digicoat gloss varnish. When the Xeikon press starts its run, the audience can see different identification barcodes in operation, AVT defect detection, laser die-cutting set-up and rewinder automation.

The conventional flexo press shrink sleeve print runs is produced on an MPS EF 430, eight-colour press with no gear cylinder connection, intelligent pressure setting and zero waste roll change, in turn fitted with a Kocher + Beck UR Precision 440 U non-stop butt splicer and AVT’s Helios product line inspection technology. Here printing is on Klöckner Pentaplast PETG 50µm film using Zeller+Gmelin’s Nuvaflex UV flexo inks developed specifically for sleeve production. On the MPS EF 430 press, an MIS-generated job ticket on-screen enables the operator to check that plates, tools, inks and substrate had been delivered, and to change the unwind roll butt splicer. Each roll is scanned and is fully traceable throughout the whole process, interacting with the Cerm system to provide real-time production values. A Cerm inspection command is also sent to the AVT’s automatic inspection function that monitors printing defects.

Printed rolls coming off the flexo press are identified with a barcode which, when scanned, enables an electronic instruction file to automatically set-up shear slitting on a Grafotronic high-speed inspection slitter-rewinder. An AVT camera automatically stops the machine whenever a defective label is detected in the printed reel so that any repairs can take place. The final ‘clean’ and slit roll is then rewound and a barcoded label applied to the reel.

‘In an era of ever-decreasing run lengths and shorter lead times, increasing automation becomes a necessity for successful performance and profitability . . . the Automation Arena shows what’s now feasible.’

Unlike the Automation Arena in Brussels, the two final shrink sleeve production stages using Accraply machinery represent a world first in Chicago. The clean and slit roll is transferred to an Accraply ASFC continuous forming and seaming machine, where the barcode is scanned to automatically set up the forming and seaming operation. The lay-flat shrink sleeve is then transferred to an Accraply DM12, a compact vertical seaming inspection machine.

The final parts of both processes return to the Cerm operator, where the audience is taken through final steps such as warehousing, job picking, customer notification and invoicing. 

Undoubtedly this is a great opportunity to witness first-hand the way the industry is likely to evolve over the next decade.

As label industry guru, Mike Fairley, puts it: ‘In an era of ever-decreasing run lengths, production bottlenecks, shorter lead and delivery times, it seems certain that increasing automation will become a necessity for the successful performance and profitability of tomorrow’s label and shrink sleeve plants. The Automation Arena provides an important showcase of what is now becoming feasible.’

Rotocon team in attendance

Among local distributors present in Chicago are the Rotocon trio of Michael, Patrick and Pascal Aengenvoort.

Apart from the four Rotocon principals taking part in the Automation Arena mentioned above – AVT, Kocher + Beck, Matho and MPS – Rotocon is showing its own Ecoline RCSI 330 slitter-rewinder operating in conjunction with an AVT Helios on the AVT stand. Other principals on show include RotoControl and Wink.

On the AVT stand, visitors can learn about streamlining quality process workflows, which stem from integration with products from sister companies X-Rite and Esko, with three points of integration.

Firstly, Esko’s Automation Engine connects to AVT’s 100% inspection platforms (AutoSet), linking prepress to inspection with close to zero setup time or operator intervention. The result is greater production time per press, higher accuracy and fewer rejections.

Secondly, X-Rite’s ColorCert links to AVT’s SpectraLab for inline colour measurement, generating colour scorecard reports based on SpectraLab measurements and offering increased time savings, system accuracy and visibility.

Thirdly, Esko’s Web Center also connects to X-Rite’s ColorCert, automatically populating colour-related specification fields for job creation, saving valuable time and resources as well as increasing overall system accuracy.

Also on this stand visitors can see 100% inspection systems – Helios S Turbo+ and Helios Turbo HD. Each offers unsurpassed high-resolution capabilities even at top speeds, with 100% inspection performed at full press and rewinder speeds without sacrificing superb inspection quality and barcode verification.  

Finish first with RotoControl

On the RotoControl stand, visitors can see the latest in finishing technologies. Using The Finish Line theme unveiled at last year’s Labelexpo, RotoControl is urging printers and converters to finish first and to be in control at this crucial part of the printing process.

Being demonstrated are a DT-Series 340 for advanced finishing of digitally-preprinted label rolls, an FC-Series 540 fully-automatic turret for rewinding pressure-sensitive labels, and an RSC-Series 440 high-performance, compact, extremely robust slitter-rewinder.

Sharing the stand is EMT International, providing technical information and application support for its Chameleon high-speed inkjet finishing systems.

‘Visitors to our stand can expect a range of innovative finishing solutions for conventional and digital labels, with customisation capability that reflects the needs of the North American market,’ comments Marco Aengenvoort, RotoControl MD. ‘This show also demonstrates the strength of EMT and RotoControl’s combined force in technology, manufacturing and support.’

Wink simplifies gap control 

Another Rotocon principal is Wink, whose SmartGap is well established as a leading adjustable system. The cylinder gap (clearance) can be adapted precisely to different liners and fluctuating liner thicknesses, so that even with demanding applications and very thin liners optimum die-cutting results are achieved. In contrast to other adjustable systems, the SmartGap doesn’t have limitations – it even cuts through at high web speeds.


On show is the newly-developed digital version, SmartGap Touch (pictured above), a patent-pending system that allows for gap adjustments steps of only 0.5µm, and comes with many enhanced digital features.

In addition, Wink is presenting various SuperCut flexible die versions and finishing options for a wide spectrum of label applications, and its new ForceControl pressure gauges for optimum control of the die-cutting process.

Flying the SArepco flag

Flying the flag for SArepco on the Mark Andy stand are Paul Bouwer and Jacques Hanekom.

Here visitors can witness the new face of Mark Andy and its commitment to converters. Formerly a company maintaining an OEM-centric business model, the organisation has more than doubled its supply and service operations and expanded workflow offerings in recent years.

Six innovations not previously seen by Labelexpo Americas visitors are being unveiled and eight technologies are being demonstrated.

The Performance Series press line is a Labelexpo veteran but this year’s show brings a new model, the P7E. The P7E brings key advancements that promote operator efficiencies and enhanced automation. It’s also joined by the new P5E and P9E models. The P9E caters for printers interested in going wider and taking all competencies of the P5E and P7E into film and flexible packaging. An interactive P9E module is on display for those looking to learn more about the wider platform and new print station loading mechanisms.

In addition to new features, the P7E is outfitted with Digital Plus Screen, a rail mounted UV inkjet retrofit. The modular hybrid solution is a digital replacement for rotary screen and delivers a scalable ink pile height for tactile effects. The unit can be incorporated into new press builds and is retrofittable on any flexo press.


Making its first formal trade show appearance since its launch in March is Digital Series HD (pictured above). The True Hybrid runs at 70m/min with a visible print quality of 1 200dpi. Standard on all larger Mark Andy presses, Digital Series HD is configurable in terms of digital colours, converting preferences, VDP packages and inline flexo options.

Also on show is Digital One, a show-stopper for businesses looking to enter the digital label printing arena. Since its launch in 2016, the machine has been integrated in converter shops worldwide to support micro and short-run digital work. At Labelexpo Americas, this entry-level press is printing on an entire suite of Avery Dennison substrates as a part of a strategic partnership between the two brands.

As usual, Rotoflex is sharing space with Mark Andy, this year showing the VLI, DSI and a new offline finishing and embellishment engine.

Also present on this stand are executives from DuPont Advanced Printing. This consolidation of show presence between the two brands comes in the wake of Mark Andy’s being named the exclusive distributor of DuPont Cyrel products in North America.

GSE software offers improved job control

 Another of SArepco’s principals, GSE, is promoting its Ink manager software for improved job control and traceability in label and packaging printing.

GSE Ink manager software enables converters to minimise ink-related waste, providing improved ink yields, enhanced reporting and business planning and reduced setup times.

An accompanying management software module, GSE Article management, features two control elements to achieve repeatable quality and accurate cost estimates when printing a design, or ‘article’. Its ink calculator function automatically determines exact amounts of colour needed for printing each article. As well as volume, it also calculates the printed surface area covered by each colour, based on the length, width and coverage factor.

GSE Article management also allows the operator to define or describe specific procedures and equipment used for printing the article, such as required viscosity level, selected anilox roll or designated press. The software also records all changes, so a traceable history of design changes, by revision stage, can be provided on demand. 

When an article is reordered, this information can be instantly recalled, ensuring identical colour results with the correct amount of ink, while the operator only needs to enter the desired number of articles to be printed.

GSE Ink manager software is now standard with GSE’s range of Colorsat dispensing systems for flexo, gravure and screen inks. 

Durst-Omet continue cooperation

Durst and Omet have formed a strategic partnership in North America; and at Labelexpo Americas the Tau 330 RSC is being showcased as a stand-alone label press system and inline with the latest Omet XJet digital-flexo hybrid press.

The partnership provides label printers extended engineering capabilities, added services, and combined digital and flexo printing expertise from a single source.

‘We’re delighted to expand our collaboration with Omet,’ says Durst’s global segment manager for labels and package printing, Helmuth Munter. ‘Bringing together our know-how and market expertise provides increased value for our customers and accelerates the digitisation of the label and packaging market.’

Omet is equally excited at the development. ‘This partnership allows us to offer a complete system of printing solutions to customers in North America. Interest is growing in digital printing and we now have the right answers for the market,’ comments Claudio Semenza, Omet’s sales director for the region.

And, as Marco Calcagni, Omet’s sales & marketing director, remarks, this is a complete ‘made-in-Italy’ printing solution that meets market trends of personalisation and just-in-time deliveries, while maintaining the capabilities of a conventional press. ‘Durst is the right partner for us with its deep knowledge and best digital inkjet technology in the international market,’ he says.


Durst's Tau 330 RSC is being showcased inline with the latest Omet XJet digital-flexo hybrid press.

Esko provides ‘Packaging Connected’ 

Challenges facing today’s label converters centre around producing high volumes of short run jobs with quicker deadlines and better quality. This situation can easily be handled with optimised workflows that link supply chain partners.

At Labelexpo Americas, visitors to the Esko stand can learn how integrated and automated solutions, such as colour specification, 3D pack shots and design reviews, can link brand owners, designers, premedia and the pressroom into a highly productive and efficient workflow. The result – Packaging Connected – drives faster throughput, higher quality and ‘right-first-time’ production.

Systems on show include Esko WebCenter for job specification data flows all the way from MIS/ERP systems to the press control station, automating press setup and inline quality inspection setup, driving faster setup time, less waste and greater equipment uptime. With pre-approved marketing assets – such as ingredients copy, marketing slogans, logos and symbols – centrally stored in Esko WebCenter, the creation of packaging variants can be a 100% automated process, resulting in error reduction, faster time to market, and quicker response to changes.

Also being demonstrated is Esko Studio and Store Visualizer, software that helps designers to create better artwork and hyper-realistic 3D mock-ups for presentation, proofing and quality control. The automated creation of virtual 3D nine-view pack shots added to a digital job asset library drives a consistent consumer experience across all media channels, online and physical packs, ultimately connecting the consumer with the brand through the package.

In the field of colour specification, X-Rite ColorCert Suite is the prime solution to simplify colour communication across all internal and external stakeholders, from design to the AVT inline inspection system, removing errors and enabling faster setup time, and longer equipment uptime. This is significant for label producers with many short run jobs.

Digital job assets can be stored centrally in MediaBeacon, marketing asset management system shared with all stakeholders, from the brand’s product and online marketing teams to designers and prepress department. The new MediaBeacon connectors for the Adobe Creative Suite applications significantly simplify sharing of brand marketing assets. This guarantees consistency between online and physical brand assets, and ensures a consistent brand experience for the consumer.

‘The label industry needs answers to ever tighter deadlines and shorter print runs,’ explains Udo Panenka, Esko president. ‘At a recent EskoWorld users conference, we showed more than 500 users how our connected software and hardware solutions help the entire packaging ecosystem to collaborate more efficiently and solve key challenges. Esko supports label printers to reduce time-to-market from currently 198 days to an aspiring 30 days, to produce better quality labels and to reduce errors. Not only do we connect the supply chain, we make it easier for brand owners to connect to their consumers with less expensive, more impactful packaging.’


Surface treatment expertise

Among Ipex Machinery’s principals on show, Vetaphone continues to develop systems that can handle today’s demanding applications. This is taken to a new level with the latest iCorona technology and high-power corona treaters able to treat conductive and non-conductive substrates and equipped with quick change electrode cartridges as standard. Vetaphone’s corona treatment systems have your future requirements covered.

On static display in Chicago is the latest generation of its narrow-web product line, including two VE1A corona treaters and an iCorona generator. In addition, Vetaphone corona systems are working on narrow-web presses on the Mark Andy, HP Indigo, Nilpeter, Bobst, Omet, AB Graphic, Domino, ETI and Screen stands.

Fast-track 1:1 appointment programme

Another feature, Labelexpo Connections, is a visitor-exhibitor 1:1 appointment programme that fast-tracks connections to new business. Registered visitors undergo a matching process with exhibiting companies that leads to a series of 1:1 meetings, enabling visitors to make the most of their time at the show by connecting with people they want to meet.

Yet another key feature is the TLMI Ecovillage, designed to raise awareness of environmental issues facing this sector.

Sponsored by Convergen Energy, Channeled Resources and Avery Dennison, this area of the show displays the latest products tackling this important issue. To provide further emphasis, waste matrix collected from live press demonstrations over the course of the show will be brought to the TLMI Ecovillage and baled. The material will then be sent to Convergen Energy where waste is turned into fuel pellets with a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels.

Each day, speakers will cover topics such as the new plastics economy and how it relates to labels; how a label’s impact on package recyclability plays into product stewardship; and sustainable materials management.

For further information, including the full exhibitor list, visit www.labelexpo-americas.com; and for a taster of this year’s show, watch: