How the Largest Ever Labelexpo Europe Extended Beyond the Label Segment
Labelexpo, the biennial label and package printing event, returned to Brussels Expo from Sept. 23-27, as the event celebrated its 40th anniversary with the tagline “Move your business forward.” Organizers report that 37,903 attendees from 140 countries braved the drizzly Belgian weather to be a part of what they are hailing as “the largest, most international show to date.”
The fact that this was the biggest Labelexpo so far can be attributed in part to the fact that package printing beyond labels is an increasingly pivotal element of the event. Flexible packaging was higher than ever on the agenda, as label converters explore their options in the growing market.
Labelexpo organizers took advantage of these evident market forces, introducing the Flexible Packaging Arena, which hosted 30-minute demonstrations several times a day to illustrate the entire flexible packaging production process. Exhibitors taking part included Bobst, Xeikon, HP, AVT, Apex International, Esko, Flint Group, GEW, X-Rite Pantone, Dupont, and UV Foodsafe Group.
When it comes to flexible packaging, pouches are having their moment. HP debuted its Indigo Digital Pouch Factory, which demonstrated pouch production using the Indigo 20000 Digital Press followed by Pack Ready laminating and slitting, and finishing with HP partner Karlville’s pouch-making expertise, which HP claims is set to “break the production paradigm” by drastically reducing production time to a single day.
Xeikon also used this year’s Labelexpo to showcase its end-to-end pouch making capabilities, debuting fleXflow, a production line for digital pouches consisting of printing on the CX500 dry toner press, thermal lamination on the LCoat500, followed by in-line pouch construction, all driven by Xeikon’s X800 DFE.
In a press release, Xeikon’s VP of Marketing Filip Weymans explained the reasons behind the debut of the fleXflow production line.
“We have developed Xeikon fleXflow for stand-up pouch production to answer the growing consumer trend for ‘on-the-go’ consumption of food and drinks,” he said. “Xeikon continues to address the converters’ needs for profitable short runs and fast turnarounds, variable data printing in full color and a wide application range."
FleXflow was a component in the Flexible Packaging Arena.
These examples of comprehensive pouch-making solutions segue nicely into customizable solutions, another key theme at the show. A “best of both worlds” quality rippled throughout Brussels Expo as hybrid equipment’s star continues its ascendance.
“Have it your way!” might be more closely associated with a certain popular fast food establishment than a label sector trade show, but it certainly fit the bill when it came to a lot of the technology on display.
Bobst brought a particularly interesting new approach to the hybrid mix with the Master DM5, the world premiere of which was held at the event. The Master DM5 combines flexo capabilities with digital and is described by the company as “the most digitally automated press in the label market.” Bobst’s subsidiary Mouvent garnered attention at Labelexpo 2017, introducing its digital inkjet label press using 100% water-based inks. The DM5 unites Mouvent’s inkjet technology with Bobst’s DigiFlexo printing.
With one of the largest booths and spanning across a main thoroughfare, if attendees walking the halls weren’t drawn in by Gallus’ happy hour hotdogs then the technology and samples on display were sure to catch their attention. The Heidelberg company demonstrated the hybrid capabilities of its LabelFire press, combining digital and flexo printing and then finishing samples off with a flourish with the integrated Digital Embellishment Unit.
The Expo halls were adorned with displays that sparkled and shimmered as eye-catching embellishments continue to serve as a major trend in labels and packaging. HP’s Indigo division found a scintillating match in Leonhard Kurz, which showcased its DM-JETLINER digital finishing unit integrated with the HP Indigo 6900. Also running demonstrations in HP’s booth was the HP Indigo GEM unit for single-pass embellishment printing.
Embellishments at Labelexpo weren’t solely reserved for aesthetics — there are of course a number of security applications too. HP made its security features a key component of its sprawling “Patio” area, using the event to announce details of a new partnership: HP Secure Studio Powered by Agfa, which incorporates complex variable designs with the capacity to create countless variations, serving to protect brand identity while integrating effortlessly with the brand design. HP also showcased its security and anti-counterfeiting software tools that allow for micro text, unique marks, and track and trace measures, as well as invisible yellow and blue ElectroInk, only detectable under UV light.
When it comes to streamlining processes and boosting efficiency, attendees were spoiled by the wealth of software on display designed to do just that. Esko continues to serve as a key partner to a wide range of vendors, and showcased its extensive portfolio of software technology, including its scalable automated workflow server Automation Engine, flexo platemaking and screening software Print Control Wizard, and its 3D packaging software studio.
HP hosted a rich ecosystem of partners in its booth, including Infigo Software, which alongside HP Indigo and Karlville played a key role in pouch production with its Web-to-pack solution, Pack It. Attendees had the opportunity to design a packaging product using the Catfish platform from Infigo, before running it through the Digital Pouch Factory and making it a tangible sample.
In terms of other noticeable trends, it will come as no surprise that sustainability was high on the list, as it is in the wider print and packaging industries. A number of booths were keen to showcase their environmentally friendly credentials, and the exhibition introduced the Sustainability Insight Café, a casual break area in which attendees could learn more about the latest products and services “designed with the environment in mind.” Elsewhere, while the role of certain emerging technologies in the future of labels and packaging is far from fully realized, there were plenty of glimpses into the widespread applications of connectivity and automation solutions such as augmented reality (AR) and Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.
The Avery Dennison booth covered both bases, demonstrating sustainable materials and intelligent labels. Its “Connected Store” offered a window into the connected world of the future, constructing an interactive shopping environment that uses RFID to increase inventory efficiency and NFC to create next-level consumer engagement.
With significant crossover in terms of technology and materials between label production and flexible packaging and the fast-moving growth of the latter, it’s a perfect time for businesses to explore their options in adjacent areas and look into diversifying their offering. Labelexpo Europe 2019 showcased more than just the new machines on the market, but also how converters can increase profits by making the most of what they already have.
Researching new markets that require similar skills and equipment can expand a company’s services with minimal additional investment. A company that is well-versed on every detail of its operations can take advantage of a customized solution that is an ideal fit for its business. Explore a myriad of innovative software solutions and you could be optimizing efficiency and managing costs and production more effectively, without a new machinery purchase.
As evidenced by the recent inaugural PRINTING United trade show in Dallas, which was built on the trend of convergence, businesses are keen to explore new revenue streams, particularly in areas with discernible opportunities for crossover. As Labelexpo takes place every two years, the global labels and packaging sector will surely be returning to, or at least keeping a watchful eye on, the Brussels Expo from Sept. 21-24, 2021.
Karis Copp is a U.K.-based journalist and communications specialist. With a background as a writer and editor in the print industry, she writes about print and technology news and trends, reports on industry events, and works with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppMedia.