Package Printing Technology Progresses Despite Pandemic
During a year with the absence of physical trade shows, on-site demos and a general lack of opportunities to see the latest printing technology in action, it’s easy to feel like we missed out on some big news in 2020. However, the pandemic didn’t stop businesses in the package printing industry from getting their messages out, and we have been paying close attention. As a result, here is a roundup of some of packaging’s most significant launches in 2020.
Let’s begin by taking a look at some of the new technology that we saw at the PRINTING United Digital Experience, which took place from Oct. 26 to Nov. 12.
Oct. 29 brought the label and flexible packaging segments center stage, with Xeikon introducing attendees to the CX300 and CX500 high-end digital label presses with Cheetah 2.0 dry toner technology. Xeikon highlighted the CX300 in the PRINTING United Digital Experience product demonstration, in which Filip Weymans, VP of marketing, described the press as “the cornerstone in digitalizing your label print manufacturing for now and in the future.”
“In a changing market landscape, with more product diversification, mass customization, shorter lead times and even changing business models, your business must be looking for more innovative solutions, and this is how you can stay at the forefront,” Weymans said. “The Xeikon CX300, based on Cheetah 2.0 technology, does just that. It offers a more versatile application range, ensures the highest productivity, and guarantees quality over and over again.”
Also on display was the latest addition to Xeikon’s Panther UV inkjet line, the six and seven color durable UV inkjet press, the PX30000. “With the PX30000, Xeikon rounds out its extensive offering to label and packaging converters, all from one company,” Donna Covannon, director of marketing for Xeikon North America, said. Alongside the presses, Xeikon also introduced its new Fusion Embellishment Unit (FEU), a standalone solution that enables label printers to utilize the product for a range of print enhancements. Based on MGI technology, the FEU provides UV spot varnish, tactile varnish, foiling, 3D textures, and holograms across a wide range of substrates.
Sticking with new label and flexible packaging technology at the PRINTING United Digital Experience, SCREEN Americas shared its new Truepress Jet L350 UV SAI Series. The new line, SCREEN explains, was developed “in response to the industry’s need for mixed, short-run printing for the high price and luxury segments.” The third generation of the Truepress Jet L350UV SAI is “stable, accurate, integrated,” with high speed printing of up to 80 mpm, a range of seven inks, four models for entry-level, standard, high-end, and food packaging labels, and extra color options.
Event attendees were also treated to an exploration of the latest Epson UV digital label press, the SurePress L-6534VW. Aimed at converters entering the digital label market, the new model offers a range of speeds to suit a variety of requirements, such as Standard at 98 fpm and Productivity at 164 fpm. Mike Pruitt, product manager, Epson America, commented, “With a combination of LED UV curing inks compliant with Food Contact Materials (FCM) regulations, its Epson PrecisionCore printhead technology and faster speeds compared to the previous generation, the SurePress L-6534VW produces high-quality prints with an amazingly wide color gamut. For packaging converters with demanding jobs, the SurePress L-6534VW brings together an expanded feature set, including the unique digital varnish and reliable automated operation that can allow converters to expand offerings and revenue opportunities to increase both productivity and profitability.”
On the flexible packaging front, Nilpeter revealed its latest foray into the segment in April, announcing its widest flexo press, the new FA-26. Developed as a result of increased demand for in-line printing for a range of flexible packaging products, the company describes it as indicative of a “significant shift in product strategy.” In a post to its website, the company states, “We’re entering new markets, with all the well-known Nilpeter features, and setting new standards within flexibility, sustainability, fast job changeovers, and automation. Now made possible for the wider web conventional flexible packaging segment, where job changes traditionally are more timely and more expensive. At Nilpeter, we have seen increased market interest for quite some time now, both from our existing label print customers, and from flexible packaging printers, geared towards in-line printing of pouches, flow packs, form-fill-seal as well as converting of shrink sleeves, in shorter runs, and smaller batches.”
Mark Andy meanwhile, launched a new addition to its Evolution Series of label presses , the E3, dubbed “the most value-driven press in its class” by the company. The full servo flexo press is available in 13ʺ and 17ʺ web widths and can reach production speeds of 500 fpm.
“When we came to market with Evolution Series, now known as Evolution Series E5, we intended to provide converters a more attainable solution built on Performance Series technology they could grow with, configure what they need now, knowing they could evolve in the future. And we did just that,” Tom Shelmbauer, chief business officer, flexo, for Mark Andy, said in a post on the company’s website. “But after listening to our customers, we realized there was an opportunity to offer a machine that focuses primarily on getting back to the basics, but with modern technology and affordability. So we built a solution that allows converters to be competitive exclusively in the prime label market and that solution is Evolution Series E3.”
A busy year for the label space continued, as Domino launched its N730i digital UV inkjet label press in September. Features include the Brother BITSTAR 1200 dpi piezo printhead and the automated Domino i-Tech intelligent technology, including i-Tech SetAlign and i-Tech CleanCap2.
“This is the most significant new product we have launched since we started in the digital label press business,” Philip Easton, director of Domino Digital Solutions, said in the company’s announcement of the press. “It has been a huge collaborative team effort spread over five years involving our colleagues at Brother Industries, supplier partners, our development team, and our customers. Today, we are so proud of what the N730i delivers, as we truly believe it sets new standards in high performance inkjet label printing.”
In label finishing, GM launched its new LC350 Compact Laser Finishing Unit, which the company states is designed to “meet the current market trends and growing quality requirements in digital label manufacturing.” Developed to replace traditional diecutting and the associated costs, the LC350 offers complex label finishing, and includes varnishing and spot varnishing with the SmartFlexo semi-rotary module, lamination, cold foil, web slitting and dual rewind.
In the paperboard-based segments of folding carton and corrugated, multiple products were revealed in 2020, including during the PRINTING United Digital Experience day dedicated to these segments, held on Nov. 4.
During the event, Heidelberg demonstrated the new generation Speedmaster XL 106. With a focus on smart manufacturing, the latest Speedmaster’s integrated artificial intelligence (AI) enables Push-to-Stop autonomous manufacturing, as well as being built into the makeready process to ensure the shortest possible washup time. Attendees were treated to six jobs in action filmed at Heidelberg’s Demo Center in Germany, showcasing the job versatility of the new model. In a launch announcement earlier in the year, Dr. Ulrich Hermann, Member of the Management Board responsible for Lifecycle Solutions and Chief Digital Officer at Heidelberg, commented, “In addition to increasing the output of the printing press itself, software-supported applications, intelligent user guidance, and autonomous processes as part of an integrated solution system — or as we say, 'Smart Print Shop' — will continue to grow in importance in terms of the competitiveness of the print shop.”
Another new addition in the corrugated and carton space from the Digital Experience was Konica Minolta’s KM1e digital inkjet B2 plus-sized press. The KM1 inkjet technology was first unveiled at drupa 2016, and this latest generation has significantly expanded its substrate handling capabilities, including folding carton boardstock. Toshi Uemura, executive officer, division president of professional print, for Konica Minolta Inc. previously stated in a release, “The AccurioJet KM-1e is a key pillar in our strategy to help our customers seize the many new opportunities digitalization brings along, supporting the trend to switch from offset to inkjet printing in a fast-growing market.”
In the growing digital corrugated realm, Domino, which has been among the leaders in inkjet solutions for the label segment, announced its expansion into the corrugated industry in 2020 with the launch of its X630i. The press is a single-pass inkjet solution that prints directly to corrugated board. Featuring aqueous inkjet technology, the X630i can reach speeds of up to 246 fpm. At the time of the product launch, Matt Condon, Domino’s business development manager for corrugated, explained that an increase in SKUs and a need for high-graphic corrugated packaging production has led to a need for digital solutions in the segment.
“Shorter runs involve more plates, and more changeover on your flexo machines, which equates to a lot more downtime,” Condon said. “What you’re trying to do is manage these new influences from your customer and still trying to remain as productive as possible.”
BOBST set out a particularly ambitious vision for the future in 2020, with launches aimed at folding carton and corrugated board, as well as updates to products for labels and flexible packaging, setting out a roadmap focused on “connectivity, digitalization, automation, and sustainability.” In corrugated and carton, BOBST launched the highly-automated and ergonomic MASTERCUT 106 PER diecutter and TooLink, connecting tooling with the machine. The diecutter has a production speed of up to 11,000 sph, and allows storing of up to 5,000 job setups. BOBST also launched MASTERSTAR, which the company describes as “the world’s fastest, most automated, most versatile and most ergonomic sheet-to-sheet laminator, suitable for both folding carton and corrugated board.”
Continuing with finishing for the folding carton and corrugated markets, early in the year Highcon revealed details of its Highcon Euclid 5 and Highcon Beam 2 digital cutting and creasing models. The Euclid 5 is aimed at folding carton converters, commercial printers, and trade finishers working in B1 and B2 format, with applications including commodity and luxury packaging, sleeves, blister cards, brochures, calendars, greeting cards, and invitations. The Beam 2 is a digital cutting and creasing solution for folding carton and commercial, producing up to 5,000 B1 sph. Highcon describes the machine as “a robust profitable solution” for mid to large folding carton converters, large commercial printers, and large trade finishers.
On the software for corrugated front, color management solutions provider GMG lanched a new product especially for HP PageWide corrugated presses. An October release from the company stated, "GMG’s color management solutions, most notably GMG ColorServer Multicolor, work seamlessly with the HP One Package Workflow Suite to enable converters to make a smooth transition into digital printing.”
In the release, customer Luca Simoncini, digital printing program manager for Ghelfi Ondulati, a Buglio in Monte, Italy-based digital corrugated printing company, commented, “Moving to GMG color management allowed us to significantly simplify and automate the prepress workflow. The print output has become predictable and repeatable. I am convinced that this was a fundamental development in our project, and I hope that the collaboration between HP and GMG will strengthen the integration even more.”
2020 may have been a tough year, but it was one with a wealth of innovation and new printing technology in the packaging market, as businesses found new ways to connect and create partnerships with their customers and keep the package printing space in action. Looking ahead to 2021, while we aren’t out of the woods yet, it already looks like there will be many more exciting updates and technology innovations to come. For more information on the 2021 PRINTING United Expo, happening October 6 - 8, 2021, visit printingunited.com.
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.