Just as the US Printing United Expo is opening, Nessan Cleary reviews what happened at the recently concluded Labelexpo in Belgium – and finds that inkjet in both hybrid and R2R configurations, is becoming top dog.
It seems that the role of digital label presses is starting to evolve more fully, as Labelexpo Brussels showed. In the past, many converters bought digital presses to supplement their flexo production by taking on the shorter run jobs. The pandemic forced many converters to re-evaluate their approach to digital, which also allowed them to pivot quickly to take on different markets – typically food and health products – to match rapid shifts in consumer demand.
This raises the question, which is most efficient: a roll to roll digital press with offline finishing; or a hybrid machine that can do everything in a single pass? Bui Burke, senior vice president of sales for Screen Europe, estimated that about 80 percent of customers preferred a standalone digital printer. However Jed Hardcastle, business development director for Dantex, said: “In Europe people mainly look for hybrid but in the USA they go for more roll-to-roll.”
Screen showed a hybrid line that combined a Nilpeter FA with its Truepress L350 UV SAI inkjet label press. Screen has long had a hybrid option with Nilpeter but this has now evolved into a more integrated approach. Burke explains: “We have provided the Nilpeter people with all the data they need to join and communicate with our press so customers can choose whatever units they want.”
Burke adds that, even though the majority of presses are sold as standalone units for greater flexibility, there’s a lot of interest in this hybrid approach. Burke adds that Screen has become open to partnering with other vendors and that all the codes and connections are fairly standard so Screen should also be able to integrate with other manufacturers.
Screen also showed a prototype of an inkjet primer unit within the L350 SAI press, designed to improve ink adhesion on the more difficult substrates. This has meant adding an extra print bar with pinning immediately afterwards before the other stations. It will be offered as an upgrade to existing L350 SAI customers, but not machines prior to this. It should be commercially available early next year.
Otherwise, the SAI press itself can take up to seven colours – CMYK plus white, blue and orange. It runs at up to 60mpm at 600 x 600 dpi resolution and drops only by 10 mpm to 50mpm when using white ink, whereas most others drop to around half speed.
Screen also showed the same prototype of its Pac520 single pass flexible paper packaging inkjet, previously seen at the Hunkeler Innovation Days and Interpack earlier this year. Screen has adapted the existing TPJ520NX to create a new press for printing to paper-based packaging. However, Screen is still testing the materials and tweaking the ink formulation so this is unlikely to be commercially available until early next year.
Bobst took an interesting approach to this question. Bobst was the only one of the major inkjet press manufacturers to announce a new inkjet press at the show with the new Digital Expert 340, which is a roll-to-roll inkjet press.
The Digital Master hybrid runs at 100mpm while the Digital Expert is limited to 65mpm, though this can be upgraded to 100mpm through a license to unlock the software. Matteo Cardinotti, who heads up Bobst’s narrow and mid web division, explained: “The entry level speed is limited to lower the investment cost of the machine. The market is big worldwide so for some companies 65mpm will be enough to replace a technology that is slower.”
He added that, on the hybrid machine,100mpm is fast enough to be a viable alternative for a flexo press for the labels and packaging markets. He says that the choice between flexo and hybrid depends on the market and application but notes: “I would say that the hybrid is more popular now. It’s newer.”
Gallus showed off the Gallus One inkjet press that it had announced last year. So far Gallus has modernised the underlying chassis by switching to the modular Labelmaster as the base. This means that the Gallus One is compatible with the full range of flexo units that were designed for the Labelmaster. It also opens the possibility that Gallus can develop wider versions of the inkjet press since it already has 440mm and 570mm Labelmaster chassis available to it.
However, Gallus is still working on the digital print unit. This means that at the moment it’s a five-colour press – CMYK plus white – running at a maximum speed of 70mpm, though there is room to add three more ink channels. For now, the Gallus One is the slowest of the major presses that are using Fujifilm Dimatix’s Samba printheads.
Durst has committed to expanding its arrangement with Omet over the jointly developed XJet hybrid press. Essentially this is a Durst RSC Tau digital press with Omet flexo units either side. Durst will now take on the sales and marketing for both the digital and conventional parts of this design and bring it fully into the Durst portfolio. This should also give Durst more freedom to further develop this integrated concept. That said, the XJet itself, complete with a Durst Tau RSC 510mm wide inkjet press, was also shown on the Omet stand.
Durst did introduce a new quality control system named Hawkeye. This is based on a single scanner that covers the whole print width. It is able to pick up missing colours but does not include a spectrophotometer or measure any spectral data. For now it runs at 80mpm though some of the Durst Tau presses can run at up to 100mpm. Product manager Martin Leitner says: “The next development will be for 100mpm.”
The Hawkeye can be retrofitted to all of Durst’s RSC series label presses, meaning those with Samba heads, He says that the nozzle compensation is part of the Dimatix Samba printhead system, which allows for blocked nozzles to be switched off and for adjacent nozzles to print larger drops. But he adds that the Hawkeye system builds on this by locating and compensating for the blocked nozzles in real time at speeds of up to 80mpm. He explains: “Most systems work in set-up mode or in maintenance so the operator needs to print a special test pattern and this needs to be cut out in the post process.” He says that most alternative systems just use comparisons with a master image, adding: “But the Hawkeye is not doing that. It uses a AI algorithm which we trained with millions of samples of good and bad labels. This was a huge amount of time and makes the press easier to use.”
There is no set up needed so the operator doesn’t need to teach it or to set the sensitivity. It works fully automatically in the background with continuous inspection and correction of the print. Leitner continues: “When it logs a mistake the operator can check it to see if it’s really a mistake or good enough.”
Domino used the show to announce a new inkjet module that can be retrofitted to flexo presses to create a hybrid press. The N610i-R unit is based on the existing N610 platform and uses the same Kyocera printheads. The base model uses four colours – CMYK – and there’s a five colour version with two printbars for white ink. Domino has gained a reputation for producing a highly opaque white ink, claiming up to 72 percent opacity. There’s a choice of inksets, including the standard UV90 and UV95, which is suitable for non-direct contact food packaging.
It was shown with flexo units from Mark Andy but Paul Bunyan, workflow solutions consultant for Domino, says that it’s relatively straightforward to adapt it for use with other manufacturers if customers required. It has a 330mm print width. Resolution is up to 600 x 600dpi at 50mpm.
Dantex showed the second generation of its PicoJet, the PicoJet 1200 DRS. This is a 350mm wide UV inkjet press aimed at the labelling market though there is also a 254mm wide version. Dantex markets this as having 1700 -2400 dpi resolution which does raise an interesting question as to how we measure resolution and how high a resolution do people really need. The PicoJet uses Ricoh printheads but Dantex wouldn’t say which ones. However both Dantex and Ricoh have suggested to me that these heads have a native resolution of 600dpi so that the claimed resolution is really down to the apparent benefits of variable sized droplets.
Epson has developed two separate label printing technologies, the 4000-series using water-based resin inks and the single pass 6000-series with UV-curable printing, both of which were shown at Label Expo. The company announced updates for both of these last May, which were presumably timed for last year’s Label Expo before that event was cancelled. The result is that Epson did not have anything new to show this year apart from a chance to see these updated versions.
Thus the Surepress L-4733AW gained a new AQ T4 inkset, which consists of CMYKOG plus white, as well as more automation. Marc Tinkler, head of Epson Europe’s product marketing for professional print, says: “We have improved the automated cleaning and maintenance. We have updated the ink set which has improved the ink quality and the wettability on certain substrates so we can do with four passes what we used to do with six passes. There’s an air knife that moves across the platen as the heads move that helps with the speed.”
Cleary also found inkjet label printers from newer manufacturers such as Monotech (India) and Flora (China) but, as yet, these appear to be unrepresented in Australia. He will also report on toner label presses in a future article.