Feeling the Buzz at Labelexpo

by Noel Ward, Editor@Large

The Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois is probably not on anyone’s bucket list of must-see locations, yet every two years the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center is packed to the roof trusses with label and flexible packaging pros looking for new technologies that will help make them more money. There was a lot to see.

My own curiosity aside, I was there at the behest of a client who needed me to shoot video for immediate uploading to the web. This cramped my cruise and schmooze time on the floor, but I did see and find out a few things.

The first thing I noticed was the energy. I don’t have a visitor head count yet but past shows were around 17,000 people, and this one seemed at least that busy. The larger vendors had a steady stream of attendees looking at all manner of analog and digital printing systems and word was that deals were being cut. I happened to be in the Anderson & Vreeland booth late on the last day, talking with a C-level exec, when one of the company’s digital business analysts strode by grinning, showing the exec a signed deal. Things were good. Howie Vreeland, the chairman of A&V later told me that this was the best Labelexpo he had ever attended, and he’s been coming to this show for decades. He liked the energy, especially that attendees were there to learn and buy, rather than kick tires and dream.

My sense was that he was right. The show had a palpable vibe going on, fueled by a good economy and the simple fact that labels and flexible packaging are the strongest segments of the print industry and there are no signs of this tapering off.

Not far away, the Flint Group booth showcased platemaking and plate processing machines for flexo presses along with Xeikon’s toner and inkjet machines. The crowds were around everything in the company’s booth. The sales guys I know there told me deals were being cut. Digital printing is still just a small player in the packaging market, but is becoming more and more important with a growing number of forward-thinking printers pulling the trigger on digital systems. Some have an immediate need while others just see opportunity. But the ones buying digital systems today are the companies that will be successful—and probably much larger—a few years from now as digital gains a larger foothold in labels and packaging. More importantly, they will be better positioned for the future than those companies that decide, three or four years from now, that it might be time to consider a digital press. This is exactly how things played out in commercial and production print and packaging is no different.

In the waning hours of the show I managed to spend time at HPs stand where an array of presses and software had been drawing a crowd since the show opened. I got a look at the new GEM model, which incorporates a slew of finishing and label embellishments inline with an HP Indigo press. The system being shown was destined for delivery to Innovative Labeling Solutions in Cincinnati where company owner Jay Dollries has built a business around digital label production. My schedule made it impossible to spend time with Mr. Dollries, but the samples being run on the GEM and the potential it offers had been drawing a crowd that was up to four people deep on an earlier visit to the booth.

While in the HP stand I did get a look at some of HPs PrintOS software, much of which is up and running, and there looks to be a lot more in the wings that can vastly improve workflows in label and packaging operations. Bob Raus, one of HP’s software gurus, walked me through how some of the key parts work. I noted that the functions being provided required a really deep understanding of customer needs and workflows. Mr. Raus explained how HP had gone to the end of the production process, worked backward to ensure all the various steps were accounted for, then developed the software to incorporate all the moving parts. There is more to come, he noted, but the offerings I saw seemed to account for most of the key pieces that print providers require. An important element I saw was the ability for HP customers to connect with each other to share ideas, processes and even jobs. This level of interactivity still has a ways to go, but even though it comes from HP, it appears to go far beyond the brand of presses being used and encourages a level of communication that can only help more print providers be more successful.

Then I went to PRINT 18. It’s going to be interesting to experience these two print shows back to back, and I’ll fill you in after the rush is over.
You write: "Digital printing is still just a small player in the packaging market, but is becoming more and more important"

According to a Pira report: "The Future of Printing for Food Packaging to 2023"

The share for digital (inkjet and toner) print is still only around 1% of total area output.
Print process trends over the next five years will be largely centered on:
• Increasing efficiency
• Delivering better customer service
• Meeting the need for greater flexibility for shorter print runs.
The three main analog processes will retain their combined share of global food packaging over the next five years. Although the two digital processes will continue to show strong growth rates from 2018 to 2023, improving their share of food packaging printing, they will remain niche processes with just over 2% of the market by area in 2023.

At the recent LabelExpo in Indianapolis I could not find even one printer interested in digital printing of labels/packaging.
PIRA is about right although their methodologies can leave something to be desired. I disagree with their projections, but digital share in packaging will still remain low.

BTW, the Labelexpo I went to in Chicago (Sept 25-27) had a lot of both digital and flexo presses on the floor. There is plenty of interest and machines were being sold.

If you talk with a few label printers who have digital presses you will find different perspectives. Like the guy I mentioned in the blog, Jay Dollries. His shop is all digital. There are others like him, as well as ones with a bunch of flexo presses and 2-4 digital presses. This is actually becoming a common arrangement.

Digital printing is not a replacement for offset or flexo; it is simply an alternative. Digital printing for packaging is where digital printing for things like marketing materials and books was 20 years ago. It will grow, and although it will not become dominant in most markets for a very long time (if ever), it will remain an option and more label and package printers will adopt the technology. You don't have to like it, but it will happen.

  • Labelexpo America’s is only held in Chicago every 2 years. The next will be September 15-17th, 2020

    Labelexpo global series over the next two years will be:

    INDIA 2018
    22 - 25 November
    India Expo Centre, Greater Noida, Delhi NCR

    14 – 15 May
    Medellin, Colombia

    EUROPE 2019
    24 - 27 September
    Brussels Expo

    ASIA 2019
    3 - 6 December
    Shanghai, New International Expo Centre

    7 - 9 May
    Bitec, Bangkok

    Check out the fill line up here www.labelexpo.com

Glad to hear that you will report on Print18. I hope you will have some comments on Cron's EZC inker. Stability in inking with offset could be a benefit for labels too.

Controlling the Purse Strings


By Noel Ward, Editor@Large
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business last week?
And how are you making sure everything you purchase is properly managed and accounted for?

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