For a printing trade show that was not primarily focused on labels and packaging, Graph Expo 2016 had a substantial amount of information to offer about producing them in innovative new ways. The fact that most of it had to do with digital printing speaks volumes about how thoroughly the digital processes, particularly inkjet, have established themselves in the label and packaging equipment markets.

Following are the highlights in more or less the order in which we encountered them at the show. Bear in mind that devices described as promoted or discussed at Graph Expo were not necessarily displayed there physically. This year, Graph Expo took place soon after a drupa event, and exhibitors’ trade show budgets had been depleted by the heavy expense of bringing machinery to that 11-day extravaganza. This naturally influenced their decisions about how much hardware they could afford to install at Graph Expo.

There’s also the fact that the Graph Expo and Print shows are not as equipment-centric as they used to be—now their emphasis is more on special-interest concentrations, education, and networking. Nevertheless, there were tires to kick and solutions to see in live operation throughout the hall at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center. Here is a slice of what was worth looking into on the labels and packaging side:

Headquartered in Paris, France, MGI, Inc. has manufactured graphic production equipment since 1982. Konica Minolta now holds a 41% ownership stake in the family-run company and distributes the MGI portfolio in North America. At Graph Expo, MGI products were on display both at its own stand and at Konica Minolta’s.

MGI specializes in digital enhancement for packaging, labels, and other forms of print. Its solutions combine variable-data toner and inkjet printing in color with foiling, varnish, UV coating, and finishing for a wide range of high-end visual and textural effects. 

An inventive example is the technique that MGI calls Meteor Unlimited Colors, delivered by its iFoil T digital hot foiling station running inline with an MGI Meteor XL + four-color digital press. It works by using one of the colors as a mask to which the foil adheres, enabling the shiny material to transfer to the base substrate.

Overprinting the foil with the remaining colors creates what MGI says is a virtually unlimited rainbow of hues with metallic, glitter, and holographic effects. Printing with variable data permits packaging and label security applications as well.

The process uses standard substrates and foils. Foilable sheet sizes can be from 4.3" x 8.6" to 13" x 47". MGI says that Meteor Unlimited Colors eliminates the costs of diemaking and other steps associated with producing effects of this type conventionally. The company also notes that because the Meteor press operates without click charges, printers can experiment economically with multiple passes of toner over foil.

MGI also promoted its Meteor DP8700 series toner presses, which offer extensive inline finishing options; and the JETvarnish line of 2D and 3D UV spot coaters and foilers. The newest of the latter group, the B1+-format JETvarnish 3D Evolution, has an AI-enhanced inspection system that scans every sheet and compares it with a digital master for image adjustment if it is needed. This assures pixel-level varnish and hot-foil registration accuracy from the first sheet, according to MGI. 

For HP, Graph Expo was an opportunity to renew the big impression it made at drupa 2016 with its own hall full of equipment and a drumbeat of new-product announcements. The company says it has shipped 300 HP Indigo presses worldwide to fulfill orders it wrote at the earlier of the two shows. 

Most of what HP presented in Orlando focused on applications other than packaging: its PageWide Web Presses; PrintOS, a cloud-based production management system; and HP OneBook, a workflow for book printing in runs down to 10 copies or fewer. However, two machines in HP’s Graph Expo portfolio were worthy of attention by those who had come to the show in search of packaging solutions.

The HP Indigo 5900 addresses the packaging market by virtue of its ability to handle paperboard up to 22 pt. and heavyweight synthetics up to 24 pt. That capacity and its extended ink sets equip the 13" x 19" press for package prototyping and short runs of folding cartons with or without variable content.

Capable of the same things on stocks up to 18 pt., but in a B2 (29" x 20") format, is the HP Indigo 12000. The high-output device was the winner in the digital press category of this year’s Must See ‘Ems awards program, a technology competition that accompanies the Graph Expo and Print shows. 

Of all the vendors at Graph Expo, none was as strongly identified with packaging as KBA. At drupa, KBA president Claus Bolza-Schünemann noted that 70% of the company’s turnover comes from packaging-related equipment and that 60% of its Rapida sheetfed offset presses are bought by folding carton printers.

In remarks at Graph Expo, Bolza-Schünemann said that as a venue for showcasing KBA’s capabilities in packaging and other applications, drupa had been “much, much better” than anticipated—in his opinion, “the best drupa since 2000.” He is in a position to know, having served as chairman of the 2016 edition of the event. 

In Orlando, KBA recapped its drupa experience with presentations about product offerings for all of the markets it serves. Packaging stood out strongly as the company acquainted Graph Expo visitors with applicable solutions including:

• the Rapida RDC 106 rotary diecutter for cutting, embossing, creasing, and perforating carton and label stocks at up to 15,000 sheets per hour

• the Rapida RSP 106 rotary screen press, said to bring the quality and productivity of Rapida offset lithographic presses to the screen printing process

• the Rapida 145, a highly automated VLF (41.7" x 57") sheetfed press with options for printing both paperboard and corrugated

• the RotaJet L and VL series of industrial inkjet web presses in widths from 30" to 80", for printing decor products (for example, floor coverings) as well as cartons and top liner

• the Corrugraph sheetfed flexographic press, a 12,000-sph machine being reintroduced by KBA to take advantage of the rising demand for corrugated containers as shipping boxes for e-shopping purchases

• Evo XD AND Evo XG flexographic packaging presses from KBA's Flexotecnica subsidiary

• also from KBA-Flexotecnica, the Neo XD LR Hybrid, a CI (central impression) flexo press for printing flexible packaging with solvent-, water-based, UV-LED, or EB inks singly or in combination

• jointly developed with Xerox, another hybrid press for packaging, specifically folding cartons: the VariJet 106, integrating the Rapida sheetfed press platform with Xerox Impika inkjet technology and optional in-line functions including conventional printing units, coating, cold foiling, rotary diecutting, creasing, and perforating

As a provider of print workflow software and digital front ends, EFI was not initially focused on packaging. This began to change seven years ago with its acquisition of Radius, a developer of MIS solutions for flexible packaging, folding carton, and label printers. Radius customers and other printers like them became customers for packaging solutions from EFI, and today, packaging is one of EFI’s most vigorously pursued markets. 

This was evident at Graph Expo in the company’s promotion of several key solutions for packaging production. The most notable of them was a press that won a Must See ‘Ems award in the wake of its successful launch at drupa: the EFI Nozomi C18000 single-pass corrugated board digital press.

The Nozomi C18000 is a sheetfed, LED-curing inkjet press built to print corrugated boards in a single pass in up to seven colors at speeds as high as 75 linear meters (246 linear feet) per minute. The 100' long machine can process any substrate from card stock and kraft to triple wall corrugated, according to the manufacturer. EFI believes that the Nozomi platform can be adapted for additional markets—for example, signage and textiles—in future versions.

The company garnered additional Must See ‘Ems recognition with two software products for packaging: its Corrugated Packaging Suite and the integrated workflow for digital packaging production that it co-developed with Esko.

The corrugated suite is designed to oversee and execute all data functions connected with producing this type of packaging. The end-to-end solution is built around software developed by Corrugated Technologies Inc. (CTI), a corrugated workflow specialist company that EFI acquired last year.

The collaboration with Esko, announced at drupa, aims to build a unified workflow for digital packaging printing by integrating Esko workflow automation software and EFI packaging tools within EFI Fiery DFEs, which control digital presses. 

Radius’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) technology is at the heart of EFI’s Packaging Suite, a solution that promises to deliver “certified” (tested and validated) workflows for label, folding carton and flexible packaging. 

Accurio is a new name for packaging and commercial printers to remember in connection with Konica Minolta, which has rebranded its inkjet digital presses and digital workflow solutions under that title.

Introduced at drupa and shown in an augmented reality demonstration at Graph Expo was the AccurioJet KM-1, a 23" x 29.5 UV inkjet press that the company describes as suitable for light packaging. It can print 4/0 at 3,000 sph with a true resolution of 1,200 x 1,200 dpi. Pending launch is the AccurioJet KM-C, a flatbed B1 (29.9" x 41.7") inkjet press developed for folding carton and thin corrugated applications in thicknesses  0.3 mm to 1.2 mm.

Konica Minolta says that printers looking for low-risk entry into digital label production can find it in the bizhub™ PRESS C71cf, a dry-toner press that prints label stocks and films at up to 62 fpm on 13" wide rolls. Designed to work with the press is EngageIT iLabel, a software application for job setup.

Xerox addressed labels and packaging at Graph Expo from the opposite direction by presenting a pair of digital inkjet systems that offer alternatives to producing labels and packages in the first place.

One is a press that prints with inks that make labels unnecessary on certain types of packaging. The other is a device that prints and personalizes directly on the surfaces of three-dimensional objects, eliminating the need for labels and packages and to identify and brand them.

The Xerox platform that used to be known as the CiPress is now the Xerox Production Press for Plastic Films & Substrates. Its special property is that its stainless steel print heads can jet any type of ink—solvent, aqueous, UV, or the CiPress’s original solid recipe—at temperatures as high as 140º C (284º F). 

Controlling the jetting temperature adjusts the viscosity of the inks, making it possible to match them to specific substrates in specialized applications. For example, the press can dispense “stretchable” inks that will not crack or distort when the plastic packaging surfaces they are sprayed on undergo thermoforming.

Xerox says that a clear container lid printed in this way would not need a paper label—the press can give it whatever decoration it requires in four colors at a resolution of 600 x 600 dpi.

The same kind of high-temperature ink deposition is present in the Xerox Direct to Object Inkjet Printer. Xerox created it for use in retail locations, sports stadiums, entertainment venues, and other places where perceived value can be added to manufactured items by printing directly on their flat or curved exteriors—bottle caps, golf balls, football helmets, and other objects made of plastics, metals, ceramics, and glass.

The device is a 39" x 39" x 90" cabinet containing a vertical array of inkjet heads. Objects to be printed travel up and down in front of them on a shaft, receiving up to 10 colors of ink. Jetting from up to 5 mm away from the substrate lets the heads place drops accurately on tricky surface contours. Objects can be up to 1 cubic foot in volume; maximum printable image area is about 3" x 13".

Folding carton printers are a primary target audience for Scodix, which has placed more than 250 of its digital enhancement presses around the world since 2009. The company counts Graph Expo as an important marketing opportunity, having won Must See 'Ems awards there in each of the last three years. It has also adopted the event as the setting for the annual Scodix Design Awards competition, which recognizes the most outstanding uses of Scodix enhancement techniques. 

Nine such layers of visual and tactile effects can be added by Scodix equipment to packaging forms and other printed items. UV polymer inkjetting and other processes are used to create the layers, which can be combined with each other and further enhanced with variable-data imaging.

At Graph Expo, Scodix showed the Scodix Foil digital foiling station running inline with the Scodix Ultra Pro enhancement press. The company was also eager to talk about a machine it has built expressly for the folding carton market, the Scodix E 106. Introduced at drupa, the B1-format press can apply the special effects to carton stocks at speeds up to 4,000 sph. About 60 folding carton producers have expressed strong interest in buying it, a company spokesperson said.