As expected, the biennial Labelexpo Europe is an exciting event. This 40th anniversary edition of the event has more than 600 exhibitors from all over the globe. While the name suggests that it is all about labels and label production, there is an increasing move toward flexible packaging as well. Considering many similarities in the equipment, substrates, etc., it does make sense.

Flexography is still the predominant production print method for both label and flexible packaging production. However, as we saw during the last Labelexpo, held in Brussels two years ago, there is a definite increase in the use of production inkjet both as a standalone solution and as a hybrid add-on to flexo platforms. The inkjet solutions, both standalone and hybrid, are increasing in speed and we are now seeing up to 100 meters per minute (m/min), although inline die cutting and embellishing do have an impact on speed. In some of those cases, we are seeing up to 80 m/min, which is still an impressive speed for a full featured production inkjet solution. Inline laser die cutting is currently hitting a comfortable 100 m/min, so we can expect that the overall speed of most of these full-featured label machines will be reaching 100 m/min by drupa. There is also a significant increase in embellishment technologies all around. Not just as standalone processes, but very much a part of a production print line. All of these added inline features are now desired since many converters are finding that the offline solutions are making the on-demand deliveries a challenge. I will cover more specifics around the individual products in future articles.

I have written about the move to hybrid—and, more importantly, bespoke—production solutions, and a large percentage of the new solutions on the floor exhibit those characteristics. Much of this is supported by an increase in collaboration amongst equipment vendors. Companies that offer digital printing and embellishment solutions for new and existing flexo presses were in abundance. Memjet, whom I have previously covered, had 17 OEM partners showing products here. Again, I expect to see much more of that when we hit drupa 2020, and well beyond just label production.

Sustainability is front and center in many of the product discussions as well. In Europe, regulations are focusing on sustainability, but globally there is also a significant consumer push toward sustainability. Inks, coatings, substrates, drying, energy demands, etc., are now a big part of the product development and marketing. Avery Dennison showed a line of products that went well beyond being recyclable. They showed substrates that were made from 50% grape waste combined with 40% recycled waste and 10% assorted other post-consumer waste. Security and traceability, also driven by regulation and desire for anti-counterfeiting, were also a big focus in everything from print embellishments to tamper-evident adhesives.

Another big area of development being shown is connectability. Solutions that support virtual reality (VR) are in abundance. RFID innovations are also being shown. In one case, using labels and other packaging with RFID printing, a store clerk can quickly scan an entire room of product and get accurate inventory counts. Using the same RFID enhanced packaging, a consumer could get in-depth product information using their cell phone.

There is lots to see and lots to talk about... Now I am off to another booth and will continue to report over the next few days.