Andy Thomas-Emans looks at the latest developments in digitization and automation for converting and finishing systems at Labelexpo Europe 2023.
Converting and finishing systems have, for a long time, been the ‘Cinderella’ of the label manufacturing operation, often overlooked in favor of the presses which form the centerpiece of the labeling plant.
But a quiet revolution has been stealing over this sector, matching the transition of flexo presses from tool-adjusted, shaft-driven machines to servo-driven automated hybrids.
At Labelexpo Europe 2023, visitors will see just how far the finishing and converting sector has transformed, holding out the promise of a future industry move towards ‘lights out’ label production.
Let’s start with die cutting. There are two aspects to look out for at Labelexpo Europe 2023. Firstly, the continued development of high-speed semi-rotary die cutting modules, now reaching speeds up to 160m/min. Of course, we have had semi-rotary die cutting for some time on finishing machines optimized for short runs of digitally printed labels. The benefits of not having to change magnetic cylinders between jobs was evident. But the new generation of faster units is now impacting the efficiency of flexo presses. Not having to change cylinders between jobs is matched by the ability to automatically load and eject die plates, reducing setup times between jobs.
Taken together with automation on the flexo print stations and ECG color this has the potential to revolutionize the ability of the flexo press to economically produce shorter runs, pushing back against the digital cut-off point (at the same time as faster digital presses push into the medium run length sector traditionally dominated by flexo).
Quick change rotary die systems are also displayed at Labelexpo Europe 2023, allowing the rapid exchange of dies using side-address trolleys with automated pre-registration.
Die systems manufacturers have at the same time been fitting their die stations with the ability to intelligently respond to variations in liner thickness. The Maxcess/RotoMetrics RotoScan intelligent die station is a good example, and this unit is also set up to provide Industry 4.0-level real-time data capture and reporting. Kocher & Beck introduces a range of systems which reduce or eliminate manual intervention, including the GapMaster EM and KMS digital pressure gauge.
Stand-alone die cutting systems are also benefiting from Industry 4.0 integration tools. The Berhalter Swiss Die-Cutter B4, with a production speed of 500 strokes a minute, incorporates digitally monitored penetration depth control, and the company’s Cutcontrol technology allows operators to access real-time data streams from the machine, accessories, and punching tools.
Digital embellishment is another key theme of Labelexpo Europe 2023. We define this as the replacement of tool-based analogue decoration and converting processes with fully digital processes – primarily inkjet varnish, various forms of digital metalization and laser die cutting.
Retro-fittable Inkjet modules can turn conventional printing or converting machinery into hybrid systems with the ability to apply tactile varnishes, or variable white, black and spot colors.
Labelexpo Europe 2023 sees Domino launch a new digital retrofit module for both flexo presses and finishing equipment, with more details to be released closer to the show. ABG demonstrates the highly capable JetFX-powered DigiJet 330 print bar which we reviewed at Labelexpo Americas last year, and FujiFilm marks the Labelexpo debut of its 42K imprinting bar system, successor to the well-established Samba 42000.
A number of fully integrated digital embellishment lines will be on show, combining inkjet varnishing, digital metalization/doming and laser die cutting into fully automated one-pass label converting systems. Prati shows its DigiFastone integrated digital finishing line, based on the company’s Futura field-upgradable open platform technology. This is fully digital from inkjet module to laser die cutting and turret rewind.
Along the same lines, Cartes shows its GE363VJL digital finishing technology consisting of a Jet DScreen (JDS) inkjet module combined with laser die-cutting and converting, all based around the company’s Gemini production platform.
Anytron shows its versatile Any-Jet II which integrates digital printing, lamination, laser die cutting, slitting and matrix removal, while SEI LASER shows its Labelmaster laser die-cutting and finishing system in-line with a KyoJet UV inkjet module, representing a single-pass system from PDF to shipping. ABG demonstrates its DigiLase 4.0 laser die cutter as part of an integrated Digicon line.
Digital metalization continues to make great strides via a range of different technology approaches.
ABG demonstrates the zero-waste Actega EcoLeaf metalization system, which uses a donor roll of nano-metallic flakes attracted to a printed trigger image. Kurz introduces its DM-Uniliner 2D/3D digital embellishment systems and the Distorun module, a material-saving cold transfer unit for processing single images and endless décor.
It operates by reading a print mark on the web and positioning the images in relation, at the same time monitoring and syncing with the speed of the press. Kurz also premiers an inline metalization solution developed specifically for the Xeikon toner press, using a part-cured ‘tacky’ toner to adhere the metalization effect to the substrate.
Automation is an absolutely key feature of this new generation of digital finishing systems. Grafotronic unveils its IQ automation system, which places smart cameras on the unwind, varnish, die cut and slitting stations of a DCL2 finishing line. The cameras allow for automated setup and monitoring of each station, all using simple reference marks printed between the label lanes. An IQ-equipped DCL2 can be seen in action on the Automation Arena.
ABG showcases ABG Connect, a key component for integrating Digicon finishing lines into wider factory communication networks.
The latest in Inspection/rewind units, increasingly supplied with intelligent camera and servo web control systems, will be on show at Labelexpo Europe 2023, alongside a new range of automated turret rewinds.
In the latter category, ABG launches its new turret unit and Daco shows the interesting TD 350/430 fully automatic turret. By adding one or two flexo stations, the machine can produce finished rolls in one pass, with drying options including UV, IR and LED, along with options for UV inkjet systems for barcodes and variable data work.
Shrink sleeve seaming and doctoring also sees new technology launches at the show.
Accraply shows its new generation Revolve seaming technology, while Brotech introduces its SMS shrink sleeve label seaming unit to the European market, alongside a range of differently configured digital label finishing lines.
An interesting decoration technology for shrink sleeves is shown by Pantec, which introduces its Cheetah N rotary embellishment system for applying single 3D images to shrink sleeves. Such effects cannot be achieved on shrink sleeves by embossing. The customized 3D images are applied to the shrink sleeve by heat and pressure from a carrier film at up to 20 images a second.
Specialist converting units for RFID label production are another feature of the show. Graphimecc will be talking about how RFID and QR codes fit into wider Cloud-based track and trace systems at daily talks on the Automation Arena, while promoting its own abilities in that area.
Delta ModTech demonstrates an updated Crusader Converter incorporating precision RFID antennae placement. The system integrates multiple processes such as rotary die cutting, winding, conveying and accurate part placement.
LemuGroup introduces the LI 220 RFID converter for multilayer label production and NFC/RFID chip inserts, while Melzer offers the SC-X Smart Label Production Line with integrated punching units and trim removal. This production line for RFID labels and tickets can process both dry and wet inlays at full speed of up to 60 m/min.
Voyantic demonstrates the Tagsurance 3 inline quality testing system for RFID tag and label production lines. The system offers full visibility into the RF performance of labels and measures the performance of UHF and HF RFID inlays, tags and labels at different production stages. It is scaleable to various production volume needs from one to eight lanes with one to five stations per lane, handling lane speeds up to 200m/min.
Specialist machines dedicated to the wine sector are shown by Emmendinger Maschinenbau (EMB), which shows sparkling wine capsule machines that offer a wide range of decoration and functional possibilities. Grafisk Maskinfabrik (GM) brings, among other converting machines, its DC350Flex+ wine line for foiling and embossing, incorporating both screen and flexo varnish effects and a 50-ton pressure hot stamping module. The unit can work standalone or in-line with a digital press.
Schobertechnologies’ RSM410 IML/MX is specially designed for the high-speed die cutting and stacking of in-mold labels including the Spider robot-automated stacking and counting system.
Karville will be showing a complete system for laminating then manufacturing standup pouches, operating as part of HP Indigo’s ‘Pouch factory’. The Karlville Swiss compact KS-SUP-400 pouch machine offers the capability to manufacture custom-shaped pouches. This is the first time the company has showcased this line at a Labelexpo show.
The above is just a small selection of the finishing and converting technology launched at Labelexpo Europe 2023. To keep up to date with new launches, be sure to visit www.labelexpo-europe.com and www.labelsandlabeling.com