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FINAT focuses on strategy & development: following the recent Label Summit in Prague, another East European venue was in the limelight when label association FINAT held its biennial Technical Seminar in Hungarian capital Budapest.

Following the recent "Label Summit" in Prague, another East European venue was in the limelight when the label association FINAT held its biennial technical seminar in Budapest, the Hungarian capital.

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Jules Lejeune, general manager of FINAT, outlined the association's strategy, in particular with regard to new European legislation affecting the label and packaging industries. Lejeune also announced that since the last general assembly, three more national label associations (Turkey, Poland and Russia) had all become affiliated with FINAT.

Ongoing activities of the association include recycling projects and lobbying activities, said Lejeune, and he concluded by introducing FINAT's recently appointed lobbying correspondent, Arianne Vijge.

International regulations

Keeping in contact with the European Commission and other transnational organizations has become a major concern of companies and their associations. Working on the model already well established in Washington, DC, lobbying groups have sprung up in Brussels to monitor and influence the vast body of legislation that today pours out of the European institutions.

Vijge is acting for FINAT specifically in the drafting and application of the International Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) with a view to placing small print shops outside the scope of stringent solvent and emission controls. She is also representing the pressure sensitive industry in discussions on safe use of chemicals, and on the European Directives relating to substances coming into contact with food. How do the Brussels Eurocrats react to industry lobbyists? Arianne Vijge reckons relations are generally harmonious. "Lobbying is relatively new to Europe, but industry needs to influence and understand future legislation as far upstream as possible," she said. "Both politicians and civil servants welcome expert help from industry, because nobody gains from bad or unworkable regulations."

Label materials consumption in Central and Eastern Europe

Since the enlargement, in May 2004, of the European Union to include most of Central Europe, this fast-changing region of the world has rarely been out of the news. In labels and packaging, as in most industrial sectors, the countries of the region have changed out of all recognition during the 15 years since the breaching of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of the end of communism.

Angelo de Pietri, Avery Dennison's top man in Central Europe, gave the delegates an overview. He pointed out the inverse relationship between PS label consumption and label market growth in nearly all countries of the world. While North America consumes 110 square feet of PS label materials per head, its market is growing by a mere 3 percent. In Central and Eastern Europe, by contrast, consumption is only 12 square feet per head, but label market growth is 17 percent.

His conclusion at least for Europe is that central and eastern parts of the continent have many years of growing PS label market demand ahead of them. He could be right: Simple math shows that if growth rates were to remain unchanged at 3 percent and 17 percent, it would take until the year 2022 for Eastern & Central Europe to catch up with North America in per capita PS label consumption. De Pietri also noted that one of the aspects of convergence between the two halves of Europe is the increasing trade in labels between east and west.

Added value label converting

"Adding value to a label is like tap water," said one of the conference delegates. "Everybody wants it, but nobody wants to pay for it." Bernhard Grob of UK press manufacturer Edale set about putting this right with his presentation on the expanding possibilities of narrow web converting. Grob is not the first to notice that, taking the printing and converting industries as a whole, continuous processes are expanding and sheetfed applications are declining. For the pressure sensitive label business this opens up an opportunity, not just to sell more labels, but also to branch out into other product areas where in-line processing can reduce costs and gain new business at the expense of traditional sheetfed offset. Throughout the continuous printing scene, letterpress, offset and gravure are set to decline, says Bernhard Grob, screen will hold is own, and digital is the joker of the pack. But the big winner, he reckons, will be flexo and more especially UV flexo. The UV flexo press, with for example add-on screen and hot or cold foiling units, enables the roll label printer to prise open the markets for all kinds of tickets and vouchers, as well as folding cartons and flexible packaging. The growing market for low cost security printing is also fertile ground for the label converter in search of new markets. But more than that, says Grob, the mindset of the PS label converter is attuned to the concept of rationalizing and automating a variety of operations into one production line.

Bernhard Grob concluded his speech by praising partnerships. No one has got all the answers, he reminded his listeners, and machinery manufacturers, ink specialists and end users need to get around the table and trade ideas.

Of Poles and Magyars

Bela Csuthi is one of the rising stars of the label sector in Central Europe. Just turned 36, he recently became sales and production director of Hungary's second biggest label converter, Miszepack. In fluent English he outlined the development of the Hungarian label market, which in 2005 according to his estimate will convert some 230 million square feet of PS laminate, almost all for the home market. A further 27 million square feet of printed PS labels will be imported, bringing total Hungarian demand to just short of 260 million square feet, or roughly half as much as its neighbour Austria, a country of similar population and size. Of Hungary's 33 roll label printers, the three biggest account for just over half the total production. In Hungary as elsewhere in Europe, most new narrow web presses are UV flexo. Increasing use of monofoil is cutting into the roll label market, and growth this year could well be zero (this forecast contrasts with the rosier growth prospects for Central/Eastern Europe put forward by substrate suppliers such as Avery; it should be borne in mind, however, that particularly in Central Europe growth is very uneven from one country or even one district to another). Csuthi estimates that almost half of all PS substrates used in Hungary are synthetic (compared with less than one quarter in North America). In other respects the Hungarian market has many of the same problems all too familiar to American converters: Major retailers are forcing label and packaging prices down, run lengths are getting shorter, and just-in-time deliveries are becoming the norm.

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If Bela Csuthi is a rising star, Romuald Szperlinski, boss of Polish label converter Introl, is something of a dynast. Son and grandson of a printer, he was first in Poland to go into the PS label business. That was way back in 1975 when few people outside Poland had heard of Lech Walesa and nobody had heard of Karol Wojtyla. Szperlinski treated congress delegates to an upbeat vision of the Polish market, the biggest in Central Europe. Most of Poland's 180 label printers are small, he said, with six leading firms controlling 50 percent of the market. Poland's total production of PS labels hit 100 million square meters (900 million square feet) in 2004. Nilpeter and Gallus are the dominant press suppliers to Poland, which makes no narrow web machinery itself.

If sales of presses have leveled off in recent years it is because Poland's printers are now concentrating on investments in prepress, he opines. With the opening of Poland's Western frontiers in 2004, trade with Germany boomed, with Poland both importing and exporting increasing volumes of labels. Food labeling and packaging has shown a big increase; Poland is a major exporter of food products but needs to invest to bring its food processing up to Western European standards. Polish label converters have also been exporting their manufacturing, says Szperlinski, shifting part of their production to new plants in Romania and Croatia, both countries with much lower wage costs.

Problems printing on synthetic label stock

"Improving the Printability of Oriented Polypropylene Films" is perhaps not the title best designed to make conference delegates sit on the edge of their chairs holding their breath, but Tarquin Crouch and William Grisard of ExxonMobil Chemical gave a well structured and coherent expose of what face stock manufacturers are up against when designing a new and better product for tomorrow's label converters.

Any filmic face stock for PS labels, they explained, must meet four groups of criteria:

Mechanical: It must have tensile strength, dimensional stability must be sufficiently stiff, and it must lie flat during printing/converting

Adhesive: A face material should ideally be suitable for all kinds of adhesive used in PS laminates (hot melt, solvent, UV, water based ...)

Printability: A film should be printable with water, solvent based or UV inks, be they flexo, screen, letterpress or offset. Ink adhesion is also a crucial factor.

Other criteria: e.g., whiteness, transparency or translucence, gloss or matte surface, and resistance to aging.

Oriented polypropylene (OPP) as a facestock for PS laminates encounters a number of printability problems. Silicone can transfer from the release liner to the printable surface, destroying the printability; the ink can (often does) fail to adhere or not be completely cured in the time available; the surface can be insufficiently scratch resistant, and the printed surface can become mottled. Many of these problems can be solved, but until recently mottling--defined as "uneven ink coverage causing variations in color density when printing in UV flexo"--has continued to plague printers and substrate manufacturers alike.

Mottling occurs most often in solid blocks of color; tests have shown that corona treatment reduces the problem in certain cases but does not solve it. Using a screen angle of 60[degrees] on the anilox roller likewise reduces but does not eliminate the problem. Using a hard flexo plate in combination with a non-compressible mounting tape can also help reduce mottling in solid color blocks. To make matters worse, mottling affects different colors in different ways. So if you have found a way to solve the problem for red, you might make it worse for blue.

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So what is the solution? The R & D boys at ExxonMobil went to work on the question and they came up with an answer, possibly the answer, in the form of "Rhiza", a new coating for their coated OPPs. Tests carried out in several countries have shown that the new coating reduces mottling to a level such that the finished print job is consistently rated "good" or "very good". The first of the new ExxonMobil face stocks using the new coating has just become available to rollstock laminators, so label converters can expect to be able to try out the new Rhiza-coated OPP laminates from the middle of this year.

The digital divide

Technical conferences of this type tend to be consensual affairs, where experts wait patiently to exchange their information with other experts. At the FINAT conference in Budapest it was welcome to see the platform shared for a "forum" jointly chaired by representatives of two competing firms pursuing two very different approaches to narrow web digital printing. Geert van den hole was a researcher with Barco until his division was "spun off" first as Dotrix and now as part of Agfa. The brand name Dotrix has been retained for this narrow web, inkjet based digital press originally marketed as "The Dot Factory". This same technology was shared with Mark Andy to develop a digital print module which could be incorporated into a conventional flexographic press.

The arguments in favor of digital printing for the narrow web sector (ever shorter run lengths, customization, just-in-time deliveries ...) are too familiar to need repeating. Geert van den hole's argument in favor of inkjet digital technology was based on the rapid expansion of inkjet printing generally worldwide, which, he opined, will mean more general acceptance of inkjet and a fall in prices for consumables (inks and cartridges). Although Dotrix' joint venture with Mark Andy was more a learning process than a commercial success, Geert van der hole sees the best future for narrow web digital as a modular element set into a conventional roll to roll press.

His co-chairman in the Digital Forum was Christian Menegon of HP Indigo. Menegon, an electronics engineer, knows his subject well. He explained that HP Indigo's conception of a digital narrow web press is essentially a standalone unit, with or without in-line diecutting, and able to handle a wide range of substrates. Quoting a recent survey he reminded delegates that two thirds of all label orders are under 2000 running meters (6000 feet), and for many of these digital is the most economical solution.

HP Indigo's technology is based on liquid toner (a.k.a. electrophotographic process), not inkjet. Its latest narrow web press handles substrates from 15 up to 350 microns, he told delegates, and runs at 45 feet/minute in four colors with a 14" web width. This press is the forerunner, he said, of tomorrow's faster, cheaper and 100 percent digital converting lines which will eliminates bottlenecks by digitizing pre-press (this already happens) and using laser diecutting. "Digital presses will open the way to short run production of high value added features, many of them unique to digital printing," he concluded "Security possibilities for brand protection using digital printing include digital microtext, security inks, variable data bar codes and similar features."

After the two formal papers on digital printing, the discussion was open to the floor, and several interesting questions were raised. One converter present had had problems of ink migration resulting in discoloration of the substrate (a rare phenomenon). Another queried the reliability of what is still a young technology. On the question of whether roll to roll digital printing is more suited to labels or to flexible packaging, the panel was unanimous is saying that today, most digital presses make labels, but that at all events the two sectors are tending to converge with increased use of shrink sleeves and unsupported films.

A final subject of discussion was the break-even point between digital and conventional technologies. Particularly in the case of toner based technologies, in view of the high cost of consumables, the break-even point might shift substantially depending on the quantity of ink or toner used per square foot of substrate (and also on the supplier's pricing structure).

Other presentations at the FINAT seminar included: Unifying Nomenclatures for PS Laminates and Standardizing Test Procedures (Haken Saxen, Raflatac); Technology Trends in Screen Printing (Amir Dekel, AVT); Special Inks (Rolf Montag, SICPA Aarberg); Laser Diecutting (Stephen Jenkins and David Kirkham, ABG International); a Comparative Study of Die Blade Performance (Renke Wilken, Technical Paper Foundation); Innovative Material Solutions (Dominic Meina, 3M); and the Importance of Innovation (Alan Hazelwood, Skanem).
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Title Annotation:FINAT Tech Conference
Author:Penhallow, John
Publication:Label & Narrow Web
Geographic Code:4E
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:2480
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