Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Five cutting-edge technology developments for label printing

New demands from label customers and changing market dynamics will affect the choice of printed label type and influence new developments in label technologies over the next five years. The global market for label printing has been growing steadily in recent times, valuing at $36.98 billion in 2017. The market will continue to increase at annual average growth rate of 4.1% in value terms to reach $45.22 billion by 2022.

Asia is the largest geographic market for printed labels, having experienced annual growth rates of 8.0% in value terms from 2012 to 2017. North America and Western Europe are the next two largest markets for printed labels, and these three regions make up 85% of global volume demand and 87% of the global value.

According to a new report by Smithers Pira - The Future of Label Printing to 2022 - six major technology advancements and trends are emerging, having the potential to significantly disrupt the label printing market.

Lightweighting of label formats
The packaging industry and its customers are continually moving towards decreasing the weight of product packaging, either using thinner rigid containers, whether metal, glass or plastic; or by switching to flexible plastic formats.

Labels are also contributing to this drive for weight reduction, with product manufacturers either using smaller labels, or labels produced from thinner materials. Material science developments have aided the reduction in volume and thickness of label materials, while maintaining the strength for handling and printing processes. In addition to the reductions in material that will be used for the labels, thinner materials offer other advantages to both the label printer and its customers. Printers can use rolls with longer lengths so that there is less downtime to splice on a new roll, and label users will receive more labels on longer rolls that are lighter and easier to manage.

Nestlé Waters North America has reduced the size of labels on its bottles by 35%, in addition to using lighter weight bottles. These initiatives have resulted in an annual saving of nearly 30,000 metric tonnes of plastic and 4,500 tonnes of paper.

Recyclability of packaging materials is of growing importance globally, and local authorities around the world are introducing and improving recovery schemes for household and industrial waste. The label is a relatively small part of the packaging, but the choice of materials can play an important role in recycling processes.

Labels can affect the purity of the plastic that is recovered, or potentially make mixed plastic packaging unrecyclable. Most reclaimers pre-wash recovered plastic bottles with very hot water or steam, shrinking the bottle slightly to loosen dirt and remove as much of the labels as possible before granulation.

The purity of the recovered plastic granules will depend on how easily the adhesive can be removed. Development of new label adhesives have been introduced to ensure that the bond is broken completely, resulting in high purity reyclate. A practical example of this can be found in Avery Dennison’s CleanFlake, a water-based recyclable adhesive. The adhesive is designed so that the cohesive bond is only broken during the sink-float process, allowing the label and adhesive to cleanly separate from the granules to give pure PET flakes.

Greater automation in label printing
New demands on label printers for shorter print runs, faster turnaround, and greater flexibility and customisation is driving the label printing industry towards higher levels of automation. Printers are investing in sophisticated management information systems (MIS) that are integrated with specialised inspection and colour performance software and technology, and even fully automated press and finishing line set-up systems.

The ultimate objective is to establish a capability for running completely automated and streamlined workflows 24 hours per day, that receive job orders by electronic data interchange. The new automated systems can utilise the potential of Cloud computing and the Internet of Things to liaise with shipping carriers, set up invoices and receive payment advice, and use Wi-Fi for remote access and control of production processes. Automation is also being applied to warehouse management and the preparation of shipments to customers. Higher levels of automation mean that the role of the employees is changing, and new skill sets are required from those of traditional printers.

Digital print
With the end-users of printed labels requiring the ability to provide greater variety and opportunities for customisation from printers, developments in the digital (toner and inkjet) printing processes are attracting the highest levels of investment. The drive is to improve print run speeds and print quality, and reduce production costs. All these requirements require initiatives in developing new print presses, software and its compatibility with automated management systems, and better and higher quality inks.

Premiumising products
Premiumisation is the process by which the apparent quality of a product can be enhanced by using expensive-looking labels or packaging, without making any fundamental changes to the product itself.

There are a variety of new options available to the label printer to produce premium labels. In addition to presenting a higher-quality looking design, the printer can use different print effects to embellish the labels to give them a more ‘expensive’ appearance.

The substrate for the label can also play an important role in presenting a high-quality image, either from the appearance of the base colour onto which the details are printed, or by imparting tactile or haptic effects using a process like spot varnishing.

Anti-counterfeiting solutions
Counterfeiting continues to affect the pharmaceuticals industry, as well as other industries solutions that include electronics, food, wine, spirits and high-end cosmetics. It is estimated that it affects 5–7% of world trade. Manufacturers and customers may also need to cope with problems caused by package tampering and theft throughout the shipping channel.

Manufacturers and despatch companies have introduced a variety of security features onto product labels and packaging to reduce the effects of counterfeiting, and new measures are continually being introduced as the counterfeiters become more sophisticated. These methods include glues that make labels harder to remove and and sophisticated integrated designs.

The fine wine and spirits segments are seeing the arrival of a number of bespoke labels integrating a number of security features that allow customers to verify the authenticity of their purchase via QR codes linked to secure company websites. For more information on these trends and the market outlook for label printing, visit The Future of Label Printing to 2022.

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