BPIF labels is the special interest group of the British Printing Industries Federation. This special interest group serves the needs of the self adhesive label printing sector.

Reflections on Drupa 2016

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28 June 2016

When everyone gets concerned about the future of large print exhibitions, DRUPA bounces back firing on all cylinders.  While the general printing industry continues to suffer with low margins,  the packaging sector is continuing to thrive.  This was particularly noticeable with all the major Digital press manufacturers offering labels, cartons and flexible packaging solutions within their various programmes.  It was noticeable that the halls that seemed to be the busiest were the very halls where these products were being demonstrated.

The choice of available machinery is vast, and anyone making plans to invest has much to consider.  Will the technology still be around in 5 years’ time?  Will the manufacturer still be in business and what will the demands of the industry be in the future?  When one reflects on what has changed since the 2012 DRUPA, these concerns are valid.  Look back to 2008 and that is when digital processes started to become mainstream technologies.  Gone are the days when you could spend £500k on a press and look forward to the next 10 years with it.

What was particularly evident at DRUPA this year was the emphasis on the packaging sector.  Previously, DRUPA has not been seen as an exhibition for packaging.  Its emphasis has been on the media and printing in general.  However, with the demise of the general printing industry and the cross over of digital processes between print and packaging, packaging is now seen as a growth area; hence the vast number of label related and flexible packaging presses on show.  The most significant change that I saw, comparing 2012 to 2016, was the way ink jet technology has leapt to the forefront both in terms of quality, which was outstanding, and speed, which is now on a par with conventional technologies. To bear this out, the winner of the Best Label Printer at the EDP Awards ceremony was Domino Digital Printing Solutions who won the category with their N610i 7-colour digital label press. Congratulations are due to them.

Competing with their liquid toner technology, HP (not to be outdone) demonstrated their new twin headed press that is now capable of running at 80 metres a minute.  This was complemented by new offerings from KONICA MINOLTA, SCREEN, and XEIKON

One has to consider what all this means.  Some press manufacturers I talked to reported that 20% of their enquiries are now coming from general printers who wish to enter the packaging arena because they see the better margins and growth in the self adhesive industry as reasons for entering this market.  However, to counter this threat, narrow web printers should start to look at short run flexible packaging and short run cartons as potential new markets.  These are market areas ripe for exploitation.  Many of the volume players in these sectors are shying away from digital processes.  I am sure this will leave the market open to far-sighted narrow web printers.  To demonstrate even further how far ink jet has come, I looked at the new DURST Rho130SPC single pass corrugated printer.  If anyone needs reminding of how conventional  processes are under threat, then take a look at this machine.  I witnessed it running at 120 metres per minute, producing very large corrugated board.


However, despite the advance of digital processes, the conventional machinery suppliers were also in evidence.  Presses with faster change-over times, hybrid alternatives and improved plate making techniques continue to make advances.  All in all, this is making the label producer’s choice of which investment to make for the future all the more difficult. 

DRUPA has changed enormously since I first visited back in 1977 when UV inks were first introduced.  My goodness, hasn’t the industry come a long way since then!  By DRUPA 2020 we may witness the first fully functional LANDA press with Nano technology.  The presses on show this year looked impressive but I think it will be a couple of years before we see the print quality really competing.


So what can we expect at DRUPA in 2020?  I foresee that, by then, laser die-cutting technology will make major advances in both speed and quality, with prices for this equipment falling.  There will be further advances in ink jet technology, and many conventional machinery manufacturers will incorporate ink jet heads into their production lines with flexo units being used for coating, varnishing and cold foiling.  While the physics will prevent dry and liquid toner systems from competing on speed, innovative solutions incorporating multi heads will probably become the norm.  I have no doubt that there is going to be a fundamental shift in technology as we move towards the 2020s.

For further information please contact:
Oliver Willows
Oliver Willows
01924 203 339
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