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FLEXO Magazine : January 2011
TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES prototypes can be cost-effectively produced on these digital presses. While runs of 10,000 and more can be cost-effectively printed on most of these devices, the challenge seems to be whether they have forsaken the jobs one might have originally thought they were perfect for: print runs of less than 2,500—or even 100. This has opened the door for a new class of digital printing system, one that truly offers a profitable way to produce small- quantity labels without the amortization of expensive equip- ment—and delivers labels finished in any shape without dies wound into completed rolls of labels. Many small-to-medium-sized companies have a need for high-quality labels for products that require small quantities over any given period of time; for example, any company marketing or manufacturing niche products such, as small specialty gourmet products or regional beverage (wine or water) manufacturers. However the cost associated with purchasing small quanti- ties—2,500 or less—of high-quality labels, while offering prod- ucts that are appealing to the consumer at the point of sale, is one of the biggest issues these companies still have to resolve. Also, industrial companies, which can manufacture products in much smaller quantities, need very specific labels, such as model numbers, safety messages and specifications. Until recent developments and an increased acceptance of digital label systems, companies had few options. They were required to purchase labels in large quantities, creating in- ventory that may never be used, or they paid a high premium for short-run labels—both options decreasing their profitabil- ity. Their last option was to use inferior pre-cut label solutions. A NEW ALTERNATIVE New digital label systems represent a paradigm-shift in label manufacturing by offering a complete tabletop produc- tion system that prints and finishes high-quality labels at an astonishingly low cost per label. These new digital label systems are comprised of two major components. First is a high-resolution, roll-fed CMYK inkjet engine featuring variable-droplet technology. The latest generation inkjet inks are very durable, with excellent fade and water resistance in addition to a very wide color gamut. Printing on a variety of pressure-sensitive substrates (BOPP, polyester, papers—although any substrate that has been coated to accept aqueous inkjet inks will work well), the systems image consumer-quality labels at up to five feet per minute. The ability to print variable data is an option. Typi- cally, these systems are driven by a software RIP and apply color management utilizing any ICC color profile, with spot color replacement capability. While the print quality is impressive, it is the ability to finish labels without a die—into any shape—that converters have considered extraordinary. The finisher laminates, integrates die-less die cutting (any vector shape designed in Adobe Illustrator), strips, slits and rewinds to finished rolls of labels. Many of these systems are small enough to fit on a tabletop, yet can handle high-productivity throughput. Most important, these systems enable every converter to never have to walk away from the customers’ short-run label production needs again. Flexo converters are seeing that adding a digital label printing and dieless finishing system is helping them to both retain existing customers and attract new flexo and short run digital customers. Because no dies are involved, there is no upfront invest- ment in a job that needs to be amortized over the amount of labels being produced. Therefore, you can print 10 labels, 100 labels or 1,000 labels—with each having the same, very low fixed cost to produce and yielding higher profit margins. On the upper end, if the converter has no other form of digital print technology, as many as 5,000 labels can be reasonably printed before it would be better to produce more efficiently on a flexo press and rotary die-cutter. INTOUCH WITH SHORT RUNS A good example of the success of these new systems can be found at Boston-based InTouch Labels. Founded in 1992, with a flexo facility in Falmouth, MA, InTouch Labels recog- nized a need for better quality and service in the industry. The company provides one-of-a-kind services like profes- sional graphic design, same-day layouts, and a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee. InTouch Labels customers range from large corporations and small businesses to individuals look- ing for one special custom label. Over the past year, the company began to notice a distinct trend of prospects and customers looking for short-run labels. These requests came from both new businesses, as well as those who had multiple products and who needed flexible production with a cost-effective price point. While InTouch Labels had made their mark in flexographic printing, they decided to adopt digital printing technology as the market expanded. InTouch did take a look at the larger digital presses, but it quickly decided that it did not offer a cost-effective alterna- tive for small quantities of labels; nor, as a smaller company, did the company consider upward of a $1 million investment viable as an entry level digital press. Once it saw the dieless technology associated with the smaller digital label systems, InTouch did not look further. “ We really liked the complete system. The flexibility of the dieless technology was very attractive, as was the cost of the system, which was much, much less than other systems we looked at,” says Lauren Hayes, vice president of sales. Other than the label system and a new computer to drive the RIP and printer, the investment was very minor. According to InTouch Label, it was plug and play. The only minor change in procedure was ordering stock that was not as wide, with a rule that was not quite as long. “ While the system manufacturer offers training, it provided a DVD that was simple to use and allowed us to teach our- selves,” says Hayes. “ The hardest part was making sure art was set up correctly. It was not difficult. We just had to make sure a marker at the edge of the artwork allows the digital finisher to orient itself and make the cut correctly.” InTouch Labels found that a very important component of the system was the ability to finish labels in any shape. From the customers’ perspective, a quote without any cutting or die charges was extremely attractive, and provided immediate approvals to run jobs, typically of 1,000 to 4,000 labels, al- though the average is about 2,000. Print quantities are higher than they thought, but runs of 100 are not uncommon, either. While the breakeven point is typically about 5,000 labels, there are times that InTouch Labels will even produce 10,000 labels, either because of a special diecut or to make sure that a job looks consistent from one to the next. Some customers are willing to pay for that consistency. www.flexography.org JANUARY 2011 FLEXO 39
Sustainable Winter 2011