The impact of digital printing is well established throughout the printing and packaging industries, but in the flexible packaging segment, the technology is still in its emerging stages. However, in an online press and analyst briefing hosted by Xeikon on Thursday, April 18, the curtain was peeled back to reveal how one innovative company has implemented Xeikon’s dry toner technology into flexible pouch production.
Over the past year, CS Labels, a Wolverhampton, U.K.-based company specializing in digitally-printed labels, has made the jump to flexible packaging, developing a pouch production process utilizing the Xeikon CX500.
According to Simon Smith, managing director for CS Labels, a key part of the company’s identity is to differentiate itself from the field of digital label printers. In the past, this has included innovation in the types of embellishments it offers, but to really stand out, Smith said CS Labels aims to offer solutions other digital label printers are not.
“Traditional printers are focusing on the value proposition of quality, service, delivery and competitive pricing,” he said. “Whilst all of these add to the value proposition itself, it’s not sufficient enough to sustain growth in a market where — certainly in the U.K. — we’re seeing falling margins in the lower run end of the market.”
While CS Labels has been able to develop a successful process for digital pouch printing with Xeikon’s dry toner technology, Smith explained that there were multiple obstacles to overcome. These challenges included the creasing, adhesion and tension issues stemming from the heat produced in the dry toner process, as well as cracking in the toner on certain materials.
However, through the combination of indirect printing, heat lamination to provide strong bonding between the white and CMYK layers, and in-line converting, CS Labels has been able to overcome these challenges to develop a solution for short-run pouch production.
Providing more detail on the process, Adam James, CS Labels’ operations director, explained the company can print on 23 micron PET at speeds up to 30 mpm on the Xeikon CX500 — a productivity improvement over the 19 mpm it could achieve on the Xeikon 3500.
After printing, James said a water-based thermal adhesive is applied, followed by a heat lamination process. Then, the roll is slit to provide added stability before entering the converting system, designed specifically for short runs of pouches.
Though Xeikon’s background is primarily in toner-based technology, the company made a splash in 2017 with the launch of its Panther line of UV inkjet label presses. Since the release of Panther, Jeroen Van Bauwel, director and product manager, said Xeikon has collected customer feedback and incorporated these insights into upgrades for the Panther platform.
Among these upgrades is a high capacity version, which features a high capacity unwinder, allowing customers to reduce substrate costs, Van Bauwel said. Additionally, he announced that new tactile printing capabilities are now available on the Panther platform, powered through the digital front end.
Designed for high-end labels, this haptic effect is based on the original image design, converted via the digital front end and sent to the print station. Van Bauwel explained that this added print element can be achieved without any alterations from the printer in prepress.
Lastly, Van Bauwel detailed the latest curing technology for the Panther line. DuraCure technology, he explained, provides an ideal combination of processes for optimum curing. The process begins with printing white, which is then pinned via LED UV. Then, the CMYK is printed, with just the black being pinned. The final curing is then completed via a combination of LED UV and mercury UV light.
Van Bauwel explained the combination of light sources offers the best of both technologies, since LED penetrates deeply through the ink layer with a narrow wavelength, ensuring strong adhesion of the ink to the substrate. The mercury UV meanwhile, ensures strong curing of the top layer.
“By creating this ideal combination of different light sources and different technologies, we are able to reduce the energy consumption of the total curing technology, not having the need for full mercury curing and having the advantage of the lower energy consumption of LED curing,” Van Bauwel said.
Café on the Way
Following the success of Xeikon Café Europe, which was held in March at Xeikon’s facility in Antwerp, Belgium, the North American edition of the event will take place May 14-16 in Itasca, Ill. The equipment on display will include the Xeikon 3500, 9800, Panther inkjet presses and finishing equipment. Additionally, the Café will feature multiple education tracks for label and packaging printers and graphics printers.
Each track will provide a customer panel, along with a tour of the Xeikon Innovation Center. On Wednesday, May 15, the label and packaging track will feature a panel consisting of representatives from Creative Labels, CS Labels, The Magnet Group, AccuLabel and Lake Graphics. The following day, the graphics track will consist of Melan Wall Deco/Coverings, Mittera Group, Lake Graphics and Eurobinders.
To conclude the event, a session titled “Killer Apps!” will highlight creative uses of Xeikon technology to produce high-value applications. The applications being highlighted are flexible pouches, heat transfer labels, wall deco/coverings and paper cups.