FFEI’s Managing Director, Andy Cook, takes a look at the innovations and trends likely to shape the labels and packaging market in the year ahead.

Industry 4.0 technology blends with digital Hybrid label production systems to enable much more automation, efficiency and control

At Label Expo 2018 it was clear that inkjet and hybrid production systems have become mainstream and well accepted by both label convertors and brands. For 2019 we expect to see the introduction of Industry 4.0 technology in to these systems to enable more automation, efficiency and control. The ability to collect and analyse large volumes of data throughout the production processes, combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI), will enable vastly more accurate job cost estimation, production choices and management control – especially in the complex production environment of multiple printing and finishing processes.

With this technology adoption trend, we will see hybrid presses able to cover an even wider variety of work, reduce waste and increase consistency per job. These trends will lead digital hybrid systems to dominate the medium run length market, especially now inkjet speed is approaching a level that’s comparable to traditional flexo.

It’s not just about printing speed. Hybrid presses can provide a lower operational cost than either traditional or pure digital, particularly when combined with AI systems for control. In addition, automation is key to reducing waste and improved consistency – automatic changeovers, automatic setup pressure, registration, automated recall of setups for specific substrates – maximising uptime and deskilling operators.

FFEI’s Managing Director, Andy Cook, standing in front of the LabelStream 4000 at Oce’s launch event in Poing

Digitization driving automation, embellishment and finishing choice

We are seeing a growing number of other processes fall in the scope of digital print – inkjet varnish, inkjet foiling, inkjet screen white alternatives.  With a drive on productivity and added value, more hybrid solutions will have digital embellishment and finishing options, including single purpose Printbars. Convertors will fuel this as they increasingly look for digital solutions to application ‘problems’ – rather than digital solutions looking for an application problem to solve.

Expect to see a greater range of applications, with very specific requirements, being met through such technology – printing spot colours on the backside of labels for example. Furthermore, we are seeing digitisation of traditional technologies. Press setup has gone from nearly 30mins to just a couple of minutes with only a few meters of waste. The devices are highly automated, sophisticated, easier to maintain and most importantly interconnected to management systems and support systems.