UAE or the United Arab Emirates consists of seven independent city-states or emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain, Fujairah, Ajman, and Ras-al-Khaimah. Total population of all the emirates of UAE put together is much less than that of New Delhi India at 11.42 million with only 20% Emiratis and rest are expats making it the highest percentage  of  expatriates in any country in the world. The Indian expatriate population at 28% is the largest group in UAE. It is surprising that there is a substantial number of label printing companies there with more printers joining in year after year. In the start of the new Millennium, one could count the total number of label printing companies to around 10 which has now grown to over 40. Even though leading printers speak of intense competition and depleting margins yet there is a steady news of expansions and new companies joining the bandwagon of label printers. Obviously, it is not the local demand but due the business environment, conditions and facilities, the printing companies reach out to customers not only in the Middle East but also to Africa, Europe, and USA. It is a global hub from where they produce and export. It is normal to hear label printers in the region expressing difficulties due to a small market and intense competition, in such a situation it is heartwarming to see someone who comes from a fragile financial status, jumping into label printing and starting to register smart growth. One such person is Jagannath Wagle who endeavored to take the risk of setting up from virtually nothing, his maiden label venture, Sigma Middle East Labels that has started rising from humble beginnings.

 

 

 

 

Jagannath Wagle

It is rare to find humble people these days. Humility is putting pride behind, staying grounded to reality, have faith in oneself and learning from one’s modest beginnings to continuously move ahead with firm resolve and keep evolving. That is how Jagannath Wagle talks with respect and nostalgia about his humble background and times when he was growing up. this: As if living with his parents in a one 300 square feet room flat in Mumbai’s western suburb Nala Sopara along with two brothers was not crowded enough, to help the son of a family friend in village, his mother brought the boy to Mumbai to stay with them.” Jagannath’s father, an auditor with the government of India’s audit department had to manage within the meagre means to support a family of 6 people living in one room. However still they managed to impart the right education to all the children. Jagannath’s mother was a homemaker in true spirit, managing the household and the children by taking home tuitions, he reminisces fondly about her being an excellent cook.

 

 

Jagannath Wagle studied up to class 10th in Little flower English school in Nala Sopara followed by joining father Agnel technical college in 1992. Unfortunately, due to Mumbai riots in 1992 he could not attend college, had to drop a year, and later joined an institute in Vasai to complete the secondary school education. Later he wished to join an engineering college but could not afford the capitation fee demanded by institutes those days so as an alternative he studied to graduate with B.Sc. degree in Physics from Mumbai University in 1998. Due to the financial stress, a relative in Delhi suggested for him to join the Coast Guard but his mother did not relent as she wanted him to study further. He finally went on to get a B.Sc. (tech) degree that was equivalent to an engineering degree. Thereafter he started making applications for job in various organisations and also to start with, he accepted a job with a relatively small company TechGyan at a meagre salary of Rs.4000.00 per month (Approximately 55 dollars). He had a lot of interest in computers so had acquired knowledge about them and as a business to augment his earnings he started assembling computers for customers on job work basis charging Rs. 2000.00 per computer. He had already catered to almost 50 customers. At this time, he started getting interview calls from companies like HDFC, Wipro and Reliance. He was excited that he got selected in Reliance at a salary of Rs.18000. per month to start with. It is strange and a matter of kismet as to how life leads you to your eventual Karma Bhoomi, the land where one eventually works or performs his life’s deeds, this is as expressed in Indian literature. Before Jagannath could join Reliance, his family got a call from his mother’s brother in Dubai who had been tricked by someone to invest in a label manufacturing unit, knowing nothing about labels and he needed help. He requested the family to send Jagannath to Dubai.

 

 

Ajman
Like any young man Jagannath also had aspired to work in distant lands like Europe and USA but for the Dubai offer by his uncle, he was hesitant as he knew nothing about labels, his knowledge was limited to computers and engineering. His mother impressed upon him to go to Dubai and support her brother who needed help and who else he could rely upon except family at this time.  The decision was made and on 28 January 2004 Jagannath Wagle landed in UAE which everyone impulsively refers to as Dubai due to its being recognized as the face of UAE. He started to work with his uncle in Ajman, as a salesman on a salary of 1500 Dirhams per month. Though he started as salesman, but his job profile eventually became all in one, heading the label business with a team of only 3 persons just like a startup entrepreneur. Jagannath knew that with UAE having one of the highest per capita income, it would be expensive and difficult to manage in the income promised and more difficult if he got married. To make success of his career he plunged head on into the business he had no knowledge about. Customers and suppliers became his teacher and taught him all about plates, cylinders, color management etc. he was a fast learner. A business that was 10000 Dirhams per month when he joined and his uncle was pumping in money each month to sustain expenses, became 100,000 per month  in just a year’s time, all this with just one two color small tacky boy press. Any label printer will understand the  effort that must have gone into achieving this.

 

 

 

Pooja Wagle
In 2005 Jagannath convinced his uncle that to remain in business they needed another machine. A used 1980 model 7” 3color Mark Andy 830 was acquired. In today’s time of advanced servo driven modular presses that equipment sounds irrelevant yet by 2007 he was able to reach a sale of 350,000 Dirhams per month by working 24 hours every day, the Tacky boy press became redundant. Jagannath’s salary was enhanced to 3500 and he got married to Pooja from Bohisar in Mumbai. Pooja also came from a very humble background, the father having passed away, her mother taught children of poverty-stricken people. She was working as a credit card salesperson with ICICI bank. They came in contact through a matrimonial website and the marriage was arranged by parents with the couple having never met each other. Once married the couple faced financial stress and there was need to move up in life.

 

 

 

 

Part of Sigma old factory shed
There was no scope for further expansion with the existing Mark Andy 830 press, discontent crept in, Jagannath contemplated on starting on his own or returning to India, but his wife Pooja put her foot down that there was no way she will go back to India and bring up her children there. Meanwhile Jagannath’s cousin had joined the label business and took over the management. Jagannath decided to initially start his own trading business of making non adhesive liners for cores. Having no money to start manufacturing himself he started out sourcing converting also from his uncle’s company for whom he was working. He was so respectful toward his uncle because of whom he was in Dubai and had indulged in learning the label business, that he made sure not to touch any customer who was buying from them. He even kept working simultaneously with uncle during the day and after office hours for his trading business because he wanted to let his cousin to complete his MBA before he left that business completely. Once free Jagannath decided to get full-fledged into labels but making sure he never touched his uncle’s customers. He started getting his jobs done from a company called German labels and as luck would have it sometime later the owner of that company decided to quit business and sell the machine.

 

 

 

Old factory shed
Jagannath wished to buy that press but did not have the funds, so he requested the owner to accept instalments, fortunately as he was destined, the owner agreed to handover the press with 50% down payment and 50% in 6 months. Now the 50% down payment was also not there but a determined Jagannath Wagle refused to give in. In due course of time his two brothers and the friend who lived with him in Nala Sopara had all moved to Dubai and were in good jobs. They all came to rescue and pooled in money to help him buy the Mark Andy. The trade license he took in 2009 was converted to a manufacturing license in 2010. So, in January 2010 Sigma Middle East Labels Industries LLC  started their maiden venture operating with a 250mm preowned Mark Andy 830 press in an 1100 square ft shed in Ajman with just one operator and a helper. Hard work and sheer perseverance produced good results and at this time a difficult situation cropped up. The only operator he had met with an accident and in emergency had to go to India. It was during the Eid period when business is at a peak in UAE, not being the one to be left behind, Jagannath himself operated the printing machine for the next three months. When a container of stocks arrived, he and his only helper would unload and moved goods into the shed and stack them. As at that moment he could not afford help and this incident will always keep him grounded to reality. Watching him make the gigantic offer many suppliers came forward to support him. He is extremely appreciative of Ajay Mehta of SMI Coated products for his support in supplying material on credit to his start-up venture.

 

 

 

Multitec
In 2012 when his sales from just one press reached 150,000 to 200,000 Dirhams per month, it was time for Sigma to move on to the next level and acquire another bigger press, he wished to install a European brand, but paucity of funds made him decide on an eight color all UV Multitec 330mm label press which was installed in 2013. It was his first modular press and was a big jump for Jagannath. Even though he lost some money initially as his costing was not right but soon, he took corrective steps towards growth, “This was my biggest learning curve” says Jagannath. 

 

 

Bobst at New Premises
Two years down the line in 2015 a jubilant Jagannath fulfilled his dream of acquiring a European label press, a Gidue MX370 , 8 color all UV, 1 die station, delam-relam, cold foil and lamination was installed along with and some more additional equipment, also adding more shopfloor space. The fast unplanned expansion led to problems in cash flow and in 2016 Sigma ran into financial stress and troubles. Payments to suppliers were delayed and supplies became restricted. A person having risen from grass roots and not the one to give up, Jagannath kept constant touch with his vendors assuring them safety of their investment and in the meanwhile putting in enhanced efforts to nurture his company to good health. By 2017, recovery had started. Sigma moving ahead acquired yet another Gidue like the one they had. 

 

 

Brotech Finishing
Here on, a more professional approach was put in place, targets planned and achieved, more ancillary equipment including a Chinese press 5 colors with UV and hot air in 2019 to print the liners for cores was added and the second Gidue like the one bought before was bought. Yet again mentions Jagannath that SMI was there to support him, he remains indebted to them. However, learning from past experiences, he sold the Multitec press so that he did not run into financial stress again. The one 1100 square feet shed had multiplied to become 4 sheds and continued growth had become a reality at Sigma. The first used Mark Andy 830 that he had, was given to a friend in Oman at low price to help him.

 

 

 

New office

 

 

 

 

 

In 2020 things became comfortable, Sigma moved from the four 1100 square feet sheds to a plush well planned 12000 square foot facility with well-furnished and equipped offices. 

 

 

 

Going Digital with Konica Minolta

 

 

 

 

 

 

They invested 5 million Dirhams adding a Konica Minolta, foiling equipment and Esko and Asahi plate making system. 

 

 

 

 

Reception of new premises

 

In early this year 2021 Jagannath decided that his company had to upgrade to latest equipment to be more efficient in production, he sold the first Gidue he had bought and replaced it with a brand new fully loaded Gidue M5. Jagannath has finally put Sigma on its road to success and bigger business, he attributes the his journey so far to the inspiration that he got from a Indian picture “Guru” based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani the founder of Reliance Industries Ltd. He still quotes the dialogue from that film, “If I am doing well why not for myself ?”. 

 

 

 

 

The credit for this amazing journey largely goes to the woman behind Jagannath, his wife Pooja who solidly supported him right through, besides bringing up their only daughter. Pooja is a partner in the company holding the purse strings as the financial controller. No business succeeds without a good team Jagannath and Pooja carefully built their team as a family and took only people from grassroot levels and trained them, two of their teammates had joined as labour/helpers and now work as business development executive bringing in half a million Dirham business each. During their struggling days, Jagannath’s brother in law Kishor Vedpathak quit his job in Mumbai to come and support him, he now looks after Sigma as admin manager. Looking back, he reminisces that his first big break was when he got a big order for 100,000 price marking rolls from Centre Point Chain retail stores. He plans to enhance capacity again later this year with yet another flexo press plus another digital press. Up from just two employees when he started on his own, he now works with 55 employees including four designers inhouse, Sigma has registered a sale of 25 million Dirhams last year growing 30% in a pandemic year!

 

 

 

Jagannath in his new office


Deep in thought and with a smile he mentions that he wishes to be if not the biggest, he will try to be one of the biggest label printers in UAE in 5years time. He is confident that he will continue to lead Sigma Middle East Labels to keep rising to higher levels.

 

Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman Weldon Celloplast Ltd. New Delhi June 2021

Print magazines my reproduce the above article by giving credit to author.

The continuous wailing of ambulance sirens, send a chill down one’s spine, another loved one from somebody’s family, suffering from the impact of second edition of covid-19, is on the lookout for a hospital bed and the much-needed evasive supply of oxygen as life support. It is ironic that in today’s time of technological advancement many unsuspecting innocent human beings are losing a desperately fought battle for survival against a more vicious and fast spreading variants of corona virus. Medical infrastructures are crumbling under the huge volume of patients reporting infections. Vaccination program is struggling to meet targets that keep becoming difficult by the day, the government has opened registration of people for vaccination, but it is a gigantic task which presently at the very outset, means reaching out to over 50% of the total population of almost 1.4 billion people which would be about 70 million people spread across a large geographical terrain in 29 states and 7 Union territories. Recently a newspaper reported the registrations for vaccinations coming at the rate of 55000 per second! A bigger danger is that much of rural India which accounts for almost 65% of the total population (90million) was largely unaffected and now the virus seems to be creeping there as well. The problem is not only India, as in today’s time given the travel mobility of people from all walks of life and with their relatives spread around the globe with different natural and adopted nationalities, the present dangerous second phase of the pandemic is a global problem and unless checked, it may reach very scary levels impacting the world at large. The second wave is so vicious that it has impacted every other home. It is heart-warming to see that governments around the world understand the problem and are coming forward to cooperate with each other in combatting this menace. On the domestic front we see religious bodies, NGOs, industry and many others doing their bit to defuse the pain and anguish due to the impact of the pandemic. The Indian label industry is also taking steps to contribute towards the safety and wellbeing of their workforce and wherever possible contributing to the society as well.

 

 

Kuldip Goel
The author reached out to many leading label manufacturers to assess the level of infections in the two phases of covid and their reactions to combat the menace.  The author, his most family members including both sons K D Sahni and Pawandeep Sahni, MD of Omet India Pvt. Ltd. and 4 employees in his company Weldon Celloplast Ltd. tested positive. Kuldip Goel president LMAI (Label Manufacturers Association of India) and Chairman/MD of Any Graphics NOIDA  reported 25 of his team including 14 of top management along with his son Naveen went through the ordeal. He restricts himself from saying he helped his people during the hard time but prefers to use the word support instead. Besides ensuring the job security of his people, providing financial and medical support they even arranged counselling to almost 100+ people in bringing them out from depression. Kuldip along with his colleagues in board of directors of LMAI are already planning to import Oxygen concentrators for the needy. Abhay Datta Director UV Graphic Technologies where 4 people were infected including himself and his son, has prepared guidelines and implemented them for awareness and safe working within the business. He has developed UVC disinfection devices for articles to contain spread of corona. He is unhappy on how the government has dealt with the outbreak, he says, “It is a bad situation, really sad that the government has failed to control it.” Twelve persons including himself and his plant head in Anuj Bharagava lead Kumar Labels suffered infection, but Anuj went ahead and made a makeshift clinic with Oxygen & IV facility at his NOIDA factory. As also helping communities by enabling concentrators and oxygen cylinders. He too is concerned about the handling of the spread, “It is a terrible period for India, and humanity. We wish things were better anticipated and planned by the authorities. However still, we are all doing our best to help each other. Sad to see some people trying to profiteer by selling drugs and services in black” he says.

 

 

Nirav Shah
In central and west India there is a bigger concentration of label companies and there too most are impacted though some have succeeded in limiting the impact of the pandemic.  LMAI honorary secretary and Director of Indore headquartered Pragati Graphics and Packaging has been deeply involved in arranging hospital beds, medicines, oxygen, oxygen cylinders, etc. for a lot of people from and around Indore. He has also arranged two oxygen concentrators which are being given to needy people. Commenting on the 25 people infected in his company he said, “To me the picture looks gloomy. The industry was slowly picking up as the demand was growing. This wave of pandemic has again brought the industry to its knees and the situation will become very bad if the wave of Covid does not recede soon.” Nirav Shah heading Letragraphix in Ahmedabad had to re-engineer his production plans to meet timelines and service his customers efficiently since 20-25% of his workforce got infected. He has stood by his employees in full even during lockdown and providing whatever support was needed. On the social front Nirav finds satisfaction from the fact that they have donated sanitisers, ration kits and food packets besides supporting an NGO called Karma Foundation on regular basis. He states that these are unpredictable times which have taught many lessons to everyone to get adjusted to a new normal of work culture and pray for the world to heal soon.

 

 

 

Vinod Vazhapulli of Skanem
Mumbai based Skanem India Pvt. Ltd. (Formerly Skanem Interlabels) a subsidiary of Skanem AS headquartered in Norway with presence in 8 countries also reported 15% to 20% of workforce as infected in its 4 sites within India. Vinod Vazhapulli Managing Director informed that the company has taken care of their employees by paying before time in full without any deductions whatsoever ever since the start of pandemic and supporting wherever help was needed. The company had them covered under the Insurance scheme with a coverage of Sum insured of Rs. 2 Lakhs especially for Covid by Skanem India, thereby ensuring that all their Medical and treatment expenses are taken care of under Cash less transaction schemes. Online counselling sessions / Yoga classes etc. were organized ensuring that any kind of anxiety or mental dis-order that would have developed due to the pandemic or extended lock downs are handled by experts, taking care of the mental wellbeing of their employees. As a social endeavor They have provided Medical aid , Food & PPEs to the Maljipada village where the Mumbai plant is, during the peak of Lock downs last year. Vinod says, “ there has been an impact of this outbreak on our Industry, the recovery had commenced but with this 2nd wave it is again pushed back to uncertain times”.

 

 

Raveendran
South India based Rajeev Nair CMD of Stallion Group informed that 25 % of their team including 5% from management were impacted, he is worried that the business that went down in the first phase of covid had started to recover is now again adversely impacted in the second phase. Raveendran of Seljegat in Sivakasi is thankful that they have been cautious with their workforce, so the infections were minimal, just two employees and his younger brother were impacted mildly and recovered. They have in place a strict protocol of checking temperature, oxygen levels and providing sanitisers. They also provide herbal immunity boosting tea to all workforce who must maintain safe distance and are divided into two shifts. Except for a week of lock down, they have been working right through and in fact are in 100% production. They provide separate buses for women and other workers making several trips to maintain distance and transport them to and fro safely. They have even invited government officials to study their systems that have helped in curtailing the infection. We see similar situation in J K Fine Prints Mumbai, Director Himanshu Kapur who is son of Surender Kapur the founder president of LMAI says, “We had just one infection between the two phases, we have given full financial support to our workers as also provided them and their families with masks, sanitisers and other needs” he further adds, “After the initial jolt, I now feel that label industry will not be so drastically impacted. We  will see  growth coming from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities who will patronise organised retail for their needs”.

 

 

Sandeep Zaveri of Total Print
 
The best response came from LMAI past president Sandeep Zaveri heading Total Print Solutions Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai, he says, “Between the two phases none in our company got infected due to strict norms maintained by us and supporting our team with full salaries and food needs” he adds, “I think God has created this for us all human beings to go slow, spend quality time with our near and dear ones”.

 

 

 

 

Many NGOs(Non-Government Organisations), religious bodies, companies and individuals are contributing in whichever way they can reduce the sufferings of people. Donations and help from these groups keep pouring in and exhibits the caring that emanates from these groups. However, in contrast we have reached a situation when politicians continue to play the blame game accusing each other for the sufferings of population, with their eyes on the next election and access to country’s coffers they are insensitive to the pain people are going through. Allowing election rallies and religious gatherings of hundreds of thousand people not following covid norms has contributed to the massive spread. The central government says state government is wrong and vice-versa while the innocent citizens gasp for that breadth which will come loaded with some oxygen so that they may still survive to be with their loved ones another day. It is so unfortunate that we talk of financial outlay of billions in our budgets yet a commodity like oxygen that is an imperative for survival has become a political point for our leaders blaming it on logistics. The pain and suffering do not end for the relatives of those who have lost their fight against covid and passed away, there is neither the means to take the bodies to cremation grounds nor the space to cremate them. Will residents of another developed country understand this kind of situation?  All this while the needy yearn for that breadth which will decide if they exist the next day or not. Added to this the unscrupulous citizens who look at this as an opportunity to make more money, they make the Shylock in Shakespeare’s story “Merchent of Venice” appear as a reasonable person, he may have just asked for a pound of flesh from just one borrower, here these black marketeers are trading in oxygen, essential medicines and life support equipment to draw unreasonable profit from the lives of a suffering generation. 

 

 

History will not and should not pardon such unethical persons who have no feelings that a grandparent, a parent, a spouse, a sibling or an offspring are so  precious part that one yearns for them to be there always and losing them is not imaginable. Courts in India appear to be understanding the gravity of the situation but who will teach the politicians who are the executive running the country. It is not just watching on TV that people are suffering and dying, but it is now being felt and being experienced by all households largely. A friend, a relative, a business associate, a colleague or a loved one just vanishes losing out to the pandemic leaving a void and a hollow feeling whereby the tears have no place to go.

 

 

Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi May 2021

Reproduction permitted by giving credit to author and link to blog http://harveersahni.blogspot.com 

 

In my early years when I worked for my parental company Weldon Sales Corporation established in 1939, manufacturing stationary products like Weldon Fountain pen inks and office glues besides a range of stationary products, I remember that we used to affix paper labels on glass bottles using water-based adhesives. Initially these were solutions of gum Arabic and later we switched over to starch based adhesives produced by us captively. These worked well on glass bottles or paper-based packaging, the only challenge was that we had to wait for the adhesive to dry before putting these into secondary or tertiary packs as the labels would shift if packed wet compromising the appearance of the product. The same issue was encountered by the beer industry which continues to face it, at least for some brands that still rely on adhesives that do not address this problem. Since glass packaging was heavy and was susceptible to breakages in transit the introduction of plastic HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) bottles came as a big relief at that time. HDPE that was invented in 1953, started being initially imported and later produced in India by Polyolefin Industries Ltd. a Mafatlal Group Company under license from Hoechst Germany, in the late 1960s. HDPE plastic bottles came as a big innovative development for the liquid packaging industry. When we at Weldon started using outsourced Plastic bottles, later manufacturing them in-house, labeling them brought fresh problems.

The labels affixed with water-based adhesives, on drying would fall off in transit or get wrinkled. This was because of the reason that HDPE is a low-energy polymer and for normal water-based adhesives to form a permanent bond is a problem.  For some round bottles, we started using wrap-around labels as then the label would come around and get pasted paper to paper. It was during this period after 1965 that the earliest self-adhesive labels started being produced in India and in the 1970s their usage in the packaging of products started to increase. These labels would bond instantly, would not need drying and would not shift in packaging , also aiding the aesthetics so their usage spread quickly and widely. It was that time we at Weldon also shifted to self-adhesive labels or pressure-sensitive labels. The rest of the evolution of Self-Adhesive labels is history and is still an ongoing process.

Adhesives: Pressure-sensitive adhesive(PSA) labels is now one of the fastest growing segments in a world of diverse labeling technologies. It provides accuracy of clean labeling and options to use a variety of adhesives for  application on different surfaces in most environments, including temperature, humidity, exposure to UV, etc. Advancements in products and their packaging require labels to perform in extreme and demanding parameters.

Some food and pharma products require the labels to perform at very low temperatures, typical are for ice cream, pharma and vaccines that require extremely low temperature for storage. Synthetic adhesives that are in use nowadays harden at very low temperatures and tend to fall off so must be formulated to withstand the application and storage conditions. These adhesive soften at high temperatures therefore signages and labels that must be used for outdoor in diverse environments, withstand UV light and heat build up due continuous exposure to sun also need adhesives specially formulated to perform for the duration of their lifetime. Direct PSA labels application on food products like fresh fruits and vegetables is now in use and labels must be certified safe for direct food contact and that they should not have adhesive or inks from which plasticizer may migrate into the product. Coming to labeling on low energy surfaces like HDPE bottles mentioned above, though the label sticks well but in these days of increased incidence of anti-counterfeiting, pilferage and tampering, the label with standard general purpose adhesive can be pulled off cleanly by an experienced hacker or counterfeiter. So, the adhesives are an important and integral part of evolving trends in self-adhesive labels. A lot of development has been done on these lines and continue to be taken up to produce special formulations that conform to the specific requirements.

Substrates and embellishments: As customers grow in numbers, segments, literacy, urbanisation and geographical spread, the packaging development managers are attempting to create innovations in partnership with label printers to woo the consumers, increase the shelf appeal of products and increase brand recalls.

Moving from simple label substrates like uncoated maplitho or uncoated woodfree paper, now the selection of substrate is as per the imagination or creative ideas of the label developers. The label face materials can be selected from a wide range of options available like semigloss paper, metallised papers or films, textured paper, various clear or opaque films, fabric, cork, lenticular films, holographic paper or films and anything that emanates out of a creative designer’s mind. As for embellishments, there was a time when either using a cast coated paper or a good varnish were the only options, but now a whole world of new ways to embellish labels has erupted. Using multiple printing technologies to get the best of every printing process, adding value to win customers and beat competition is becoming a necessity for printers. Today we see labels being made in-line in a single pass employing a combination of flexographic printing for spot colours or pantones, offset to create vignettes or skin tones, screen for higher deposition of ink, rotogravure to get the best results of metallic inks, cold foil, hot foil, using a variety of varnishes to create effects like textures, high gloss, matt, silk finish or just spot varnish, embossing and debossing to bring amazing results in the finished labels. We see printers create labels with raised effects like dew drops, print that seems to give the look and feel of wood and fruits with pulp, giving a natural effect. Adding further to the capabilities, now printers are employing digital printing either in combination as mentioned or as repass to do variable printing and or personalization. The options are getting to be limitless.

Security Labelling: Increasing number of instances of duplication, counterfeiting and pilferage has created a need for security to be made an important part of labeling.

Counterfeiting products is a problem not only limited to pharmaceuticals industry, but it also affects 5 to 7 percent of global trade. It has impacted other industries as well, such as electronics, automotive parts, spirits, consumer products and high-end cosmetics. Earlier security labels were only with security cuts incorporated at the time of die cutting, then specialized stocks with overt and covert features like the Void labels started being used followed by destructible labels. Holograms also have been largely employed and is now hologram production is a large segment of label industry. With development in pre-press and printing technologies printers use micro printing which is not visible to naked human eyes and other such printing methods used in printing currency to inbuild security in labels. Barcodes are also being largely employed to play an important role in security in labels besides aiding variable statutory information, track n trace information, inventory and logistical data. A very important development in recent times has been Intelligent labels that include near field communication (NFC) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to perform a wide variety of tasks. Integrating these capabilities with traditional labels is one of the most dramatic development in labeling.

Printing Equipment: The narrow web self-adhesive label manufacturing commenced in India in the first half of 1970s on small, about 4-5inches label presses imported from far eastern countries mostly from Japan at that time. These small narrow web presses that did block printing were extremely slow about 5 meters per minute but still did the printing and die cutting inline in a single pass, that was its USP.

It may appear strange to the younger printers of today that there were no drying arrangements in these presses. Printers would print and then hang the printed rolls of labels on a clothesline for drying before rerolling them on a core and sending to customers. Shop floors of narrow web label printers would look like washing yards referred to in India as “Dhobhi ghat”. The printing technologies with time went through continuous changes. The flatbed block printing made way for semi-rotary intermittent letterpress using polymer plates. With improvement in Flexo ink and plate technology, rotary label presses with central impression drum (CI Label Presses) found their way into print shops. These provided faster speeds at increased widths of 7 inches(180mm)-10inches(250mm) and as the buyers became more demanding on colours, speeds and performance, together with further evolution of prepress, advancements in plate making and registration controls, the CI narrow web label presses moved out making way for modular presses using water-based inks with hot air dryers. However, CI presses continued to be used for other applications like lami-tubes and mid-web flexible packaging. Label presses have over the years evolved to print wider web widths of 330mm, 430mm, 530mm and at last Labelexpo presses over 650mm were displayed. Printing speeds have also escalated to over 200meters per minute. In an evolving scenario of rising demands for perfection in print and printers facing challenges in reproducibility, colour variations due to viscosity changes in ink trays and set up wastage, were releived when UV inks, UV lamps for drying and short web path became a standard part of presses. The UV printing also enabled printing and converting filmic labels after addition of corona treaters inline to enhance print adhesion. Some label companies have of now reverted to include a combination of hot air and UV as some food products have witnessed migration of photo initiators in UV inks migrating into the food causing contamination, so the option to print with water-based inks comes in handy to service such requirements. LED UV also is being seen as replacement as there is energy cost saving and better as regards migration issues. Ideal solution maybe Electron Beam curing which is costly but that has still to be accepted by Indian label industry. There is hardly any installation with EB curing for production of narrow web labels in India.

Other evolutions that happened include label presses designed for quick change overs to enable a large number of jobs per day, servo drives to eliminate gears coupled with advanced vision camera systems to achieve perfect registrations in both machine and cross direction without human intervention, better matrix removal, web cleaners to eliminate pinholes and print aberrations, web turn bars to print both sides of the web along with the delam-relam function for enabling printing on back or the adhesive coated side of the web. Movable lamination stations and embellishing stations like foiling add value to the printed labels. Multiple die-stations to enable functions like embossing, debossing, slitting besides simple die cutting or sheeting have become a standard function demanded by high-end printing companies. Change of heavy magnetic cylinders was a cumbersome and time-consuming job requiring manpower and lifting arrangements. Now in a couple of minutes one can slide-out and slide-in a magnetic cylinder.

The pandemic that surfaced in end of 2019 and drastically impacted the whole world and made businesses suffer for all of 2020 and when we are hoping for it to taper off in 2021 providing relief to mankind, it has started to resurface. It has prompted the industry to re-engineer their working. The aim now is to work with less. Workflow management, increased automation, clean room manufacturing, inventory controls, effective management systems, etc.  are the buzzwords that even smaller entrepreneurs understand and are making efforts to implement them.  Automatic butt slicers/reel changing systems to achieve continuous 24X7 production when needed, waste management equipment sucking waste matrix right from the die cutting stage and shredding and inline inspection/colour management systems to reduce rejections which were earlier a preference of only a selected few, but these are now a part of standard equipment configurations envisaged commonly by Label printing  companies planning expansion or planning new setup. The evolution and shifting of trends in self-adhesive labels have been an ongoing process and printers need to adapt the changes as they originate to stay fit, competitive and innovative.

Author’s footnote: Each parameter listed above and many other parameter’s like inks, special adhesives, coatings and machine design are subjects that are to lengthy to be accommodated into one article and need separate coverage. 

Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi-India April 2021