Absence makes the heart grow fonder! There was a general perception that the impact of a fierce pandemic, the Finnish Paper Mills strike, Ukraine war, shortages and rising raw material prices, difficult logistics and increased travel costs have left the market sentiments bruised. There was strong narrative doing the rounds in the labels industry that Labelexpo Europe 2023 at Brussels will lose its sheen and may not deliver the desired results. Contrary to all perceptions the show was a huge success. The numbers may have been slightly lower than the previous years, but the quality of turnout brought cheer to the faces of exhibitors. The proof of that is given by the reported rebook rate for the next edition of this important event by Tarsus, announced at a whopping 96%! Labelexpo Europe 2023 was spread over 9 halls covering 35889 square meters. 36588 visitors flocked to the show, coming from 138 countries. Most stands reported robust enquiries or sales from established and serious printers from around the world. Though the aisles were not as crowded as in previous shows, the stands were busy. That is exactly what exhibitors expect from a globally renowned show. I cite a personal experience, I had to conduct an important meeting with one of our company’s several principals. Despite visiting their stand on all days at various times, the concerned person was busy with clients, finally I had to ask him to come to another meeting point other than his stand, so that we could discuss our project in peace. Such was the deliverance of Labelexpo 2023.
The Indian presence; The Indian labels and packaging industry has been continuously growing at steady pace to reach a position of stability and strength. The Indian visitors to labelexpo have also transformed. Earlier we saw many of those who mixed their visit with tourism, so the interest was diluted, and the enquiries lacked seriousness. This trend is seen as changing, given the increased travel costs and technologies evolving in different packaging segments, the smaller printers prefer to visit the domestic editions of Labelexpo.
In 2005, my company was the only one from India to exhibit at Labelexpo Europe in Brussels, over years the number of Indian exhibitors has been growing. Indian producers of materials, machines and tooling have improved in quality to match global levels and offer their products in the international marketplace.
From just the one exhibitor from India displaying labelstock in 2005 they reached 14 exhibitors in 2017, and in 2023 the number of Indian exhibitors grew to 26. This number included several label press manufacturers, manufacturers of coaters and laminators, raw material suppliers, tooling manufacturers, etc. In fact, registering their presence in all segments of label manufacturing. As for the visitors, it is an even more interesting result. In 2019 2% of the total of 37903 visitors were from India.
This works out to over 750 visitors. This figure has swelled! In Labelexpo Europe 2023. Indian visitors were 3.9% of the total of 36588 visitors and this works out to over 1400 visitors, almost double the number. We can imagine the dynamism and steady growth of “make in India” concept. The Indians are now quick learners who visit these shows and become adapters of global technologies to produce and offer to the world.
Diverse technologies displayed: Labelexpo global series was in the initial stages aimed at growth of stickers that had evolved as self-adhesive labels. The earliest web label presses were largely coming from eastern part of the World as 4 or 5-inch-wide flatbed letterpress machines for printing labels in roll form to eventually transform with development of label applicators, it led to automation in packaging lines.
Development and introduction of rotary flexographic label presses brought a paradigm shift as it provided better speed of printing.
Since the web width in the earliest stages was small, the industry eventually started being referred to as narrow web label industry. The rest is history. With evolution and development of prepress printing speeds and quality also improved making the technology widely acceptable. Printing widths increased to 10 inches or 250 mm and had for quite some time settled at 330mm.
Speeds that were just 5 or 6 meters per minute in the beginning with the flatbed presses, have reached up to 200 meters per minute and more. The narrow web label industry flourished and kept growing. With time label technologies have undergone a sea change. What was wet glue labels, transformed into self-adhesive labels but later the label grew towards various tangents. The label users started adopting a wide variety that includes wraparound labels, shrink sleeves, Inmold labels, heat transfer labels and many more. In the initial stages of transformation large multinational FMCG companies became users of wrap-around labels and shrink sleeves, because of the large volume they required, these became the product of the wide web rotogravure printing industry. With market changes happening, the need of smaller manufacturers and demand for short runs by marketing professionals, these diverse segments also became evident in the offerings of narrow web industry.
The narrow started growing wider still, printing and converting evolved exponentially and became suppliers of not only to wide spectrum of labels but also flexible packaging, Lami-tubes and folding cartons. The flexo presses also transformed to be hybrid ones employing combination of flexo, offset, gravure, screen and digital, etc.
At Labelexpo Europe 2023, one could witness displayed, a merger and combination of different printing technologies to produce excellence in print of labels and packaging. This was substantially exhibited by industry stalwarts like Gallus, Omet, Nilpeter, Mark Andy, Bobst, Weigang, Lombardy, etc. who displayed their finest web printing and converting equipment. It is interesting that waste reduction and sustainable manufacturing practices to reduce carbon footprint are becoming imperative for all responsible machine builders.
Overview: Material suppliers like Avery Dennison, UPM Raflatac and Fedrigoni displayed their vast ranges of labelstocks with an evident effort towards sustainability. Many did talk of linerless and the initial developments they have made but the actual linerless self-adhesive label for mass usage is still a far cry.
As mentioned before, from the just one Indian Labelstock producer in 2005, there were five Indian labelstock producers at the show, Jindal SMI, SticOn papers, MLJ, Shree Lamipack and Varshil. Looking at the number of visitors on stands it was clear that the focus of label fraternity is shifting from commodities to creativity, innovation and sustainability. While all labelstock companies had a steady flow of visitors, the Fedrigoni stand that offered specialty textured and decorative materials was extremely busy.
A similar situation was observed at the Cartes stand whose displayed equipment offered amazing embellishments with various combinations of digital jet screen varnishing and printing, screen printing, laser die-cutting etc. The electronic integration in labels is another field that attracted the attention of forward-thinking printing companies. RFID insertion options for labels and packaging were displayed by many, some of whom include Avery Dennison, Beontag, Muhlbauer, Delta Modtech, etc. Another aspect witnessed is the growing number of finishing equipment manufacturers, which clearly indicates the need for printing companies to produce more with less. The concept of printing at full machine speeds on their expensive presses and finishing offline makes available more time on their main printing presses. The futuristic digital printing equipment continues to evolve indicating it to become a dominant label printing technology in future, given the wider widths and faster speeds.
The hall number 8 with exhibitors led by HP, offered a vast variety of digital printing equipment. The increased display of finishing or digital finishing machines is also indicative of the increasing importance of digital printing, which in recent times has become a necessity for prosperous label printers. Running short runs needs offline finishing. else the digital presses with inline finishing will not only be expensive but will not be able to deliver production to their full capacity due to short runs and quick changeovers.
One thing that has become evident at Labelexpo Europe 2023 is that the narrow web label industry continues to go wider and evolve, increasing its footprints in other segments of packaging and it would not be out of place to mention that soon it will be referred to as “Web label and package converting industry.”
The end of show was a nostalgic moment, people bidding farewell to Labelexpo in Brussel where so many wonderful memories, stories of success and friendships had been scripted. The label fraternity now looks forward to making another beginning with Labelexpo Europe 2025 in Barcelona, Spain.
Pictures of my walk through Labelexpo 2023 and some of the events on the sidelines;
World Label Awards Judging:
One day before Labelexpo opened, the judging for label awards was held.
Same afternoon, L9 meeting was held, followed by L9-Dinner
The global Label awards evening!
On Wednesday 13th September 2023, fairwell dinner for Label Guru Mike Fairley was held
My Walk through!
Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi India September 2023