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Labelexpo Asia 2023 promises new press technology

Asia-Pacific’s biggest show dedicated to labels and flexible package converting showcases China’s domestic press manufacturers along with special features on smart labels and a flexible packaging ‘factory’, Andy Thomas-Emans reports.

Labelexpo Asia 2023, the region’s largest label and package printing technology event, will celebrate its 20th anniversary when the show opens at the Shanghai New International Expo Center (SNIEC) on 5-8 December.

The show is expected to attract 20,000 visitors and more than 350 domestic and foreign exhibitors to Shanghai’s SNIEC exhibition centre in a space of over 30,000 square meters.

Visitors to Labelexpo Asia can expect to see the integration of labels and flexible packaging, labels and folding cartons, the latest technological achievements in RFID, material innovations, and cutting-edge technologies and products related to intelligent manufacturing on site.

Labelexpo Asia 2023 will also provide a platform for shared learning throughout the label and packaging industry by jointly hosting the International Label Printing Summit with the China Packaging Federation.

The show will have a strong focus on RFID through the Smart Label Trail, giving converters insight into the RFID technology trends and practical applications and how they can set up their own RFID converting operation. China is the main producer of ultra-high frequency RFID labels, with production accounting for approximately 80% of the global market share. In 2021, the production of ultra-high frequency labels in China reached 16.8 billion pieces.

Another key show feature focuses on short run flexible packaging. The trend towards short run flexible packaging has brought new opportunities for label converters to expand into this new business area. This is the reason for bringing the new Digital Pouch Factory zone to Labelexpo Asia 2023.

The Digital Pouch Factory is centered on an HP Indigo 25K mid-web digital press along with a Zhoutai AMD350LMSC solventless lamination machine, and AMD350LMSC bag making machine with workflow software provided by Hybrid. 

The Digital Pouch Factory demonstrates the complete process of prepress workflow, printing, lamination, and manufacturing of the final flexible packaging product, including pillow-type packaging and standup pouches. 

Flexo technology

Labelexpo Asia 2023 showcases China’s increasingly sophisticated conventional press technology suppliers. There has been a major shift in the last ten years from narrow web letterpress to intermittent offset technology, and today those offset manufacturers are diversifying into inline flexo presses. This move into flexo is strongly supported by the Chinese government as an alternative to solvent-based print technologies. 

These are sophisticated machines, increasingly fully servo-driven and with high levels of automation built in, responding to the skilled labor crisis which came to a head during the Covid pandemic. 

Weigang, for example, demonstrates its latest flexo press driven by state-of-the-art German servo control technology, with a total of 23 servo motors for an 8-color machine. This enables features such as auto registration.

​​​​​The press uses lightweight sleeves for the printing plate, leading to faster changeover and more stable print quality. The press is equipped with chilled anvil rolls to handle a wide range of film materials including PET, OPP, CPP and PP.

Zhejiang Hongsheng Machinery has 11 years of machine manufacturing history, specializing in the production of flexographic printing presses and related finishing equipment. 

At Labelexpo Asia 2023, Hongsheng launches its first inline flexo press, the HSR-340, available in widths from 340mm to 650mm with a maximum speed of up to 200m/min. A wide range of materials including 12 micron Pet, PVC, BOPP, aluminium, paper and paperboard material can be handled.
Hontec showcases its new FlexiCon 8-color inline flexo press, specifically designed for printing on shrink sleeves as well as standard label materials. The machine is fully servo-driven and CE certified and has additional options including cold-foil, hot-stamping, re-lam/de-lam and turn bars.

Additionally, Hontec will present a live demo of the MPX350 in-line finishing platform, configured with hot foiling and embossing, screen printing and flexo varnishing, making it particularly suitable for wine labels. The line can include semi-rotary and flatbed die

Taiyo shows its servo driven inline STF-340 flexo press, equipped with chill drums to handle a wide range of materials from from 20-300 microns, including PE, PP and PET film and composites as paper-based PS laminates. The press includes rauil-mounted cold stamping and laminating unit, turnbar and rotary screen unit. The machine can also be equipped with rotary die cut unit, sheet cut unit, back side slitting, folding unit and online inkjet printer.

Zonten launches its ZTR inline flexo press series, available in widths from 330-680mm and incorporating 20 servo motors in an 8-color press. The press is configured with chill drums for UV-printing of filmic, and incorporates as standard corona, double-sided web cleaning, anti-static and BST inspection system.

At Labelexpo Europe 2023, we saw a trend towards wider flexo presses to print flexible packaging and shrink sleeves, and at Labelexpo Asia 2023, Spande launches the AC 700, a 700mm-wide mid-web inline flexo press. The 8-color press incorporates foil stamping and will be printing shrink sleeve labels.

Intermittent offset

Chinese manufacturers have a long history of successful intermittent press development, firstly letterpress and more recently with intermittent rotary offset. These machines have been particularly successful in a range of export markets including Europe, for applications requiring high quality print and inline embellishment. 

Wanjei launches its WJPS-450 shaftless offset press which can be switched between intermittent and full rotary modes. Each print unit consists of 11 servo motors, which makes ink delivery and materials handling smoother and more accurate compared to shaft-driven technology. Each printing unit has a chill drum which allows a wide range of film and heat-sensitive materials to be run. 

In full rotary mode the press runs at speeds up to 200m/min for longer run work. In intermittent mode, one set of print cylinders is sufficient to run any job format. This method is the best choice for small and medium-sized orders. 

The press machine can also be configured with flexo, screen printing, gravure, hot stamping, cold stamping and variable information modules.

Shanghai Labelmaster Machinery launches its LM350 intermittent UV-offset press, which can optionally be configured with flexo varnish station, inspection, cold foiling, rotary die-cutting, waste rewinding and slitting. 

Zonten shows both intermittent and full rotary offset technology. The ZTJ-330/520/680 intermittent offset press complete with auto and pre-register. 

The SMART rotary offset press, available in 420/560/680mm web widths, can be configured with 4-12 colours with up to 150m/min print speed. The press has a modular design allowing configuration with offset, flexo, screen, cold foil, varnish and lamination modules. The press is fully servo-driven and equipped with automatic registration and pre-registration systems. Substrate range is from 0.04 to 0.35mm thickness, including paper, film and metal foil for PS labels and flexible packaging. 

Digital printing

Chinese suppliers are also developing increasingly sophisticated UV inkjet presses and building digital print engines into a new generation of hybrid presses. These machines are using the same inkjet head suppliers as other global inkjet press developers.

In many cases, these new digital presses have been developed either by flexo press manufacturers offering hybrid solutions, or companies already involved in wide format digital print moving into the single pass UV-inkjet space for the first time.

Weigang launches its first digital press, the WG S350, which can be supplied as a standalone system or configured as a fully hybrid machine (WG S350 Pro) with integrated flexo print units for pre-coating, solid colors and varnishing, including inline die cutting.
The Weigang WG S350 color engine use Epson S3200 printheads with a maximum resolution of 1200×600dpi, reaching speeds up to 55m/min speed at 600×600dpi. The WG S350 PRO can be configured with up to 10 colors, typically CMYK+ white, varnish and spot colors.

Flora launches its J-350 Pro digital press in a six-channel configuration which includes dual white channels along with CMYK. This supports both pre- and post white for printing on transparent materials. A digital varnish is also available.

The J-350 Pro is upgradable to a fully hybrid configuration with the addition of flexo units for applications including coating, varnishing, and laminating. 

The Flora J-350 Pro includes a new interface with industry 4.0 capabilities allowing for real-time analysis of completed orders, printed area and ink consumption. 

Pullisi shows its DPIM-330F digital press, available in widths of 220mm-520mm. The press can be configured with a flexo module before the digital print engine, along with cold foil, post-digital flexo unit, lamination, die cutting, waste stripping and web inspection with defect detection. 

KingT launches its L-Press 330s single pass digital inkjet press, using FujiFilm Samba printheads. The press is available in a 330 mm print width with a native resolution of 1200x1200 dpi, 2pl minimum ink drop and reaching speeds of 80 m/min. It can print 95 percent of the Pantone color range. 

The L-Press 330s can cover a wide range of label and flexible packaging applications, including coated and uncoated paper, white and transparent film, PET/PVC/PP/PE/BOPP film and aluminum foil. 

Global suppliers

As well as being a showcase for the domestic press technology industry, Labelexpo Asia 2023 also features top global suppliers. This includes Konica Minolta, which displays both its new AccurioLabel 400 and the well-established AccurioLabel 230.

This will be the first China showing of the AccurioLabel 400, a toner-based print engine printing CMYK plus an additional White compared to the AL230. The AL400 also prints faster, at 39.9 m/min with a print resolution of 3,600 x 2,400 dpi. It is fitted with automated color management and the IQ-520 automatic intelligent quality monitoring system.

Durst will demonstrate its Tau RSC-E digital press at Labelexpo Asia 2023. This is the entry-level press to the Tau range with the same print engine imaging at 1200 x 1200dpi. The press comes as standard with CMYK+ high opacity White, but can be upgraded to CMYK+OVG+W.
HP Indigo has a special event on 6 December 2023, when the company runs an online demonstration of its new HP Indigo 200k mid-web press, which is a faster and more productive upgrade to the established 25k press for flexible packaging and shrink sleeve applications.