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The short answer to “what stood out to me?” at Labelexpo 2022: As I walked the floor, the energy and enthusiasm for getting back together for an in-person event was everywhere and in everyone I spoke with. It was really great to be back with friends and colleagues doing the business of each of our respective companies.
Where Were all the Flexo Presses?
Once I got to the show floor and began walking around, another thing hit me: there were no flexo presses on the floor—not even one. There were plenty of pictures and discussions about the presses (which are the backbone of the labels market), but the OEMs chose not to bring them to the show. Digging a bit deeper, there were several reasons for their absence, including supply chain issues.
With several component parts in short supply, some OEMs chose to send fully built new presses to customers instead of to a show and that is understandable. Others chose to reduce their show footprint in cost cutting efforts and, thus, had no room for a large press—their sales groups already have customers in the pipeline and having a press on the floor to hang a “sold to” sign on it was not a top priority.
For whatever reason, the fact that flexo presses were not represented was a topic of conversation, one that had more than a few heads being scratched.
Embellishment, Embellishment, Embellishment
It seemed that everywhere you turned there was a booth touting a new and improved form of embellishment for all kinds of label applications. Foils, coatings, inks, substrates, applicators, and print stations were shown as ways to set label suppliers apart, to gain more lucrative work, and for the glory of making labels more attractive and sought after by customers. If the show was any indication, we will begin seeing even more beautiful products on shelves in the coming years.
Simply put, beautiful labels are not just for the wine and spirit market anymore.
Laser Die Cutting
While lasers have been around in the labels sector for many years, they have yet to gain a solid foothold and become mainstream in finishing lines. But from what I saw at Labelexpo, that impression may be changing. There were quite a number of booths demonstrating laser die cutting combined with finishing systems in every hall of the show. Interestingly enough, they were being positioned for companies with analog and/or digital printing upstream.
This is definitely something to keep an eye on for next few years.
Digital Printing Systems
Digital presses were the buzz and the prime occupier of floor space. While I did not count them, there seemed to be almost as many digital presses on the floor as there were Uber and Lift drivers picking attendees up after the show. What caught my attention (and it can partly be because we have not had a person-to-person showing of hardware in so long) was the fact that digital label presses seemed to be moving to the next level of productivity and production capability. All the mainstream players were proudly displaying their latest generation of production systems that greatly exceed previous versions—in some cases by four-times. With installations of analog and digital production systems at almost parity for the past few years, we may start seeing that balance shift to the digital side with a bit more momentum.
As those mainstream players showed their next generation presses, a few booths away I saw a number of new presses being displayed for the first time in North America. These new presses were mostly coming from Asian OEMs and generally looked just like digital label presses have for the past 15 years: an unwind on one side, a rewind on the other, and a digital box in the middle. Interestingly (to the geek in me), what grabbed my attention was the verity of printheads being used in these new imports.
Keypoint Intelligence Opinion
Even with a very challenging economy and supply chains that are severely compromised (if not fully broken), the labels sector continues to be resilient and is expected to grow. Efficiency and labor reduction are key drivers in all manufacturing sectors, and labels is no exception. The new generation of analog and digital presses address these efforts and will continue to be implemented in the market despite the afore-mentioned challenges.
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