Label the future? That is a challenge for the label industry, in the face of the exceptional change that is happening on many fronts. A developing palette of label technologies and alternative options; the ‘cloud’ business environment; the urgent need for succession change in SMEs; making the decision to stay local, serve a specialty market segment, or go international; maturing geographical markets versus the emerging economies… these are all topics which, within FINAT and its member companies, the label industry is actively engaged in addressing. The prime task of FINAT, as the industry’s European association, is to help its members, who span the entire supply chain (from raw materials and label stock coating and lamination, to pressroom consumables and label converting) to define, and then activate, their future routes to success.
Technology innovation is changing the face of the entire print industry; and as commercial print dwindles in the face of downloadable reading matter, packaging print is growing exponentially. It is the key area where the consumer relies on a product’s physical brand image to confirm its quality, reliability, and desirability. Narrow-web label converters, working with innovative new print substrates, inks, and varnishes, are today able to deliver a much broader spectrum of solutions to their brand-owning and retailer clients than just self-adhesive labels. Shrink and stretch sleeves and flexible paper and film pouches are good examples.
This expanding capability also extends to the print processes they can offer. Today’s modular presses make it possible to use multiple ‘traditional’ print processes – UV flexo, screen, foil blocking – in the one machine pass – as well as digital print for personalisation, barcoding, etc. What is more, the new-generation digital label presses deliver high-quality print results too; and today’s sophisticated digital pre-press solutions make design, proofing, and even product prototyping fast and easy – even if the client is thousands of miles away. Short-run work and multi-versioning of generic brand labels are now firmly part of a label converter’s remit. There have never been so many options – and providing a knowledge base on using them creatively to the benefit of printers’ clients is a key activity within FINAT.
Lean and green
At a time when brand owners are concerned to keep costs as low as possible, optimise profits, and still present a ‘green’ image to the consumer, lean manufacturing and sustainable practices (including downgauging of label face materials and release base, and the recycling of process waste such as start-up materials/inks/spent release liner) must also be central to the label converter’s activities. This is an arena where our industry has already seen much real achievement, and – taking into account all the elements of labelling, including transportation and inventory requirements, as well as labelling line set-up and downtime issues – self-adhesive solutions can really offer a lean solution. Measuring the total applied cost (TAC) is a good way to prove the efficacy of self-adhesive label solutions.
E-commerce has long been a key to the effective running of the relationship between labelstock supplier and label converter, and today’s ‘back office’ at the label converter can be seamlessly integrated with the front end. Using today’s most up-to-date systems, which match those of the customers, is key.