Three digital technologies with huge potential in the packaging arena have recently gone from the development stage to the fully commercial or beta-site stage. Interestingly enough, each of these technologies occupies a different place in the package converting continuum. From Actega Metal Print GmbH comes EcoLeaf, a method of embellishing packaging substrates by way of micro-pigments. From Komori comes the Impremia NS40, a 40-in. sheet-fed Nanographic Printing® system. And from Highcon comes the Beam 2C, which brings to corrugated packaging the power of digital laser scoring and cutting that has been quietly transforming the folding carton sector since drupa 2016.
Let’s begin with the Beam 2C, which would have been the star of the Highcon booth at drupa had drupa not been postponed due to COVID-19. Digital finishing of corrugated sheet, says Highcon CEO Shlomo Nimrodi, is something that up to about a year ago simply did not exist. “What we’ve been able to accomplish in just 12 months is, in my opinion, phenomenal,” he tells us.
Like the digital laser scoring and cutting equipment for folding cartons that put Highcon on the map in the first place, the Beam 2C replaces the expensive and slow conventional die-making and setup process with a digital technology that delivers fast speed to market, design flexibility, and the ability to perform a wide range of applications in-house. The key to the Highcon technology is DART: Digital Adhesive Rule Technology. Digital creasing data is uploaded from a DXF file to the Beam 2C system. Proprietary software translates the data and sends it to a special dispensing unit that contains an unnamed polymer. This polymer is released onto a PET jacket mounted on a hard metal upper cylinder. In essence, the dispensing unit extrudes onto the PET jacket the rules needed to make the case’s creases. The pattern it extrudes is dictated by the digital data uploaded from the DXF file. As soon as the polymer rules are laid down, they’re hardened by exposure to UV light. Directly beneath the upper cylinder and its PET jacket is a lower cylinder that has a soft, silicone-like blanket mounted on it. All that remains is to send the printed corrugated sheet through the two cylinders. As the upper cylinder with its UV-hardened rules presses into the soft surface of the lower cylinder, the corrugated board in between is creased by the rules. Once the required number of sheets has been creased, the PET jacket is removed from the upper cylinder and a fresh one takes its place so that a completely different job can be downloaded. This video (pwgo.to/5553) demonstrates the rules of polymer being printed onto the cylinder with PET jacket.
As for cutting the individual cases from the sheet, it’s done within the Beam 2C system immediately after creasing. An array of high-powered CO2 lasers combine with scanners and advanced optics to perform whatever cutting design was spelled out digitally in the uploaded file.
According to Highcon, the Beam 2C is capable of handling C-flute and double-wall corrugated at up to 4,000 sheets/hr, and sheet width can be up to 29 in. x 42 in. Among the first to install the Beam 2C is THIMM. This leading solutions provider for the packaging and display of consumer goods installed and commissioned the Beam 2C in its production plant in Vsetaty in the Czech Republic. It further enhances the plant’s capabilities, which already includes a high level of automation and state-of-the-art digital printing capabilities on equipment from HP Indigo and Durst.
“Our objective is always to deliver the best solution to the customer,” says Michael Weber, Head of Corporate Marketing at THIMM. “Alongside digital printing, this digital laser cutting technology for the digital finishing of corrugated represents a logical expansion of our capacities. We are convinced that laser-cut packaging and displays are relevant to many different sectors and we are currently working closely with our customers in the preparation of new packaging and presentation options to generate a competitive advantage for them.”
Digital laser technology lets THIMM meet the growing demand from brand owners who no longer accept a one-pack-suits-all approach and want customized variants instead. THIMM is able to respond to this trend because digital laser cutting requires no cutting tools. This shortens the production process and makes it practical to produce small numbers of corrugated cases. Not to mention that digital laser cutting can produce some very sophisticated cutouts that are impossible for conventional cutting dies to handle.
Highcon’s Nimrodi says his firm’s expansion from equipment designed for finishing paperboard cartons to equipment that finishes corrugated had three key drivers behind it. First, anywhere between 30 and 50 digital presses are being installed in the plants of corrugated suppliers every year. So it only makes sense that these companies would also want to go from analog to digital in corrugated finishing equipment. “If these companies are spending three or four million dollars on a digital press to satisfy their customers’ speed-to-market demands, why would they want to put those printed sheets into a production queue until conventional creasing and die-cutting equipment is ready to finish them? Where is the efficiency in that approach?” asks Nimrodi.
A second driver is that Highcon isn’t just about selling equipment, it’s also about selling consumables like the proprietary polymer used in its DART technology. By expanding into corrugated finishing, the firm positions itself to sell more of this polymer.
As for the third driver, it’s actually something that Highcon only began to fully appreciate once customers began to finish significant amounts of corrugated on the Beam 2C. What they discovered is that unlike conventional finishing technology, which crushes or compresses the corrugated sheet, digital laser cutting is a non-crush method. “For example,” says Nimrodi, “if you need a corrugated case with a three-millimeter thickness, you have to start out with four millimeters if you are relying on conventional finishing technology. But by going digital and laser, you can start out with three-millimeter board. That means a savings in material costs.”
Go to pwgo.to/5546 for a brief video of the Beam 2C operating at the THIMM plant.
Komori’s Impremia NS40
Moving now to the other two notable firsts in the digital print for packaging scene, it’s worth mentioning that Benny Landa’s entrepreneurial fingerprints are on both of them. Sometimes called the “father of commercial digital printing,” Landa is the one who launched Indigo Digital Press in 1977, a technology he sold to Hewlett-Packard in 2002. He then went on to launch The Landa Group for nanotechnology research, an organization that brought not only nanographic printing into existence but Nano-Metallography, as well. We’ll get to Nano-Metallography shortly. But first we turn to Nanographic printing, specifically to the Impremia NS40, the 40-inch Sheetfed Nanographic Printing® System from Komori. Described by Komori as a “technical exhibit” at drupa 2016, it was slated for a proper sales launch at drupa 2020. It uses Nanography® technology licensed from Landa, and its development incorporated the know-how and technologies that Komori has cultivated over a long period of time through its offset printing business.
Last October, Komori announced the world’s first beta site for the Impremia NS40: Shinwa Factory of Japan. “I am extremely grateful that Komori chose us to conduct the field testing for the Impremia NS40,” says Yasunari Yamazaki, Representative Director of Shinwa Factory. “One of our requests was the support for small-lot production of packages. About 40% of jobs of the total volume of packages that we manufacture are 2,000 sheets or less, and there is a limit to one day’s production in terms of setup and efficiency. We can expect that the production volume of the Impremia NS40, with a print speed of 6,500 sheets per hour and an extremely short changeover time, will far exceed our current offset printing capabilities.”
The NS40 has a true resolution of 1,200 dpi and can handle four to seven colors with UV, LED, or aqueous based in-line coating. Sheet size can be up to 750 x 1,050 in. with thickness ranging from 0.06 to 0.8 mm.
As for the Komori/Landa relationship, it is a longstanding one. In building its S10 and S10P Nanographic Printing presses, Landa has for some time incorporated a sheet-transfer system made by Komori. For the NS40, Komori builds upon a similar transfer system and licenses Landa’s Nanographic printing technology. Unlike anything else out there, it uses an innovative system that employs Landa NanoInk colorants, a proprietary water-based ink with nano-pigment particles that measure tens of nanometers in size. Unlike ink-jet printing, where ink-jets put the image directly onto the substrate, nanography is essentially an offset process. The Landa NanoInk dispersions are ejected onto a unique heated blanket, and only then is the ink transferred from the blanket to the substrate in the form of an ultra-thin film. Substrates, it should be noted, can be of the off-the-shelf variety requiring no pre-treatment or priming. Landa claims that nanography offers unprecedented dot sharpness and color uniformity compared to ink-jet or offset lithography, because its high-resolution ink ejectors deliver 1200 dpi resolution, high coverage, multiple gray levels, and exceptional color definition. This animation (pwgo.to/5547) does a good job of depicting how the technology works.
According to Jacki Hudmon, SVP New Business Development at Komori America, while the NS40 relies on Landa’s Nanoinks and the same method of jetting them onto the transfer blanket, it’s not the same press that Landa offers. “We’re used to developing and working with presses that run at 60,000 sheets per hour, so we’re taking some of that core technology in terms of registration and control of the transfer blanket and bringing it to how we actually deliver the image to the substrate,” says Hudmon.
So that brings us to Actega Metal Print, which announced this past March that German print specialist Kolbe-Coloco Spezialdruck GmbH is the world’s first beta customer for EcoLeaf, which Actega claims is a “revolutionary, sustainable, and cost-effective metallization technology.” Founded in 2017, Actega Metal Print’s mission is to revolutionize the graphic arts industry with a sustainable metallization technology that significantly reduces the amount of material, waste, cost, and production time for creating decorative embellishments compared to today’s conventional processes, which are mainly based on hot-foil or cold-foil deposition. To achieve this, Altana Group’s Actega division acquired Nano-Metallography from the Landa Group and branded it EcoLeaf. Nano-Metallography is a unique digital technology that was first unveiled at drupa 2016 by Benny Landa. As we’ll see in a minute, while Actega kept much of the technology as originally engineered by Landa, they’ve changed it rather dramatically in one key way.
At the heart of EcoLeaf is a module designed to be integrated into any analog presses, digital presses, or finishing equipment. In the case of Kolbe-Coloco, which plans to focus on metallized pressure-sensitive labels for a variety of brands, the module is part of a newly installed all-servo Gallus RCS 12-color press, which incorporates a combination of offset, flexo, and screen printing.
“Our business is focused on print services that create a greater connection between a brand and the consumer to ultimately aid sales,” says Michael Leon, Managing Director, Kolbe-Coloco. “We do that by employing some of the best print technologies on the market, and EcoLeaf is a perfect example of this.”
The most fundamental advantage of EcoLeaf is that it eliminates waste. The technology is probably best understood by first reviewing how hot-foil and cold-foil decorative metallization of labels and packaging materials has typically been done in the past.
Hot-foil metallization involves a multilayer construction consisting of a carrier, usually polyester, plus the metal layer and an adhesive. In the hot-foil station, a heated tool often made of bronze and having the desired image on it presses the hot-foil material against the substrate. The adhesive is activated, causing foil in the shape of the desired image to adhere to the substrate. The rest of the multilayer construction is rewound as waste.
Cold-foil metallization also involves a multilayer construction including a polyester carrier, but there is no adhesive. You flexo print an adhesive on the substrate in the shape you want to be metallized. Then you press the cold-foil material against the substrate and cure the adhesive with UV light. Once again, the carrier and everything except the metallized image is rewound as scrap.
Needless to say, both of these approaches are wastefully expensive because you’re only using a portion of the roll-fed multilayer material and discarding the rest. It’s also not the most sustainable way to go, either.
What sets EcoLeaf apart is that there is no roll-fed multilayer carrier material and you only use as much metal as the design requires. In summary, it works like this. Using a transparent UV-curable adhesive, one of the printing stations ahead of the EcoLeaf module prints and UV cures what’s called a “trigger image” on the substrate. Only on this printed image will metallization occur because it’s the only place where the adhesive has been deposited. The substrate then moves into the EcoLeaf module, inside of which are a donor roll and a replenishing system filled with metal pigment supplied by Eckart, also part of the Altana Group. The donor roll carries on its surface a thin layer of metal pigment, and when the donor roll contacts the trigger image, the pigment transfers to the image and bonds instantly. The metallized image can be lacquered or overprinted to achieve a wide range of metallic colors. And since only the metal used to create the image is consumed, there is zero waste, making EcoLeaf considerably less expensive than either hot- or cold-foil stamping. One added benefit is that unlike aluminum foil, it’s microwavable. Go to pwgo.to/5548 for a video animation.
“We have no doubt that our customers will embrace EcoLeaf with open arms,” says Leon. “We think they will love the opportunity to add cost-effective and amazing metallization to their jobs. This solution has the potential to be a serious game changer.”
Examples of EcoLeaf labels in commercial use are not yet available. But shown above is a photo of a paper pressure-sensitive label produced by Actega that gives a good idea of what the technology can deliver. This particular wine bottle label was printed offset in five colors. The substrate then passed through a flexo printing station that delivered the trigger image. Finally, in the EcoLeaf module, the metallization was executed.
According to Dario Urbinati, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Actega Metal Print, the location of the EcoLeaf module depends on what effects the converter is seeking to accomplish. “It can be metallize first and print next. Or print and then metallize. Or print, metallize, and overprint to achieve different color variations. We’re also looking into the possibility of mounting the EcoLeaf module on a rail system so that it can be moved according to requirements.”
Urbinati believes that eliminating hot-foil and cold-foil from the print production process brings a number of benefits. “Because we only send pigments to the printers and not heavy rolls of multilayer material, the cost and effort from a logistical standpoint are reduced,” he points out. “Plus there are fewer machine stops due to the need to replenish the roll of hot- or cold-foil material. And finally, it means less polyester carrier material going into the solid waste stream.”
And the key modification made by Actega when they purchased the Landa Nano-Metallography technology? Actega’s use of metal micro-pigments in place of Landa’s metal nanoflakes means the technology is no longer an example of “nanography,” which the National Nanotechnology Initiative defines as the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers.