Hybrid capabilities: Digital and flexographic co-exist for label production

From Industrial Print Magazine
By Cassandra Balentine

Brand owners rely on image to sell products and stand out on shelves. Therefore, product labels represent an important application that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Digital print has penetrated into this market, offering the ability to incorporate variable data and versioning economically with shorter runs.

Label converters are aware of this trend and employ digital printing technologies to meet the evolving demand of its constituents.

Meyers is a printing business owned by the Dillon family since 1949. The organization started with a single piece of printing equipment and has grown to an over 60 million dollar company operating out of a 250,000 square foot facility in Minneapolis, MN. It has 250 dedicated employees.

The print provider offers a range of services, including large format graphics, displays, cards, and coupons, as well as primary and functional labels for both established organizations and emerging companies. “We utilize digital printing technology primarily to produce large format graphics and primary labels. Digital printing allows us to offer the high level of print quality our customers have come to expect while doing so economically on short runs,” says Dave McConnon, VP of operations, label and card division, Meyers.

With an investment in large and versatile presses that print on virtually any substrate, the company has the skill set and equipment to get the job done whether it requires digital, offset, flexography, or finishing.

Digital Strength
Meyers invested in digital early, after adding an HP, Inc. Indigo digital press to its facility in 2003. The primary reason for the install was to produce variable data. Since then, Meyers has continuously upgraded its digital printing capabilities and expanded the utilization of the technology, enabling it to provide decorative effects on its prime labels. Today it operates both liquid toner and UV inkjet ink along with traditional printing methods.

Among its digital equipment line up, the company runs an HP Indigo WS6600. It was selected due to its ability to offer fast, high-quality printing. McConnon says the press’ output is consistent with what customers expect. A continuous-feed label printer, the HP Indigo WS6600 offers print speeds of 130 feet per minute (fpm) and a maximum speed of 196 fpm in one- or two-color mode.

One of its recent investments is the MPS EF SYMJET hybrid printing solution. “Meyers is committed to staying on top of new technology. In fact, we are the first organization in North America to add the MPS EF SYMJET hybrid printing press to our facility,” says McConnon.

The MPS EF SYMJET press is a hybrid flexographic inkjet solution that gives converters new print potential with the symbiotic combination of conventional and digital printing technologies. The press is built with the standard MPS EF platform and an integrated Domino digital N610i inkjet printer. With a Domino digital inkjet unit integrated on the EF platform, flexography and digital capabilities are combined and used integrated inline or separately to work offline.

The Domino digital unit uses Kyocera printheads to print a resolution of 600×600 dpi, with up to six colors and opaque white. With a 13-inch web width, the MPS EF SYMJET can run in standalone inkjet mode up to 240 fpm, in combination inkjet/flexographic mode, or as a standalone flexographic press.

The fully automated Quick-Change die unit enables faster job changeovers. It is developed in cooperation with Kocher+Beck. There is no need to stop the press to change the die cylinder, as the new die station is equipped with two slots. The changeover is completed through an automatic switch of the impression roller to the vacant slot. With this feature, die-cutting jobs are prepared during production. With additional MPS automation packages, die settings are recalled out of job memory for even faster job changeovers.

“We purchased the MPS EF SYMJET because of the flexibility it offers in our ability to produce decorative effects and die cutting inline along with digital,” comments McConnon.

Digital Acceptance
While digital is an important aspect of the company’s business, McConnon estimates that it only makes up about 15 percent of Meyers’ label production. “In the future, we expect to see this number grow and anticipate our digital production will double by 2020,” he offers.

Choosing which jobs will use a digital versus flexographic process is a decision determined by the task at hand. “Jobs with short run lengths or a high number of SKUs are a great fit for digital production because of the ability to control costs through shorter set up times. Decorative effects such as textures and complicated screen patterns are also accomplished digitally,” adds McConnon. “Additionally, features such as microtype are printed digitally to enhance the security on a label when needed.”

Digital printing technologies enable Meyers to pursue a larger customer base including those requesting shorter run lengths but still valuing high-quality graphics. “In addition, our current customers benefit from our mixture of digital and flexographic production. We can start a new product line for a customer in digital, and then switch it to flexographic as the product line grows. Likewise, we can switch a product line that is near the end of its lifecycle from flexographic to digital and help our customers hold their costs inline,” shares McConnon.

Meyers offers premium products at an economic rate with fast set up times and consistent quality made possible with digital printing technology. “In fact, in many cases the first images off our digital presses are sellable. This high level of consistency allows us to produce press proofs that are true to form,” he continues.

McConnon admits that one of the main challenges of digital print technology is that it is constantly changing. “Deciding when to invest in the newest technology and when to hold out for product improvements is difficult. Meyers is committed to staying on top of current technologies and dedicates internal resources to this initiative,” he shares.

Label Services
Meyers offers an extensive range of label products and services, including primary labels, coupons, games and promotions, converting solutions, code management, and durable labels. From almost the very start of the self-adhesive label and specialty converting industry, it’s supplied high-quality labels to some of the most ambitious customers, under the most intense requirements.

In addition to label printing and converting services, the company celebrates a long history of selling and maintaining label application equipment. “Out of that came expertise that allows us to consult with our customers regarding how to most effectively use labels inline on their application equipment,” says McConnon. The company’s technical sales and research and development teams audit customer plants to help them understand where cost savings can come from and advise on label best practices.

Label Work
Meyers works with many well-known brands on label products from conception to completion. According to the company the average consumer sees, feels, and interacts with one of its products in the retail marketplace almost every day. Clients include Frito Lay, General Mills, Hormel, Verizon, and Ulta Beauty.

Meyers recently utilized its MPS EF SYMJET printer to create holiday promotional labels for Ulta Beauty. The job incorporated four print technologies—cold foil, inkjet, rotary screen, and flexographic. It was printed on the MPS EF SYMJET hybrid printing press using flexographic adhesive for cold foil, digital inkjet, zone flexographic matte and gloss finishes, and rotary screen with glitter for enhancements. Labels were die cut inline and printed on a 2.3-mil BOPP substrate.

The creative was submitted to Meyers through PDF art with a description of the unique features and enhancements the customer was looking for. Measuring 3.75 inches across and 1.45 inches around, two versions of the labels were run, with 53,000 labels in each run.

McConnon admits maintaining registration on any job that utilizes three technologies is always a challenge.

Committed to Customers
Offering label services to well-known brands is demanding work. It is imperative for companies like Meyers to remain on top of trends in order to meet the latest demands without slipping on quality or productivity.

“At Meyers we’re committed to collaboration and entering into strategic partnerships with our customers because we know excellence is driven through collaboration,” comments McConnon.

The company actively listens to its customers’ challenges and continues to explore new technologies that better support them.

Jan2018, Industrial Print Magazine