A product without a label is unlikely to be used, let alone trusted. These small slips of information are central to branding, selling and so much more. Yet in the world of manufacturing, labeling can be a thankless task.
While factory floors are making headlines thanks to robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) — among other topics — label producers remain unsung heroes of sorts. But their roles are more important than ever, not just for communicating details but for keeping both consumers and companies safe.
The global label industry is projected to reach around $40 billion by 2022, reflecting a steady growth year after year. Along with the always-growing demand for packaged goods, this growth is due in part to digital transformation. Modern labels are not only needed at a faster rate, but with heightened efforts toward security, graphics, convenience and interactivity. The profound pace of digital transformation is making label production a sink-or-swim industry, just like so many others.
In their fall 2017 article titled “State of the Industry: Label,” Packaging Impressions delves into the ongoing evolution of labeling and the concepts that are driving it forward.
“It’s a positive and profitable environment for label producers who can adapt to it, but not for those resistant to creative experimentation or new production technologies,” writes author Patrick Henry. “Falling behind the pace of change in the label market, the experts agree, is a risk that no producer can afford to take.”
Keeping up is not a simple ask by any means. The advancements and shifting standards are constant, from the ink being used to data stored within barcodes — even as the core processes remain largely analog.
One of the most significant recent technologies is UV LED curing systems. This is an update to the mercury-based lamps that have long been used for drying, sealing and protecting ink on individual labels.
LED technology (short for light-emitting diode) has been around for decades but has gathered steam in recent years, being used in everything from traffic lights to airplane cabins. Now, LED is helping to speed up label printing cycles and remove some of the common headaches related to older lamps. UV LED equipment reduces the levels of harmful radiation, uses less energy, and can last significantly longer than different lamps. They are also more compact, giving label printers added flexibility in their operation.
At the 2018 Labelexpo Americas conference, this fast-rising technology was on heavy display. A number of popular equipment vendors are moving full-steam ahead with the transition to UV LED lamps and corresponding inks. According to Labels and Labeling, UV LED currently accounts for $200 million of the $700 million UV market, but it is growing nearly six times faster than mercury-based equipment. It is estimated to surpass $1 billion by 2023.
“With LED inks now widely available and the cost of LEDs reducing at quite a rate, there are more and more LEDs in the market and the upward investment trend is accelerating,” said Robert Rae, technology development manager at GEW, in an interview with Labels and Labeling.
There is always a “next big thing” to look forward to, and there’s no telling what label production will look like in another 20 years (or 2 for that matter). But it’s an exciting time for the industry, with improvements that will reverberate through countless brands and their customer bases.
As this forward movement continues, manufacturers will need to stay informed and be prepared to keep up with these changes. “Industry 4.0” will be a developing story for the foreseeable future, with even the smallest details of manufacturing being addressed. We’re excited to be along for the ride, and believe the best is yet to come.