August 14, 2023 | Lena Chmielewska

Mark Andy Summer Symposium takes overview of package print

Mark Andy invited top speakers from leading technology manufacturers to its HQ in Chesterfield for a two-day symposium that looked at the trends in the market and how technology is responding to changing requirements. 

Welcoming delegates to the company’s manufacturing facility, VP Sales Steve Schulte said that, as the market leader in narrow web, Mark Andy has a responsibility to respond quickly to trends and show printers and converters how they can improve production efficiency and company profitability.  “The key is embracing the latest technology that has been developed through extensive R&D based on user feedback, as this event’s program will show,” he said.

He went on to highlight significant changes in the market that all converters are confronting.  These include lack of skilled workers, supply chain issues post Covid, material shortages, plastic taxes, rising costs, shorter run lengths and more SKUs.  The latter two are being addressed by the growth of digital printing, and in Mark Andy’s case, three digital/flexo hybrids, each targeted at a different sector of the market.  Other notable trends include the increasing use of linerless labels, RFID tagging, and a growing need for more accurate data capture.  “The path to success”, he said, “was investment in the latest automated servo flexo presses and digital hybrids, coupled with accurate data to ensure production efficiency, and outside the company, the need to keep a close eye on emerging market opportunities.”

The market today

The first guest speaker was Linnea Keen, President of TLMI, who gave a snapshot of the latest sales figures from its members, which show a general increase, especially in the medium/mid-range but with a marked backlog of two to three weeks across all sectors, with lead times from both suppliers and customers being highest in the small to mid-range.  Labor costs, unsurprisingly, showed an all-round increase.  Highlighting comments from a cross section of TLMI members, she said: “The feeling is that the market remains tough but stable, and with raw material supplies easing, there is a general feeling of optimism for the future, but probably not for 2023.”

Looking at the label market overall, company acquisitions have dropped significantly from four successive high years spanning 2019 to 2022, which reflects the soft market conditions, and an unprecedented drop of 33% in shipments from European label makers is the direct result of destocking following the pandemic.  “On the consumer side,” she said,” there has been a major switch from ‘premium’ to ‘value’ that has had a knock-on effect – similarly downsizing of packaging units is having an effect.”  The PS label market is stable however, with growth coming from shrink sleeves and the proliferation SKUs.

The importance of surface treatment

Kevin McKell, VP Sales & Marketing at Danish company Vetaphone then gave an outline explanation of surface treatment and its vital role in ensuring high quality print.  As the inventors of the corona process, he said: “Vetaphone has more experience of working with a diverse range of substrates than any other manufacturer and we have a unique Test Lab facility in Denmark that allows manufacturers and converters to trial new products prior to incurring the costs of commercial production.”

Highlighting that not all substrates behave the same, nor even two rolls of the same substrate, he stressed the need to test each roll prior to production to check its Dyne level and consequently the amount of corona treatment required.  Both under- and over-treatment cause issues with downstream processing and are unnecessary with Vetaphone’s highly controllable iCorona generators – another feature unique to the company.  With Dyne levels decaying over time, storage time and conditions play an important part in substrate performance, so testing prior to use will indicate any need for boost treatment.  “If you understand the process, you are in a better position to ensure top quality end products,” he concluded.

Challenges for inks

Continuing with the theme of ink performance on substrates, Tom Hammer, Head of Technical Marketing at Siegwerk EIC, said that the growth of LED-UV technology was shining a light on the key criteria of energy costs, sustainability, quality, productivity, and a reduced footprint in today’s industry.  With current trends of more SKUs, higher shelf appeal and global color management, combined with the growth of digital print in this sector, ink manufacturers are constantly being challenged, with low migration an ongoing subject for debate.

He outlined the complex situation faced by Siegwerk regarding international standards and how regulatory compliance is a constantly moving target and spoke of the difficulty of managing inventory in a world of increasing complexity.  “We need fewer SKUs, less complexity, and global sourcing for local manufacturing and supply.  Time and waste cost money and we’re all under pressure to increase productivity.”  As package designs and styles continue to evolve, the whole production process needs to work closer together to achieve stated goals for the circular economy – and inks and coatings have a key role to play in product safety, circularity, efficiency, and functionality.

Conserving energy

On the theme of sustainability and production efficiency, Amir Dekel, VP Sales at UV curing manufacturer GEW, took an holistic view of the global energy situation, which shows that of the 7.9 billion people on our planet, 3 billion use no electricity at all, and 1.5 billion consume less than a third of each US citizen.  “If the world is to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement of 2015, which calls for Net Zero carbon by 2050, much has to change,” he said.  The problem is how to meet the growing demand for electricity without increasing the carbon footprint, and at present, renewable sources are not up to the job, citing the US as currently providing only 17% by renewables.  “The issue is not just providing the amount required – meeting fluctuating demand is one of the biggest challenges especially at peak times,” he explained.

If power generation is a major issue for the world, looked at from the consumer side there is much that can be done and quickly to reduce electricity consumption, and in the printing industry this includes the use of LED/UV curing.  Relatively new in concept and application, LED technology moves UV curing into a new era.  Comparative costs with traditional Mercury lamp systems indicate a saving of 45% and up to 66% for the latest air-cooled systems based on average usage by a narrow web press.  Mr Dekel cited one major label converting group that has committed to converting 60 of its presses across 10 plants from Mercury to LED technology as part of its ‘green agenda’.  “There will be many more,” he concluded.

Growing demand for data

Returning to the theme of labeling trends, Doug Bourque, and Gary Stegall of Avery Dennison Smartrac spoke extensively about the growing demand for RFID technology in the narrow web sector.  Essentially a materials supplier, with $6.9 billion of its total $9 billion annual turnover coming from this sector, the company also has a $2.5 billion and growing business in Solutions such as RFID, branded tags and embellishments, data management and pricing and productivity solutions.

Describing RFID as a major development of what a barcode offered, they explained that an RFID inlay included a chip, and antenna and a carrier (label), whereas an RFID tag is a finished ticket or label encasing the chip and antenna.  What RFID offers is readability without line of sight up to several meters distance, one-to-many communication, and extended info that is unique per product.  Typical applications are in the beauty product sector along with food, general retail and logistics in a market that is predicted to grow from around $12 billion in 2018 to $17 billion by 2029.  Citing many examples of ‘secret’ RFID in plain sight every day, they said that improved efficiency and visibility throughout the supply chain and customer demand for supply chain optimization are the key drivers.

Improving production efficiency

Attention then refocused on Mark Andy with Gretchen Tobol, Product Manager Flexo Presses, who introduced sMArt link, the company’s own software development designed to increase productivity on narrow web presses by 15-20%.  “Borne from the need to gather accurate data from the production floor, sMArt link automatically collects the info, monitors, and analyzes real-time operations to allow ‘smart’ management of the resources available,” she said.  This includes waste reduction and time and energy savings, all of which make a difference to the bottom line.

Designed to operate on Mark Andy flexo and digital presses but capable or working with a stable of mixed brands, sMArt link can be accessed through a cloud-based platform for anywhere, anytime use.  Data collected across digital and flexo presses includes footage (and good footage), waste, hours run, set up time, printing time, job details, substrate, copy count, utilization, maintenance, performance, ink consumption, actual speed (and anticipated speed), and web break with cause.  “Mark Andy’s sMArt link ‘Improvement Calculator’ indicates that savings of 10% could yield up to $172,000 per month, or over $2m per year, based on a 17” press running at 300ft/min on double-day shift five days per week – that’s some ROI!” she commented.

Essential support

Wrapping up the presentations, Dave Telken, VP of Mark Andy Print Products (MAPP) explained how this division of the company has become a major contributor in the 10 years since opening, with over 30,000 consumable items needed to run a successful print business.  “With a daily cycle count that gives a 98% inventory accuracy, MAPP is able to complete 100% daily completion of stock items, which amounts to around 300 picked, packed, and shipped orders, including 90 rolls of mounting tape cut to requirement,” he told delegates.

Quality is assured by the leading brands supplied, with distribution from Earth City MO for central US, Georgia for the east coast, and California for the west, with European centres in the UK and Poland.  New products for 2023 are the MAPP sample kit, a multi-purpose roll lifter/die lifter/pallet jack, disposable ink-pan liners, and the upcoming entry-level table-top plate mounter.


With the international markets in a state of flux with both commercial and geo-political pressures, and the legacy of the global pandemic still lingering in the manufacturing supply chains, companies need to be alert and agile to survive and prosper and the sharing of information from a variety of sources within the industry is a valuable aid to this.  Hailing the Symposium as a successful forerunner of how to develop business through closer cooperation, Mark Andy is already planning future events.