How wine and labels matter to a regional economy

Printers in the famous winegrowing region around Verona use Nilpeter systems with extensive inline processing equipment to produce stunning labels

by Klemens Ehrlitzer

The area around Verona, with its rolling countryside, is famed for its wines. Names such as Valpolicella, Soave, Bardolino or Custoza, and Lugana are known to wine connoisseurs all over the world. Because there are so many growers in the region, demand for wine labels is consistently strong. This market segment, being relatively immune to the rise and fall of the economy, has proven a steady source of revenue for a good number of label printing companies in the Verona region, even during the recent global economic downturn. The author recently visited three of the companies that are making a big success of roll-label printing using offset presses by the Danish manufacturer Nilpeter A/S.

The three printers – Grafiche Seven S.p.A. in Verona, Sefra s.r.l. in Valgatara, and Grafical S.r.l. in Marano di Valpolicella, all came later to roll-to-roll printing of self-adhesive labels, their original specialities being business forms and general commercial jobs, or the production of wet-glue labels on sheet-fed offset presses. For all three companies, self-adhesive labels have since evolved into a real growth segment, accounting for a significant percentage of their sales.

From forms to labelsSefra s.r.l. in Valgatara was founded in 1973 by Vasco Franchini. As a representative of an Italian company and the British printing group Paragon, he started out by printing business forms. His very first production machine was a second-hand press by German manufacturer Goebel. Sefra maintained strong ties with the Darmstadt-based manufacturer through the first two decades of its existence: In the heyday of the continuous forms printing business, Sefra used to have a fleet of three Goebel rotary presses. One was equipped with a device for producing self-adhesive labels, used in conjunction with business forms for applications such as shipping and logistics.

This was Sefra’s first encounter with adhesive labels, as Romano Franchini, son of the founder and now head of the family firm, recalls. With the forms printing market showing signs of weakening, in 1988 the company invested in its first roll-label printing press, a Nilpeter B-200 that is still in operation to this day. Over the next few years, Sefra expanded its fleet in this business segment, and presses of various manufacturers joined the B-200 on the shop floor.

Variable technology from DenmarkSefra’s positive experience in printing business forms was partly the reason for the company’s decision to install its first Nilpeter MO offset printing press in 1995. At that time, there were no other press manufacturers offering narrow web offset rotary presses. Sefra chose to place its trust in the technical expertise of Nilpeter and its cooperation partner Goebel, who provided the printing unit technology at the time. The Nilpeter MO quickly proved its value to the business, with the result that a range of modules was added to the original “plain-vanilla” offset press, enabling Sefra to offer its customers special finishes with screen printing and hot foil embossing.

Since then, the company has consistently chosen narrow web presses that permit easy make-ready when switching between different printing and finishing processes. Nilpeter’s progress in advancing the design and concept of its presses was a persuasive business case for Romano Franchini: In 2000 and 2010 he invested in more presses from Nilpeter and most recently a Nilpeter MO-3300.

Moving the focus to packagingGiven the good results in label printing and the by now obvious decline in the forms printing business, Sefra called a halt to any further investment in continuous forms production. At the same time, the company ventured into a new product segment, shrink sleeves. Sefra now produces shrink sleeves along with adhesive labels in Valgatara, using UV flexo and roll-fed offset printing. Including its prepress and platemaking business, the print shop today achieves annual sales of 10 million euros and employs over 50 people. Wine labels account for some 60% of the production volume. Other orders come from the food, spirits, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals industries. Especially with labels for food customers, Sefra also uses low-migration inks for offset and flexographic printing.

To print the exclusive wine label motifs for the region’s winegrowers, Sefra makes extensive use of Nilpeter’s modular machine concept, with its flexible options for combining modules. Most of the wine labels are finished with hot foil embossing or screen printing. Precision throughout the entire process is essential to achieve excellent quality printing and finishing, a particular challenge with the textured paper that is commonly used for the wine labels. Romano Franchini demands register accuracy of 0.1 mm with the offset inks to ensure reliable colour reproduction and precision in embossing and die-cutting the foil. In screen printing and foil embossing, his benchmark is 0.25 mm.

A later addition: Hot foil embossing unit Consistently delivering register accuracy to the required standards is a challenge which the Nilpeter presses take in their stride. The presses are also highly productive, a key factor for Sefra – not least for reasons of cost efficiency – in choosing which equipment to buy. Orders that need no extra finishing are generally output at a speed of between 130 and 150 m/min., fast enough to remain cost-efficient even for long runs. By way of contrast, the substrates, designs and finishes of wine labels are often too challenging to make full use of the maximum production speed. However, with inline screen printing hot foil and embossing, Sefra still manages to push up the performance, achieving line production speeds in the range of 40 m/min.

For high quality foiling and embossing, Sefra upgraded its production line in December 2012 with an inline FP-4 module. A brand-new development, the unit can be integrated into both MO- and FA-lines, and was unveiled by Nilpeter in September 2012 at LabelExpo Americas in Chicago. The FP-4 is a flatbed unit, and is ideal for the textured adhesive substrates commonly used for wine and spirits labels.

Wine labels are the main revenue streamGrafical S.r.l. in Marano di Valpolicella started out as a jobbing printer. The company was founded in 1984 by Andrea Lonardi. He was later joined by his three brothers Mario, Flavio and Elio, and the four men today share the running of the business. Grafical entered the label market back in 1988, when the company invested in an intermittent offset press with a working width of 250 mm. According to Sebastiano Lonardi (the founder’s son, who is now also on the company’s management team), the production of adhesive labels today accounts for around 75% of sales revenue. An estimated 90% of the labels are produced for the wine industry; the remaining 10% are for food and cosmetics. The company employs some 65 people, and last year generated sales of around 8 million euros.

Before introducing roll labels into its portfolio, Grafical already produced wet-glue labels on sheet-fed offset presses. The decision to expand the product portfolio was customer-driven, as more and more clients were asking for self-adhesive labels. Most wineries in Grafical’s client base have since switched to self-adhesive labelling, won over by the no-mess simplicity of handling, and the clean, smart finish. The many benefits more than outweigh the slightly higher cost, and nowadays customers are only likely to resort to wet-glue labels when they are ordering a very large volume of product.

Filmic labels for sparkling winesMost wine labels are printed on paper, primarily textured types. But a significant percentage – 20% of the entire volume – is printed on film. Particularly for sparkling wines, many customers now use plastic labels, for example PP film.

Grafical’s printing and finishing equipment reflects the direction its product portfolio is developing. The company operates a total of seven narrow web printing lines, plus three sheet-fed presses, and an HP-Indigo for digital printing. The latest addition to the label printing line-up is a Nilpeter MO-4 with a working width of 420 mm. The configuration comprises five offset printing units with an upstream flexographic printing unit. Down the line from the offset stations is a Pantec unit for foil/embossing, plus another printing station which can be equipped for flexographic or screen printing as needed. The hot foil/embossing unit is often in use, since an estimated 40% of the wine labels that Grafical produces require this type of finish. The converting equipment is completed by two die-cutting units. When the line is processing a long run, one of the two die stations can be used with rotary embossing to permit faster production speeds.

The future is only rotary or digitalThe investment in a Nilpeter MO-4 gave Grafical a major lift in productivity, especially for medium runs. A job of 200.000 labels (equivalent to a run length of around 2.500 meters for typical wine label formats) might take up to six hours to produce on a typical intermittent offset press. And if the job entails screen printing, it requires a second, separate operation, effectively doubling the production time. For a medium-length job, that means twelve hours just for the printing, plus substantial effort for setting up the presses, especially for insetting for the second pass. Most of Grafical’s jobs fall into this category. Before the MO-4 arrived in the printing shop, customers were having to wait considerably longer for delivery. The MO-4 has delivered significant gains in productivity – not least because labels requiring screen printing can be finished at one pass through the line.

The recently installed digital printing system also prints faster than the intermittent offset presses. Going by his experience so far, Sebastiano Lonardi is therefore confident the company will be able to specialize in just rotary and digital printing for wine labels. And, with no discernible difference in quality for customers, it is possible to alternate without difficulty between the two methods. Grafical is therefore planning changes over the next few years, and will be producing all its wine labels either on rotary or on digital presses.

Crisis-resistant wine industryGrafiche Seven S.p.A was founded in Verona in 1969 by Luciano Venturi, who owns the company to this day. Grafiche Seven offers a comprehensive portfolio of print products geared toward industry clients. Labels were part of this portfolio right from the start. They used to be produced exclusively on sheet-fed offset presses, with finishes such as varnish or foil/embossing executed on separate post-press equipment. With demand growing for in-mould and wrap-around labels as well as for shrink sleeves, Grafiche Seven in 2000 invested in its first roll-fed press. This system, like a second printing line installed in 2006, was made by Mller Martini.

In 2002, Grafiche Seven gained a new product line, self-adhesive roll labels, when it acquired the company Rotoseven. Today, self-adhesive labels, produced using offset, screen printing and book printing methods, account for 30% of the company’s annual sales revenues of approximately 10 million euros. This market segment, with many customers from the local wine industry, was a mainstay of the company’s business during the 2007-2008 economic crisis. In contrast to the sheet-fed offset segment, where Grafiche Seven was forced to close part of its production and shed staff – reducing the workforce from almost 100 to now 75 employees – the revenue stream from self-adhesive labels remained steady and was key to keeping the company in business.

Securing the future with lean productionLuciano Venturi plans to focus primarily on equipment that can deliver lean production, and has earmarked an investment of six million euros for this purpose. Venturi intends to install state-of-the-art technology across all the company’s business segments, from sheet offset to roll-fed presses and narrow web printing. His target markets for roll-fed printing are mainly the beverage industry, with wine playing a key role, and for sheet-fed printing also the food industry, for which Grafiche Seven primarily prints in-mold labels.

Also part of the ambitious investment program is a Nilpeter MO-4 offset press, with multifunctional configurations for running a wide range of applications. Essentially, it can be set up for any type of printing process with the exception of intaglio. For high quality finishes, for example, it can be equipped with a flatbed foil/embossing unit for hot foil and blind embossing applications, rotary screen units as well as a delamination/relamination module that permits both reverse-side printing and printing on the adhesive layer cold foil, embossing and other finishes. Furthermore, it also features an end-of-line station for solvent-based printing, delivering the high opacity white that is often required for shrink sleeves. With this choice of configurations and equipment, Grafiche Seven can use its Nilpeter MO-4 not just for self-adhesive labels but also for printing, finishing of shrink sleeves and filmic labels made of mono-film.

ConclusionAll three companies profiled in this article have their business roots in a market segment other than self-adhesive labels. However, they all elected to enter this segment and for all three this has turned out to be an excellent decision. With customers from the wine industry, which has emerged in good shape from the economic crisis, and with advanced manufacturing technology in the printing room – the Nilpeter presses being illustrative of the fleets – the three companies can all look forward to a highly successful future.