Ramu Ramanathan (RR): One year since Drupa and a month since Interpack, what is happening with Siegwerk?
Ashish Pradhan (AP): In 2016 we launched the first LED-UV flexo inks for food and pharmaceutical packaging, UV inkjet inks for labels, sustainable water-based inks for paper and board applications and a new ink range for gravure printing, based on a polyurethane binder system and free of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Our focus is mapping the market in terms of customer experience and what we need to change within Siegwerk. We are trying to meet customer’s expectations plus calibrate / predict the manner in which the technology is moving.
RR: What sort of customer expectations?
AP: We are talking about a big drive towards sharing new products and services in the Indian market. How can a printer differentiate with the brand owners and how can the brand owners differentiate in the marketplace. In order to stand out, we need to introduce more special effects. We have strong portfolios across the segments. The tobacco industry has a lot of differentiation at the packaging end. There are lots of special effects which can also be used in sheetfed. That’s one approach. Another is to understand what the customer‘s expectations are, in terms of good manufacturing practices.
RR: These are practices in ink manufacturing…
AP: Yes. At Siegwerk, packaging inks and varnishes are formulated and manufactured in accordance with good manufacturing practice, taking into consideration many individuals and varying parameters relating to the conversion process, substrate, application and end use. Siegwerk doesn’t simply exclude toxic substances based on regulatory exclusion criteria but also designs all food packaging inks to minimise the potential for the migration of ink components into food, whilst meeting the end-use requirements.
RR: You are very keen to take sustainability to a new level. How?
AP: We published the first-ever Sustainability Report, based on the international GRI standard which PrintWeek India has been sharing with the industry. By launching the Sustainability Report, we want to provide greater transparency and enter into an open dialogue with brands owners and our customers. The aim is: responsibility for environment and society. When formulating inks, Siegwerk is not only looking for optimum performance based on customers’ processes but also to ensure that these inks are safe to use for the packaging applications. Siegwerk has always partnered with its customers to deliver compliant ink systems. This enables the converters to avoid any kind of regulatory or product contamination risk.
RR: For example, food safety?
AP: Yes, there is a lot more interest today than it was three years ago. We see many Asian countries move towards compliant product safety and regulations. China has moved towards a completely toluene-free system. They are much ahead when you talk about strong norms against volatile organic compounds (VOC). That is the segment which India is moving towards. It might take a while to happen and probably by 2020 it will be done. There is an increasing interest in PVC-, BPA- and toluene-free inks and this will also shape the future development in ink technology. Besides, full PU (polyurethane)-based ink systems for gravure printing can be expected to address the interest of printers.
RR: Cost is a major component especially for price sensitive markets like India…
AP: India is price sensitive market. But the market looks at it in terms of price per kilo. The customer has to look at the total cost of operation as ink technologies will help reduce ink system complexity as well as ink stocks and therefore support cost-effectiveness effects will also be of interest to the market, going forward. Furthermore, the use of renewable materials in ink formulation will also drive the development activities in all ink technologies in line with the general market demand for sustainable solutions.
RR: What about water-based technology?
AP: Water-based ink systems will see interesting developments amongst others for applications on film. We believe in some segments, water-based technology will be the dominant technology. That’s why Siegwerk acquired a company called Actega Colorchemie GmbH in Europe which is a completely water-based company. Now our portfolio is complete with excellent water-based solutions for paper and board printing.
RR: What is the impact of water-based technology on different business segments?
AP: It depends on the segment. For example, paperboard packaging is completely water-based. There are hardly any solvent-based products. Flexible packaging is dominated by solvent-based and water-based is deployed by the labels industry. We see a lot of interest from the customers based in India.
RR: What are the trends in curing?
AP: UV printing is a growing market owing to fast curing speed, surface flexibility, high print quality, durability and no emission of volatile organic compound (VOC).
RR: What about LED UV curing?
AP: As one of the technological advances of recent years, LED UV curing will influence the future development in the printing industry. UV-curing had already established itself for eco-efficiency, cost-effectiveness and productivity advantages with not just label printers but also increasingly, mono-carton converters. Due to the fact that UV inks cure in a matter of seconds, the printed material can be immediately processed which saves printers money and time. UV printing can be used with almost any kind of absorbent and non-absorbent surfaces and therefore offers printers and brand owners a vast selection of flexible and rigid print substrates. LED UV-curing is taking this to the next level. UV LED-based lamps are replacing mercury lamps for a wide range of UV curing applications. The compactness of LED lamps, doing away with shuttering and air extraction systems, lower power consumption, vastly enhanced lamp-life, instant on/off switching and so on make for a much smaller footprint, and a more consistent print quality. Siegwerk is fully geared up to support this technology with even low migration LED-curing inks commercialised in the market.
RR: This is the second largest Siegwerk plant, after the one in Germany, and also one of the best production facilities in the country. In view of this, what is the focus area for India and what have you been doing in terms of production at the factory?
AP: We operate on the Business Unit (BU) concept and we have six BUs. Flexible packaging is the biggest at the global level. This is followed by narrow-web sheetfed, liquid food, paperboard and tobacco. BU and the technology are part of the setup. The BU head handles both – sales and technology. Traditionally, Siegwerk in India has been strong in sheetfed. We have been the pioneers in the shift from conventional to UV and we have invested a lot in UV capability in India. Furthermore, we have the capability to manufacture various types of Inks in India.
RR: Let us place the microscope on your pet subject, flexible packaging?
AP: We feel that the flexible packaging is the growth area in the packaging segment. The foray of retail in the rural areas will drive the need for flexible packaging. This will also drive product innovation in the market. Siegwerk believes in providing a solution to the packing needs and not just selling inks.
AP: Our promise of product safety, ink performance and guidance and support gives us the opportunity to work closely with the customer to mitigate the regulatory and the food contamination risk and come up with cost-effective and innovative solutions. With collaboration and participation with our customers, we have been able to provide solutions and guiding the customers to optimise projects with respect to ink management, downtime, setup time etc.
RR: What are the concerns when it comes to the inks used for packaging?
AP: In the Indian packaging market, there is a steady increase in regulatory efforts. The fact that legislations are becoming stricter creates new challenges for ink manufacturers in terms of raw materials used to produce packaging inks. The qualification of modified inks involves considerable resources along the value chain. Till today, the overall market is reluctant to accept higher prices for safer inks compared to standard ink systems. Converters are always trying to reduce their total cost of ownership to improve their competitiveness and stay successful in the market. Product safety continues to be the most important and challenging aspect of packaging. The goal is to create food packaging that is safe for the consumer.
RR: What is the one key shift you are seeing?
AP: Gravure has been around for years and it has been standardised. When it comes to flexo, the variables are innumerable. It’s a far more skill-based operation than gravure. In India, we see a lot of training programmes for press operators because that is a common factor for both the processes. The quality consistency has an important role which is dependent on the skill of the operator. All put together the industry is moving towards CI flexo and many FMCG brand owners are mulling a move from gravure to flexo.
RR: For CI Flexo, how many factories do we have in India? We are talking of really good factories.
AP: There are 20 to 25 new CI flexo presses in India. Overall, we see much faster growth in flexo. Most of the machines coming to India are top end machines. In the CI flexo domain, a lot of customers would agree that we have lent the support to stabilise their operations. The challenge is with the quality of people and not inks and their talent and skill-set in India.
RR: You operate the centre of excellence at Bhiwadi and then you have the Masterbatch system and blending centres. What are the advantages?
AP: It has led to numerous benefits for customers in India, including higher flexibility and reductions in ink handling and storage, manpower, time and costs. It also includes providing improved ability to respond quickly to customer demands, simplicity in changing ink series (systems), the ability to produce as needed, the reduction of non-returnable cans and drums, the optimal use of press-return inks, and cost savings through rationalisation.
RR: Concept of blending centres in flexible packaging…
AP: We are a centre of excellence where we can develop our own master formulations. We are looking at expanding through blending centres. We have a good number of ink kitchens. We set up the place, train the people and then the customer manages. Also, we have built a laboratory dedicated to the development of customised ink solutions and have expanded our local presence in India.
RR: So the numbers are looking good? Or doom and gloom?
AP: My estimate is that packaging market will continue to grow in the coming years. We have a strong double-digit growth as compared to last year. The doom and gloom must be de-linked from the growth. It has to more do with margins. The simple fact is: everybody must run fast to be in the same spot. It’s basically a gap between the demand and supply. There are some converters who look at their cost as the differentiator and go for volume. While there are some who prosper by proving value and innovation to the customer. So, you have a product leader in quantity or a cost leader, they both are successful in their own way.
RR: Costs? They remain a deterrent?
AP: At Siegwerk, we are concerned about the rising input costs and the effects on the market. Titanium oxide (TiO2) is one of the major components in producing white ink. There has been a significant increase in TiO2 and solvent prices in the last quarters of 2016 and this has continued in 2017 as well. The major reasons are attributed to the capacities going off-stream and forced closures of capacities in Europe and China. Siegwerk has been absorbing the raw material price escalation so far. Our commitment to quality ensures that we buy raw material from the best sources globally and these industries have been steadily increasing their prices. We have been exploring alternatives without compromising on quality and compliance. We are trying our best to limit the impact on both our and the business of our customers.
RR: What advances do you expect to see in ink technology across 2017?
AP: One of the trending topics for 2017 is digital printing. In particular, UV inkjet will further make its way into label applications while water-based inkjet solutions enter the market segment of large width packaging.
In analogue printing and as mentioned earlier we will see a volume switch from conventional UV to low migration and regulation compliant UV inks next year and the implementation of low energy curing will gain pace.
RR: Is ink migration still an issue across the packaging industry?
AP: Due to existing regulations for food related applications low migration and compliant ink systems are one of the fastest growing areas for packaging inks. Product safety plays the most important role. For decades the industry has been sensitised with the subsequent risks of migration. The awareness has already reached consumers who know that food packaging can impair their health. In other words, ink migration is a topic that the packaging industry will always need to reflect upon in any of its processes and handle potential concerns in a transparent manner.
RR: Where does Siegwerk stand in the global market in terms of these optimised inks?
AP: Siegwerk offers manufacturers of food packaging and labels a complete range of suitable inks for all printing processes and therefore is a global leader in providing product safety. The company has a global team exclusively dedicated to safety in regard to both regulatory compliance and brand owner requirements to ensure that its products are safe for the end-use applications.
RR: What are your targets?
AP: We have a business Vision 2020
in place. We will invest in plant equipment and infrastructure along with geographically locating ourselves closer to our customers. We believe in investing in the right people and creating the right environment to help bring out the best in them. At Siegwerk India,
apart from working on the business goals set by the Vision 2020, we have set for ourselves a vision for a culture change. Aptly called Culture 2020, it encompasses a broad vision to enhance the overall
culture of Siegwerk India that is inclusive, open, growth oriented, and is based on teamwork and a positive approach towards goals and objectives.
Non-ink interests Trekking.
Completed the Mount Everest base camp trek last year and training to trek up Mount Kilimanjaro this year.
Aye Mere Pyare Watan from the movie Kabuliwala.
A good read according to you
Several. Latest – Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
Your academic qualification
BE (Mechanical), MMS (Operations)
Favourite five Siegwerk products?
We don’t sell products. We sell solutions. Best solution – onsite counselling and in-house ink management systems.