The Age of Flexo by Hemanth Paruchuri - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

By 01 Mar 2019

Hemanth Paruchuri, director at Pragati Pack, spoke at the first of the three-city MacDermid roadshows, hosted in Hyderabad, about how to control every aspect of what the flexo process does, and how to profit from it.

The Sunday Column highlights the five important trends that identifies the era of narrow web flexo technology in India

Smithers Pira published a report on future flexo trends in March 2018. The report – more from the Europe and US perspective – could be relevant even to the Indian scenario.

One of the key points was automation. “The manufacturers are working on optimising as many processes as possible. For example, improvements in makereadies, so that lower and shorter runs can be produced more economically,” said Hemanth Paruchuri, director at Pragati Pack.

The other point was skill shortage, which was quite acute in the European and US market, where the operators are retiring and they are not able to bring in new talent. “So automation and skill shortage needed to be focussed on,” he said.

There’s also a threat of digital, mostly in the West not so much in India, where the sales of digital presses are as much as flexo presses.

The chart gives you a quick indication of the sales of digital presses. The good thing is flexo presses are also on the increase.

Digital is showing the high growth, but if you look at the analogue progress without the flexo, it is showing a decline. I would say, that’s overall good news for flexo.

According to Smithers Pira report (2014) Asia was seen to have the highest growth. Of the USD 242-billion expected revenue in 2019, Asia Pacific region accounts for 45% of the global packaging market, 33% of which coming from flexo.

The total package printing output in India is expected to be USD 131-billion in 2019, that is 3% of the total global packaging printing market. And going by the many Indian reports, this seems to be on target. Offset at 43%, gravure at 32%, digital at 4%, screen at 2%, other at 11% and flexo accounting for 8%.

Future flexo trends

Paruchuri spoke at the first of the three-city MacDermid roadshows, hosted in Hyderabad, about how to control every aspect of what the flexo process does, and how to profit from it. 

Interpreting the Smithers Pira data, he connected his experience in the Indian market and his own at Pragati Pack, giving his take on what he sees coming into the Indian market.

Trend One: Hybrid printing

The first one, is hybrid printing. It’s a combination of digital and flexo.

Digital gives you a lot of advantages in terms of quick makereadies. There's no you know plates involved. But, the advantage the flexo gives you in the hybrid presses is the ability to do printing on both sides, that is, the adhesive side, and of course metallic and other decorations, which you can’t do that well using digital technology.

So, I think the combination of flexo and digital is the one thing that we are going to see more in the future.

Trend Two: Extended gamut printing

The second trend that I see emerging is extended gamut printing. Using an extended gamut of CMYK, orange, green and violet, give the converter the ability to hit 75% to 90% of the Pantone colours.

Of course, extended gamut printing is yet to touch metallic kind of printing ability, but there huge advantages in terms of makeready times because you are not changing the aniloxes and inks. So, it’s a huge saving there. You are not using special inks, so that’s a big cost saving.

Reduced inventory, more press uptime because you change and start a new job quickly, resulting in time saved.

The lookouts are: key is the pre-press here. Profiling has to be bang-on, because if there’s something wrong, you have to stop and get a new set of plates, which is a waste of time.

Registration is very critical, because you are trying to replace spot colours with a combination of colours.

Importantly, the ability to print at higher screen ruling is a must. If you are printing flat colours using multiple inks and out of course line screen you will be able to see the dots.

Trend Three: LED UV

That’s in vogue, not so much on the platemaking side but on the machine side. Again, there are lots of pros like instant start up, power savings among the major ones. For example, in a country like India, where there are power outages, you wouldn’t like the lamps taking time to heat up. It is also much cooler, there’s no exhaust and no ozone extraction required.

There’s a substantial energy savings, and the machine can run at higher speeds.

One of the important benefit is that over the life of the LED, there’s no degradation in terms of curing.

There are cons, but it’s mostly restricted to the initial investments in the kit, which is substantially higher, and inks and varnishes which are more expensive right now.

Trend Four: Flexo for carton packaging

The fourth trend from a narrow-web perspective is: how do you expand your product offerings, moving beyond self-adhesive, wet-glue or wrap-around labels.

A typical folding carton converters off-line processes starts with a reel of paperboard, a sheeter-to-sheet, and then ink process, and printing, then value-add, cutting, creasing, stripping, folding-gluing, and then it’s a finished product. There’s a lot of in process material that has been built up.

If this is done on a flexo, there’s the advantage of doing all these multiple process in a single pass. So, for someone who is not specialised in producing cartons, the Capax for putting a single line is much cheaper, plus also the footprint of the set-up would be substantially lower.

Trend Five: Flexo for flexible packaging

In India gravure dominates when one talks of flexible packaging.

But if you are able to print films and convert them into pouches, I think there’s a lot that narrow-web flexo can offer, given all the advantages that’s already enumerated above.

The gravure technology has been the go-to when it comes to sophisticated artwork, and many packaging converters have aligned themselves to it.

However, world over, gravure is now being complemented by flexographic printing. Why? Because flexo has its benefits – flexibility, the ability to do short runs and most importantly, minimum impact on the environment among others. 


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