50% of the machine dead time in flexo is because of the makeready from one job to another - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Dieter Niederstadt, technical marketing manager, Asahi Photoproducts, believes flexo platemaking process represents a fraction of the package environmental impact, its effort of driving out solvent from the platemaking process is a step in the right direction.

In this Sunday Column, Niederstadt discuss flexo, and sustainability

29 Oct 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

It's been four years since we met. And there was Covid-19 in between. What changes have you seen during and post-Covid?
The beginning of Covid saw people order and buy a lot of food in-house. Packaging was classified as system relevant items and received preference at custom posts checking at the border. 

And now?
The situation has changed with the beginning of the war by Russia. Plenty of uncertainty started with companies in Europe. In addition, energy bills have dramatically increased. In some cases, it has put companies out of business. Also this is reflected in the highest amount of M&A during 2021/22 in the industry. The situation is improving, but still way short of what it was before Covid-19.

What have been the Asahi Photoproducts product development during Covid-19?
Covid and global warming accelerated our product development as society was demanding sustainability in our products. We re-prioritised our activities and positioned ourselves with a clear message of ‘solvent zero’. We wanted to show that Asahi is trying to drive out solvent from the platemaking washout process.

How is Asahi performing in India? The label industry is particularly here.
Our market share in India is still small. The annual CAGR is probably depending on the geographic location. It is stronger in Asia and a bit lower in Europe and the US. We hope for a quick normalisation of the geo-political situation as soon as possible to resume our business activities because the demand we know is actually there.

You recommend a single source printing firm as a solution for consistent label quality. Why? What do you recommend India label printers should do to achieve consistency?
I am not so familiar with the Indian label market. But this is one of the advantages of a single source printing form such as a polymer plate. The customer can be sure that the first print is identically compared to the last print as everything is based in the same printing form.

You highlighted your concern about pricing, under-pricing in particular The other is label pricing being inelastic. Many label printers in India price their work the same no matter what the industry vertical or product-type is. They do not take into consideration, different customers have different price elasticity…
I am not an expert in the Indian market but solution-oriented business is making the difference. We always need to think holistically if we have total cost reduction in mind and not to focus just on the price of one particular product in the supply chain.

Two factors, the pandemic and climate crisis, have irreversibly changed many aspects of normal life, including the packaging industry. The entire supply chain of the industry, from raw materials suppliers to manufacturers, brands, and consumers, is changing the way we perceive packaging. What is driving the change?
In 2018, the EU Directive (EU) 2018/852 for packaging waste was passed, mandating that by the end of 2025, 65% of all packaging waste should be recycled. Consumers now prefer sustainable packaging that can still adequately protect products with less product packaging. Brands are responding to these demands, and also to their own sustainability goals, by seeking greener packaging options from packaging converters. Converters, in turn, are seeking ways to incorporate more sustainable materials and practices into their product development, manufacturing, and distribution processes.

So the ultimate goal is to achieve sustainability across the supply chain. But is it in line with corporate cost savings goals?
In order to improve sustainability, investments must be made. And consumers need to be educated about the value of more sustainable product packaging. More importantly, consumers should be willing to pay a premium for it.

Waste, such as liners, defective labels that have to be binned, is often overlooked. Other unnecessary costs, in areas such as disposal, labour and unproductive machine time, may also remain hidden. How does one how to tackle waste and related expenses?
In many countries the initiative is coming from government guidelines to give incentives to companies if waste is reduced and charge an extra cost for waste produced.

How important is carbon-measured strategy? Plus there’s the PAS 2050, which was introduced in 2008 (revised in 2011) with the aim of providing a consistent internationally applicable method for quantifying product carbon footprints.Sustainable efforts are becoming increasingly important to brands due to both consumer demand and climate crisis pressures. In order to achieve a low carbon impact, brands must involve the entire supply chain and conduct a life cycle assessment of the carbon footprint for each of their products. If other stakeholders across the supply chain have already measured their carbon footprint in accordance with PAS 2050, then the brands can apply those CO2 emission calculations to their own footprint. Therefore, brands should seek suppliers who are pursuing a carbon-measured strategy or whose products/materials have already been measured.

 Asahi Photoproducts is on the path to studying carbon neutrality. Can you share an update?
Having met PAS 2050 standards for measuring our current state, we continue to evaluate the possibility to reduce our product carbon impact for our next generation AWP-DEW CleanPrint water-washable flexographic plates.

Flexo has transformed a lot and today it is largely digital if you look at the available workflows and the upcoming AI solutions in reprographic file origination?
From the platemaking production view it is connected digitally without any need of human interaction such as our CCC platemaking system. I think when we say digital, this is the main bottleneck and not the printing technology used such as inkjet technology where a physical droplet is formed and fired via a nozzle onto a substrate.

This to me is just an analogue technology with its own issues. At the end of the day looking from the brand perspective the main important point for them is brand recognition and speed to market. At the LabelExpo Europe, we saw a drive for ECG seven-colour printing. This does allow small job run lengths below 1,000 metres to be economically competitive in both cost and speed as well as higher colour gamut based on higher ink film thickness UV flexo can offer.

What else can the flexo or digital players do to establish technology leadership among top brands?
Still 50% of the machine dead time in flexo is because of the makeready from one job to another. Fixed colour palette was mentioned several years ago but it never took off. In these times of increasing competitiveness, these working techniques are not in the limelight. However, fixed colour palette techniques improve press uptime to 90% or in that region.

AWP-Loop system

In traditional water-wash plate processing, one square meter of flexo plates requires the use of an average of approximately ten litres of water. The AWP-Loop system reduces the wastewater to approximately three litres and maintains 70% of the water inside the closed-loop system.