Time for a flexo revolution - The Noel D'cunha Sunday Column

One of the major economies of the world, India has been enjoying huge and regular FDI from diverse investors of all around the world for the last few decades, since 1991.

18 Apr 2014 | By Noel D'Cunha

However, the joint ventures (JVs) are the most popular and preferred forms of making investment in Indian industry, with printing industry, packaging and label a business sector, benefitting. 2013 witnessed mergers and acquisition deals like ITW and Wintek, Manipal Technologies and Utility Printpack, Paper Products (Huthamaki) and Webtech, Interlabels and Skanem Group.Late last year, Rajhans announced and investment of Rs 26-crore in setting up a label plant, ordering two Gallus ECS 340 with a configuration of 12-colour along with online UV, cold foiling, screen printing and die cutting,  a six-colour Heidelberg XL 75 printing press with online UV coating and four interdeck dryers. In addition, there is a nine-colour gravure printing press from Expert with turn bar and other equipment.

In February this year, Webtech Labels, the Mumbai-based label converter announced that it has bolstered its capacity with two Gidue narrow web flexo presses. The two Gidue presses which they have invested in are M3 and M5.

India is an important emerging market for labels, a sunrise segment in the Indian printing industry. The Indian packaging market has been estimated to be Rs 1,17,000-crore, with annual growth varying from 12% to 31%. Of this, label accounts for Rs 3,000-crore and is expected to be growing at 14%-18% per annum.

Self-Adhesive labels on the rise
Today, the reported usage of self adhesive labels in the world is 47 billion sq/metres (2011) while the per capita consumption in India is 0.25 sq/metre.

Self adhesive labels are used in the food and beverage industry. According to Ajay Mehta of SMI, an Indian manufacturer of self-adhesive substrate, the food and beverage have to gain ascendancy in the Indian market, even though it is strong in the personal care and pharmaceutical segments. And if that happens, the currents range of 3-5% per annum is bound to increase.

If Indian self-adhesive industry grew by 10%, the approximate machines required will be 513 in 15 years, and 34 machines per year.

For a growth of 15%, the total label presses required would be 1,165, which means 78 presses per year; and for a growth of 20%, the total label presses required would be 2,368, which means 158 presses per year.

The Revo Digital Flexo Project
The date was 11-12 December, 2013. Venue: Nuova Gidue’s headquarters in Florence. It was a stage set for experts of seven leading companies in the label and narrow web flexographic printing field, Nuova Gidue, UPM Raflatac, Adare, Esko, Flint Group, Dupont and Apex Group of Companies, to meet and kick-off a project – Revo Digital Flexo Revolution. It aimed to create history by developing a totally new way for flexo to compete in the market.

The project was officially announced in February, 2014 where the team selected UV flexo, extended colour gamut and digital process automation as the three technology drivers to support flexography to become “digital” and keep its role of leadership in labels and
packaging industry.

On 10 June, 2014, six months after the first meet in December, 2013, two digitally automated presses for labels and flexible packaging will display the full “digital” REVO Project at Gidue’s headquarters in Florence. Live demonstrations and technical seminars will be performed during three days of the open house.

So, what are the main objectives of joining the Revo Digital Flexo Revolution. The Revo team members claim cost reduction, consistency, quality, digital and graphic flexibility.

The concerns are: The wastage in setting up the press with more than 20 metres being wasted every morning in start ups.

Is primer pre-coating mandatory?
The trick of managing colour and which colour measurement devices to be used.

Post-press investment which could be upgradable printing platforms; or inspection systems; or reel winders / unwinders and even laser die-cutting kit.

The opacity of white ink. The questions are: Which opacity can you guarantee on a single pass? Which is your effective printing speed for four colours (CMYK)? Will the speed be hampered if I print white or any extra colour? By how much?

Today, customers are the key. They set the rules, they know what to pack, label, decorate and where they want to sell it. Today, brand owners set their own certification criteria on top of FDA, EU, etc. In addition, specific migration (SM) limits are coming, get ready for lab tests.

Costing models have caused a misunderstanding among the converters about what a fixed operational costing model should be. Not all print buyers favour a fixed operational model. Some are willing to listen. Some want a simple and transparent system. Some prefer the a la carte (pay per what you use) purchase based on a transparent fixed price-list with volume incentive discounts.

Flexo evolution
Breakthrough is inevitable. Flexo has been evolving too. There have been advances in platemaking, graphics quality, anilox, servo drive systems, automated registration systems, tension controls, reduction in width of stations, all contributing to reduction in wastage, bringing it down from 200 meters to 15 meters in some cases.

Omet, Gallus, MPS, Nilpeter, Mark Andy, Rotatek with their on-press registration and other advances allowing label printers to raise the bar of high quality label printing solutions.

During the last Labelexpo Europe in Brussels, Gidue showed the Excellence concept installed on its new M5 Press and the unlimited substrates press was based on the concept of “Never stop the running press”. The print cylinders were prepared in the machine during production of the old job without stopping the press; all the printing cylinders changed “on the fly”. The automatic exchange of printing cylinders was integrated by the Digital Flexo HD cameras, which recognised the new job and adjusted pressure and register setting digitally without manual intervention of the operator.

While all these enhancements help improve the final product, they should be applied correctly, or it ends up with an expensive process that will not give returns on investment.

For example, wastages continue to happen, set-up cost is still high.

So, is Digital the answer?
Digital printing means flexibility to print labels without costly repro or time-consuming makeready bottlenecks. It also means considerable reduction in wastages.

Sai Packaging in Bengaluru installed an Epson SurePress L-4033AW, India’s first Epson label press. Its production floor boasts of sheetfed and flexo presses. It was the first Indian company to have the Gallus ECS 340 flexographic printing press in 2010 which was installed in Bengaluru and since then it has added two ECS 340 presses, the latest being at its Faridabad unit, the second unit.

Arvind Sekhar, director for south at Sai, says, selecting the SurePress was “easy”.  Among the reasons, he states, the ability to print on white ink, no pre-treatment, ability to produce Pantone colour, and short-run jobs for the label segment.

Ahmedabad-based label specialist, Astron Packaging completed the installation of the second HP Indigo press, a WS6600, which will allow it to up its production capacity.

Niraj Darji, senior vice president at Astron Packaging, says the company primarily caters to the printing and packaging needs of the pharmaceutical sector. “In the face of rapidly growing customer demand for high-value printing applications, we felt the need for a second digital press to boost printing capacity and better optimise existing resources.”

But just as there are benefits, question marks remain. At LabelExpo Europe in Brussels in September, digital machines crowded halls as they have done in recent years. But Mike Fairley of Finat, the Netherlands-based global label printers association, asks some pertinent questions. How well can you manage the colour with digital? How much speed do you need in your press? Do you finish offline, nearline or inline? Then there’s calibration, cost and quality.

All eyes on Interpack 2014
The show in Dusseldorf, Interpack 2014, is this year’s packaging megashow with 2700 exhibitors from over 60 countries and occupying a gross area of 1,75,000 sq/ft. To open up a gateway for Indian manufacturers to the global market, Indian Institute of Packaging
(IIP) with the help of Government of India’s funding has set up the India Pavilion, to showcase the prowess of Indian packaging manufacturers.

HP India has announced that it’s going to show something different in cardboard boxes, flexible packaging, labels, and online printing equipment, at Interpack with the 20000 and 30000 series.

Flexo Gurukul’s first technical seminar
The first technical seminar-based Flexo Gurukul, will be held from 28 to 29 April 2014 at Khar Gymkhana Club in Mumbai.

Flexo Gurukul, a concept and initiative by Fasco Printech is a seminar-based technical training programme for printers who are printing on flexo presses or are willing to enter into the narrow and wide web flexography printing.

The seminar will discuss seven topics, which include discussion on type of flexo inks, controlling ink properties throughout the press run, photopolymer plates, photopolymer plate defects and their effects on printing, flexo plate mounting tapes, the anilox rollers and the interaction of ink, plate, tape, and anilox roller, and the important variables.

To confirm the participation for the two day seminar, please email Pawandeep Sahni at pawan@weldoncelloplast.com

There's a lot happening as the mind-staggering brand-new Rajhans packaging and label factory in Bengaluru indicates.

The game is on.

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