The fabulous flexo story of Reproflex 3

In conversation with WhatPackaging?, Reproflex 3’s Sethunath Padmanabhan explains how the company’s Project Blue has set a benchmark in flexo printing across the world with over 50 awards in the last three years and what this means for the market in India

11 Nov 2020 | By WhatPackaging? Team

(Centre) Padmanabhan: "Our facility in Thane is a mirror of Reproflex 3’s global locations"

Reproflex 3’s facility in Thane is a mirror of its other global locations (UK and Dubai). Equipped with a 50-80 imager from Miraclon and a range of processing lines from Glunz & Jensen, the centre also comprises a strong colour management system through ORIS and high-end proofer set-ups. This is just the first stage of the company’s investment plans in India. Its initial offerings for the country include plates and pre-press solutions, while later this year, the company is set to bring more colour management and print efficiency management solutions.

With advanced screening technologies such as Project Blue and Vortex backed with great machinery, the pre-press specialists will be working on fixed palettes flexo reproduction. “The jobs created using Project Blue have seen close to 10% ink savings around the globe. This makes the entire proposition more attractive,” says Sethunath Padmanabhan, managing director – Asia Pacific, Reproflex 3.

Here is how the conversation between WhatPackaging? and Padmanabhan unfolded…

WhatPackaging? (WP): Reproflex 3 has recently ventured into the Indian market. What is going to be your strategic approach to the future?
Sethunath Padmanabhan (SP):
From the UK, Dubai to India, we are building a fabulous story. Our approach is to bring global expertise but adapt and deliver locally. The challenges in flexo are similar all across the world. Thus, the key is in the approach and mindset. We will be partnering with a few industry players to offer our advanced screening technologies. For the rest of the market, we will offer NX flexo plates aligning with international pre-press standards.

WP: Since Reproflex 3 has a multinational presence, how is the approach of working in Europe and Dubai different from India?
In terms of hardware all the markets are the same. Indian converters have made enough investments to boost their facilities and hardware in the last few years. The difference is the process. As flexo was considered to be employed only for low-quality output jobs, an ecosystem was developed in the country to service at most those needs. However, the growth of new segments demanding innovative flexo printing solutions have created the need for an advanced pre-press. This is what we will be offering.

WP: How do you plan to emulate Project Blue’s worldwide success in India?
Project Blue is the gold standard for flexo industry in the world. With more than 7,000 commercially produced SKUs around the world and over 50 awards in the last three years, Project Blue has set a benchmark in flexo printing. However, this offering is not for everyone. Project Blue will be available to an exclusive club of selected printers across the world. It will eventually grow in India when our key partners start producing jobs employed using Project Blue commercially, which is expected to be launched soon.

With more than 7,000 commercially produced SKUs around the world, Project Blue has set a benchmark in flexo printing​

WP: In a price-sensitive market such as India where every sq cm of the plate is a bargain, how do you provide cost-efficiency and value addition?
The cut-throat market is not our target segment. There are enough flexo converters in the country who are seeking value addition. Our effort is to offer more through a flexo plate and create an approach where we are right the very first time. In a quick turnaround market such as India where processes often get compromised, this approach can provide tremendous value to our clients.

WP: Do you foresee more flexo investments in India?
Yes, primarily due to the need for sustainability, process efficiency and output quality. With flexible packaging demand growing, even a few percentage changes from this growth will add a lot more demand for flexo presses in the country. However, India is still a gravure dominated country and it will remain so for some time in the future. But, with a large population and growing demand for both domestic and exports, India will need all technologies – gravure, flexo and digital. Thus, we are confident and expect to see more investments in flexo in the coming days.

WP: We have seen development in the technology employed in prepress, plates and the press. But, are we lagging in terms of its execution and operator skill sets in India?
Yes, currently, this is a big challenge in the industry as we can see a serious shortage of qualified staff all across the country. There needs to be concentrated and imaginative efforts where print institutes and technology providers join hands, give certifications and offer practical training sessions. In the narrow-web segment, we are already seeing organisations such as the Label Manufacturers Association of India and Avery Dennison trying to address the issues. At Reproflex 3, we initiated an effort to nurture our staff by bringing our global experts to India. However, this initiative has taken a back seat due to the current crisis and we will restart these visits post-pandemic.

The Reproflex 3 team adopts a process-oriented approach to produce the right flexo plate at its first attempt

WP: How do you plan to handle the faster turn-around times and converters asking for plates in India? What sort of time frames is Reproflex 3 benchmarking?
We have enough capacity to manage the volumes. Our approach will be entirely process-oriented. While we understand the market demand, as I mentioned earlier, we will try to follow the approach of being right the first time than just being the fastest. That doesn’t mean we will not be quick; we just don’t want to compromise on the process and our approach will be to reduce the overall process time.

WP: Flexo cannot match gravure’s quality, it can only come close, say the brands. How do you convince them to accept flexo?
In today’s market, brand owners are looking for a flexible packaging solution and more sustainable processes. It is up to the converters to decide which process suits well for the brand and their demands without compromising on the quality. And our efforts will be to help these converters achieve a seamless transition between flexo and gravure without compromising on image quality, which is very much possible.

WP: What has been your approach to convince brand owners about the merits of flexo?
At the initial stage, we approached most of the leading FMCG brand owners and updated them on possibilities in flexo. Then we focused on offering them the need for global quality in India. Brand owners need the conviction that the gravure to flexo conversion is practically possible. And once they are convinced, they will leave the decision to converters to decide the mode of reproduction.

WP: What are the challenges in gravure to flexo conversion jobs in India?
Most of the leading brand owners are either thinking or already initiated at least one project in gravure to flexo. As mentioned earlier, India is historically a gravure country and they have done a fabulous job in image reproduction. Designs are developed keeping in mind gravure. It’s always difficult to match to an existing printed sample. If the possibilities in flexo can be promoted to brand owners and if the initial production can be produced in flexo, there will be a success. However, it’s not going to be an easy task as today, the entire flexible packaging ecosystem in India supports gravure. But let’s remind ourselves that it was same across the world a few years ago and we can see how it has already changed.

Vortex offers a great value for corrugation players to explore the possibilities of four-colour direct prints

WP: In a scenario where all brands are trying to cut costs, are there any modifications that can be done during the printing stage to help brands in price savings?
The buying environment in India is very competitive. Brands have already managed a lot of savings through material management and procurement process changes. Inks and reduced wastages can manage some costs, too. This can be achieved through process standardisation, which starts from pre-press. We are working in a fixed palette reproduction system, which will help our partners in a major way.

WP: Can you explain about Vortex and how it can help in UHD reproduction with minimal investment?
Vortex is one of our newest initiatives, which will be helpful to both corrugation as well as flexible converters. Project Blue will remain as the gold standard, but it needs certain upfront press standardisation. But through Vortex, we will be trying to use the existing infrastructure and arrive at a 175-lpi-plus screening. We will be offering Vortex for HD printing with a minimal investment. This will offer great value for corrugation players who want to explore the possibilities of four-colour direct prints.

WP: How does Smartglyph enable existing packs to be smarter? What is the range of digital offerings that Smartglyph provides?
Smartglyph is a UK-based company, which specialises in Augmented Reality and digital connectivity. They have developed unique codes, which can be accessed through its Smartglyph app. One of the greatest offerings of Smartglyph is the activation of existing barcodes. This means without any change in the print tool, your packaging can be made active. Once the interface is created you can work on the backend and get the pack connected to your website, ads, recycling information and so on. This will be a game-changer. Reproflex 3 is an exclusive partner to Smartglyph for India.

WP: The growth of eCommerce during the Covid-19-induced lockdown period and innovations such as the Amazon story boxes are driving the corrugation industry. How significant a role can flexo printing play in corrugation?
Corrugation industry is having a wonderful time in the midst of this pandemic. However, it’s a high-volume low margin market and soon there will be a need for value addition. Let’s assume in the coming days even a small percentage of production shifting from China to India will make the corrugation industry boom. This will push for multicolour boxes. Vortex will play a major role here. We have not yet explored the corrugation space in India, but we will be happy to partner few and test our HD printing capabilities in the corrugation segment.

WP: The entry of modern retail and therefore multicolour and photorealistic images and multicolour graphics. How has flexo been catering to this segment?
Our efforts are to bring flexo output close to digital. This can be made possible if we find a good partner who is committed to processes and innovation. Covid-19 did delay our initiatives, but we have already created a few fabulous jobs with few more in the pipeline 

Rapid-fire with Padmanabhan

  • One technology that has revolutionised flexo and how?
    Flexo is a team game. The focus should not be on one technology. It’s about how different technologies can work together.
  • The higher the LPI the lower the plate lifeYour take on this statement?
    We will prove this statement wrong. Higher LPI with the current anilox structure brings down the plate life. But in a Project Blue environment, there is no effect on the plate’s life, as it works with customised aniloxes.
  • What would be the best explanation of a flat top dot?
    Stability – this made a lot of difference. There was a lot of debate in the past on the nature of dots and its abilities. But, I think in terms of quality, this debate is settled in favour of flat top dots.
  • What has been Miraclon’s contribution to your success story?
    Miraclon made a stable technology platform, which helped players like us to innovate. Their technical team provides tremendous support to tackle on-ground issues.
  • In one of our previous conversations, you had mentioned the trickiest project that you have had to execute was Milky Way Magic Stars. Did you come across a trickier project?
    Milky Way was our first Project Blue job and it remains the trickiest. We have seen designs in India even trickier, as it involves a lot of rays and vignettes.