The flexible packaging industry is seeing many changes taking place. All packaging print markets, especially the commodity markets, are seeing margins being squeezed harder than ever before due to the rising costs. The plastic bag industry is seeing plastic bans in some areas of the country with additional taxes on these items being discussed, and reduced demand as consumers are bringing their own bags to the supermarket. While this is not news to most, those who participate in these markets are having their challenges. The positive side to the packaging industry is that growth opportunities still exist for those who want to lead new areas of the market.
One of the growth areas is in high strength clean printing process inks. The highest end printers now use push screens to 175 and beyond, and is especially the case for lamination structures.
Why go where few have gone before, especially since high strength inks cost considerably more? Does it make sense to use valuable resources to develop products that actually cost more in a market place that demands lowering pricing? The answer is a big yes.
Most of the leaders in the industry realize that when you purchase inks, the important thing is not the price coming in the door. The real cost of an ink is your running uptime, or cost per impression, and the overall throughput you get from your equipment. Additional benefits are clean images and color reproduction that cannot be achieved with commodity products.
It is true that formulating inks to run clean and achieve acceptable print densities is not an easy task, and technical problems certainly exist and present themselves more than most like to admit. However, if the converter does the work up front, monitoring press characterizations, fingerprinting and controlling the other variables, quality can be achieved that most will only dream about. When done correctly, flexo is a strong rival to roto-gravure, and this can be proven by looking at the award-winning prints from this year’s conventions.
The industry’s packaging engineers are committing valuable resources to develop new and innovative products, all of which demand exceptional print quality. Co-suppliers in the industry are also doing their part. Ink is only one vital part of the supply chain.
Examples of changes are around us: Presses are running faster and able to maintain better registration. Plates are made with finer screens with new dot structures. Plate cushions are made from various materials responding quicker with more predictability. Aniloxes are made finer, and doctor blades are made from materials offering better wiping under different conditions. Dryer technologies are changing; roller and cleaning equipment are improving; color and separations have new technologies. Tape suppliers are making improvements. Practically everywhere you look, major progress has been made in recent years.
As a lifetime packaging participant, the industry has seen many changes. In past years, old ideas seemed to just recycle again and again. That is no longer the scenario of our industry.