Brian Cook
Application Development Manager, MacDermid Graphics Solutions
14 years with the company
(404) 696-4565

Todd Blumsack
Vice President, Business Unit Web-fed, Bobst North America Inc.
3 years with the company
(888) 226-8800

Roy Oomen
Category & Product Solutions Manager, HP Indigo
More than 20 years with the company
(877) 811-1417

Klaus Kleemann
VP Sales, W&H North America, Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp.
28 years with the company
(401) 333-2770

Raúl El-Fakdi
Flexo Brand Manager, Comexi
More than 11 years with the company
(980) 237-6913

Mario Mucciacciaro
Executive VP, North America, Uteco
More than 7 years with the company
(770) 427-4100

What type of printing presses or printing accessories does your company offer? Have you released anything new?

Cook: MacDermid’s products are used to print everything from paper cups to aluminum cans, from labels to boxes and from envelopes to newspapers. Our photopolymer plates and newspaper plates provide exceptional solutions that deliver high-quality graphic capabilities to all types of packaging and newspaper printing applications for flexography.

Our most recent development, LUX ITP M, was commercialized just last year and expands upon our ITP family of products providing flat-top-dots out of the box for customers.  LUX ITP M is a medium durometer plate specifically designed for paper stocks, preprinted liner board and other applications where a combination of high durability and excellent ink laydown is required. This plate provides exceptional consistency, incorporates our clean print technology to print cleaner throughout the run with less downtime, and can be solvent or thermally processed with the same level of quality.

Kleemann: W&H offers flexographic and gravure printing presses with working widths from 26 inches to 88 inches that can handle ultra-short to very long runs. At Drupa 2016, we introduced new flexo and gravure presses, including the MIRAFLEX II flexo press and the Dynastar gravure press.

The MIRAFLEX II has a few exciting new features. One is the fully-integrated camera and vision system with defect check, which was designed internally by W&H. Also available is the new TURBOCLEAN ADVANCED E inking and wash-up system with electronic pulsation-free pumps. This system has won several awards due to the significant financial saving resulting in using less energy (no compressed air) and also requiring less ink. They MIRAFLEX II also has fully-integrated treaters.

On the gravure front, W&H introduced the Dynastar gravure press for ultra-short runs, which makes this printing process profitable. Roll-in carts allow operators to prepare jobs while the press is running another job and maintenance is simply easier. The W&H Heliocontrol register system also brings our presses into register within 0.8 inch web length.

Mucciacciaro: Uteco converting is a leading manufacturer of machines and equipment for the production of flexible packaging. Uteco designs and produces technical solutions for printing, converting, coating and laminating. Uteco offers a wide variety of flexographic, gravure, offset, lamination and digital platforms.

Our latest innovations include two digital platforms as well as a new multi-process coating system. The first model is the modular Gaia digital press. This flexible and easy-to-use EB inkjet digital printer was designed to print on flexible media. It can use inks of different nature to better meet the various market needs, including EB curing technology. This permits the ability to safely deal with the food packaging and pharmaceutical markets thanks to the recent low and zero migrations inks, ensuring the lowest environmental impacts. Uteco has also introduced a second digital platform, the Evo Saphire. This is the ideal solution for production digital related to short and medium runs, promotional printing with reduced production time and localized batch manufacturing. It also gives the ability for customized advertising with random messages. Just send the file and come take your rolls! This platform also allows for tailored hybrid configuration with inline flexo/gravure printing, inline spot color or OPV, and inline lamination.

Our latest coating and laminating system is the Mistral product line. This line was introduced as a modern and compact design to marry any or all of the various laminating and coating technologies. The Mistral line has the ability to do solvent and solventless lamination, in-register cold seal application and gravure printing or varnish. What is truly unique about the Mistral MV is the ability to apply at full speed in-register matte varnish applications with solventless lamination. This can be achieved in a single pass by using flexo direct drive sleeve technology.

Blumsack: The breadth of Bobst printing presses and the range of applications covered and market segments served in the flexible materials, folding carton and corrugated board industries is very wide. If we look at flexible packaging more specifically, web-fed solutions range from narrow- to super-wide presses across a variety of printing technologies: gravure printing, CI flexo printing, inline flexo printing and multi-process printing.

Our very latest release is the brand new 20SEVEN CI flexo printing press, which brings a new level to the advantages of process consistency. The press was unveiled in an open house held in February this year at Bobst Bielefeld in Germany, BOBST’s Center of Excellence for CI flexo printing technology. A number of other products aimed at the flexible packaging printing industry were introduced in 2017: the latest generation of the RS 6003 HS gravure printing press - the high speed model of the platform of the same name - which features the new development of the twin flow drying technology; the M5X Line, an optimized fixed configuration version of the very successful M5 mid-web inline UV flexo press, and the unveiling at Labelexpo 2017 of the print unit of BOBST M8, a high-speed, highly automated, mid-web inline UV flexo production line for flexible packaging printing.

Oomen: HP Indigo offers digital printing presses for labels and packaging as well as commercial print applications. The product portfolio includes a range of narrow and mid-web models, as well as sheet-fed printing presses. HP Graphic Business Solutions also offers inkjet presses for the corrugated and publishing markets. Additionally, HP collaborates with a number of partners to provide finishing and converting solutions to support optimized production for digital printing.

El-Fakdi: Comexi, founded in 1954 by the Xifra family, has wide experience in manufacturing capital goods for the flexible packaging conversion industry. Comexi is made up of six product lines, each one specialized in a different conversion process: flexographic printing, web-offset printing, gravure printing, laminating, slitting and rewinding, and digital services. Additionally, the company offers equipment for logistic management. Each line provides a global solution to the demands of a market in constant development, with competitive and personalized equipment, including the latest solutions in innovation, technology and sustainability. These three characteristics define Comexi’s spirit and have made the company a leader in machinery solutions for flexible packaging printing and converting sectors.

Simply put, explain why the type of printing technology that you offer (i.e., flexo, offset, digital, gravure) has a relevant role in flexible packaging. How can the technology stay competitive moving forward?

Mucciacciaro: Uteco believes that our product range plays a significant role in flexible packaging by adopting innovative engineering solutions with maximum flexibility and with a special attention to customer-specific requests for customization. These platforms configured in the various processes that we offer greatly minimize setup times, material waste and downtimes. One of the most important contributions that Uteco takes pride in is producing equipment that reduces the carbon footprint on the environment with energy efficient requirements incorporated into all our equipment manufactured.

Kleemann: Right now, W&H offers flexo and gravure presses. These two processes have been dominant in the flexible packaging industry. Trends show that there is more product diversification with shorter times to market, price pressure, shorter runs, higher quality demands and more environmental restrictions. Flexo and gravure meet these well from a pre-press, production and post-press standpoint, and they can also adapt to trends.

With that in mind, digital will have a niche and continue to grow to some extent, although to date it has grown to a lesser degree than anticipated. W&H has an R&D team dedicated to digital printing. They’re working on a sustainable, environmentally-friendly and economical solution that will truly offer a well-rounded added-value to our customers. As a complete system provider, we will wait until we are convinced that the long-term benefits are substantial before introducing something to the market.

El-Fakdi: On one hand, converters and printers are always searching for machinery that reduces downtimes and boosts productivity. Flexography is the fastest growing printing process. This growth has come from many flexo printing sectors, including wide web flexible packaging and narrow web label printing. Flexography has proved that it is a versatile process that can meet the economic and quality demands of any market, and therefore it will continue to grow. Maybe the increased demand that we are experiencing in the last few years toward the shorter runs may indicate an increase in the market share for narrow printing, because the number of layers may tend to decrease. However, the new developments in flexography that can improve changeovers and uptime by using some procedures, such as fixed palette printing, can enlarge again the length of the jobs.

In this sense, Comexi flexographic solutions reduce changeover times, increase production and enhance performance, allowing clients to get the maximum profit even in the shortest runs. Additionally, Comexi flexo presses feature robustness, accuracy and efficiency to guarantee optimal quality at printing speed and full range of options to meet the needs of the most demanding markets. 

Comexi offset printing technology is a 100 percent solvent-free solution and food safety certified. Another good example of sustainability is the development of EB-cured inks for flexographic printing. Governments and industry leaders will continue to make joint efforts to reduce the carbon footprint by stimulating innovations in this direction. Comexi also offers a wide gamma of flexo presses that stand out for high versatility, speed and top performance.

Blumsack: The more a printing technology is able to match the requirements of the user in each of the different segments of the flexible packaging industry, offering best-in-class solutions for the given level of investment in terms of output quality, operational efficiency, sustainability, as well the flexibility and in-built readiness to handle upcoming trends, the more its role and contribution is relevant. Bobst’s credentials in this respect are indisputable. Breakthrough innovations are only the most memorable part of our corporate approach of continuously building on previous achievements, and while the process may differ, the overall concepts remain the same to encompass all technologies and applications. All Bobst product releases are in line with this pivotal principle, and the latest Bobst 20SEVEN CI flexo press is no exception in its objective of continuously improving process repeatability and consistency in wide-web CI flexo printing. From the early days of the first servo-driven presses and the breakthrough by Bobst in shifting the impression and registration related setup process to the plate mounting in an automated way with its smartGPSTM technology, process optimization has been ongoing in its range of CI flexo presses. Technology can stay competitive via the optimization of all its parts, making it ready to take on the evolution of the market and having the experience and capabilities to see ahead, while moving in concert also with the key segments of the supply chain.

Oomen: Digital offset printing can match gravure from a quality perspective. The LEP (Liquid Electrophotographic Process) is also highly suitable for food packaging applications. In addition to food safety, the LEP process also provides a highly sustainable and environmentally low impact method of printing. The primary use for digital printing is for high speed to market and shelf impact for flexibles.

Cook: The flexo market is continuing to drive innovation through technology development at many levels of the supply chain. Our role as a plate manufacturer is to stay on top of those developments, align them with our own unique innovations and partnerships, and ensure that we provide the best plate technology for the changing needs of the market.

Moving forward, flexo must continue to drive both efficiency and quality as digital printing continues to advance and find its place within traditional flexo printers. FP

One trend we continue to hear a lot about is the down-gauging of films. What effect does this have on printing? What do printers need to be mindful of when printing on thinner films?

Oomen: The down-gauging of films is probably the No. 1 trend HP also sees when working with materials and sample production for proving suitability in end use. HP has developed an update package for the HP Indigo 20000 press to enable easier use for polyethelene and highly stretchable materials.

Cook: Printing with thinner gauge films can cause issues with ink coverage, causing pin-holing in printed solids. For the thinnest gauges, the printer may be limited in the amount of treatment that can be applied to the film before damaging the substrate, or blowing holes in the film with corona treating. In this case, most printers use a high solvent content primer, which is not compatible with 99 percent of photopolymer plates on the market today and will drastically reduce the life of the plate applying the primer.

Another approach to this problem is to use surface patterning in the solid areas of the plate, to improve transfer after you have established a minimum level of surface treatment for printing on the film. We have a lot of knowledge in this area and can help our customers find the right combination of surface patterning and plate properties to achieve the smoothest printing result.

Blumsack: Indeed the trend towards thinner monolayer films with increasingly high barrier protection to fulfill cost and sustainability issues relating to transportation weight, increased shelf life and higher rate of packaging recyclability are topical issues. It is worth noting that notwithstanding the core objective to reduce costs by downgauging and the fast growth in the use of thinner materials, their production costs are actually higher than those of more standard gauge films. Printing of thinner substrates is also more technically complex. A successful machinability of these materials is linked to a crucial uniformed web thickness and good and constant elasticity properties throughout the entire reel, especially across the width. The introduction of new highly functional low gauge substrates goes hand-in-hand with the development of new ink formulations aimed at also enabling lower coating weight and/or compostability, consequently, printers must be able to count on reliable technological performance of the printing equipment.

Fundamental aspects are the press web handling capabilities from unwinding through to rewinding, the flexibility of inking and in tension control. The technical competences behind a successful drying process are key to avoiding material deformation or overheating of the film. There are many details that need more specific attention when the machine is designed for the thinner films, and where the machine may be specifically designated for the printing process of the newly trending lower gauged materials. There is intense activity going on in Bobst competence centers in Europe to test new materials and consumables on our machines, and the machine’s capabilities in this respect with a view to adapt and keep improving their performance in terms of speed and waste reduction. Alongside industry collaborations with other supply chain players, Bobst has the unique advantage of being able to provide equipment for fully integrated processes alongside gravure or flexo printing. One example is the Bobst AlOx turnkey conversion solutions offering the ability to produce high-barrier transparent film for flexible packaging, either as a single top-coated layer or as a complete laminates structure, with a strong structure and properties that protect and enhance barrier functionality during conventional conversion processes such as printing and lamination.

El-Fakdi: It is simple to understand. To improve manufacturing economics, converters will make their films thinner so as to make more square meters of film with the same material input. Therefore, down-gauging has become a common word among material suppliers and the processing community. It allows packagers to offer the same products with higher product-to-package ratios by using thinner materials. When it comes to flexographic presses, there are usually no added difficulties in the printing process. The main concern when manipulating thinner materials in the press is the transportation of the material along the machine. Comexi machines include tension controls that ensure that there will be no variation on the repeat due to the elongation of the material. Additionally, the idle rollers allow for a fine-tuning regulation to eliminate and prevent any wrinkles in the material. Temperature control inside the tunnel and in the intercolor boxes are also elements that can be easily solved by controlling the temperature to avoid elongation due to high temperatures, which could affect the material mechanical properties.

Kleemann: Down-gauging is a big topic that we’re very familiar and involved with as a supplier of film extrusion equipment. We offer low-tension packages that reduce friction and keep the web absolutely stable on press for the perfect tension and registration. For example, we can run an 11 gsm blown breathable film up to 2,400 ft/minute on an 88-inch wide-web press. We understand this process well and work with customers around the globe on exactly this subject.

Conserving resources, faster runs, ink control, etc. Are there any other big trends that are currently driving the development of printing presses and accessories?

El-Fakdi: At Comexi, we have detected some trends that are affecting the whole flexible packaging printing and converting process: Demand of shorter and shorter printing runs, shorter times to market, the need for automation, explosion of new market niches, personalized and differentiated products are increasingly demanded, emergence of eco-friendly packaging, new applications and finishes (natural feeling, increased usage of paper, transparent packaging), added-value packaging, consumer and converters requesting products and packaging that are more sustainable and lengthen the useful life, and fast, productive and responsive equipment.

Blumsack: We do not see an innovation in one of the technical functions of the printing process workflow as the next step to deliver greater waste reduction and optimized consumption of substrates, consumables and energy. Instead, we think this will be enabled by the implementation in the press room of the possibilities provided for by Industry 4.0 in the broadest and most extended meaning, as integrated systems that are capable of self-correction and self-adaptation. The digital automation process implemented on Bobst narrow- and mid-web inline flexo presses is very comprehensive in the way it digitizes the printing and converting workflow. We are developing digital and measurable control systems for all web-fed analogue presses.

Kleemann: Yes. Interconnectivity is huge. You hear about Industry 4.0 and “The Internet of Things” and how components being able to communicate with one another will be a huge asset to production. At W&H, we agree and have our own philosophy called “Packaging 4.0 … intelligent, intuitive, integrated,” which we use as a foundation for each new innovation.

Cook: Customers want to maximize the amount of time available to them on the press and drive the highest efficiencies while conserving resources. Our clean plate technology available in our LUX ITP line of plates enables maximum uptime during the run by resisting ink buildup within the plate over time, resulting in fewer stops to clean plates during long runs and providing a wider window for press performance.

Our customers are continuing the move to expanded gamut printing, which enables them to drive efficiency by using printing with seven colors without additional spot colors, which also reduces press setup time. Our entire LUX ITP product line adds value to this initiative as it is well proven that flat top dot plates improve job consistency both within a job and from job to job.

Oomen: HP Indigo is spending a lot of time and effort in developing and bringing to market special inks. A number of different versions of white ink are offered (standard white ink, white for sleeves ink and premium white ink) as well as several new inks in the fluorescent category, and silver ink.

Usually, the new inks for roll out in existing Series 3 engine presses prior to Series 4 presses. The Series 4 presses include the packaging presses for HP Indigo 20000 and 30000.

HP Indigo also continually improves efficiency for imaging oil use and lifespan of ongoing supplies, such as blankets and photo imaging plates. The organization has several ongoing improvement efforts to increase the supplies efficiency for the HP Indigo digital printing presses.

Mucciacciaro: Some are the use of automatic impression setting, automatic registration, automatic washup, sleeve technology, to reduce set up time and waste. It allows the operator to use the press safely. Also, the emergence of digital printing to create variable data, customized advertising, one-off printing, random messages, etc.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about printing?

Ooomen: In general, digital printing opens up a lot of opportunities related to variable imaging and variable data use. The first few times when a printer is processing larger data files new processes need to be put in place to take full advantage of these new possibilities. A few larger variable print jobs educate a new adopter about data management and HP Indigo offers several off site and on-site training resources and support.

Cook: At MacDermid Graphics Solutions, we are passionate about flexography, and it is exciting to continue to see the rapid pace of innovative products that are being developed to move flexography into the future as the print method of choice for packaging.

Blumsack: We are concentrating on trends towards extended color gamut printing, which Bobst has contributed to drive in the narrow-web industry with the creation of the REVO team together with a group of leading industry partners in the flexo industry. The new 20SEVEN CI flexo press moves in this same direction. The common objective of Bobst’s activities in flexography is to deliver automated solutions that are easy-to-use for the operator, producing a high quality of printing which is consistent and repeatable, requiring simple operations and reduced running costs. ECG allows for digital color matching during the pre-press stage, and gives wide production flexibility to converters, allowing them to choose between a vast number of colors which are immediately available as a combination of the seven colors. The digital automation available for both narrow- and wide-web presses takes full advantage of all the opportunities of ECG to reduce manufacturing costs, increase consistency and reduce errors and variables due to manual setting. Bobst digital flexo solutions are the best for the future of package printing. Digital and analogue printing will soon be fully integrated in a commonly shared workflow and color space.

El-Fakdi: At Comexi, we believe that Industry 4.0 and IoT will rapidly become more important and we think that could be one of the main challenges in the flexible packaging market. The jobs carried out by printing and converting machinery in the flexible packaging sector are becoming more and more demanding due to the requirements of the new products and formats that are continuously appearing for the different profiles of consumers and requests. This reality means that clients have had to settle in a state of continuous improvement, permanently optimizing their resources and processes.