Home » Web offset for flexible packaging – really?

Web offset for flexible packaging – really?

Yes, really! A typical response from those not using web offset lithography for flexible packaging is surprise and disbelief. Their surprise increases when told that in today’s production environment web offset can actually work out to be more cost-effective than gravure and flexography.

There are a number of reasons why web offset is not readily associated with flexible packaging; some are simply the result of misunderstandings about the core technology, while others are based on outdated perceptions.

The two major challenges for flexible packaging converters are shorter runs and faster turnarounds demanded by brand owners. Previously, such jobs were loss-leaders, taken on to retain regular, longer-run business. Today, those once-exceptional jobs are becoming the norm, and beginning to threaten the ongoing viability of some converting businesses.

To understand why web offset can be a solution, it’s helpful to tackle one of the key confusions in the market: the term ‘short-run’. This is used to mean different things to different segments of print, but its meaning has been skewed disproportionately through widespread association with digital print.

It’s really more useful to think of digital run lengths as ‘micro runs’. At present, the number of micro runs and the total percentage of digitally-printed flexible packaging is very small. Even the double-digit growth forecast for digitally-printed flexible packaging over the next decade won’t materially change the balance.

Losing micro runs to digital is not what’s putting pressure on flexo and gravure printers.

Causing the real problem are runs that are too long for digital but too short for profitability.

Today’s web offset presses offer capabilities that can turn marginal short-run jobs into sustainable, profitable ones. With high productivity and fast, low-cost plate production and make ready, web offset is far more able than flexo to address short lead times and run lengths.

Print quality reinforces the case with greater colour control and a standardised process, as does the ability to handle a wide variety of substrates, including those as fine as nine microns at high speeds.

Add in variable sleeve technology and numerous options for integrating flexo, gravure and even digital stations – such as the Goss Sunday Vpak – and the result is a ‘hybrid’ solution combining all the economical and quality advantages of web offset without any compromise on processes such as coating, which flexo and gravure are inherently good at.

The traditional flexible packaging sector is under great pressure; there is no doubt about that. Accurately identifying and addressing the causes of this pressure is what will differentiate those who preserve their margins. It’s is an exciting market with a bright future for those able to embrace the challenge.

Super User