Setting the scene, James reported that gravure continues to enjoy many advantages over other print techniques, namely speed, colour consistency, infinitely variable cut-off, excellent repro and half tones, and the ability to handle a wide substrate range.
With rapid growth areas being Asia, India, the Middle East and South America, the future for technology manufacturers looks bright. Only in North America, often considered the heartland of flexo printing, is gravure’s market share stagnating. In Europe, where gravure and flexo hold an approximately equal market share (for flexible packaging), Germany continues to dominate, with Italy, Russia, France, Spain and the UK making up the top six, and accounting for the vast majority of plants and presses.
The ERA, fast approaching its 60th anniversary (in 2016), was originally established as a forum for gravure printers. In 1969, it created an Associate Membership to accommodate suppliers of technology and consumables, and more recently in 1996 acknowledged the growing importance of packaging by creating a special category. A good cross-section of members was in attendance in Novara to hear presentations from the industry’s leading suppliers, all of whom spoke of their confidence in the future of gravure as it adapts to a changing marketplace.
Conference presentations began with Nikos Stamatis and Michalis Vardavoulias of ICR Ioannou. The company, which went on to win one of this year’s ERA Awards, has developed a new concept for gravure cylinders that eases logistics by using lightweight aluminium. By solving the bonding problem between copper and aluminium, ICR has produced a cylinder that’s easier to handle (typically a 1.2m cylinder weighing only 20kg), and significantly reduces shipping costs.
Saueressig, represented by Alwin Göring and Stefan Heßeling, also explained how their lightweight cylinder technology m-Roll, although based on steel, has achieved a substantial weight reduction by being foam filled. The lighter weight combined with smaller volume results in warehouse cost savings, while traditional copper plating and engraving techniques can still be used.
On the subject of print quality, Esko, Daetwyler SwissTec and QuadTech each explained how technology has raised the benchmark.
Giovanni Vigone (Esko Italy) explained how the key values sought by brand owners are right colour, first time, every time; and time-to-market savings. The latest system is ‘colour by numbers’, he explained, with the new spectral data creating the DNA of a colour. By making use of The Cloud, all parties have access to the approved standard that’s integrated into the workflow. For converters this means faster make-ready, reduced waste, and more a consistent colour quality.
Kishore Sarkar, spoke of how modern doctor blade technology is responding to the rapidly changing FMCG market, citing Amazon and the growth of mini supermarkets at petrol stations as prime examples. With retailers and brand owners needing to respond instantly to changes in demand, the need for transparency at all stages is obvious. The advent of QR coding, and other techniques that allow manufacturers to target consumers more precisely, places greater emphasis on production techniques. In the case of doctor blades, this means the ability to cope with a new generation of inks and varnishes with their inherent chemicals, with new and often abrasive substrates, with downgauging, new cylinder surfaces and shorter runs. It’s a high-tech world these days, he said.
Stephan Dopplehammer of QuadTech explained that 100% web inspection is now available and considered essential. His company’s modular system uses a 3-CCD RGB line scan camera, with proprietary water-cooled LED lamps. The system tolerates web wander, marks slow-growing defects, and supports all substrates. Faults detected include splashing, streaking, missing print, misregister, colour variance, hazing and contamination. Simple to control from a 19” touchscreen, with a five-step set-up wizard, it offers improved quality, reduced waste, increased yield and colour consistency.
Press manufacturers respond to demand for shorter runs
Moving on to the press technology, Cerutti, Bobst and Windmöller & Hölscher (W&H) all explained the ways in which they’re responding to changes in demand, notably for shorter run work.
Arturo Bergamaschino introduced Cerutti’s two families of presses, designed with different production environments in mind. The R972 range is highly automated and aimed at countries where labour costs are high, whereas the R980, and in its latest guise the R98X, is aimed at regions where labour and associated costs are lower. Pre-setting, to reduce changeover times, is crucial, with improved drying technology that suits the shorter web path under the hood. By cutting waste, which encompasses substrate, energy, time and manpower, Cerutti claims its latest technology is a match for any flexo operation.
Bobst continued the theme, with Thomas Reckert emphasising that waste minimisation is the key to short-run efficiency. He pointed out that runs as short as 3 000m are viable using Bobst Rotomec MW packaging presses. Operated from ground level, obviating the need for a gallery, these presses are well suited to smaller production areas; and Bobst claims early successes highlight the trends for a press specifically focused on short-run, fast-changeover work. More than 20 machines of this series are already installed (for one example, see article on following page).
Presenting the case for W&H, Markus Bauschulte described the company’s ‘Efficiency Accelerator’. By offering fast data input that gives higher press utilisation with short set-up times, W&H claims that a higher degree of consistency can be obtained. The system effectively removes some of the variables created by manual inputting, and substitutes these with a series of fixed parameters that are actioned automatically, giving a more secure and reliable end result.
The Conference concluded with two presentations on health and safety. Osvaldo Bosetti of Goglio updated the delegates on the SAFEMTECH project that examines the impact of adhesives on food packaging. Supported by the EU, and carried out in cooperation of the University of Zaragoza (Spain), the research indicates that ethyl vinyl alcohol polymers (EvOH) can be used as an effective functional barrier against the migration of non-intentionally added substances.
An ongoing theme for the gravure industry and one of major concern is the authorization process for chromium trioxide, currently listed as a dangerous substance by EU REACH legislation. Without authorization, chrome plating will be banned, and the ERA is working closely with the consortium to secure an acceptable outcome for the industry.
During the evening, a gala dinner played host to the ERA biennial Awards for Gravure Packaging. Winners of the best printed material were Hatzopoulos from Greece and Ukrplastic from Ukraine, while Innovation Awards went to Schepers for its Digilas Direct 2100, and to ICR Ioannou for its lightweight aluminium cylinder technology. GMG received a commendation for its OpenColour software.
On Day 2, delegates visited two important gravure facilities: the production plant of cylinder engravers ICR in Origgio and leading international gravure converters Goglio in Daverio.
ICR, founded in the 1970s, is a family-owned business that uses the latest technology to manufacture more than 18 000 cylinders/year, mainly for flexible packaging, but also for wallpaper, gift wrap, security papers, decorative leathers and decorative laminates. The company was keen to show off its Acigraf line that images cylinders by electrolytic copper removal, and its K500 engravers, manufactured by Hell.
Overall, the conference mood was one of genuine optimism, with other presentations (not reported here for relevance purposes) all contributing to a story that shows an industry in a state of controlled change as it responds to new market demands. There’s no doubt that gravure has a future, and a bright one, but I can’t help thinking it could offer a whole lot more and extend its scope if it were to become more proactive with its marketing, and managed to do a better job educating the package print buyers about the quality and flexibility it offers.
So, ‘come on gravure’ – tell the market how good you are, and don’t forget to shout!