In our recent visit to Ahmedabad, we discussed flexo plates and flexo printing with Ahmedabad-based Pinmark Block, one of India’s leading flexographic trade shops, at its office at Navjivan Press Road. The company’s third-generation owner, Rutul Zaveri, says the company is better described as one of technocrats rather than businessmen.
The 67-year-old Pinmark Block is one of the largest suppliers of flexographic printing plates in India, working for many of the leading converters and biggest FMCG brands in the country. Combining the experience of three generations with the latest technology, it produces flexographic plates from 1.14 mm to 4.7 mm in thickness for the full variety of applications and digital flexo plates for narrow, mid, and wide web flexo presses.
With many technological firsts, Pinmark was the first company in the country to invest in the Kodak Thermoflex technology in 2005, and the first in India to invest in the Kodak Flexcel NX 50×80 in 2011. Zaveri claims to be the first Ahmedabad trade house to provide flexo plates to label printers across the country.
“Currently we supply our plates to Delhi, Kolkata, Sivakasi, and other parts of South India. We export flexo plates to Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East,” he says. He mentions label printers in the Delhi-NCR who used to import flexo plates from Singapore initially but later shifted to Pinmark once they saw its plate quality and attention to detail. “Consistency of results is the trademark of Pinmark Block.”
Pinmark Block’s plant is equipped with the Esko CDI Crystal and Esko XPS Crystal Flexo digital imagers and a Kongsberg cutting table. The company’s laser-engraved elastomer sleeve imager is among the first of its kind in India that provides jointless printing. “We always try for technology.” Although Zaveri confirms that flexo sleeve demand has not yet really caught on in a big way, as most brand owners are yet not looking for jointless printing since they are getting high-quality printing. “However, brands such as PNG and Unilever are not compromising on joints and go for jointless flexo printing. Pouching machines as well have developed to higher standards to remove the joints. So the demand for laser engraved elastomer sleeves has not risen at the rate that was earlier expected,” said Zaveri.
Flexo versus gravure
Addressing the issues of flexography when it was initially introduced, he said, “In the initial stages, flexo was not in the same league as gravure. After the introduction of digital plates and various surface screening technologies, things have changed. Flexo is now able to deliver print reproduction at par with rotogravure printing.” According to him, flexo is now considered a competitive technology and many companies are investing in it. Flexible packaging converters such as Amcor and SB Constantia have invested substantially in flexo capacity in India. When asked about the fate of the market-dominant gravure technology where flexo is gaining market share, he answers, “The industry is so big that there is room for everyone to exist.”
Most of the flexible packaging is still gravure printed, while some categories such as milk, oil, and hygiene products have moved to flexo due to its cost-effectiveness and health and sustainability reasons. One of the issues he pointed out in gravure is that of surface printing, where ink migration is a matter of concern, especially for food and hygiene product packaging. Thus most of the printing is done by reverse printing with film lamination to restrict ink migration. Citing milk to be a basic necessity, he says that films for milk pouches need to be extremely cost-effective. Hence milk in flexible packaging prefers to use flexo because reverse printing with a laminated film is not as viable. However, better laminates are used for higher-priced milk products such as UHT milk with a longer shelf life.
“The global sustainable targets are compelling global companies to change their packaging from rotogravure to flexo,” said Zaveri adding that toluene-based inks in gravure, although mostly done away with in India, are also a hindrance to safety and sustainability. Costlier toluene-free inks are a factor that will aid the transition to flexo and better sustainability.
While optimistic, Zaveri affirms that although the approach to sustainability in India is different from that of other countries, it’s slowly happening. With the government’s regulations for sustainability coming into force, by 2030 things will be different, he said.