Choosing to invest in cleaner and greener print technologies is a safe bet in a market as risk averse as packaging, especially food packaging, and this year’s drupa showed how a demanding industry has given the print business added impetus to develop ‘free-from’ products and production processes, writes Joanne Hunter.
Free-from foods made for allergy sufferers are big business around the globe, and likewise set for a bright future is clean print for packaging with no hazardous nasties. There was a strong focus on improving health and safety in manufacturing processes and final products at this year’s drupa and the flow of proven benign technologies is promising to transform work conditions for printers, help free retail packaging of migration issues and give the natural world some relief from harmful chemicals.
Uteco is making an impact on the printing and laminating markets in its own right and through cooperative work with partners. At drupa, it set up an Izar series laminating machine for demonstrations of a new, monomer-free laminating adhesive technology that its developer Sapici believes will improve the safety of flexible food packaging and working environments and as such is a ‘milestone’ for the industry.
The Italian specialist in polyurethane chemistry confirms that Polurflex 7910 contains no primary aromatic amines (PAA) or other monomeric isocyanates substances suspected of having a carcinogenic effect. Products are easier to transport and store as material is said to remain free of PAA immediately after lamination, after thermal treatment and during a long shelf-life. Sapici points to the absence of cyclic ester, bisphenol A and ortophthalic acid oligomers, and says free isocyanic monomer is below the safety threshold level and no hazard warning label is required.
For user flexibility and depending on the application, Polurflex 7910 can be used as a two-component or single-component system.
EB curing in-line flexo from Uteco
On its own account, Uteco showed drupa how it is filling gaps and meeting market demands for zero impact production in printing and lamination. For example, the featured Onyx XS EcoOne combines EB flexo printing and EB lamination in-line up to 650 mm wide, 8-color capability, including wet on wet, and automatic unloading for multi-reel delivery. Compact, with speeds up to 300 metres a minute, this machine is built for short-runs and offers what the market has been lacking, Uteco chief marketing officer Davide Cucinella told Packaging South Asia. He said a bigger version, “the only flexo printer in the world [with EB curing in-line] that can run at 400 metres a minute,” is in production for solventless printing by Italian converter Poligof. A little digging online revealed this company’s president, Cesare Gatti, to be a self-professed fan of the Electron Beam drying system for its ability to produce risk-free food-contact materials with a lower energy consumption.
Oxea – safer, kinder solvents
The big concern for operators is VOCs, and while water-based or UV inks have become alternatives in printed packaging, solvent use is growing, according to Dr Jens Klabunde, responsible for the global marketing of Oxea solvents and with his sights on Europe’s flexo and rotogravure printing industry for a campaign to promote what is seen as an environmentally kinder solvent option.
Not a new product but new to drupa, Propyls is a non-toxic hydrolized vegetable protein also found in skincare formulations such as hand-wash. This year’s show was judged “a good time to create momentum” because the user benefits are in line with what today’s European market wants: something better for the environment – Propyls degrades; slower evaporation that results in savings in the use of solvent and ink, and reduces cleaning time; limited solvent retention; and no unpleasant odour in the dried ink film, making it suitable for sensitive applications such as food packaging.
Propyls (or n-Propanol/n-Propyl acetate) can be used as a drop-in for an existing solvent. Oxea claims that tests have shown it capable of improving process performance by giving higher ink stability, advantageous wetting behaviour, steady viscosity, better ink transfer, less scrap, and less foaming in flexo printing. Propyls has been used in America for 10 years but is not commonplace in Europe. Oxea is its biggest producer with sites in Texas in the USA and Germany. Production in the USA is fortunate to use cheaper shale gas as a source, says Dr Klabunde. He adds that while there are positive economic and health-related market drivers, the cost factor remains an obstacle to take-up in some global markets, the Indian subcontinent being one of these, “The Indian market shows interest in it, but decisions there are made on price.”
Oxea’s main competition comes from Eastman Dow and Sasol, of South Africa. Oxea is small by comparison, with 1,500 employees. In the hands of Oman Oil for two years, even as part of a state-owned enterprise perched on the Arabian Peninsula it “still feels like a German company,” and in Dr Klabunde’s view, the owners are “thinking strategically of developing a chemical industry in their country.”
Competition is coming from China for the foils technology specialist Univacco, which has five operations in the Asia South Pacific region and also has US and European bases. But while choosing to pay lower prices, printer customers are accepting lower quality, says its Malaysia-based sales and marketing director Vincent Ling. “One of our advantages is having our own R&D,” he says, which is something the Chinese competition doesn’t have, and the company is also fighting back with a unit in Taiwan that is coupling “fair prices and good quality.”
An example of Univacco’s technological edge is foil that can stamp onto plastic. It is thanks to a special formula of glue that it can be applied to different substrates, says Ling. This formula overcomes issues linked to the transference of alcohol from the product inside to the outside.
Asian visitors from India and China joining in the switch from rotogravure to flexo, made a bee-line to the Asahi Photoproducts stand, where fixed 7-color printing and complementary water washable plate technology was being presented as a ‘compelling’ proposition that can increase press up-time. Instituting radical change calls for confidence in applying new processes, and expert support to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Asahi was at drupa to explain to the printing community the advantages that can flow from AWP technology and fixed color palette printing. “A repro house doesn’t understand the benefit but printers do,” says Asahi technical marketing manager Dieter Niederstadt. Printers are interested in price but also in what the end-user customer gets and here it is the ability to print long run jobs without plate cleaning. On recognizing the printer as the target customer Asahi employed a flexo printer for the first time, to supply expertise and assist in what it hopes will be an industry-wide change from CYMK plus spot, to fixed color ink sets.
Dr Niederstadt suggests that “most UK brands have switched to fixed four-color palette” and consequently supplier printers are avoiding the need for a cleaning regime that can make downtime longer than actual running time. By streamlining processes in this way a printing firm can win advantage over competitors, he says and foresees innovation potential in flexo plates.
Asahi showed samples of what can be done with water-based inks and ‘environmentally balanced’ technologies aimed at printers seeking to produce to a high quality and avoid VOCs. The best of these will be entered for the 2017 Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) Sustainability Excellence Award – a sachet printed using a fixed palette by Robinette using water-based lamination ink technology by Toyo Ink and produced using Asahi water wash plates. According to Dr Niederstadt, Toyo Ink has a leading position in water-based ink for lamination in Japan and the concept is proving interesting for Europe. It was introduced as a replacement for nitro-cellulose binder solvent inks, launched for gravure and now, for the first time, can be laminated for flexo.
He continues, “In Japan there is huge potential to save costs. We [Asahi] need to go to market with projects with the same interests. Toyo has taken a lead by working with our plates. The binder is sticky but due to the new plates works effi ciently.”
Toyo Inks Arets
Toyo Ink Arets runs a state-of-the-art manufacturing and research facility in Belgium for UV and EB curable inks and coatings, the biggest such site in the world “more than probably,” says Koen Dehandschutter, Singapore-based business manager for the Asia Pacifi c region. To give an idea of the scale, inks are produced in 5-tonne batches and varnish in 12-tonne batches. For competitive prices ingredients are bought in bulk, 50,000 litres at a time, and conveyed in fully automated pipeline systems.
A separate new facility to specialize in low-migration inks and varnishes for food packaging is due for completion in September and will carry out in-house migration analysis, from reception to wet inks and fi nished packaging. In production will be Steraplast Food that minimizes the risks of migration and odour, gives good adhesion on synthetics and is said to redefi ne the ink/water balance of low migration UV offset.
Also highlighted at drupa was the SteraCup Plus UV ink series, which is suitable for printing on preformed plastic cups, cans, lids and tubes. It allows very fast curing for high-speed preformed cup and tube printing machines, has super scratch resistance, gives smooth ink fl ow in the duct with wide color choices, and has low migration properties in compliance with Swiss Ordinance according to Toyo Ink.
The stringently regulated food and drinks market is pushing printing technology development to the limit – it sets the bar astronomically high for quality and safety. But when the product, application and marketing duly hit the mark, the profit potential will also reach to the skies. So no wonder this has become a competitive sector. But in this case, supply companies are not the only winners. Printers, converters and consumers also get to be on the winning side.