Direct laser engraving machines from Hell Gravure SystemsContiTech’s innovative elastomer printing forms in flexographic printing Interview with Heinz-Gerhard Wente, member of the Executive Board at Continental and CEO of the ContiTech division
Packaging South Asia: At the end of 2011, ContiTech announced that it would be moving into the market for elastomer flexographic printing form materials in time for drupa 2012. What brought ContiTech to this decision?
Heinz-Gerhard Wente: We believe that the market for flexographic printing forms has a bright future and offers a great number of opportunities for our elastomer coatings business unit. We can benefit from our comprehensive expertise in offset printing. Due to a process we have developed in-house, we can mass produce flexographic printing plates for flexible packaging in the form of solvent-free reel stock. Our Conti Laserline portfolio covers the entire market – from direct printing on corrugated board right up to the efficient production of coating forms.Heinz-Gerhard Wente, member of the Executive Board at Continental and CEO of the ContiTech divisionPSA: All the same, there must have been a lot of alternative options and fields of business in the corporation that could have been pursued…
HW: We are constantly developing our portfolio and our applications. And, in doing so, we focus on current market conditions. We identified flexographic printing as a growth market. Due to our innovative solutions for the entire market, we are leading the way in a revolution that is shaping printing technology. So the strategy is to launch new technology onto the market – the unique innovation of offering Laserline materials with an integrated compression layer is particularly striking. Unlike conventional photopolymer plates, our flexographic printing forms are manufactured with this compressible layer – an innovation that offers our customers real added value.
The compressible layer eliminates the need for expensive cushion tape. What’s more, the printing process is also more environmentally friendly because no solvents are used. The layer reduces vibration and thus compensates for unevenness in the material that is being printed – such as corrugated board – to deliver optimum print qualities. Ink is transferred consistently and evenly. Unattractive washboard patterns are eliminated. Furthermore, halftones and line art can be printed together in one plate.
PSA: During the drupa year, ContiTech also established a collaboration with Hell Gravure Systems relating to development and application technology. Why was this done with Hell Gravure Systems?
HW: The collaboration between ContiTech and Hell Gravure Systems has brought together two strong companies in the print industry. That offers numerous advantages, not just for the companies themselves, but for customers too. A partnership like this between machine and material manufacturers produces technological solutions that neither party, despite all their experience, could ever supply on its own. Hell contributes expertise in system solutions for printing form production, while the Conti Laserline flexographic printing forms are optimized for use with Hell laser engraving machines. Both companies have pooled their know-how with the aim of actively enhancing the strengths of this future-focused technology and offering the flexographic market a competitive alternative to current production processes. Since the market launch, this collaboration has enabled us to consistently improve our sales success.
PSA: What targets are you pursuing in your marketing activities for the Laserline products?
HW: We want to establish Laserline products as cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional processes in additional, fast-growing markets. To that end, we have expanded our presence in the Asian market for packaging printing. Our Conti service centres in Singapore and Shanghai have been expanded to include Laserline flexographic printing products. The elastomer printing forms are engraved in the centres using direct laser engraving machines from Hell Gravure Systems. Furthermore, a sales partner in Poland recently opened a service centre with a direct laser engraving machine, and another is to follow in Moscow. In the USA and Mexico, ContiTech printing forms are marketed through our partners MDC in USA and Max Daetwyler de México. The global packaging industry is renowned for its demanding jobs, particularly when it comes to branded goods, and the sector is placing ever stricter requirements on quality and cost-efficiency. We can provide solutions to meet these demands.
PSA: What is the strategic importance of the Conti Laserline product range for ContiTech’s elastomer coatings business unit?
HW: Until now, the increasingly important flexographic and packaging printing sector has been dominated by photopolymer printing forms, which are difficult to produce. Through its Conti Laserline CSX, CSC, CAL, CML, CCX and CSL printing plates, ContiTech can now offer the flexographic printing market a comprehensive range of environmentally friendly and future-focused products. From the viewpoint of Elastomer Coatings, flexographic printing is a new area of business that opens up a whole range of opportunities. So far, our flexographic printing products have been well received on the market. What matters to us now is that we can tap into more key markets, such as label printing. As a division of the ContiTech Group, Elastomer Coatings can utilize the interdisciplinary know-how of a leading international rubber specialist.
PSA: ContiTech has entered the market with elastomer plates and is set to follow these up with sleeves, which offer advantages that customers really appreciate. Photopolymer sleeves haven’t really made a breakthrough so far in part due to the long delivery times and considerable costs. How is ContiTech going to make sure elastomer sleeves are supplied in a way that suits the market?
HW: ContiTech is geared up to ensure the required quantities – including growing volumes – are supplied in the space of a few days, rather than weeks. And at a competitive price, too.
PSA: In 2014, during Lopec, the trade fair for printed electronics, ContiTech exhibited solar cells with metallic fronts that had been produced using flexographic printing. What kind of role do applications like these play compared to ‘classic’ flexographic packaging printing?
HW: We took a leading role in working with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE to develop this innovative technology. The successful testing phase showed that the technology offers huge potential for driving down the costs involved in manufacturing crystalline solar cells. However, we are only in the initial stages of a development that ContiTech will continue to pursue. The new expertise we have gained through this project will help us cost-effectively manufacture many more functional printing products for the flexographic printing process. One such product would be printed electronics, potentially in the form of interactive packaging that could communicate with consumers.
PSA: What developments is ContiTech planning to promote the use of direct engraving and make it more competitive?
HW: As I mentioned earlier, our current goal is to establish the use of our flexographic printing forms and flexographic printing in general worldwide. To achieve that goal, we are highlighting the many advantages of the process, which include cost and energy efficiency, as well as eco-friendly credentials. Moreover, our international service centres give customers the opportunity to ‘get to know’ flexographic printing and see the quality it offers. And we are also working intensively on materials that can be engraved much faster.