Published on October 29, 2016
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2. 16 PRINTACTION · november 2015 printaction.com technology experts from anderson & vreeland, Williamson and esko describe the growth and opportunities in canada’s flexographic market By Victoria Gaitskell W e all know that the flex- ible pack- aging sector is growing dynamically. This com- mon know- ledge, how- ever, doesn’t make it any easier for printers who are not participating in it already, especially smaller companies, to know how to enter this potentially lucra- tive sector. Printers with existing oper- ations also want to know how they can grow their businesses in today’s market. No one seems better equipped with infor- mation about the latest trends and busi- ness-development strategies than the companies who help printers achieve their flexible packaging goals every day. Sean Sawa, Director of Sales for An- derson & Vreeland Canada, says the Canadian flexible packaging market is changing because of a renewed interest in quality-control tools, best practices, and training. “The Coca-Colas, Nestles, and Unilevers of this world are becoming more demanding as they fight for shelf space. Printers are the beneficiaries be- cause they are being driven to do better. Among the hundreds of variables in a package-printing job from start to finish, if any one variable deviates from standard metrics, you’re compromising con- sistency,” Sawa says, noting there is more investment in colour proofing and cali- bration to ensure that a run produces exactly the same PANTONE colour from start to finish –“Even five years ago it was not possible to calibrate everything in this way.” Rick Schaus, General Manager of Williamson Printing Materials, agrees Flexible Trends FLeXOGrapHY Shelf appeal and package function- ality are two of the main trends in the packaging industry, as brands demand more resources from their printing suppliers.
3. 18 PRINTACTION · november 2015 printaction.com that these days the best technical investment for flexible packaging producers is new quality process controls to improve such factors as ink viscosity (and ink pH for water- based presses), managing chemical inventories, cleaning, and quality control. “It’s amazing how many places we go into that still don’t have a densitometer to read colours and are relying instead on a press- man’s eyes,” he says. Schaus explains that today’s lu- crative business contracts between printers and major brand owners often specify not only detailed col- our-matching requirements but even which measuring instrument the printer needs to buy to analyze colours and verify compliance with the brand owner’s specifications. Schaus also sees more printers in- vesting in equipment that allows them to do a greater variety of work. “For example, I’ve seen a roll-film printer increase profits by adding equipment for laminating and mak- ing bags and closures, because value-added is where the real money is at.” Schaus adds that the intro- duction of hybrid equipment with, say, the capacity for labels, gravure, screen,plus hot stamping,all in one press, enables printers to add fur- ther value to their products. Schaus explains because of in- creased competition among brand owners, they are increasingly trying to use packaging as a selling tool by resorting to high-end embellish- ments. For example,water droplets printed on a flexible package will be embossed to make the droplets look and feel more like the real thing. In film printing, he says: “Ten years ago, flexo machinery was not ca- pable of re-registering a web. Even five years ago, you never saw any- body overprint varnish on plastic bags. But now a couple of our cus- tomers print varnish over one or two colours and can register it – and the effect is gorgeous.” FLExoGRAPhy oR DiGiTAL When it comes to printing processes for flexible packaging, Julian Fer- nandez, Pre-Sales Product Special- ist Flexo at Esko, says: “For quality, flexography is probably your best option. It can match any offset or gravure and is also cheaper, simpler, faster, and flexible enough to cover almost any need. You can print on a label or any plastic material.” Sawa says a large narrow web flexo run in Canada would amount to 150,000 impressions and a wide web poly flexo run 50,000 to 100,000 impressions. “Digital presses are primarily used for short- run jobs 20 to 24 inches wide,” he says.“Although their benefit is they don’t require all the makeready costs and time of flexography, they can’t even come close to competing with flexo speeds. It’s a gap the size of the Grand Canyon.” Jeff Skolnik, Digital Sales Man- ager, U.S. & Canada, for Anderson & Vreeland, estimates that digital presses currently produce 15 per- cent of the market. “Whereas once [end users] would have purchased 200,000 flexo labels at a time, they know digital printing can now pro- duce 10,000 labels of the same quality.The capacity for short runs also allows printers to take advan- tage of the current market diversifi- cation toward high-end niche work.” Schaus comments:“In particular we see companies adding on digital labels to allow for short runs and variable data for clients such as small producers of one product line who do their own labelling. Some pretty big companies are still standing on the sidelines, waiting to see what happens before they purchase digital equipment;but still others have fully embraced it as part of their workflow. One Montreal company has split their business 50:50 between flexo and digital. Everything coming off the digital end has to be finished off- line, so they also had to invest in dedicated die-cutting and finishing machines, but the resulting oper- ation is very versatile and an incred- ible business.” Fernandez says printers in the Americas view digital equipment not as a replacement for conven- tional presses but more like an extra service. In 10 years, he thinks it will be unlikely for package-printing companies not to have at least one digital press,citing a recent study by Fujifilm predicting that packaging on digital presses will grow by two to three percent annually for the next decade. “Short-run jobs are forcing shops that print high-quality offset work and laminate it to liners to convert to faster, high-quality, high- er-end inkjet printers made by companies like Screen, HP, Agfa, and Durst,” says Skolnik, who ex- plains printers are also looking for solutions to ensure their inks are flexible enough to hold up to finish- ing operations like scoring,bending, and folding without cracking. “A lot of digital machinery is limited in the number of colours you can print,”says Schaus. “Either adding colours is expensive or you can’t do it. But in wide web flexo for printing paper, film, and foil you can add as many stations as want.” Fernandez adds that digital presses also have further ink limitations: “In flexo you can use either solvent, water-based, or UV inks. But be- cause ofthe nozzles usedto dispense ink in the digital process, you can’t use the same range.” MARkET PoSiTion Sawa says one factor making it more difficult for smaller Canadian printers to purchase new technol- ogy is the low Canadian dollar, re- quiring the addition of 30 to 35 percent on top of an already pricey investment. “That’s why a lot of mergers and acquisitions are hap- pening here in Canada,”he says.“In some cases where size does matter, smaller printers who are finding it hard to compete are opting to sell or merge and pool their client bases and resources.” Schaus says that small printers who find a successful packaging niche but lack substantial invest- ment capital may fare better just by staying put. The reason is that, be- sides footing the bill for new equip- ment and quality-control technol- ogy, the printer also faces a huge learning curve. Another factor that may prevent smaller printers from landing big accounts is quality-as- surance audits requiring the printer to specify a recovery plan that en- ables the brand owner’s work to be up and running at a secondary loca- tion within 12 hours after a disaster at the printer’s main plant. A trend Fernandez thinks pack- aging printers can exploit is pack- aging that acts not only as a contain- er but also serves an additional use, such as informing or entertaining or functioning as a toy; for example, a children’s shampoo bottle shrink- wrapped to look like a movie char- acter with a QR code opening onto aWeb link where the character talks to you.“One area I would definitely suggest packaging printers expand into is supplying more services to help their customers come up with unique products with interactive labels.” A recent study by Fujifilm predicts that packaging printed on digital presses will grow by 2 to 3 percent annually over the next 10 years. The growth in on-screen visualiz- ation technologies is decreasing the business of producing prototypes for packaging development. 3%