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FLEXO Magazine : March 2011
Technologies & Techniques The Evolving Role of Paper in Flexo Printing Packaging’s Most sustainable substrate offers enhanced Functionality By Randy neil and norm Doucette As functionality and quality requirements for packages and labels continue to increase, flexographic printing and converting has surpassed rotogravure, account- ing for 64 percent of the flexible packaging market share, ac- cording to the Print Industry Market Information & Research Organization. Previous perceptions that flexography was “ r ubber stamp” printing with limited quality, lead times and plate costs have been displaced as technology advances: Flexo produces higher line screens and a more efficient inline process than ever before, resulting in an increasingly wide range of packaging substrates. Newly installed presses run at speeds well over 2000 fpm, compared to 1300 fpm a few years ago, driving significant improvements in productivity. These advancements have enabled flexo to take market share away from gravure and offset in the packaging sector. The trend toward higher quality flexo-printed products allows brand owners to deliver differentiation and brand po- sitioning on the retail shelf. Within the flexible packaging mar- ket segment, jobs that averaged five or six colors in 2005 now require seven or eight colors. Options for packaging material are almost limitless and continue to push new boundaries. Although plastics, film and foils are widely used for flexible packaging, a new breed of papers has become more com- mon, delivering versatility, quality and sustainability. ExPanding aPPlicaTions FoR PaPER According to a 2010 study by Business Development Advi- sory, a consulting organization that specializes in the paper and packing industries, materials account for an average of 25 percent of the flexible packaging substrates used. As the market demands high-impact, purposeful packaging that meets lifestyle and sustainability needs, flexo converters and paper manufacturers have partnered in engineering sub- strates with durability, grease-resistance, glueability, convert- ibility, printability and wet strength to meet the functional and performance requirements of brand owners. Although a flexo printer can use anything from kraft liner- board to glassine, a newer trend is to use specialty coatings and laminations with lightweight papers. By incorporating barrier properties and other functionality, the use of paper as a flexographic substrate continues to expand to include everything from wraps on a composite can, composite struc- tures for laminated pouches, multi-wall bags and dairy lids to wraps, liners and bags for the food service and quick-serve restaurant markets. ThE RaTionalE FoR PaPER Plastics, films and foils may lead in substrate use in flex- ible packaging, but paper-based materials are becoming more popular because of their environmentally friendly characteristics and technological advances, resulting in the re-emergence of paper as a flexo packaging substrate. Paper is made from a renewable resource and is available with re- cycled content and third-party certification to ensure the fiber is sourced responsibly. Additionally, paper is recyclable and biodegradable, optimizing end-of-life scenarios, and it uses fewer materials derived from fossil fuels than plastics and film. Furthermore, growing interest in lightweight packaging has prompted printers to use lower basis weights and reduce the number of flexible packaging layers in an effort to cut material use, processing and shipping costs. suRFacE TREaTmEnTs dRivE FuncTionaliTy Paper manufacturers continue to develop new products to compete against film and foil alternatives. To enhance their performance and extend their use, packaging papers are typically exposed to various treatments, such as clay-coating, waxing or the application of functional coatings and lamina- tions, which impart grease- and moisture-resistance and Versatility, Quality, Sustainability • Flexo converters and paper manufacturers have collaborated to engineer substrates with durability, grease-resistance, glueability, convertibility, print- ability and wet strength to meet the functional and performance requirements of brand owners. • The market demands high-impact, purposeful pack- aging that meets lifestyle and sustainability needs. • By incorporating barrier properties and other func- tionality, the use of paper as a flexographic substrate continues to expand to include everything from wraps on a composite can, composite structures for laminated pouches, multi-wall bags and dairy lids to wraps, liners and bags for the food service and quick-serve restaurant markets. provide barriers to oxygen and light. These treatments can be incorporated into the paper in a variety of ways, including through the fiber furnish, in-line coating processes during the paper-making process or secondary coating processes per- formed by the converter. These treatment systems use a variety of synthetic polymers, starches and fine minerals designed to create thin, pinhole-free films or change the substrate’s surface energy characteristics. Therefore, it is important that the ink, press configuration and process conditions are appropriate for the substrate. Taking advantage of its sustainability edge, the industry continues to develop environmentally friendly, non- petroleum based and solvent-free coating options. Flexo is an evolving technology. With advances in inks, plate making, print quality and substrates, flexographic print- ing is a cost-effective, high-performance printing and convert- ing platform ideally suited for today’s packaging market. As brand-owners drive sustainability requirements through the supply chain and paper manufacturers enhance functionality through the use of barrier technologies, paper will see growth as a substrate in several markets, including food service, food processing and retail product packaging. PaPER Basics A big advantage of flexographic printing is the ability to use a variety of substrates, which adds complexity for those converters that print a range of materials. There is a variety of paper grades, sheet structures and variables, as follows: 44 FLeXO MaRch 2011 www.flexography.org FLX_March11.indd 44 3/18/11 1:33 PM