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FLEXO Magazine : January 2013
Color matching, or as I like to call it, color tweaking, is the current “Holy Grail” to be automated in flexography. Some good initial steps have been taken by the industry, like off line ink “labs”/mixers that can adjust inks on the spot, using feedback from an inline spectrophotometer. Many converters I talk with contend that the inks should be correct in the first place, obviating the need for such a system. I couldn’t agree more. SALES & STRUCTURE Flexible packaging is a $25 billion-plus business in North America, about 18 percent of the entire North American packag- ing market, which includes corrugated medium, cartonboard, glass, plastic bottles, thermoformed trays, soda cans, etc. This segment employs approximately 79,000 people, with the average company size about 200 people (facts courtesy of the Flexible Packaging Association). What has been happening in the last decade and acceler- ating in the last few years is the continuing consolidation of the industry. Smaller converters with sales under $50 million make up about 20 percent of the industry, while medium- sized converters with sales up to $500 million comprise about 33 percent. Large converters make up the balance of about 47 percent, nearly half the industry. About 15 years ago, the shares of medium vs. large converters were reversed. What this means in practical terms is that the big companies are continuing to get bigger, to expand their reach nationwide and provide consistency to consumer product companies (CPCs) hungry for brand growth. Above all, brand image and integrity drive their sales, with attractive colors and new pack- aging formats, all for the convenience of the consumer. The other half of the industry focuses on regional markets, and has transportation cost and service time advantages, due to their closer physical proximity to the customers and their increased familiarity with regional tastes and products. HIGH SPEED PRINTING Flexography can now print high quality graphics efficiently at speeds up to 2000 FPM (600 MPM) with the proper deck design and electronic accuracy provided by the world’s top- class printing presses. I have seen flabbergasted customers’ jaws drop at the sight. Improvements in everything from plates, inks, sticky- backs, aniloxes, plate and bridge (carrier) sleeves have permitted these speeds to become a reality. However, the speed of job changeover is much more important to the bottom line than line speed is. Most presses running up to 1300-1650 FPM (400-500 MPM) are more than adequate for most jobs. A COMPLEMENTARY PAIR In the tag and label segment, digital printing is said to have captured up to 30 percent market share, based on low to no origination costs (plates) and speed to market. The relatively high cost of inks and per-click charges still make current digital presses applicable only for ultra-short runs of up to 2,000 impressions and for high-margin products, such as wine, liqueurs, cosmetics and the so-called “nutriceuticals” products. drupa 2012, though, trotted in a new pony—the Landa line of presses—featuring nanography, which uses low-viscosity inks to print a wide variety of substrates, including flexible packaging. These presses will find a place where the cost per unit allows converters to make money, so it will be interesting to stay tuned to find out if (or how much) money can be made using this new technology, due out sometime in 2014. For the moment, flexography remains the process of choice for flexible packaging, due to its extreme flexibility to print successfully on a wide variety of substrates for many different market segments. The flexo shop floor of the future will have some mix of flexo and digital presses printing flexible packag- ing, each serving its niche accordingly. FUTURE IS BRIGHT As long as flexible packaging converters remain vigilant and continue to hone their skills and look at new technologies, they will remain competitive and prosper in this demanding marketplace. The future is bright for those who stay on the cutting edge and who can deliver better, faster, cheaper—relentlessly. n ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Jacques is the sales manager— North America for Flexotecnica S.p.A ., manufacturer of eight- ,10- and 12-color C.I . printing presses. A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh, Tom has more than 25 years of industry experience. He contributes frequently to industry publica- tions and also speaks at industry events both in North America and abroad. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com. www.flexography.org january 2013 FLEXO 21 48% 11% 9% 8% 7% 7% 5% 5% Sources of Downtime Color Match Quality Control Sleeve Chang e Ink Change Substrate Change Recipe Data Entry Imp/Reg Setting Auto Wash-up 20% 33% 47% Small < 50 million Medium 50-500 million Large > 500 million Flexible Packaging Company Size by Sales