The packaging segment continues to maintain its strength during the past year, and gravure remains an important process, particularly for long runs. Michael Impastato, vice president strategic marketing, packaging and narrow web, Flint Group, recently spoke with Ink World about the packaging gravure market.
Ink World: Did the packaging gravure market experience growth in 2010? How did it compare to last year?
Michael Impastato: Of course all the data is not in yet for 2010, but packaging gravure showed strong growth through the first three quarters of the year. The year-over-year growth through the first half was in the range of 12 to 14%, but that was due to the very depressed levels in early 2009. Second-half growth will come in at a lower rate, but that may have more to do with relatively stronger second half of 2009 than any significant drop from first half business activity. Packaging gravure has recovered to near pre-recession levels, and as the economy continues to grow, packaging gravure will fully recover the volume lost in the recession.
Ink World: What are the major trends in packaging gravure printing?
Mr. Impastato: The trends in packaging gravure have not changed much in the last few years. They can be summarized as run size, cost and turn around time. The high tempo of graphic changes and new SKU introduction puts a great deal of pressure on the gravure supply chain. Gravure has always been the “go to” technology for quality graphics; but short lead times and smaller run lengths are a challenge. To be successful as a gravure printer in packaging, these issues have to be addressed and conquered.
Ink World: What are the key advantages of using gravure printing over flexo or offset?
Mr. Impastato: Besides the well-known fidelity of gravure printing, the main advantages of the technology is variable ink film thickness and a relatively simple and stable process. The ability to vary the ink film thickness allows gravure to print small dots and dense solids from the same printing deck. This is difficult for both flexo and litho. Both flexo and litho tend to have to make compromises to accommodate these extremes while gravure makes no compromises, because this ability is inherent to the gravure process. In addition, gravure can make use of a much wider range of specialty pigments whose large particle size make it difficult or impossible to use in either flexo or litho. The gravure process is much more stable than flexo or litho. Once the press is set up and running, few adjustments need to be made and the print quality is very stable from beginning to end.
Ink World: Has gravure made significant inroads into any new applications?
Mr. Impastato: Gravure has built its place in packaging and I expect will remain a very strong competitor in those applications, but I don’t see any significant inroads being made into new packaging applications. To do so will require step changes in reducing cylinder cost and cycle times. A number of companies in North America have addressed the cycle time issue and now are very fast at going from artwork to press. But until cylinder costs in North America go down to at least the levels seen in Europe, it will be difficult for gravure to break into many new markets.