Flexo remains the dominant print process for the packaging segment because of its versatility and ability to print on a wide range of substrates, and the process continues to evolve and improve. Flexo ink manufacturers have reported growth over the past year, and are optimistic this trend will continue.
"Overall, the flexo market saw continued growth during the past year, and we expect to see a similar level of growth throughout 2012," said Tony Renzi, vice president of product management for liquid inks, North American Inks, Sun Chemical. "Our flexo customers rely on Sun Chemical to maintain an intense focus on value and support them in managing their costs. It is our goal to help customers grow their businesses and succeed in today’s challenging economy and in times beyond. We strive to do that through quality, service and innovation in ways that drive productivity and enhance value."
"Flexo printing continues to be strong, even in today’s soft markets," said Mike Impastato, vice president strategic marketing, Flint Group Packaging & Narrow Web. "We see a number of flexo printers investing in more formal training for their press operators, which demonstrates a high level of dedication to improving quality. It also proves to print buyers a sincere commitment to offering long-term, ever-improving performance, as new technology requires a focus on upgrading skills and capabilities."
"Flexo printing technology continued to gain competitiveness towards other printing technologies both in terms of cost and print quality," agreed Herbert Forker, CEO of Siegwerk. "Continued reduction of average job sizes and length continue to push growth for flexo versus gravure."
Rob Callif, vice president, BCM Inks, reported that overall, the packaging and ink markets have grown slightly in the past year. "Our company saw Mexico to have the greatest growth within North America," he said. "We have seen a recovery in recent months, but not to the level of where business was prior to the recession. We feel the graphics corrugated market is still poised for growth, especially in Mexico, Central and South America."
"The flexo market did okay in 2011 but it was not robust," said George Sickinger, president and CEO, Color Resolutions International. "CPCs have had their own problems with margins and volume growth, and have looked to their converters for ‘more for less,’ which was passed down the supply chain. CPCs are crying for innovations to attract consumers at the store shelf while reducing packaging weight and cost. Ink people have been challenged to provide more services to improve processing time and lower waste. Increasingly, ink people are being pressed into consulting services."
Mark Hill, vice president of R&D at INX International Ink Co., said the flexo ink market has remained stable for the last year. "It appears the economy had little or almost no impact on demand," he said.
Flexo ink manufacturers expressed cautious optimism for the second half of 2012.
"I believe 2012 will be an improvement on 2011," said Doug Aldred, Flint Group's president of Packaging & Narrow Web. "Volumes remain a concern in both North America and Europe, but the emerging economies continue to deliver steady growth in the segment. Our focus on product innovation is starting to reap the desired effect and our focus on product research will only intensify as demands from brand owners increase. Despite the subdued economies on both sides of the Atlantic, we are quietly optimistic about the packaging market for 2012."
"I believe 2012 will be a good year," said Mr. Sickinger. "There has been a lot of capital spending over the last few years despite the poor economy, and with it comes opportunities to provide innovative formulations."
As improvements in flexographic print quality continue, flexo will be able to make inroads into other markets traditionally dominated by other printing processes.
"Improvements in flexographic print quality continue to make flexo a consideration in market segments that were traditionally dominated by other printing processes," said Mr. Aldred. "Flexible packaging will continue to be a strong market for flexographic print technology. With new universal flexo ink systems, the complexity related to printing numerous substrates is decreasing."
"The packaging market segment continues to be where we see the most growth for flexo, especially as the trend in the market continues to move towards functional and sensory packaging," said Mr. Renzi. "Source reduction, a smaller number of packaging layers, along with decreased package size continues to be ways consumer packaged goods companies are looking for support in their sustainability efforts. Additionally, biodegradable and more recyclable flexible packaging materials are currently favored by both major retailers and brand owners. Sun Chemical anticipates further growth opportunities from these key areas related to sustainability. Additional growth comes from the narrow web, tag and label printing segments."
"Flexible packaging has always had the best growth rate, and this has been forecast to continue into the future, but overall I see the best opportunities at any packaging converter who has new equipment and wishes to run faster with more color being applied," said Mr. Sickinger. "Change has always served the ink maker well if he has the ability to change with the converter. "
Demand for high quality flexo ink products will continue to be strong, and flexographic ink manufacturers have brought a number of new products to market recently.
Siegwerk reports growing success within line of fully polyurethane-based flexo ink series UR 11-4. "It comprises excellent print quality and high color strength, and it even opens the market of retort pouches to flexo printers since it demonstrates high performance in this field of application even under very challenging conditions," said Mr. Forker.
"New products are always the result of a customer running a new press or substrate, so we are always coming up with new formulations to respond to these situations," said Mr. Sickinger.
INX has developed lamination grade inks to run at high press speeds. "This was done in order to increase productivity on the new flexo presses," said Mr. Hill.
Flint Group has launched a number of new flex ink products to the market. In Europe, Flint Group introduced FlexiPrint MV laminating ink system, FlexiStar MV surface print ink system, low migration Flexocure ANCORA for narrow web applications and PackCure for wide web applications. For North America, Flint Group launched solvent-based FlexiTech Shrink U for shrink sleeves, solvent-based PamioStar Outdoor inks and Biocure F UV inks with bio-renewable raw materials.
Penny Holland, vice president of marketing, North American Inks, Sun Chemical, noted that Sun Chemical continually looks for ways it can help customers remain competitive, grow their businesses and succeed.
"We do that by listening to our customers’ needs and analyzing market trends that provide solutions to the challenges they are facing,” Ms. Holland said. “One example of this would be Sun Chemical’s SunSpectro Sunsharp solvent-based inks. Developed for high-speed, wide web flexo presses of bread bags and frozen food packaging, SunSpectro Sunsharp inks are high gloss, resistant to water, fats and oils, and formulated for low odor and low viscosity for enhanced color strength."
According to Ms. Holland, SunSpectro Sunsharp HR solvent-based inks are suitable for use with conventional and high-performance printing plates for flexographic printing on polyethylene film and provide moderate heat resistance of up to 350 degrees and maintain excellent gloss. Its clean printing and water resistance make it an ideal choice for printing on items such as plastic bags, shampoo bottles and milk containers.
Sun Chemical’s SunStrato SB Velocity DPT-285 lamination links are designed specifically for printing on polypropylene and polyethylene on high-speed flexo presses.
"These nitrocellulose-base blendable inks are compatible with a wide range of adhesives, and are formulated to combat flexo dirty print, maintain high color strength and maintain good solvent release properties,” Ms. Holland said. “These inks are suitable for printing on harder, more durable plastics, as well as mugs.”
Sun Chemical recently introduced SunBar Oxygen barrier coatings to the North American market to address the industry’s challenge to reduce waste costs and minimize packaging while still maintaining all the critical functioning properties of the packaging structure. SunBar Oxygen barrier coatings are designed to enable lightweighting of packaging by removing the metal foil and one layer of adhesive from packaging, as well as offering improved laminate flexibility. SunBar is cost-effective, recyclable, biodegradable and press-ready, allowing for lighter-weight packaging.
Addressing the sensory packaging needs of the industry, Sun Chemical in partnership with ScentSational Technologies, and can help brand owners interact with consumers using the sense of smell through SunScent water-based coatings, which are available in stock or custom aromas.
The Flexo Ink Market
By Kerry Pianoforte, Ink World Associate Editor