Throughout the world, the market for packaging remains strong. Flexible packaging continues to grow, with the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) estimating in its FPA Flexible Packaging Industry Segment Profile Analysis that the U.S. flexible packaging market was $26.7 billion in 2012. By contrast, the FPA noted that 2001 flexible packaging sales in the U.S. were $19.5 billion.
In its report, Emerging Flexible Packaging Markets to 2016, PCI Films Consulting reports that 13 emerging flexible packaging markets, including Poland, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Nigeria and South Africa, have $14 billion in sales of flexible packaging and 70% growth since 2006. PCI figures the overall global flexible packaging market to be approximately $80 billion.
In its report, The Future of Packaging in North America to 2017, Smithers Pira estimates that the North American packaging industry had sales of $169.1 billion in 2012, with growth to $186 billion by 2017.
Meanwhile, on the ink side, in its 2013 State of the Industry Report, the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) estimated the U.S. liquid ink market to be approximately $1 billion in 2012, with more than two-thirds being flexo ink sales.
Flexo inks are broken down into three major groups: water-based ink, used most notably in corrugated packaging; solvent-based inks, primarily found in flexible packaging; and UV-based inks, which are growing in usage in narrow web as well as the other segments.
“Solvent has a hold on plastic, whereas water is being used for paper and paperboard, corrugated and labels, and UV is in use across several markets,” said Mark Hill, vice president of R&D for INX International Ink Co. “The markets that have adopted certain ink types appear to be sticking to those technologies more often than not.”
In all of these areas, ink suppliers say they are seeing growth in sales.
“Overall, the flexo market saw continued growth during the past year, and we expect to see a similar level of growth throughout 2013,” said Tony Renzi, vice president, product management packaging, North American Inks, Sun Chemical. “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. Additional growth comes from the narrow web, tag, and label printing segments.”
Deanna Whelan , global marketing manager, Packaging and Narrow Web at Flint Group, said that UV flexo is a good area for growth, and added that regulatory issues are driving changes in packaging.
“We see the continued move from water-based and solvent gravure to UV flexo technologies, as well as the need for increased quality in print (high definition, “HD” printing),” Ms. Whelan said. “Also, as regulations become tighter around the world, we continue to see the growing need for low migration inks in food packaging and label applications.”
Ms. Whelan pointed out that special effects are an area of great interest to brand owners.
“We also see the industry showing continued and growing interest in decorative and sensory effect inks – these inks are very interesting to brand owners who want their products to make a stunning first impression on consumers,” Ms. Whelan noted.
Don Duncan, Wikoff Color’s director of R & D, said he is seeing an emphasis on shorter run lengths in flexo, as well as low odor, low migration inks.
“In flexo, we see more specialty inks being utilized to enhance graphics, shorter run lengths and more customization,” Dr. Duncan said. He added that customers that print packaging for food or pharmaceutical companies are interested in low odor and low migration inks.
Mr. Hill noted that printers are investing in faster equipment.
“Customers are investing in equipment designed to increase productivity, specifically high speed presses that are capable of printing 2000-3000 feet per minute,” Mr. Hill said.
Rob Callif, vice president of BCM Inks, Ms. Whelan and Mr. Renzi noted that sustainability is an important trend in flexo.
“Printers are also very interested in sustainability and renewable materials; Flint Group puts a large emphasis on sustainability - we have just become a Silver Level Sponsor of the SGP, and our 2012 sustainability report will be commercially published soon,” Ms. Whelan added.
“Sustainability continues to be at the forefront for us and our customers,” Mr. Callif said. “We developed a flexographic black ink from post consumer recyclable inkjet cartridges called PCR Black.”
Mr. Renzi said that sustainability is an area of interest from consumer goods companies.
“Source reduction, a smaller number of packaging layers, along with decreased package size continue to be ways consumer packaged goods companies are looking for support in their sustainability efforts,” Mr. Renzi noted. “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.”