Flexible packaging is poised to increase 4.1% CAGR to 2016, creating a $71.3 billion marketplace, documents a recent report by Pira International. In the U.S., states the Flexible Packaging Association, flexible packaging generated 2011 sales of $25.4 billion, the second largest segment of the...
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Flexible packaging is poised to increase 4.1% CAGR to 2016, creating a $71.3 billion marketplace, documents a recent report by Pira International. In the U.S., states the Flexible Packaging Association, flexible packaging generated 2011 sales of $25.4 billion, the second largest segment of the country’s $144 billion packaging arena.
Flexible packaging is replacing traditional packaging materials such as metal cans, glass, cartons and plastic, for a variety of reasons. Consumers—be they empty nesters, single-person households, or working parents—require food products with extended shelf lives, that are more convenient to use. Gen Y’ers are more likely to choose single-serve, snacks or grab-n-go foods rather than preparing a meal from scratch.
Also, flexible packaging’s reduced size saves in transportation costs, and its lighter weight is an asset for those looking to lower their carbon footprint. Its flexibility lends itself to a wider variety of shapes than metals or cartons, while giving brands more versatility in how they showcase their products.
Take a look at Equatic Solutions, makers of Horse Quencher, a cocktail designed to entice horses to drink water, which switched from a 3.5 pound bucket to a more environmentally-friendly 3.5-lb. pouch.
Manufactured by Eagle Flexible Packaging, Inc. in Batavia, Ill., the empty pouches ship flat and weigh less than an ounce, versus the former buckets that were cumbersome and weighed over 3 ounces each. Not only are the materials used in packaging reduced, but so too are the transportation resources before and after filling the pouches.
Print technologies in play
Flexible packaging can be manufactured using flexo, gravure, and digital printing machines.
The key factors that play into how a converter /printer will use a specific technology are primarily based on unit cost per linear meter. While digital printing methods capture a lot of headlines, in flexible packaging, gravure and flexo (offset is used for folding carton, but not flexible packaging) are the preferred methods for printing with longer print lengths of 10,000m or more. Print runs of 1,000-5,000m are the sweet spot for digital right now.
“The decision to use a particular print method is almost always based on the number of impressions being requested by the customer, and the print quality or type of ink needed to print the job,” says Mark Hill, VP and assistant director of research & development at INX International Ink Co. “For example, resistant inks for household cleaners are typically printed gravure due to more resistant polymers being available. Gravure for medium-to-high volume runs and flexo for low- to-medium volume runs are the norm. Cost is always a factor, so flexo and digital are chosen for low volume or one-time jobs and gravure is used for long repeat jobs.”
For high quality printing with extended wide web print runs that are repeated without customization, gravure is the choice, says Tony Renzi, vice president, product manager of Liquid Inks, North American Inks, Sun Chemical. “Flexo is another great option for long print runs with high quality printing. The flexo option tends to be at an overall lower cost to print due to the cost benefit of flexo plates versus gravure cylinders.
Narrow web converters growing in the flexible packaging arena are most comfortable with printing flexo for these applications, notes Cindy M Collins, Flexible Packaging Business Development Manager, Labels and Packaging Materials, Avery Dennison.
Over the last five years there has been a game-changing shift in flexography, says Mark Radogna, group product manager, professional imaging, Epson America. Epson, which develop packaging design and prototyping technology, has recently released the SurePress L-4033A digital label press. “In my opinion, the latest generation of flexo presses and plates yields image quality that is beyond beautiful, with line screens reaching 300 lpi.”