Tech Talk with Miraclon: Flexo extends its influence

Hrishikesh Kulkarni, the manager sales in West & South India, Srilanka at Miraclon India spoke to WhatPackaging? magazine about how flexo is required for better business

07 Dec 2023 | By WhatPackaging? Team

Hrishikesh Kulkarni: When discussing on-press efficiencies, think about reduced start-up and on-the-job waste, or fewer press stoppages and NRE consumption.

Team WP? (TW): What are the trends you discern?
Hrishikesh Kulkarni (HK):
The trends we discern talk about the population versus consumption differential in Asia (developing economies) and USA and Western Europe. As developing economies surge forward, packaging will continue on its path of healthy growth for many more years. Albeit, Asian markets will have the opportunity to adopt sustainable practices in the course of growth.

TW: What about Asia?
HK:
While gravure is still the main choice by brands for packaging production at the moment, we’re seeing a steady shift towards flexo as more and more brands and converters see this as a real and competitive alternative every day. Together, flexible packaging and folding cartons account for over one-third of all packaging. Asian markets have a strong preference for gravure as the primary print process for flexible packaging. This is very different in other markets around the world. Trends point to flexography gaining market share. I feel this will be further accelerated by legislation, regulation and sustainability efforts by brands. Digital continues to be a miniscule portion of the overall print process split.

TW: What are the possibilities with flexo?
HK: 
There are many possibilities. Since it not only allows for shorter print runs, but also enables transition of offset (folding cartons) and digital jobs to flexo with the advent of modern flexography. Digital has potential to grow, given operational costs are brought down. The current click-charges being fixed per impression lead to poor economics as digital is only used primarily as a special promotions or sampling medium, or the typical very short or custom print runs. The downstream benefits in simplification of operations with flexo are not so easily realised in digital.

TW:  What is transpiring in India?
HK:
Two things which are specific to India. One is: skilled labour (formal training and education) is rare and mostly on-the-job trained labour is available. Of this, even fewer are trained in flexo pre-press and press standardisation tools, best practices and processes. This is one of the reasons why taking a simplified approach with your flexo plates is important. That is one reality. The other reality is, brands want to aim for better quality and differentiation, while at the same time reacting to industry trends and cost pressures. Number of product variations of top-selling products is increasing. Many smaller size options are required to counter inflation. Plus brands are eliminating slow-moving products to reduce costs. Another thing we are noticing is, average run lengths as compared to pre-Covid is steadily decreasing. Under such circumstances, the dialogue between brands and their packaging suppliers needs more evolution to be future-looking and with realistic boundaries on what’s achievable and at what price point.

TW: Some of your clients work with FMCG brands. What is transpiring in that vertical?
HK:
FMCG trends is focussed on inventory management. Also brands seek better cost control. Nowadays there is a growing focus on sustainability. These are the primary factors for brands in order to address consumer needs, both external and internal (shareholders). Customers are saying where one cannot eliminate plastics, one can focus on how to use less, recycle and deploy bio renewable materials to reduce the dependence on nonrenewable materials. Flexo serves all three trends in order to address these needs.

TW: In what way?
HK:
Well, the packaging industry (especially in Asia) focuses on the solvent content in inks or during plate-making. Also there is a bigger sustainability pie to address with flexo around the use of non-renewable energy. Modern flexography is also capable of enabling process printing (four-colour and seven-colour ECG) which aids quick job changeovers, greater standardisation and cost reduction.

TW: They say effective ink transfer is the key to unlock flexo success. How does one enable this?
HK:
The right plate (and precision patterning) can bring support process control. Also it can drive standardisation efforts for optimum print results. This is guided by support of a qualified and experienced technical applications team that can provide the right training and tools, while providing ongoing feedback through press trials and periodic pressroom audits. This means, consistently accurate 1:1 image reproduction.

TW: What about the usual challenges on the press?
HK:
Problems on press typically include setup waste of both time and resources, having to slow the press down in order to achieve the optimal ink densities, stopping the press to clean or sometimes even change plates due to poor print results. Simplifying operations on press with Miraclon’s Flexcel NX plates begins by addressing all of these pain points and ensuring that job setup is done on press with predictability in mind and without guesswork. Advanced dot characteristics with precision surface patterning on the Flexcel NX plates optimise ink flow and transfer, thus improving on press performance by reducing plate cleaning and hence, press stoppage. This also means reduced waste. Being able to deliver higher densities with lower ink use helps to bring down ink cost. The unique flat top dot structure and minimal impression with the ability to run softer tapes also means longer plate life.

TW: So, the savings and efficiencies are real when using your plates and working with guidance from your Technical Applications team in order to standardise press conditions and operations?
HK.
That's right. All this without compromising on shelf impact, design freedom and print quality.

TW: What do your customers say?
HK:
Flexcel NX is acknowledged by customers as the best performing plate on a flexo press, and quality is a given. The ability to image with 1:1:1 precision and print accurately means being able to expand the tonal range, and print highlights, vignettes, linework and text with equal ease – all with one plate. This helps win more jobs, while also enabling the migration of jobs from other print processes to flexo.

TW: No discussion is complete without touching upon sustainability. Your views?
HK:
I have already mentioned how the flexo process can bring about substantial savings on inks and substrates, increase press up time, enable quick changeovers with fewer press stops, all without compromising on image quality. These contribute to sustainability, the possibilities of which are further expanded through recyclable substrates (which Flexcel NX plates and flexo can do much better), and the ability to print with water based inks (Flexcel NX plates enable faster press speeds with WB inks).

TW: What is Miraclon's plan for India?
HK:
Miraclon is on a continuous journey of innovation with our customers and industry partners. As we launch new products that address fundamental issues and elevate the profile of flexo and what flexo can do, it is pertinent for our customers to access the latest innovations while maximising their capital investment – for that reason, all the innovations are available within the same platform, without having to make big investments in changing hardware to realize the benefits of newer technologies. To exemplify, a customer who invested in a Flexcel NX System in 2010 can still use Miraclon’s Print Suite and start imaging plates with PureFlexo Printing patterns in 2023 without having to make any major hardware change.
 

Latest Poll

Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?

Results

Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?

Bagasse and biodegradable boxes

 

33.33%

Corrugated boxes

 

33.33%

Paper bags

 

33.33%

Recyclable plastic (bubble wraps, bio-plastic)

 

0%

Total Votes : 3

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