• Sha Jumari

Flexo Steps Up to the Plate

As flexible packaging becomes one of the fastest growing market segments in Asia, advancements in flexography technology is making it the preferred method in Asia.

As packaging continues to grow rapidly, flexible packaging is exhibiting the fastest growing market. Over the past ten years, flexible packaging has been one of the fastest growing packaging sectors, especially as developing economies continue to expand.

According to the Smithers Pira report (Future of Global Flexible Packaging to 2022), the total market for consumer and industrial flexible packaging is projected to grow at an annual rate of 4.3%. The market is valued at $230 billion in 2017, and is projected to reach $283 billion in 2022. With Asia being the largest regional market with 40% of global packaging market volume, it is projected to be the fastest growing market for consumer flexible packaging.

“Flexible packaging is becoming more popular each day as it is able to take on a wider variety of graphic and packaging designs to impress consumers. Smaller print runs are increasingly required due to market demands and fast turnover for product launches,” said Daniel Kuah, sales and marketing manager for Capitol Gravure.

Along with this growth comes a new set of challenges for packaging printers, one of which is the increase in demand for short runs. Consumers in Asia are demanding a faster turnaround time in the printing process. Superbrands especially, are diversifying their printing methods to further suit different product packaging needs, such as the need to regionalise products to cater to specific local holidays or events.

Digital printing has been hyped as the perfect solution to serve this need, but it still only covers a small percentage of the flexible packaging market. Historically, Asia favours gravure processes for flexible packaging, over flexography.

“In Singapore, offset printing and digital printing are preferred due to market product demand. Flexo in Singapore is limited to label printing with narrow web machines,” said Kuah. “In countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, there is a greater need for gravure printing over the last 20 years. This is because gravure printing is able to produce fantastic print results with a wide range of colour curve.”

Closing the quality gap between gravure and flexo

Kuah noted that in the past 15 years, there has been a sharp improvement in the development of the flexo industry: “Today, improvements in flexo technology allows for fantastic prints with vibrant print quality – as many flexo printers can attest to. Flexo can now print images and gradients as well, when previously it was used primarily for text.”

“Although flexo is more convenient to set up for printers compared to gravure, it has its limitations. Side effects such as ‘halo’ was often an issue. However, with recent improvements in plate making technology and engraving technology, such side effects can be eliminated. Furthermore, flexo is no longer limited to solid colors and texts, and top technology in digital and laser engraving can ensure optimal print quality that is on par with that of the conventional gravure printing rollers,” Kuah continued.

“Recent innovations have made flexo a much cheaper option and perfectly suitable for short runs. More flexographic printers are adopting the Extended Colour Gamut (ECG) approach, which involves a fixed colour palette consisting of CMYK combined with green, orange and blue or violet. This eliminated the need for spot colours 90% of the time, can deliver much better quality prints than CMYK on its own. This saves costs on print set up and inks,” Kuah continued.

“Due to all these changing conditions and trends, flexography printing will inevitably grow in demand. To meet the needs of our clients in the region, Capitol Gravure has begun investing heavily in the technology,” said Kuah.

Capitol Gravure is a Singaporean company that was established in 1969 by managing directors Kuah Chee San and Wah Leong Wah. The company specialises in producing premium quality printing rollers for clients within the region, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and China. Capitol Gravure has been the appointed cylinder manufacturer for Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco.

Although the company’s strengths lie in gravure printing rollers, the company recently expanded its product catalogue to include flexo. Capitol Gravure’s offerings now include flexo printing rubber sleeves with engraving and ceramic anilox roller for ink transfer and coating purposes.

Shorter Lead Times for Asian Printers

According to Kuah, offering flexo products not only fills a gap in the Asian market, it solves one major challenge faced by flexo printers now: “At the moment, flexo sleeves and ceramic anilox rollers are mostly purchased from Europe. This required a long lead time of six to eight weeks due to the shipping time."

"For example, any last minute changes to the rubber sleeves due to a mistake tend to be difficult. This is because it will need to be changed as a whole and the order for it is placed in Europe. Shipping for the new sleeves can take from six to eight weeks to arrive. In order to save time and to meet delivery deadlines, print runs are continued with the damaged sleeve. Any unusable prints would have to be disposed off.”

“With this particular issue in mind, we decided to launch the flexo rubber sleeves and ceramic anilox rollers. Our mandrel production and coating facilities for the ceramic anilox rollers are also all based in our factory in Malaysia. This immediately eliminates 10 to 14 waiting days for our customers based in the Southeast Asian region,” Kuah continued.

Capitol Gravure’s flexo rubber sleeves are designed for Direct Laser Engraving (DLE) technology. The content rubber sleeves and plates make it suitable to engrave a 3D image onto the rubber surface. The company’s ceramic rollers are carefully engineered and have achieved a healthy surface hardness of about 1300 -1400hv. Its latest laser engravers from ALE are high speed engravers that can produce high lines per CM and achieve various types of cell shapes and depths.

“Asia is dominated by gravure technology, so the images are almost designed to be seamless. DLE sleeves are seamless by nature. Aside from this, the register accuracy of DLE sleeves is provided by the laser, and not by the manual mounting of a plate. This leads to a high quality print by register, even when there are finer details or multi-image jobs,” said Kuah.

The Capitol Difference

Established for more than 45 years, Capitol Gravure today is a 200-strong team. The company is headquartered in Singapore, and has five production plants in Malaysia, and one in Beijing, China. Capitol Gravure differentiates itself from the competition by placing high priority in R&D to provide the best solutions.

“We invest continuously in R&D. Our rubber sleeve partner is Bottcher Systems. They’ve developed the fiberglass base sleeves as well as special rubber compounds that are specially designed for our customers in the flexo and gravure business,” said Kuah. “For the flexo sleeves for DLE, we focused on the engraving properties as well as ink transfer and lay down in R&D. Both of these are important for our customers who are running the laser, as well as for the printer as the end user of our products.”

“At the end of the day, our goal is to be able to provide speed in production, convenience in customer service and savings in shipping costs for our customers in the region. Like what we have done for the gravure printing cylinder industry, we aim to be the leading engraver for the flexo industry in Southeast Asia,” Kuah concluded.

For further information on Capitol Gravure and its recently launched flexography offerings, visit http://www.capitol-gravure.com.sg/.

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