Brand-owners are demanding shorter runs and faster turnaround times, putting increasing pressure on flexible packaging converters to find cost-effective solutions. Web offset technology from Goss International is an efficient, quality alternative to gravure and flexographic printing techniques.
For those who have never investigated web offset as a solution for their flexible packaging production, the suggestion that it can actually work out to be significantly more cost-effective than gravure and flexography is often greeted with surprise or disbelief.
There are a number of reasons why the process is not readily associated with flexible packaging; some are simply the result of misunderstandings about the core technology, while others are based on out-dated perceptions of yesterday's market.
The revolution in offset printing that began in the 1990s has continued and, today, technological advances throughout the workflow have positioned web offset as the leading option for flexible packaging converters that are struggling to maintain margins.
The two major challenges associated with flexible packaging printing and converting today are the shorter runs and faster turnarounds demanded by brand-owners; both can significantly impact on a converting company's bottom line. Previously, such jobs were taken on by converters to retain the regular, longer-run business, but they were rarely profitable. Today, those once-exceptional jobs are becoming the norm, and as a consequence, are now beginning to threaten the ongoing viability of some converting businesses.
To understand why web offset can be a solution to many of today's production conundrums, it is helpful to tackle one of the key confusions in the market. The term 'short-run' is used to mean different things by different segments of the converting and general printing markets. It is ill-defined, problematic, and potentially has serious consequences for production and profitability.
The rise of digital presses for flexible packaging printing has resulted in the term being downgraded to a status far below the one afforded it by conventional flexible packaging converters. At present, the largest digital press on the horizon has a one-metre web width and a four-colour printing speed of 100m/min. Flexo and web offset presses are clearly in a separate category; speeds are five times higher, sometimes more, and wider web widths and more colours are possible at these speeds.
It is more useful to think of digital run lengths as 'micro runs'. At present, the number of these micro runs and the total percentage of digitally printed flexible packaging is very small. Even the double-digit growth forecast for digitally printed flexible packaging over the next decade will not materially change the balance.
Losing micro runs to digital is not what's putting pressure on flexo and gravure printers; the real problem is the increasing popularity of those runs that are too long for digital, but too short for profitability.
Today's web offset presses offer capabilities that can turn marginal short-run jobs into sustainable, profitable ones. With high productivity and fast, low-cost plate production and make-readies, web offset litho is far more capable than flexo of addressing short lead times and run lengths. Other capabilities that reinforce the case for its suitability include:
The Sunday Vpak series of presses from Goss International builds on these inherent advantages through innovative variable-sleeve technology featuring quick-change blanket and plate cylinder sleeve adapters that make 'infinitely' variable repeat lengths even easier and more affordable.
With options for integrating flexo, gravure and digital stations into a Vpak press configuration to form a hybrid production line, it delivers flexibility without compromise as printers continue to benefit from a wide range of coating and finishing options.
The traditional flexible packaging sector is undoubtedly under great pressure. Accurately identifying the factors that are causing this pressure and addressing them is what will separate those who preserve their margins - and their businesses - from those who remain wedded to the way things have always been done.
At present, the whole packaging market is in a state of change driven by brands and consumers, but it is an exciting market with a bright future for those able to embrace that change.