Online Exclusives

From Labels to Flexible Packaging

By Steve Katz, Editor | June 24, 2014

At the MPS Flexpack Tech Tour stop in New Jersey, the focus was on potential new opportunities for label printers.

Dutch press manufacturer MPS, along with its partners Avery Dennison, GEW, DuPont, Karlville, Screen, Zeller+Gmelin and Keller & Heckman LLP, are currently making their way across the USA on the Flexpack Tech Tour, a series of free seminars designed to share knowledge and discuss flexible packaging trends, challenges and solutions. The event is also providing a roadmap for detailing how label converters can successfully enter the flexible packaging market. On June 11, the tour stopped in the New York / New Jersey area at the Hotel Somerset-Bridgewater, in Somerset, NJ, where about 50 attendees were on hand for education, lunch and a tabletop exhibition.

Denny McGee, president of MPS America LLC, moderated the event and also gave a presentation on MPS’s EF multi-substrate press technology and the EXL-packaging press, machinery that can allow narrow web label printers to capitalize on flexible packaging opportunities.

As part of his discussion, McGee talked about some of the challenges flexo converters face, and described how MPS technology overcomes these challenges. He said, “One of the main challenges in flexo printing is gear marking, a problem which is solved by MPS’s Solid Lock Technology. Here, the print cylinder is automatically positioned into the print head, independent from its repeat size.  And the plate cylinder position to the anilox and impression cylinder is automatically set to optimum print standards,” McGee explained. “As a result, substrate thickness and print cylinder pressure settings are not affected by gear profiles.”

When tension issues cause “banding” or “barring,” the MPS solution comes in the form of a free-running impression cylinder. “By not driving the impression roll, you automatically match speed,” McGee said, adding, “And by the way, you can get barring on a servo press if it’s not designed the right way.”

With MPS EF multi-substrate press technology, McGee emphasized how the press is especially designed for label production as well as the printing of flexible packaging on unsupported film or carton board. He said, “Change of materials can be done rapidly and register and control systems ensure that printing meets the pre-established guidelines. A range of converting options can also be integrated to comply with the latest needs for shelf differentiation required by brand owners.”

Among the features of the MPS EXL-packaging press is Lean Inking technology, enabling circulatory ink filling from an external tank placed on the service side of the printing unit. Ink is automatically added from this tank to the ink trays and any excess ink freely flows back into the tank. McGee pointed out that the technology eliminates ink spitting or misting even at very high printing speeds.

Flexible Packaging: ‘It’s here to stay’
Cindy Collins, flexible packaging business development manager at Avery Dennison, in discussing the state of the packaging market, assured the converters in attendance that flexible packaging is not a fad. “It’s a sustainable market and it’s here to stay,” she said. “People like convenience – they like ‘grab-and-go’ products.”

With US pouch packaging demand up 5.1% annually due to the increasing popularity of stand-up pouches, Collins pointed out that “stick packaging,” in particular, is a major growth market, growing twice as fast as other flexible packaging categories.

“Reclosing and dispensing components are increasing competiveness. Also, advances in technology, higher barriers, and a perception by young people that the form of packaging is more advanced, all point toward flexible packaging being here to stay,” she said.

An example of the beverage market potential.
Collins noted that of about 2000 label converters in the US, only 10% are doing flexible packing. “And of those, only 5% are really focusing on it,” she said.  “There is plenty of time, and plenty of room. Don’t be afraid – now is a good time to get into it.”

Markets that are showing particular promise, Collins said, include nutraceuticals, food, beverage, and also automotive and industrial. But it’s home and personal care that’s the “massive place to play,” she stressed, adding that in 2013 there were more than 16,000 new home and personal care products introduced into the marketplace. “That’s a lot of work for you guys,” she said.

From a converting standpoint, while the structures used are similar, Collins explained that varnishes are typically used with personal care, and overlamination is often a requirement for food packaging. “There is a learning curve,” she said. “Overlamination has to be not only protective, but also compliant.”

Collins concluded her presentation with tips on how the conventional label converter can position itself in getting started in flexible packaging. “The narrow web flexible packaging value proposition is short runs, speed of delivery, service programs, a wide breadth of products, high end graphics and packaging options. Focus on existing customers and contract packagers, and use your suppliers and their expertise and support. “

A picture is worth a thousand words

A print sample from DuPont
DuPont’s Mark Mazur, the company’s digital prepress consultant, gave a presentation where he stressed the effectiveness of showing customers and prospects print samples that illustrate the differences in flexo plate structures and technologies. He introduced the Cyrel DFP/DSP product line, digital plates with a proprietary engineered surface that is offered in both solvent and FAST versions. “The plates have these ‘nooks and crannies’ that break up surface tension, allowing for much better solid ink laydown,” he explained.

In presenting DuPont’s Cyrel DigiFlow digital workflow enhancement, Mazur said, “Customers want flat top dots, as they produce great highlights, very good visual impact, good solids, and reduced pin-holing.” As a modification to existing DuPont Cyrel exposure units, the DigiFlow modification can be used, as needed, when a flat top dot is required.  It also optimizes the benefits associated with solid screening programs such as HD Flexo Microcell.  “DigiFlow delivers improved solid ink density and 1:1 image reproduction, with no additional platemaking steps,” Mazur said.

Next stop: Chicago
In the addition to the topics described above, the Flexpack Tech Tour seminar also includes presentations on UV Curing (GEW), low migration inks (Zeller+Gmelin), shrink sleeves and process packaging (Karlville), and compliance with government and regulatory agencies (Keller & Heckman LLP).

The next stop of the tour is November 5, 2014, at Pack Expo International in Chicago.

To register, visit