Narrow Web Europe

Narrow Web Europe

October 8, 2008

Agfa: a digital dilemma

Narrow Web Europe

Agfa: a digital dilemma

By John Penhallow

Photographic films were for decades the flagship product of Belgium based Agfa. Then digital cameras came along and the flagship ran aground. Agfa has since done a creditable job in reinventing itself, developing in particular prepress systems and inkjet printers. At this year’s Drupa show in Germany, Agfa took orders for US$150 million. According to company president Stefaan Vanhooren, visitors were particularly interested in Agfa’s industrial inkjet systems and eco-friendly prepress. Agfa, of course, bought out Dotrix several years ago and has had some success in introducing this inkjet process into the narrow web sector.

In the prepress segment, the shift from analog computer-to-film systems to digital computer-to-plate systems continues, and Drupa 2008 clearly showed a growing interest in systems that allow computer-to-plate printers to operate in a more environmentally friendly way. Agfa this year demonstrated both “chemistry free” and “low chemistry” print plates for both narrow and wide web.

Rumors abounded earlier this year that Agfa had been in discussions to sell its graphics division (annual sales $2 billion) to Germany’s Heidelberg. However, the German giant’s huge investment in this year’s Drupa show, together with falling sales in many of its developed world markets, have reportedly left Heidelberg’s coffers sadly depleted.

Gardeners’ special

In many European countries, and particularly in Britain, consumers actively compost their garden waste at home, either in compost bins or compost heaps. Under such conditions, certain compostable materials will not degrade sufficiently. Now Britain’s Innovia has launched a metalized and biodegradable film derived from cellulose which, according to the manufacturer, can be successfully composted in your backyard and will typically break down in just a few weeks.

The new film, suitable for many kinds of packaging and labels, has scooped several prestigious awards for environmentally friendly renewable materials. But will packaging firms pay more for “ecological” films? Such are the pressures from militant “green” campaigners that the answer, at least in Britain, appears to be yes. Gardeners of the world, unite…

Gardeners’ special

Last month, readers of this column were introduced to WRAP, Britain’s Waste and Resources Action Programme. Now brace yourself for another acronym which may be heading your way: NAFISPACK (Natural Antimicrobials for Innovative and Safe Packaging). In a team comprising 17 partners from Scandinavia, Denmark, Spain, Italy and Germany, researchers will “develop food packaging and labeling materials that react to environmental factors.” In plain language this covers all the technologies that prolong shelf life of foods, and tell you when they are going bad or if they have been incorrectly shipped and stored.

For perishable goods such as meat and fish, the main concern of producers and retailers is to extend the shelf life of their products by preventing quality loss. Since industry and consumers have a huge interest in packaging solutions that keep fresh products at a good quality level, the NAFISPACK project partners are joining forces, under the umbrella of Spain’s ITENE (Instituto Tecnológico del Embalaje Transporte y Logística) to develop a new approach within the three year duration of the project. Improvements for facilitating better handling (e.g., making products easier to open and to reclose) will also be part of this project.

Food safety achieved by the use of packaging materials and coatings to combat growth of microorganisms in food is the first priority of this project. However it is noted that some materials used in the packaging process can have negative side effects. For example, it’s no use prolonging the freshness of packaged foods if your hair turns green when you eat them. The approach of NAFISPACK is designed to be all-embracing: Innovative package systems are supposed to guarantee safety and freshness of the product during the whole process from farm to fork.

NAFISPACK’s mission statement is couched in the kind of language which Europeans may soon be reading on their restaurant menus. An extract: “Antimicrobial packaging material will be combined with quality indicators reacting on metabolites. By this method, quality loss can be detected at an early stage. The same principle can be noticed with basic total volatile nitrogen compounds as indicators for spoilt seafood, or short-chained alcohols and oxidation products of fat that react to contaminated fish.”
Enjoy your meal.

Talking turkey

As already reported in Label & Narrow Web, the 2009 FINAT congress will be held in Turkey, and co-hosted by the Turkish Label Association ESD. Turkey’s population of 73 million places it third biggest in Europe, after Russia and Germany. To what extent Turkey is “in Europe” or not is a hot potato in European politics – and that could be one amongst several reasons why Turkey’s label sector is anxious to put itself firmly onto the European map in time for the 2009 FINAT congress. ESD was founded just 10 years ago and today counts over 50 members. Association president Aydin Okay aims to bring membership up to 75 and to attract over 1,000 visitors to the 2009 congress – which would make it FINAT’s biggest ever.

Turkey has no home-grown machinery manufacturers supplying the narrow web sector, and all the major press manufacturers have been jostling their way into the hearts and minds of Turkey’s label converters. Italy’s Omet in particular has notched up several successes with four flexo presses installed within the past year, including two sold to SPS Labels in Istanbul. Turkey is also home to one of Europe’s leading producers of film for labels – Polinas; and late in 2007 Avery Dennison installed a slitting and distribution center, also in Istanbul, to cover its booming business in Turkey and the Middle East.

Sales up, profits down for French label printers

A study carried out in mid 2008 on France’s 60 biggest PS label converters shows rising 2007 sales for all but three of the top 20, but a less encouraging picture for pre-tax profits. Taking an arbitrary but widely accepted figure of 5 percent as the margin below which a successful label converter should not fall, only 20 of the 60 companies covered in the study made it into the “successful” category (and the bottom 15 percent all posted losses). The French label converting sector is increasingly foreign owned, with Bopack (Belgium) and Canada’s CCL holding between them 17 percent of the total French label market. French-owned label groups, by contrast, are neither aggressive exporters nor investors in foreign markets.

There is of course no truth in the rumor that this stay-at-home attitude is due to the rest of Europe’s stubborn unwillingness to speak French.

A Paragon of virtue

In the UK, landfill is still the number one destination for both household garbage and industrial packaging waste. Now Paragon, one of the UK’s major label and packaging converters, has started offering customers and non-customers a recycling service aimed at reprocessing waste liner and other packaging waste into tissue paper and candy wrappers.

According to Paragon, used liner alone accounts for some 30,000 tonnes (33,000 tons) of landfill every year. The new service will be charged at £70 ($100) per tonne, and Paragon hopes to attract environmentally minded brand owners to use its recycling facility.

All done with mirrors: M&A in UV curing

There seems to be no particular reason why German firms should be so strong worldwide in the UV curing sector. It is nonetheless a fact, and Dr Hönle AG has created a stir this year by acquiring two of its German competitors: Printconcept UV-Systeme and Eltosch-Torsten-Schmidt. Although all three companies are in the same field, the product ranges are to a large extent complementary.

A paper trail to the Kremlin

It has so far been a well guarded secret, but your Europe Correspondent can now reveal that Russia’s new president, Dmitri Medvedev, rose to the top by way of the paper and packaging industry.
After working in a company associated with the packaging industry for nearly six years, young Dmitri then, in November 1993, became head of legal affairs at Ilim Pulp. Five years later he was elected to the board of Bratski LPK paper mill. In 1999 he moved to Gasprom, and from then on he never looked back.

Drupa – the last word

The smallest Drupa visitor was Poopsi, a Jack Russell terrier. The oldest Drupa visitor was Frau Maria Manns, aged 97, who attended the first Drupa in 1951. Feted on the Heidelberg stand she said, “I hope to be present at the next Drupa in 2012.” So, no doubt, does Heidelberg.