SKU proliferation, especially with stand-up pouches in the foods space, lends itself to digital printing. HP offers several press options for flexible package converting, including the newly launched HP Indigo 6900 and the HP Indigo 20000 digital press.
Specifically, though, label converters might find the greatest potential for growth in pouches. HP defines a pouch as a vessel for carrying goods or products. Stand-up pouches are typically the home for a wide range of food applications such as baby foods, nuts, cake mixes and protein powders, among others. A stand-up pouch is also able to stand by itself, where the base that supports a pouch is often referred to as a bottom gusset.
“Label converters are, in many cases, participating in the change to flexible packaging and pouches,” says Roy Oomen, HP Indigo flexible packaging category manager, North America.
“Quite a few leading label companies have now entered digital and conventional flexible packaging. Pouches are very cost effective as compared to glass or PET bottles. They also offer opportunities to print on demand for each custom design. Pouches provide and ensure better shelf visibility.
“According to leading consulting companies, stand-up pouches are growing rapidly in use each year,” he adds. “High single digit growth each year is likely a conservative estimate. Most market analysts continue to predict robust increases in pouch usage, as well.”
Brands will choose pouches to serve as a lightweight, portable option. This convenience makes pouches an option for a wide range of SKU’s. Digital printing can also help with product launches, as the packaging could be subject to change.
Pouches are a cost-effective option compared to glass or PET bottles. Digital technology allows for on-demand printing for each custom design. “Pouches even ensure better shelf visibility,” says Oomen. “As a result, label converters consult with their customers just like any flexible packaging converter would to offer choice points to their customers.”
According to Oomen, a high percentage of pouches are reverse printed on PET (48 gauge) or BOPP and respectively laminated to PE (polyethelene) and BOPP to achieve PET/PE or BOPP/BOPP with an adhesive in between. Adhesives can be solvent-free, water based or solvent based. Foil or metalized layers are also very popular. Several other structures, ranging from two to five layers–or even higher–are used for high performance packaging applications and carefully selected for achieving specific requirements for barrier properties or other functionality.
For HP’s technology, most digitally-produced pouches come on the HP Indigo 20000, while smaller pouches would make more sense on the new HP Indigo 6900. “The format size of the layflat, which is required for the pouch, is largely the driver for which digital press to use,” says Oomen. “The overall end-to-end manufacturing process is quite similar between digital and flexographically or gravure printed pouches. Materials are more often than not reverse printed, and subsequently the material that is printed will be laminated to another layer via solvent-free or water-based lamination. A newer technology based on thermal laminating without adhesives is now however available with the digital HP Indigo process to avoid using adhesives and provides zero cure time. This is the Pack Ready lamination solution.”
HP Indigo has also worked extensively with all of the leading adhesive manufacturers to provide ElectroInk compatible adhesives to ensure a suitable bond strength between the primer, the HP Indigo ElectroInk, the adhesive and the various materials that are utilized in flexible packaging. “The digital process is highly effective for quick turn jobs,” explains Oomen. “Together with Pack Ready, same day processing of jobs is done routinely–that means print, laminate and pouching–at leading customer sites with HP presses.”
HP believes that as film options become more versatile, the adoption of flexible packaging will continue to rise. Flexible packaging and pouches will often provide a graphically appealing option and sometimes may even reduce costs. For certain, rigid packaging will continue to shift to flexible packaging.”