(11/09/2012 / atz)

Good prospects for gravure in packaging and decorative printing

“Gravure’s prospects in the markets for packaging and decorative printing are good,” ERA Secretary General James Siever summed up the recent ERA (European Rotogravure Association e.V.) Packaging and Decorative Conference on 30-31 October which took place in Dortmund.

At this year’s event in Dortmund – former steel and beer metropolis in the industrial Ruhrgebiet and now one of Germany’s football centres – ERA welcomed some hundred delegates from Europe and the USA.

This year, as well as the European packaging gravure printers, engravers and the supply industry, the major decorative gravure printers also attended the conference. The conference subjects focused on both packaging and decorative gravure markets, and the event concluded with a highly interesting visit to the Arnsberg plant of Interprint, one of the leading decorative gravure printers worldwide.  

An overview on consumer confidence in Europe against the background of the euro crisis was given by Hilde Vanderheyden of Nielsen’s Belgian branch. Generally the confidence of the European consumers has recovered since the sharp decline during the financial crisis in 2008. However, Nielsen’s consumer confidence index shows differences between the countries: Germany and Benelux are stable on a relatively high level, whereas in crisis-hit Greece confidence has plummeted. At the top of the list of concerns are the economic situation and job security. This is particularly noticeable in Greece, whereas Dutch and French people are above all concerned about increasing food prices. The market dynamics for fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) show a slightly falling tendency.

That growing world population and worldwide food production have an impact on the packaging industry is obvious. In this respect, Dr. Peter Eisner of the German Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging discussed longer-term trends and challenges. The menacing clash between the increasing demand for energy and food could only be prevented by international coordinated activities of politics, economy and research. An integrated use of vegetable raw materials could be a possible solution. Also the dramatic growth of meat production is coming up against its limits. In any case, better packed food would help to avoid the still widespread spoilage and waste.    

“Upgrade to success – five things that make the difference” was the theme of the entertaining, but serious talk of Thomas Reiner of the consultancy Berndt + Partner. He urged to focus on the competence of the company, instead of blindly following the customer’s course. His five success factors are strategic focus, innovation, sustainability, communication and change management. Concerning communication, he found that packaging companies perceive themselves to be much more innovative and proactive than their customers see them.
The European production of laminate flooring amounts to 500 million m² per year. A significant player in this market is the German manufacturer of laminate flooring MeisterWerke Schulte. Concerning their requirements for decorative paper for laminate flooring Volker Kettler, manager of product development at MeisterWerke Schulte, pointed out that “high quality and consistency are most relevant”, properties fulfilled by gravure. He saw no immediate threat from indirect printing onto HDF core board, but a tendency towards smaller batch sizes which could lead to an increasing use of digital printing technologies.

The markets needs and requirements for a gravure press for decorative printing were discussed by Roland Schmid, managing director and owner of the press manufacturer Rotodecor. Initially the exclusive supplier of decorative gravure presses to Schattdecor, the company now operates independently and offers gravure presses for decorative and packaging printing as well as lacquering, impregnating and postpress equipment. Their immediate aims are to reduce set-up waste and increase energy efficiency. In the long term he sees gravure and digital printing as complementing each other. An update on Cerutti’s decorative printing technology was given by Italo Busto: moving sideframes allow the use of cylinders of different widths.

The session on technical subjects was continued by the prepress consultant Stephan Jaeggi and Juergen Seitz of GMG. Mr. Jaeggi presented a current project of Novartis Pharma to introduce PDF/X-4 for their packaging design. Already more than 10 000 artworks have been created and printed, and the results are more than encouraging. Spectral proofing for spot colours was the subject of Mr. Seitz. His news: a database of colour information allows precise calculations of overprinting results.   

Dr. Rolf Niepmann of Heimann then introduced a new drying technology: the drying process is made more efficient through the use of ultrasound. Another project was presented by Gerhard Hochstein, former technical director of Interprint, now managing director of DI Project AG. This German-Swiss co-operation is working on the development of a laser-induced ink-drop printing process using conventional gravure inks. The future potential of conventional engraving technology was shown by Dr. Rudolf Weidlich of GRT. He sees possibilities in high resolution engraving for security features in brand protection and applications in printed electronics.

An issue of high importance is the planned EU legislation on chromium trioxide (CrO3), which will need special authorisation for its continued use. ERA Environment, Health & Safety Coordinator Josef Paul Bernard explained the response of the industry: a consortium has been founded to prepare a dossier to obtain this authorisation and to secure the further use of chromium for gravure cylinders beyond 2016. Then Augustin Lozano introduced Olax22, a spin-off company from the University of Alicante to commercialize a water-based process for the deinking of plastic films.

To join his European colleagues Phil Pimlott, executive director of the American Packaging and Label Gravure Association (PLGA), came over the Atlantic to Dortmund. He gave an overview on the American market for packaging and product gravure. In packaging gravure has lost market share to flexo, however investment in new gravure technology is under way which should improve gravure’s position. The average cylinder cost in the USA is, according to Mr. Pimlott, 125 % of the European level. From 1 January 2013 onwards the Gravure Association of America (GAA) and PLGA will merge to join forces. Their next packaging gravure conference will take place in Miami, Fl on 6-7 March 2013.


On the second day the conference delegates went to Arnsberg to visit Interprint’s  largest decorative gravure plant with eight gravure presses, laser and electro-mechanical engraving and a state-of-the-art design and repro studio. They were welcomed by managing director Robert Bierfreund and his colleagues who offered an excellently organised tour through the impressive facilities. The visit gave a perfect impression of gravure’s high performance in decorative printing. Next year ERA’s conference will again combine packaging and decorative gravure and is planned to be held in early November in Northern Italy.