Raúl El-Fakdi, flexo brand manager, Comexi, a family-run manufacturer of flexographic printing, offset printing, gravure printing, laminating and slitting equipment.
What top trends are you seeing in flexible packaging and why? What are the drivers?
El-Fakdi: Trends affecting the whole flexible packaging printing and converting process include:
• Demand of shorter and shorter printing runs.
• Shorter times to market.
• Need of automation.
• Explosion of new market niches.
• Personalized and differentiated products are increasingly demanded.
• Increasing complex laminating structures, mainly for retort applications.
• New effects to stand out on the shelf: holographic designs, matte packaging, texturizations.
• Emergence of eco-friendly packaging.
• New applications and finishings, such as natural feeling and increase of usage of paper.
• Increase use of window packaging to see real content.
• Search for added-value packaging to differentiate from competitors.
• Personalization of the packaging.
• Easy-open packs that need laser scoring.
• Consumers and converters asking for products and packaging that are more sustainable and lengthen the useful life of food or any other product.
• Converters searching for equipment that offers speed but, above all, the highest productivity and the ability to respond efficiently to the latest needs and trends in the market.
• Mergers and acquisitions in companies.
One of the main trends is the constant need of highly efficient and sustainable equipment. Therefore, these past years, Comexi has developed its innovative offset technology, Comexi CI8, which offers more competitive prices, is 100% solventless free printing, uses electron beam (EB) inks and its plates are up to 20 times more economical than traditional ones. Due to its capabilities to offer small runs, it is highly profitable and it is a strong competitor in front of digital printing.
In the flexographic printing sector, Comexi recently launched Comexi F1 flexographic press with robot technology and an automatic changeover system for sleeves, adapters and anilox rolls. Last year, the group also launched Comexi F2 ML press, which significantly reduces the changeover time and increases production time, while improving ergonomics and safety for the operator.
Furthermore, converters are always searching for machinery that reduces downtimes and boosts its productivity. Comexi F1 increases production by 30%, allowing printers to handle 30% more jobs per year.
Another key element is ergonomics and usability. Comexi flexographic presses can be equipped with 100% full line inspection, automatic pressure and register during ramp up of the machine, an inline spectrophotometer and, in offset printing, closed-loop color matching.
Moreover, we have detected an increasing demand for water-based rotogravure, which in terms of sustainability, fits perfectly well with our corporate pillars and strategy.
Every day, the market is demanding more customized products, so job lengths are getting shorter. At the same time, customers ask for better products in terms of shelf life and usability. It means more complex structures, and many different kinds of materials, some with specific coating and laminating needs that have to be easily interchangeable.
Companies are being forced to lead with complexity and a rise of stock-keeping units (SKUs) and “added value” solutions, like easy-open packs, so enterprises need slitters and rewinders able to deal with more complicate jobs and able to avoid being stopped. Reducing downtimes and fast changeover is critical. In this sense, a simple machine can be working just 30% of the time. Comexi can improve this ratio up to 70% if the customer uses our added-value solutions available, such as double turret rewinders, automatic knife positioning, automatic core positioning or automatic taping, among many others.
And even these upgrades can be improved if the converters automate all the steps that occur after the slitting process, such as labeling, wrapping or palletizing using robots connected to Comexi slitters. This improvement is one of the main ways to drastically reduce downtimes.
In the future, it is possible that all machines installed in a plant will be connected to a cloud system that will help them to improve their efficiency and performance. Not only on giving them different ratios for key performance indicators (KPIs), but also giving them recommendations on how to produce the jobs.
Last but not least, we have seen that, more and more, printers and converters ask for software and tools that provide real time and online data about production speeds to optimize performance. Therefore, we developed the Comexi Cloud tool, the jump to Industry 4.0. This offers online data about production speeds, production output, productivity, set-up times, number of reels produced, and downtime for preventive maintenance and repairs. This tool provides the convertor insights in how to optimize the production efficiency of its production orders. It goes even further with analytics on job costs, based on production time, film, inks and energy consumption. With this system, factories and brand owners can see and understand their data and process to facilitate optimal decision-making. Tracks work every day at any time improving efficiency and analyzing productive and non-productive meters, execution time and trends in work and production.
Comexi Cloud tool.
What challenges is the flexible packaging market encountering now and how are they being addressed?
El-Fakdi: Industry 4.0 and IoT (Internet of Things) will rapidly become more important and we think that could be one of the main challenges in the flexible packaging market. The jobs carried out by printing and converting machinery in the flexible packaging sector are becoming more and more demanding due to the requirements of the new products and formats that are continuously appearing for the different profiles of consumers and requests. This reality means clients have had to settle in a state of continuous improvement, permanently optimizing their resources and processes.
That is why we are convinced that being aware and keeping up to date with everything that happens with the printing and converting processes is crucial, the same way that we monitor and study our sports activities with the aim of improving and being more competitive. These were the main elements that propel the creation of Comexi Cloud. What are the most relevant incidents that affect my production? How long does a mechanical change or adjustment take? What is the availability of the machine? What is being performed at this precise moment? These are just some of the questions that can be answered rapidly with Comexi Cloud, from anywhere and using any type of device.
Comexi Cloud is based on an open Amazon IT-platform enabling complete plant management information and control. Apart from that, in technical field services, we are studying a test with ER (Extended Reality) to provide remotely technical on-site support through our customers’ maintenance engineers.
Following previous indications, all analysis shows important changes on consumer habits and increasing of personal packaging expenses, as well as changes on the type of packaging—rigid to flexible packaging, for example.
Some other main challenges? Converters and printers ask for automation and we have developed equipment that offers a high degree of automation and robotization in all machines, as well as adjustment systems to make the machine more autonomous to answer flexible packaging industry and whole market requests.
Comexi robotics for automation.
Where do you see the biggest growth for flexible packaging moving forward and why?
El-Fakdi: Asia is one of the main future markets in flexible packaging. Consumer habits, population growth, average expenses per person in packaging market and increasing demands are some of the characteristics that have marked this region. Global studies and analysis show a high increase in the Asian’s packaging and flexible packaging sector. Therefore, it is an important market because of its high volume.
These are some of the main reasons why Comexi has improved a lot of its approach and resources to the Asian markets, especially the south Asian territories, during these last five years. Besides, we are still counting on new and challenging investment plans today and for the long term.
Also, other growing markets are North America, the Middle East and Africa (MEA). On a global scale, the largest flexible packaging market in terms of value is North America, followed by Europe with the highest spend per capita in flexible packaging. However, the growth of the flexible packaging market is undoubtedly in Asia and MEA with an expected increase of spend per capita by the middle class with the growth of the population. This creates interesting opportunities as demand for printing presses and converting equipment will strongly increase.
Companies and brands located in Asia are really interested in high eye-catching visual effects. Therefore, the innovative Comexi Futura machine, which is able to apply holography on flexible packaging films through cast and cure technology, has been successful in this area. This kind of technology provides vibrant images with some exclusive features, producing high added-value packaging.
New businesses are being started in this region by local people who will benefit from the increase in demand for flexible packaging. Besides, new investors are also investing in flexible packaging companies, which further boosts this market. Also, further consolidation of flexible packaging convertors is expected, which will result in a consolidation of factories and strategic investment plans in converting equipment in this region.
What, if anything, is different about the sustainability message of flexible packaging today versus, say, two or three years ago?
El-Fakdi: We could say that sustainable solutions are no longer limited to corporate statements. The industry has proved to be able to develop sustainable technologies on a cost-effective basis and with the quality standards required by the market. For example, Comexi offset printing technology is a 100% solvent-free solution and food safety certified. Another good example is the development of EB-cured inks for flexographic printing. Governments and industry leaders will continue to make joint efforts to reduce the carbon footprint by stimulating innovations in this direction.
In this sense, the newest developments in curing inks (from EB to ultraviolet/UV and UV LED) prove to be more stable and profitable than its predecessors. The demand for sustainable and solvent-free alternatives—and the appearance of new regulations that restrict, or even ban, the use of solvents—is pushing the ink manufacturers to accelerate the development of alternative inks. Once stability is solved, it’s time to increase press efficiency and performance to push profitability to solvent printing levels.
Regarding laminating, solventless adhesives have improved their performance rapidly, and Comexi laminators have adapted to this new trend. Thanks to its sleeve technology, the job only takes two minutes, and the new dosing adjustment from the main machine screen is helping operators control production quality while running at top speed. The new generation of top-of-the-range laminators have a mechanical speed of 500 meters per minute, allowing them to reach the highest production rates.
Water-based adhesives have also significantly improved their performance and can now be used in almost every single application. Thanks to its ultra-fast curing time-to-market, final products can be delivered in the shortest time.
Packaging solutions come to Minneapolis: As part of the region’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event, MinnPack 2018—and the five related shows taking place alongside it—brings 500+ suppliers, 5,000+ peers and 60+ hours of education together under one roof. Register for free today.