Innovate, facilitate… Decorate!
Richard Piper speaks with two industry experts on the subject of inks and coatings.
Inks and coatings are fundamental aspects of the can making process. I don’t need to tell you, the industry professionals, why this is – it would be like explaining to you the finer points of walking down the street – but what I’d like to do is bring you up to speed on what the experts in this particular field are saying at present.
It’s fair to say that of all the technological advances that have been made in recent years, inks and coatings have more than played their part. We are now able to produce some simply magnificent images on the surface of metal containers, thanks to the R&D teams of the can makers and ink suppliers, and the momentum is carrying on and on.
Alexander Folloso, R&D metal decorating manager at INX International Ink Co, explained to me that over the last five years he has seen more labels go towards speciality sizes for beverage cans, which has introduced new challenges for ink and coating suppliers.
According to Alexander, plate technology is getting better and graphics more complex. “Our inks have been able to meet our customer’s requirements for the most part,” he said.
In terms of developments, on the beer and beverage side INX has introduced a new retortable ink system and opaque white. It has also combined forces in a joint cooperation agreement with the brand innovation capabilities of Chromatic Technologies (CTI).
“The global agreement is designed to offer the can manufacturing and packaging industries world-class customer service and specialty ink innovation,” said Alexander.
From the perspective of a can maker, Rexam is constantly developing its value added offering according to Paul Shaw, process engineering support group director, Europe and Asia.
“We provide a range of coatings and inks for our customers to choose from to ensure our cans have visual appeal and strong stand out on-shelf. Rexam’s offerings include matt over varnish, tactile over varnish, thermochromic Ink, photochromic ink and glow in the dark inks, amongst others. But where we have made significant development over the last two years is not just with our inks and coatings, but how we apply to these to our cans.
“In 2013, Rexam launched Editions (Patent Pending), technology, that allows for up to 24 different designs to be printed simultaneously on a single pallet. This year we have moved this technology further forward by launching our Super Premium Editions, offering high definition printing of detailed images onto the can and Positive Editions, which enables Rexam to introduce colour on text, silhouettes and high definition images.”
The can maker works together with its customers to develop the best coatings and inks (or combination thereof) for their brand’s design. A recent example of a successful collaboration between Rexam and customer is with Favorit Stolica. Its Black Jack brand was relaunched with Russia’s first glow-in-the-dark beverage can. The cans used glow-in-the-dark inks, which absorb light and glow with a green hue in the dark.
Paul continued that added value inks and coatings designs have significantly increased over the last five years.
“Brands are, in some cases, focusing their product’s shelf appearance completely on the selected added value feature within the packaging. On top of this we have now developed the materials and applications so they can be applied with no loss of speed and at the same time maintaining our own efficiency targets, something that was just not possible a few years ago.”
You have to keep moving forward in any business, that much is certain, and the factors that push R&D within the inks and coatings sector are myriad.
Changes in environmental regulations continue to push R&D work, according to Alexander, as are printers’ conditions, which are always always evolving, forcing ink and coating suppliers to keep up. “Transition from a thermal cured process to all UV cure is an example,” he said.
For Rexam, the main factor has been the close collaboration between the company and its coatings and ink suppliers in determining what it want to achieve both in terms of output and appearance and how it can help make that happen in terms of formulating its products to suit.
“In conjunction with this are the close relationships we have with our customers in understanding what their needs are in terms of innovation and differentiation and how we can bring those to market,” said Paul.
At the recent Metpack show I was amazed to see a coating (or bio-lacquer as they refer to it) that had been developed using an extract from tomato skins called cutin. This is a bio-polymer extracted from the cuticle of the fruit, which is then processed to produce said lacquer. The project is called BIOCOPAC and is well worth looking into if your interests lie in bio-based coatings.
So what do the suppliers and can makers think of this development? It may be in its infancy, but do they see it as a viable option going forward?
Alexander said: “Vegetable based ink and coatings are useful from a sustainability standpoint and are currently used in some formulations. However a completely vegetable based ink / coating is not likely due to limits in available technology.”
Paul agreed that the technologies are limited at present, but seemed not to rule out their uses in the future if they were to be proven effective and cost-efficient.
He said: “As continuous improvement is part of Rexam’s DNA, we are always investigating alternative coating technologies. Currently, raw materials for organic/ vegetable based coatings systems suitable for two piece can application are limited and therefore the costs of organic coatings are currently commercially unattractive.”
And what of the future? We see constant developments as I mentioned before, but what are we in line to see next?
Alexander thinks that digital printing technology is continuing to show progress in metal decorating and other print applications and that with the growth of dry offset applications for aerosols, bottles and tubes we will see a need for an ink system specifically formulated for that application.
“Our Chemists have finished their work and we are ready to start beta trials in readiness for a launch this autumn,” he said.
To conclude, when you have two experts in a room there is one question I always like to pose. It is a somewhat fun question if you look at it, but in other ways it could spark debate and ideas between suppliers and can makers, which is what we are always looking to achieve. It is the magic wand question:
“If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you implement with regard to inks and coatings tomorrow?”
“If I could I would implement an ideal ink and coating system that would perform the same regardless of process conditions. For example, a similar colour from a ink would be achieved despite variances in two-piece can washer parameters,” said Alexander.
Alexander also opted for a system. “If there was one thing it would be digital printing at line rated speeds. This would be a great development in terms of the flexibility it would bring and the photographic quality it produces would be very attractive to both our customers and the end consumer.”
Food for thought indeed. Remember, if you have any views of your own you wish to express, please do feel free to convey them to me directly at [email protected]. We are always keen to start debates and can provide the perfect platform from which to launch them.