In an era where image and branding often drive buyers' decisions, advances in flexo printing take center stage in packaging presentation.

In the flexible packaging arena, where growth is estimated at a robust 5 percent per year, the role of decorating is pacing (often outpacing) that growth.

Flexo printing has been able to support packaging's growing emphasis on appearance through quality, increasing use of lighter weight substrates and fast turn-around scheduling. According to Pinnacle XL, the average flexible packaging manufacturer has fewer than 200 employees, with exceptions where very large enterprises often lead advances. In the flexo printing world, average sizes are often smaller facilities where capacity is still substantial and flexibility means superior service.

Flexo Printing for Films

Legacy Flexo exemplifies the fast-response printer partnering where fewer than 50 employees turn out sizeable capacity on two 8-color presses handling film, paper/tissue and other substrates. With just two owners and decision-makers, Dan Aberly and Mark Carrick, the company is able to work with customers in real-time, when necessary. “We work with small customers all the way up to billion-dollar brand leaders who value our lack of bureaucracy, but expect high quality results too,” says Aberly. “We typically print outer and inner packages in 7- and 8-colors for companies across the US out of our plant in Green Bay, Wisconsin.”

Solids, process color and reverse-side printing support further converting, such as laminating, where BOPP (Biaxially Oriented Polypropylene) protects images on flexible packages. Legacy Flexo supports markets such as pet food, medical and personal care, fresh and dry food, and other market segments.

Supported by close relationships with ink and film suppliers, Legacy Flexo is able to count on specialty inks and light gauge films to advance their offerings. For example, lightweight film under 1 mil. for inner walls of packages accounts for a significant segment the company delivers. In addition, film for outer wall packaging is heavier at over 1 mil. thickness. Increased use of films for flexible packaging have dovetailed well with Legacy's capabilities.

A Smithers Pira report sums it up: Printing options for flexible packaging are endless and can be instantaneously changed if required. The report also emphasized the growth of brand identity applications where flexo printers are benefiting.

Bringing in Film Suppliers

The supply chain for Midwest printers like Legacy is strong too. Aberly says one supplier, Next Generation Films of Lexington, Ohio, has experienced “explosive growth” in the last few years. According to Next Generation Films’ president Dan Niss, “We have grown from 60 million pounds in sales in 2008 to a projected 240 million this year.”

Around 200 million pounds will go into food packaging. "A few years ago our vision was to lead, so we gained Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) compliance, as the first in our industry,” says Niss. “Along with FDA acceptance of our films for direct and indirect contact, it gives our customers a lot of confidence in our products.”

The company’s films for the food industry run the gamut from produce packages, to every kind of meat packaging, to many other items we find in our refrigerator and pantry.

Reduction in gauge to thinner films is still trending and suppliers that have high-tech equipment can process these lightweight films, along with flexo printing companies that have the latest controls and converting abilities. Along with better sustainable product-to-package ratios, waste is reduced and end-of-life disposal issues are improved.

Collaborative Efforts

Other companies, like ink supplier INX, work machine-side with their printer-customers. Close collaboration with suppliers keeps supply chain issues to a minimum and it allows for better quality results. In the ink world, machine-side mixing reduces waste, and requires less ink for startup.

Printing of flexible packages complements the growth across product types. According to PCI Consultants’ latest report, the standup pouch has been in existence in the US for many years, but volume growth has recently accelerated, especially in the last two years, with projections continuing strong. Packaging is a major buyer decision factor for branded, and store brands too.

Further enhanced appeal due to the latest printing techniques only adds more to products' point-of-purchase "buy me" allure.