An important benefit of holding awards programs at regular intervals is the snapshot of emerging industry trends that the entries provide. In the latest round of the Miraclon-sponsored Global Flexo Innovation Awards (GFIA), one noticeable trend identified by the judging panel was a growing acknowledgement among converters and brand owners of the cost savings, productivity, and sustainability benefits that Extended Color Gamut (ECG) printing delivers — of how, in the judges’ words, “ECG gives brand owners an edge in meeting today’s market demands.”
A prime example was the three-way joint entry from Argentinian prepress trade shop Bosisio, packaging printer Celomat SA, and global food and beverage brand Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods), which won a Gold Award for achieving three of the Awards’ demanding criteria: gravure-to-flexo process conversion, print production workflow, and commitment to sustainable print. In a remarkable collaborative effort, Bosisio and Celomat demonstrated to Mondelez how KODAK FLEXCEL NX Plates delivered ECG results that increased on-press productivity and accelerated turnaround while also matching gravure for quality. This enabled Mondelez to meet the prevailing market demand for a greater variety of SKUs produced in smaller volumes.
Founded in 1975, initially to produce gravure cylinders, Bosisio entered flexo prepress in 1997. In 2008 the company became part of Janoschka Group, the German global prepress supplier, although second- and third generation Bosisio family members are still active in the business’s senior management. Packaging for food, pet food, personal care and cleaning are the company’s main markets — all of which, says Eng. Nahuel Busto Rosati, Technical Manager at Bosisio, “are characterized by major campaigns calling for multiple designs, on different substrates and produced by a variety of converters. So, we’re well accustomed to collaborating.”
FLEXCEL NX Technology boosts flexo volumes
Although Bosisio continues to supply gravure cylinders, today flexo represents around 80% of the volumes. The move into flexo accelerated following their 2013 investment in a FLEXCEL NX System, which produces over 90% of the flexo plates. “FLEXCEL NX Technology is important for a number of reasons,” says Rosati. “As well as offering production benefits like greater on-press efficiency, stability and consistency, it helps us differentiate from other trade shops.
FLEXCEL NX Technology is also the platform on which Bosisio has built a market-leading reputation for color management and ECG, which the company started working with in 2017. Their Engineering & Development Department identified ECG as a ‘technology of interest’ that was also a perfect fit for the FLEXCEL NX System’s capabilities, “as it offers unmatched reliability, the ink coverage of solids is much more uniform compared to plates that don’t have microscreens, and the definition of dot edges is really amazing,” according to Rosati.
Bosisio has worked with Celomat for a number of years. Omar Bosisio, CEO, says the relationship with Celomat “has advanced beyond just supplying finished plates. We also have great synergy due to technical support.” So, in 2019 it was natural for Celomat to approach Bosisio when its brand owner client Mondelez was seeking a solution to gravure limitations exposed by changing demands in its core confectionery market. Explains Omar Bosisio: “The market wants more variety of products in shorter runs and with faster turnarounds, but gravure was costing Mondelez too much and taking too long.”
Specialist sales approach to ECG
Bosisio and Celomat believed that flexo ECG printing could provide the answer, and by the time the Mondelez opportunity came about, Bosisio had perfected its approach to demonstrating ECG’s benefits to converters and brand owners, and to overcoming initial doubts. “Converters in particular, are quick to see ECG’s potential,” explains Rosati. “But there’s a natural resistance to change, so we take a specialist sales approach to address this challenge. Our Engineering & Development Department gets involved, working closely with converters and brands, giving presentations, providing samples, even attending their own internal meetings if asked.” He acknowledges too the support provided by Miraclon: “Not only is the technical support first class, with any issues resolved promptly and professionally, but Miraclon also plays its part in helping us maintain and grow our client base.”
Bosisio and Celomat followed their customary approach in converting the Mondelez brands from gravure to flexo, and at first encountered the anticipated reservations. “They centered on print quality,” recalls Vanina Tejeda, Prepress Technician at Celomat, “in particular the question of replacing spot colors with screened process colors, which entailed losing the independence between images and spot colors. We knew that with FLEXCEL NX Technology this wouldn’t be an issue.”
Beginning in 2019 and culminating a year later, Bosisio and Celomat undertook a carefully planned and well-executed implementation of flexo ECG. Rosati describes how they took an SKU-by-SKU approach, employing sometimes four colors, sometimes five, depending on the product. “First, we established the spectral data of each spot color from the gravure samples, then we used that information to convert each to a consistent ECG separation in line with the color profile of Celomat’s press. Mondelez was pleasantly surprised at the precise match between the gravure spot colors and the flexo ECG results and agreed to a print test. So, we converted 12 spot colors to ECG separations and ganged 12 products, which Celomat printed using CMYKOGV + White.”
When the results were presented to Mondelez in 2020, they exceeded the brand’s expectations. Says Vanina Tejeda: “In terms of quality, which after all was the basis of Mondelez’s initial reservations, there were no issues, and in some aspects flexo ECG outperformed gravure: Mondelez was really pleased with enhancements in shadow transitions, and greater contrast in the photos.”
As a solution for the other gravure shortcomings Mondelez was encountering higher costs, reduced short-run flexibility and slower turnarounds the change to flexo and ECG returned spectacular results. In a feature that impressed the GFIA judges, these were extensively documented in the award entry. Highlights included:
Savings in ink consumption: Bosisio and Celomat replaced spot colors by overprinting with more Pantone process colors, because charging the anilox required less ink than a gravure cylinder.
Energy consumption: Because flexo consumes less energy than gravure, energy consumption savings amounted to 67% per color.
Press set-up: Over the project, press set-up time was reduced when compared with gravure and conventional flexo, because Bosisio’s standardization of Celomat ‘s process and accurate color management meant it took less time to hit spot color targets (because ECG replaced them with process colors). This also greatly reduced substrate wastage during make-ready.
Lead time: In an eye-opening comparison of flexo ECG and gravure, the entry contrasted the 35 flexo plates needed for the jobs with the 42 gravure cylinders, cutting turnaround time substantially. The entry also noted that the plates were delivered in a van while the cylinders needed two trucks, a clear indication of gravure’s more complex logistics.
Other significant improvements were apparent in logistics — flexo uses less supplies and machinery than gravure, which requires greater stocks and spares — and waste reduction — throughout the value chain process, gravure production tends to use more hazardous chemicals, space, transport, and substrates.
Leading products go flexo
The initial project proved so successful that Mondelez has continued migrating other product lines from gravure to flexo, including household-name brands such as Variedad and Oreo. Vanina Tejeda says the team is on the lookout for new challenges, adding that “the global publicity from winning the award has given us an international profile that we will use to target more overseas projects.”
She is confident too that having Mondelez endorse flexo and ECG will encourage more brands to explore the technology, and expects that at first premium brands and their supply chains are likely to lead the way. “I firmly believe that most jobs can be printed using ECG, but that larger brands will naturally migrate faster, ahead of smaller brands. The benefits — lower cost, faster turnaround and more sustainable production — are plain to see, and there for all to take advantage of.”