In his presentation at last week’s GAA Gravure Global Summit in Lake Buena Vista, FL, Prof. Robert Eller of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Media Sciences offered insights on the different phases and results of current research into the viability of gravure.
Is there an opportunity to transform gravure? Yes, says Eller. Today, individual companies are competing for a share of a shrinking market pie, but re-envisioning gravure tomorrow means creating a growing pie overall. For example, folding cartons and flexible packaging are opportunities that are growing $1.5 billion a year in the US alone. For gravure’s transformation to succeed, it need only leverage the value it creates to capture 30% of this growth, he says.
Gravure’s addressable market is limited by a large cost gap: Trade-shop gravure cylinders cost an average of $0.45 / sq inch for reimaging; trade-shop flexo plates (mounted) are only about $0.25-0.27 / sq inch. But opportunities exist by reducing the cost gap, and selling gravure’s value in markets where it’s currently too expensive to compete, Eller explains.
Packaging gravure has several advantages, specifically in using specialty inks to create differentiated shelf presence (i.e.: thermochromic inks, tactile inks, lustrous metallics, opaque white gradients, and smooth opaque whites).
The current phase of RIT research is looking to answer the question, Can the opportunity withstand in-depth analysis and become a grounded business case? Preliminary results show that on a level playing field (enabled by new technologies), the cost of in-house gravure cylinder prep and engraving is so close to the cost of in-house flexo platemaking ($0.19-$0.20 / sq. inch) that the difference does not matter. This analysis compared photopolymer-plate cost, energy, washing, and stickyback for mounted flexo plates vs. 100 microns of applied nickel, energy, tools, and resizing for gravure cylinders; and depreciation, space, labor and overhead for both methods.
Still, there are some technical barriers to implementation that must first be resolved, Eller says. 1) Develop a predictable, repeatable process for plating, finishing, and engraving nickel. 2) Develop a resizing compound that is fully compatible with engravable nickel cylinders. 3) Develop process parameters for gravure printing without hazing or other defects.
A large, costly, but entirely feasible development program will be required to overcome these barriers, says Eller. Is the gravure printing industry (especially for packaging in North America) ready to make the investment?