The technology that appeared briefly on the Landa stand at the last Drupa is set for a high profile return at Drupa this year.
On part of the vast stand it had a demo unit of what it called metallography, applying ultra thin layers of metal as an alternative to conventional foils. That is coming back as EcoLeaf foil under the ownership of Actega Metal Print, a division of Altana. It acquired the technology in 2017 and has spent the intervening years tweaking and perfecting the technology. Now it is ready for a triumphant return to the spotlight.
“It’s now a mature, ready for market technology,” says Jan Franz Allerkamp, managing director of Actega Metal Print. “Commercialisation will start at Drupa.” This follows a preview of the technology at Labelexpo last year where it was shown behind glass on drinks labels.
The process uses a printed trigger image before passing into the application unit where a silicone coated donor roll carries the fine flecks of metal pigment from a reservoir to the latent image. Only those flecks that are in contact with the latent image are used, the remainder return to the reservoir for future rotations.
It is a system that generates no waste, unlike standard means of foiling, and which is therefore both more economic and more ecological than standard foiling technologies. And so too the name EcoLeaf. The metal flecks are silver, not gold as seen four years ago. But they remain ultra thin, like gold leaf, says sales and marketing manager Dario Urbinati, and tiny enough to replicate the fine resolution of the trigger image.
The trigger image can be laid down using a flexo plate, as shown four years ago, or with a rotary screen or flatbed screen unit. Actega is working on an inkjet version in its competence centre where it has installed an Omet XF, Gallus Labelmaster and ABG Digicon III line.
It has been working a 430mm wide version, though in principle there should be no limit to the width of the rollers. This would open the way to flexible packaging as well as labels. Film substrates are possible, though the company has not yet been able to test all combinations of material and inks that might be used.
“Flexo is for the higher speeds, screen will produce a more tactile effect and inkjet will allow variable data to be used,” says Urbinati.
After the foil is in place and cured using a conventional UV lamp, the silver image can be over printed to create any colour or effect required. The belief is that EcoLeaf will open new opportunities for metallic effects, which have not been feasible. “We can approach markets and applications where it has not previously made sense to apply foils,” says Allerkamp. As the foil is non conductive the packaging can be used for IML decoration and in microwave ovens.
There have been early stage conversations with brands, but Actega has been careful not to over sell the technology. “We don’t want to create too much of a pull at this early stage,” he says. At the same time quality produced has been judged more than satisfactory in terms of quality and lustre. The company intends to continue to push for further improvements.
The first beta sites have been identified and agreed. They will start to receive the equipment in the next couple of weeks with the aim of having three months in full production before Drupa and to have real samples to show. This will also provide an insight into the types of applications that will suit the approach.
British company AB Graphics has been in discussions with Actega over the last couple of years and will be the distribution partner for EcoLeaf. The application unit can be mounted on any narrow web press or finishing line with minimal modification either with a new press installation or as retrofit to an existing press. “It is crucial that at this stage we have partners which understand the markets and the technology very well and that have a drive for innovation,” says Allerkamp.
Production speed to date has been 70m/min in the company’s testing, though again there is not reason why this should not increase to at least 100m/minute.
Just as important as quality, if not more so, its the environmental impact. Foils need to be applied to a plastic backing sheet and then any not used has to be separated from the waste spool. Then the foils has to be shipped from its point of manufacture to the converter, none of which applies to EcoLeaf. “There is the transport cost of thousands of tonnes of foil shipped globally, its manufacturing footprint and waste in set up times. We are currently doing a sustainability analysis so that we will be able to provide accurate figures by Drupa,” he explains.
By Gareth Ward
Actega Metal Print has perfected the foiling technology following its launch at Drupa in 2016 and acquisition by the Altana group in 2017. Previewed at Labelexpo, Actega will be ready for prime time at Drupa this year.