13 September 2020 Analogue Printing Technologies

Forecast foresees favourable future for flexo

Flexo remains a growth process thanks to advances in technology, quality and through the pandemic, demand.

Flexo printing is on course to become a market worth $181.1 billion worldwide by 2025, according to research from Smithers, previously Smithers Pira.

The growth, from $167.7 billion in 2020, is attributed to the dynamism in the packaging sector where technology is enabling greater diversification and higher value print applications. This is helping flexo capture work that has previously only been suited to gravure printing and therefore longer runs.

The growth is the equivalent of moving from 6.73 trillion A4 pages to 7.45 trillion A4s in the five years. And the impact of the pandemic will have only a temporary effect on the packaging sector. It will bounce back faster than commercial and publication printing where the severe drop in demand will only accelerate longer term declines in demand.

It is not a consistent growth across the world, however. The report suggests that Asia and Eastern European countries will lead the demand for packaging as a result of growing economies, rising affluence and the requirement for packaging to take on a marketing role.

And unlike litho, there will be an increase in demand for flexo presses, albeit at 0.4% a year. This equates to 1,362 units in 2025. The scope of flexo printing, from label presses using variable cut off and unit designs to wide web central impression machines, also impacts the mix of press sales. Digital printing has had only limited impact to date, though this may have changed at the end of the five year period.

Corrugated remains the largest segment by value for the period under review, though labels and folding carton are the applications with fastest growth. Meanwhile, corrugated is characterised by demand for shorter runs and higher value print work led by growth in shelf ready packaging.

The knock on effects of growth in carton printing leads to an increasing demand for platens and folder gluers to cope with this. There will be a requirement for print enhancement to increase the impact of packaging, for flexible packaging as well as cartons.

Demand for shorter runs and more sophisticated designs will increase competition from digital processes, both electrophotographic and inkjet, leading to greater uptake of hybrid presses combining digital and flexo processes on the same platform.

This exploits the fact that flexo printing is far more cost effective than digital for mid and long runs, and, thanks to improvements in plate technology and platemaking, can protect itself from competition from digital print. On press technology and workflow, developments continue to improve the quality and consistency of flexo and the continued development of water based inks and LED UV will help improve the sustainability story that flexo can tell.

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Uteco is one of the manufacturers positioned to benefit from a steady growth in demand for flexo preses that Smithers predicts for the next five years.

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