Kodak and Uteco are installing the first Sapphire Evo inkjet press at an Italian printer this summer, the next step in moving flexible packaging print to digital printing.
The press has been in development at Kodak’s inkjet operation in Dayton, Ohio, where testing and tweaking has been underway for more than a year. The announcement that the first installation is now imminent suggests that problems of enabling the water based ink to adhere to non absorbent film surfaces have been solved – and at an acceptable operation speed.
This is achieved through an inline flexo applied primer, and a protective seal after printing. The print is applied using Stream print heads delivering a 622mm print width on a 650mm web at up to 9,000m/hr on BOPP, PET as well as paper. This will comply with regulatory requirements for indirect food contact in the EU and US, meeting the EuPIA exclusion list and hitting other brand specific regulations.
Uteco CEO Aldo Peretti says: “Our customers have been asking for a digital production solution that meets their customer demands for more versions, which is driving shorter run lengths, as well as an economic long run digital solution.”
The Sapphire Evo is not Uteco’s only approach. At Labelexpo last year the company showed the Gaia, a compact inkjet press which uses an ebeam electron beam dryer to overcome drying issues associated with ink on filmic substrates. The ink development partner is INX.
Uteco is the world’s largest supplier of flexo and gravure presses, with 100 presses sold a year. These can have fast makeready technologies as well as quality management systems to be in colour with 80 metres of waste.
The new press will go further than this, switching between versions on the fly enabling effective production of slightly different versions of a standard pack. Uteco COO Stefano Russo adds: “As the demand for mass versioning and customisation of packaging grows globally, hybrid flexo, grave and digital printing is becoming a very important part of packaging printers’ offerings.”
Uteco will be fully responsible for sales of the new machine. Kodak has supplied a bespoke version of its Prosper press to Zumbiel Packaging for printing on corrugated packaging as a hybrid press line.
The Sapphire Evo joins a market where other inkjet technologies are lining up on the start line. Bobst has invested in Mouvent which has so far directed its inkjet technology at label printing and textiles, but with potential for packaging; Landa has demonstrated the suitability for its indirect inkjet on flexible packaging films; HP’s Indigo 20000 has adherents across the globe while its PageWide inkjet technology may prove suitable for flexible packaging applications at some future point.
The Uteco Sapphire digital press is a joint venture with Kodak, Kodak supplying Prosper inkjet heads for the flexible packaging press. The first installation is earmarked for an Italian flexible packaging company in the fashion business.