Strategic network meeting
Evolutions in food packaging printing
In the “kind & gezin academy” building the first VIGC-IARIGAI network meeting took place. During the “Design for food”-project the VIGC has gained experience in the field of food packaging printing. A network meeting on this topic seemed a good idea to explore the current practices and evolutions to expect.
As the International Association of Research Organizations for the Information, Media and Graphic Arts Industries was looking for a technical network meeting, we decided to team up to organize this international networking event. I think we succeeded in composing a rather complete program that consisted of analogue and digital packaging techniques, advances in food-safety regulations, materials and research in the field.
After introduction by Anne Blayo, the president of Iarigai, Fons Put, technical VIGC consultant, who showed the results of print trials in Flemish packaging companies, kicked off the event. In these trials was investigated how ink consumption can be minimized in offset printing on cardboard.
A clear advantage typically for food packaging is the lower risqué for set-off. This is a critical side effect where ink is transferred from the printed side to the unprinted side in a printed pile of cardboard packaging. A black ink function, consisting of a heavy black separation and low maximum ink limit, is the key to optimize ink consumption without affecting colour quality.
The second presentation regarding conventional printing techniques came from Wim Buyle, owner of the company “Advanced Machinery”. In cooperation with (Italian) partners, Wim engineered multiple converting installations and we were very happy that he shared his large experience with us. Highlights were the explanation of a commercial electron beam flexographic printing press. In electron beam technology, ink drying is achieved by exposing the wet printed surface to a high energetic beam of electrons. Advantages are that there is no longer need for photo-initiators or solvents for curing or drying ink layers. This makes the process very suitable for foodsafe packaging. Further we received detailed information about the layer thickness of Electron Beam inks and the achieved image quality. Because of his tight agenda Wim had to catch a plain to Italy directly after his presentation, we are grateful that he could take part of this event!
If somebody had to be present on the food-packaging-printing event, than this had to be clearly Agfa Graphics. Agfa won the Essenscia Innovation Award last year with their low-migration UV-curable ink-jet inks directly on food packaging. It took 10 years to develop inks with these characteristics, but signs of commercial successes are showing up. The trends for shorter run lengths and personalization seems to fit inkjet for food packaging very well. The development of these inks as explained by Marc Graindourze, business develop manager for Industrial Inkjet at Agfa, was very well appreciated by the attendants. The presentations of some commercial direct print examples were the cherries on the pie.
Secondly in theme digital packaging printing came Johan de Houwer from Xeikon. With their electrophotography Xeikon is moving from document & commercial printing into labels & packaging. They entered the market with a dedicated toner gamma that in combination with the new Cheetah-press is a heavy production formula (30m/min). One of the aspects to enhance the food-safety is the molecular weight of materials: if above 1000 Dalton (Dalton is the unit to express molecular weight), the molecule cannot be absorbed by the human body and therefore is no threat to health. With toner-particles in the size of 7-8 micron this is an important surplus.
After the lunch break we dived into the progress in legislation with Andreas Grabits of the product testing labs of Eurofins. In the European legislation consist of a general framework (No. 1935/2004 and No. 2023/2006) with specific rules according to material type (plastics, ceramics, coatings,). Printing inks are for the moment not specially categorized but this about to change with the German Printing Inks Ordinance. This ordinance also encapsulated the so-called „Swiss list“, a positive list with materials that are allowed to be present in printing inks for food packaging purposes. Important to notify is the foreseeable usage oft he printed product: a napkin with cookies on, an underlying printed sheet in a fast-food restaurant. In the future these product will have to fulfil more stinging regulations!
While Andreas was an excellent representative of the legal side of food packaging, Wilfried Wijnants of Van Genechten Packaging showed how a multinational packaging company translates this legislation in practise. Build on four Good Manufacturing Practice Pillars, the packaging group has maximized the production processes to ensure high quality food safe packaging products.
In the next presentation block the typical requirements of packaging materials were investigated. Senstech is an advice centre for sensory quality of food products and food contact materials. Inge Dirinck showed us the main causes of specific taint and odour of packaging boards and printing inks, together with the methods and instruments used to analyse these products. Especially the case studies in which she showed the analysis of different ink types were very interesting.
The second speaker on materials was Björn Torfs of the ink supplier Siegwerk. Bjorn presented us an overview of the different ink types with their drying mechanism (which process colour is the most difficult to cure?) and effect on migration. Very useful were the quick methods to verify the curing degree of UV-printed materials.
At the end of this excited day Gorazd Golob, the editor-in-chief of the Iarigai journal presented an overview of the academic research that has been presented during the yearly Iarigai-conferences. The list showed a wide range of different aspects on packaging: migration issues, wear of packaging during transport, recycling, interactive packaging and much more. Conclusion is that packaging is a specialized field with a broad range of topics that keeps expanding. In one of the next issues of the journal a report of the food-packaging event will be present!