A digital press for flexible packaging materials

Wipf AG is the first beta user of an HP 20000 digital press designed primarily for printing on flexible packaging materials. The first samples were revealed at Interpack 2014 in Düsseldorf.

This article was written by Ansgar Wessendorf

After 18 months of development, Wipf AG was the first to take the plunge into this new digital printing technology with the first HP Indigo 20000 in Europe. The beta system was installed at the beginning of March 2014 and the beta phase successfully concluded in July 2014. So, why did the Israeli company HP Indigo single out the Swiss flexible packaging manufacturer?

Core competence in laminated films and valves

One of the factors in HP’s decision is Wipf AG’s clear focus on the development and production of highbarrier packaging films and bags for the food, pharmaceutical and non-food industries. The 200-headstrong company is in fact one of Europe’s leading packaging manufacturers. The current boom in demand for lightweight and custom stand-up pouches made from plastic films, which are driving out glass and metal packaging, must surely have played a certain role as well.

In particular, the product range encompasses laminated and covering films with defined barrier properties, laminated films for vacuum and inert gas packaging, pasteurization and sterilization-resistant laminated films and ready-made laminated-film pouches.

These films are printed on two ten-colour Romotec gravure printing presses and on the digital presses HP Indigo WS 6600 and the new HP Indigo 20000. For further processing, they also have laminators, winders and bag-making machines at their disposal.

A second pillar of Wipf AG is the manufacture of valves for flexible bags and packaging. For instance, Wipf AG claims they have introduced the world’s first compostable valve onto the market, specially developed for the coffee industry. When combined with biodegradable composite materials, it can be composted in compliance with industrial standard EN 13432.

The manageable size of the company, with its tight structures and processes, was yet another decisive factor in HP Indigo’s choice of Wipf as beta tester. “Our clear corporate structure supported the advancements of the HP 20000 during the beta phase. The responsibilities are clearly defined in our company and the communication and decision paths are transparent and short,” says Oliver Fankhauser, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Wipf AG. “That is not often the case in multinational groups in the packaging industry. Decision-making processes are more complex in those companies, and they often lack the dynamics and flexibility of a midsized, owner-run business such as Wipf AG.” Furthermore, Wipf is known for its good research and development department. The experience they had gathered with the WS 6600 narrow-web digital press also proved a major advantage.

Expand the digital packaging printing

For Wipf AG, digital printing is more than just a secondary process to supplement their gravure printing. “We want to expand the digital packaging printing business unit further and use the specific advantages of digital printing in order to tap into new markets,” Oliver Fankhauser explains.

At the beginning of this year, Wipf AG accordingly recruited Ernst Herrmann, who previously worked for a packaging manufacturer. He is a new asset to the sales team in Volketswil and will be expanding the “digital printing” unit at the domestic and international level.

“Of course, this in no way means will be supplanting gravure printing at our company. Gravure is namely a stable, mature method for high quality and high speed printing of flexible packaging, destined above all for medium to long runs.”

Advances in lamination of digitally printed films

Digital printing has always had several limitations when it comes to producing flexible packaging. Yet, some solutions for these limitations were found during the beta phase in collaboration with HP. For instance, the sealing zone no longer has to be left out when digitally printing flexible packaging bags, as was still the case when the beta phase started.

According to HP Indigo, considerable advancements have been made in the lamination of digitally printed films. At Labelexpo Americas 2014 in Chicago, for example, American firm Ashland presented a new laminating adhesive which is apparently optimized for the process of the HP 20000. Spanish machine manufacturer Comexi furthermore plans to launch the Nexus L 20000 for laminating digitally printed packaging films in 2015. HP Indigo is also working intensively on printing with effect inks and metallic inks on the HP 20000.

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