Flexography has long since established its place as packaging’s print process of choice, according to market watchers at Smithers Pira. “The global print marketplace is changing rapidly with new consumer, retailer and client demands requiring more variation and lower run lengths,” they add.
As a result, careful examination indicates, “Print suppliers are being challenged to implement advances in flexographic technology, which are improving efficiency and allowing suppliers to meet expectations within a volatile marketplace.”
Research team members who recently authored Smithers Pira’s report, The Future of Flexographic Printing Markets to 2023, supplemented their findings with a white paper, released June 20, outlining six trends that are changing the shape of the flexographic printing industry.
Automation, staff development and retention, consumer dynamics, market volatility, regional growth and digital’s impact will all contribute to what is projected to be flexography’s 2.3 percent annual growth rate through 2023. At that time, expectations hold flexographic print sales will be approaching $190 billion annually.
Observations relative to each innovation driver, as identified by Smithers Pira, follow.
Skilled operator engagement has ensured quality results in flexography, but new improvements are allowing for collaboration between OEMs at every stage of the flexographic process. Advancements in process, makeready and plate preparation, which leads to faster turnaround time, are driving automation as a trend for flexo presses. From file preparation to finishing, manufacturers are looking to deliver an almost fully harmonious solution for operators.
In addition, the growing use of expanded gamut (EG) print minimizes plate and ink changeovers, reduces waste and offers a consistency between productions.
The flexographic industry has been slow to react to the problem of skilled labor—as press operators retire, it has been difficult to attract and retain younger talent. Increased automation is helping to address this problem, especially in developed regions.
By evolving process and print production to digitize and automate many key functional requirements, OEMs are creating more intelligent and automated workflows, meaning production has less emphasis on operator interaction and knowledge. This may reduce the volume of personnel needed, but will also help alleviate the major problem with skilled labor that is facing the industry. Chart 1 shows the value shares of select print market processes in the past and how they will change in the near future.
Competitive volumes are constantly being challenged as digital technology continues to evolve. Trends in lower volumes and personalization options are driving the emergence of digital in flexography’s traditional core markets. Although flexography remains a tried and trusted process for a wide range of materials, digital developments will see their range widen also, according to Smithers Pira.
OEMs and flexographers are embracing the benefits of digital by offering both options as standalone solutions. There is also a transition into hybrid print units, and Smithers Pira reports the combination of flexo and inkjet printing has a solid future in the industry.
As product variety continues to grow globally, there is a greater need for product ranges and clear shelf differentiation for products. In addition, as there is more focus on convenience and portion control, consumer habits continue to evolve.
People are also living longer and busier lives, meaning they are driven toward this convenience, and they are looking for more sustainable solutions in both product and packaging choices.
There’s a shift in demand for alternative pack formats and more electronic media. As a result, some traditional markets for flexographic print production—like newspapers, envelopes, bags and sacks—are in decline, marking a shift in demand in its core global regions.
In the packaging sector, which represents flexography’s core activities and volume, changing consumer habits have added pressure on the industry. It’s expected flexography will adapt to lower volume run requirements and provide efficient changeover processes.
As economic growth results in a more affluent middle class, there is more activity around consumer goods and more people enjoying the branded products found in the more developed states of Europe and North America.
As shown in Chart 2, Asia is currently the dominant market in packaging. As its population and economy develops, Asia’s influence on global prospects and conditions continues to grow. North America follows closely behind with just under one-third of the global flexo print market and value just three points behind Asia. North America far outpaces the next competitor, Western Europe, topping its share by 8.5 percent.
To learn more about Smithers Pira and obtain a copy of any of the researcher’s recent market reports, visit www.smitherspira.com.