How printed electronics and digital printing will impact the future of gravure

With the theme of “The Rebirth of Gravure,” presentations at the PLGA Global Technical Conference this week in Charlotte, NC, offered looks at both new technology and potential new markets to revive the printing method’s prospects beyond packaging and labeling. Here are some notes from the “Future Trends” session.

“Printed Electronics” by Jay Jacobs, visiting lecturer at Clemson University.

    • Functional printing is more than just dots and paper. There needs to be a new definition of print: “A production process of depositing a material in a controlled, selective pattern upon another material.”
    • All inks are functional; they perform a specific activity, operation or work. We need to rethink of printing as just another manufacturing process and in three dimensions.
    • Paths to printed electronics include printed electronics themselves, reactive materials and dispersion technologies, etc.
    • PE: With lighting, it’s commercial apps or nothing; the “printed light bulb” now can produce 1,500 lumens of light with only 7 watts of electricity; the gravure process for it is the same as for packaging.
    • PE: For power as in batteries and photovoltaics, gravure-printing methods provide for lower power generation but peak energy gathering anytime and it weighs ounces vs. lbs. for silicon solar cells.
    • PE: With logic & control–real printed circuits are available in business-card size that has 1 MB of programming on it; for such, nanotechnology silver is almost too expensive to consider using.
    • Reactive materials: New chemo-magnetic inks in food packaging now allow tests to see if shellfish is going bad because iodine gas is released and can be sensed. Gateway inks let some things (oxygen, carbon dioxide, etc.) pass through and others not; allow for new barrier packaging for food, pharma apps.
    • Dispersion tech: For printed cosmetics and medications (like perfume samples in magazines); other chemicals printed gravure can customize the app for the patient, disperse medication at a controlled rate on a transdermal patch.

“Impact of digital printing on gravure” by Jennifer Renner, senior product mgr. for EFI Jetrion

  • Digital’s benefits: No plates, reduced labor and waste, a faster response time, reduced inventory via JIT production, and allows VDP and sequencing.
  • Digital is moving closer to flexography in terms of speed, quality, width, reliability and spot colors. Digital has middle quality; gravure has high quality. Gravure has high run lengths; digital short.
  • Digital is NOT ready for inline use on gravure presses; it’s not fast enough. Hybrid printing of gravure-preprinted labels can be done in the millions; then digital customizing of those labels done in the 10,000s. It’s late-stage differentiation; good for pharmaceuticals which are typically in lots of 10,000 for specialty drugs.
  • What’s next? The new EFI Jetrion 4900ML modular, upgradable system has a path for inline finishing; an industrial design with new 720-dpi mode to be more compatible with flexo printing; inline laser diecutting and matrix removal for recycling later.
  • What’s else? Wider webs: 13 in. will become 20 in. wide in the next few years; as prices come down, quality is also going up; new low-migration inks for food-packaging printing apps.
  • In five to seven years, digital will catch up or surpass flexo, but it’s a long way to go before digital matches gravure’s superlatives.
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