“Together, we can make a real change that results in more sustainable products”
Tell us about Uteco’s story so far as it relates to packaging.
Uteco, as a global leading manufacturer of flexible packaging equipment, offers innovative solutions through its wide range of flexographic and rotogravure printing presses, coating and laminating machines, flexo-inkjet hybrid systems and digital production solutions.
Uteco is focused on delivering value to converters, brand owners and, of course, consumers, who are more attuned to sustainability than ever. When they choose products from a supermarket shelf, now they specifically look for brands that respect the environment during their entire production cycle, and products that are the embodiment of the circular economy. This specifically applies to food, which consumers expect to have a low environmental impact in every sense – packaging included.
How did your switch to water-based inks work?
In 1997 we started to use alternatives to solvent-based technologies, for example using EB-curable ink. Then, at the Drupa exhibition in 2008, we presented a flexo machine that printed at 500m/min, purely with water-based ink.
The concept of researching a valid alternative to the solvent-based inks has always been part of our DNA. We strongly believe in the need for truly viable sustainable materials.
If you have already been working with water-based for 12 years, why do you think now is the right time for the industry to really push forward with the transition?
“Sustainability” is the biggest word in our world today. Brand owners are pushing more and more towards environmental friendliness in packaging. World-renowned brands are leading this change with sustainable commitments – such as Nestlé Group, Unilever, McDonald's and Kellogg’s, all of whom have committed to using 100% sustainable packaging materials by 2025. With the latest technological advances, these sustainable shifts are available to all brand owners, not just the largest ones. Water-based inks are a key part of this: due to their zero solvent emissions, they are more necessary than ever for a greener footprint in the packaging industry.
Are you still innovating today to produce new technologies and better ways of working with water-based ink?
One of Uteco’s primary values is providing a greener future for the generations to come. Hence, our research and development into environment friendly solutions will never come to an end. Therefore, our response is surely affirmative, the research into Water-based technologies has been a strong part, and remains to be, of our focus in development.
Are there any differences in performance between water and solvent-based inks?
Some differences can be noticed in the evaporation/drying phase, though the performance of water-based ink in this regard is vastly improved thanks to the intrinsic possibility of using infrared (IR), near infrared (NIR) and microwave technology. Then there are the safety benefits of water-based ink, applicable to plant facilities (reduced explosion risk) as well as the working environment for machine operators.
When it comes to the printing quality of water-based ink, the results absolutely comparable to what you can achieve with solvent-based technology.
Why did you decide to join the PRETHINK INK network?
As a printing machine manufacturer that has always embraced innovation, we are thrilled to give our support to this initiative, which highlights the importance of uniting the entire value chain. Together, we can make a real change that results in more sustainable products that consumers appreciate.
Why is ink base an issue more stakeholders in the packaging industry should be interested in?
Because reducing the environmental impact of our industry and products is a legal requirement that is always becoming stricter. Because switching to a safer technology is a welcome proposal, no matter what the other factors. Because even if you are only considering water-based inks as a pure marketing tactic to give you something you can mention on the packaging, you will still be using a green product that doesn’t produce solvent residues. All this produces a great motivation from a wide range of points of view.
What do you think the future holds for inks and packaging as a whole?
The future – of Uteco and of the entire industry – will see us align more and more towards sustainable development and towards reducing our environmental impact in every possible way. Our responsibility, as market operators, is to evolve our business in this direction and not to be caught unprepared for this epochal change. We must show the world that packaging can be part of the climate solution, and that we are working in unison to make this a reality.
A few facts about our interview partner:
Name: Alessandro Bicego
Role: Head of Product Innovation
Company: Uteco Converting S.p.A.
Founded in: 1985
Specialisms: Manufacturer of printing and converting technologies
Describe your company in a few words: Flexible innovator and solution provider at an international level.