“Cross-industrial cooperation is a must if we want to develop the best products”
Tell us about ACTEGA’s story so far as it relates to packaging.
ACTEGA consists of three business lines: flexible packaging, metal packaging solutions, and paper & board. Within these, ACTEGA offers a broad portfolio of coatings, inks, adhesives and sealing compounds for flexible packaging made of plastic, aluminum foil and paper, labels, cans, closures, monobloc, tubes, paper-based packaging, publication & commercial, and specialty consumer goods.
Many years of expertise in highly regulated markets such as food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals characterize ACTEGA, as does close cooperation with customers on development of targeted product solutions, supported by intensive technical consulting on-site at the plant.
ACTEGA is a division of the international specialty chemicals group ALTANA.
What was your initial involvement with water-based inks?
ACTEGA operates worldwide in a variety of markets. Every location has its own history when it comes to water-based products. Some had a long-standing relationship with solvent or UV chemistry, while others were early adopters of products based on aqueous chemistry, for example ACTEGA Terra or ACTEGA North America.
Historically, aqueous (AQ) products tended to be used for absorbent substrates such as paper and board. But with its expertise in flexible packaging as well as with aqueous products, ACTEGA started developing AQ inkjet inks to be used on film materials some years ago. Meanwhile, in close cooperation with different partners such as print head and machine manufacturers, we have been able to work on aqueous inkjet inks that show excellent results on PE, PET and BOPP in terms of printability, print quality, and application-specific properties such as chemical and mechanical resistances.
In other words, we in the Aqueous Inkjet team have been focusing on water-based fluids since the team was formed.
Are there any differences in performance between water and solvent-based inks?
There are some old prejudices about how water-based inks perform in comparison to solvent-based inks – but with the latest advances, these have finally been disproved.
The most mentioned difference is the drying or evaporation of solvent or water. Historically, using solvents with high evaporation rates makes drying easier than relying on water. This is an area where the application technology and the overall process will make a big difference to the outcome. Today, there are effective technologies in place, such as near-infrared (NIR), to dry aqueous inks properly.
Another aspect is wetting and adhesion on film materials. With many solvents and a variety of suitable binders, these properties can be achieved comparably easy. But in water-based inks, there is only one vehicle available for pigments and binders – so finding the right binder technology and additives for aqueous inkjet inks is a challenge. But with modern chemistry, we’ve been able to overcome it.
Why did you decide to join the PRETHINK INK network?
We are convinced that today’s challenges in industrial applications can be overcome with collaboration. More than ever, cross-industrial cooperation is a must if we want to develop the best products for the packaging industry and our clients.
We also want to scale up our aqueous portfolio, offering our water-based inkjet inks, primers and overprint varnishes in combination with other water-based products from ACTEGA. In packaging production, your best option is often a bundle of aligned products (primer, ink, overprint varnish) that deliver everything necessary to achieve the required performance.
Why is water-based ink an issue more stakeholders in the flexible packaging industry should be interested in?
There is growing interest in aqueous inks, primers, coatings and products, driven by markets that demand more sustainable products. This may be voluntary or regulation-driven, but either way, it is clear that we have to change a lot of things to keep our planet in good condition for future generations. The production and use of packaging is one important aspect of this, and inks have their part to play.
Do you have any advice for companies considering switching to water-based inks?
It depends your reason for wanting to switch to water.
If it is based on political or regulatory pressure, you may be reluctant to change, because real understanding of the issue is missing. You may be bringing your old prejudices with you: “This will not work,” “I won’t get the same results,” and so on.
To gain a full understanding of what water-based inks have to offer, you should consider the entire value chain, from sourcing to production to sales and marketing. Focusing on only one aspect – say, adjusting production to meet local emission restrictions – means you may not realize some of the potential of using water-based inks.
If your transition to aqueous products is based on an understanding of – and belief in – their benefits, you will enjoy a more focused and structured process. A good approach may be to think of it like the adoption of digital printing. Start small in parallel to your existing workflow, observe, learn, and build your learnings into the next steps.
We as supply chain partners can and will support our customers on this journey with our knowledge. We are continuously learning and sharing our findings with partners.
What do you think the future holds for flexible packaging?
Packaging helps protect products and preserve natural resources, especially when it comes to food. The role of packaging cannot be replaced. You can read the news on your mobile, but you cannot store a liter of milk in your laptop.
In this context, sustainable packaging will continue to grow in significance. Decorated packaging needs inks, primers and coatings, and over time these areas will be considered more and more as part of the overall sustainable goal.
A few facts about our interview partner:
Name: André Salié
Role: Project Development at Actega Terra Aqueous
Company: ACTEGA GmbH
Founded in: 2007
Specialisms: Specialty coatings, inks, adhesives and sealing compounds with a focus on the packaging, graphic arts and medical industries
Describe your company in a few words: ACTEGA supports the packaging industry with safe, innovative, individual products.