“Why I switched to water-based inks for flexible packaging 15 years ago”
Tell us about Quimovil’s story so far as it relates to packaging.
Quimovil was founded almost 60 years ago by my grandfather, in a small workshop in Viladecans, a small town near Barcelona. Though the industry has changed so much since then, what has never changed is that we are not just about producing inks and varnishes. We have always had a wider view, aiming to work closely with customers and suppliers to find solutions that work in line with wider responsibility goals. Today, that approach has allowed us to offer a pioneering set of water-based inks for the flexible packaging market.
How did your switch to water-based inks work?
We have been working with water-based solutions for more than thirty years, but our decision to explore water-based solutions for difficult substrates came 15 years ago. At that point, it was viewed as highly risky. But our entire team believed in the project and worked with great enthusiasm to make it a reality.
That said, the beginnings were still hard. We faced three challenges at once, not all of which were expected. First, growing Quimovil’s reputation in the flexible packaging sector; second, working within a regulatory environment where enforcement was not as strong as it could have been when it came to VOCs; third, riding out the financial crisis when it hit in 2007.
It was thanks to a lot of hard work in conjunction with our clients and some professional associations that the market started to listen and to appreciate the benefits of water-based inks as a sustainable alternative.
Are there any differences in performance between water and solvent-based inks?
Water-based inks offer increased yield (15-20% higher according to our research), decreased flammability and more stability in the press – reducing the amount of solvents the operator needs to add to maintain viscosity.
Additionally, customers have reported that their photopolymers enjoy an excellent lifespan when using water-based inks, which lack the aggressive properties of some solvents.
Customers often worry that productivity will decrease with water-based inks. That is possible, but in our experience, it can be mitigated as long as the press has enough drying capacity in line. And with production runs getting shorter, change-over time between jobs is becoming the main focus for printers, not the maximum speed the machine can produce at.
How did switching fit in with your long-term sustainability plan?
Commitment to the environment is part of the history and culture of Quimovil. Sustainability has been our key concern for many years. That was why we were eager to be among the first to make the switch. And our commitments do not end there – we have a detailed strategic plan for the coming years based on flexible and sustainable solutions.
Why did you decide to join the PRETHINK INK network?
Collaboration has always been crucial for us – both on the customer side and the supply side, it is what got us to where we are today. When we first asked suppliers for help developing water-based inks, BASF contributed several chemical products that helped us create the new designs. And of course we always stay in close contact with our customers, finding out their reaction to the new inks and making sure they fulfil their needs. That’s why we are keen to engage in further collaboration through multi-stakeholder networks such as PRETHINK INK.
Why is ink base an issue more stakeholders in the flexible packaging industry should be interested in?
We live in an age of increased public environmental awareness, where every aspect of the production chain is expected to contribute towards a sustainability goal – inks included. A study of the carbon footprint of various inks, jointly undertaken between Quimovil and the AIMPLAS plastics technology centre in Valencia, Spain, found that the footprint of a water-based ink is significantly lower than that of an equivalent solvent-based ink.
Not only that, but the water-based product is truly commercially viable now. Several customers who have changed from solvent-based inks to water-based inks have reported that they wouldn’t go back.
Do you have any advice for companies considering switching to water-based inks?
We talk about ‘switching’ but it does not all have to be done in one go. To begin the process, you could first change the white ink only. By making this one change, you will reduce your emission of VOCs by around 50%. And at the same time you can test the effects of the switch and demonstrate that it works for you.
Of course, we give our customers constant technical support while this process is ongoing, staying with them until full approval of the product is achieved.
What do you think the future holds for inks and packaging as a whole?
Technologies will continue to emerge through all stages of the value chain that move us closer to circularity and true sustainability.
A few facts about our interview partner:
Name: Angels Zamora
Founded in: 1960
Specialisms: Inks for flexography, silk-screen, pad and dye sublimation printing
Describe your company in 10 words: A big family, my family, who I am very proud of.