American Packaging Corporation's Growing Commitment to Gravure
Creating a high-impact visual appeal and embracing sustainability initiatives are two of the top priorities among brand owners. With these desires in mind, American Packaging Corporation has added two new presses to its DeForest, Wis., facility, increasing the company’s capabilities in flexible packaging, and which are specifically designed for the priority of recycle ready packaging with high quality graphics and performance.
The presses however, are not the wide web flexographic machines that produce the vast majority of flexible packaging in North America. In fact, these Windmöller and Hölscher Heliostar rotogravure presses are the latest additions to a complex dedicated entirely to gravure technology, demonstrating the company’s commitment to a printing technology that had become less common in the U.S., but is reemerging as a result of brand owner demand and new technologies.
With sustainability a top of mind issue for printers, brand owners, retailers, and consumers, Lou Dolgin, APC’s corporate business development marketing manager, explains that when exploring new presses, the company, which has been a loyal W&H customer on the flexo side, discovered the Heliostar gravure presses’ ability to deliver high-quality graphics on substrates that can be implemented in more recyclable packaging structures.
“What was behind it was the idea of roto presses that are purposefully designed to handle more extensible materials,” Dolgin says.
In particular, polyethylene flexible packaging is becoming increasingly accepted for in-store recycling drop off. Dolgin explains that as W&H began to develop the Heliostar press, it approached APC with the news that these materials could now be printed on the gravure press without compromises, bringing about the combination of the high-end graphics gravure is known for, and the recyclability that brands and consumers desire.
Additionally, Jeff Travis, manager of innovation and sustainability for APC, explains that recycling of these forms of flexible packaging may not be restricted to in-store drop off in the future. In fact, he says there is currently a pilot study being conducted at a materials recovery facility (MRF) in Pennsylvania that has demonstrated that there is equipment available to process and recycle flexible packaging collected via curbside pickup.
But, Travis explains that polyethylene does not always react well to heat, and a key component of implementing the new presses was being able to consistently run the material without causing it to distort during the printing process.
“We’re bringing in new material that’s stretchy and doesn’t like heat and will distort,” Travis says. “But the machine controls the parameters and makes sure it’s the same, one to the next.”
Travis explains that many of the brands APC works with have established key sustainability goals that they hope to achieve by 2025 and are preparing to meet those goals. While the pandemic has taken a bit of the emphasis away from sustainability, Travis says those goals will remain in place, and expects to see a renewed emphasis placed on them next year.
Meanwhile, Dolgin says that since implementing the two W&H Heliostar presses, the team has adapted well and adjusted to the new technology. Bringing in large new presses can often be a challenge, he explains, but the team has done well learning the equipment.
He adds that APC has targeted growth in rotogravure printing, despite its relative scarcity in North America for multiple reasons. One, he says, is the recent trend of onshoring of production from overseas, where gravure is more common.
Another reason, he adds, is that brand owners are becoming increasingly aware of the quality of graphics gravure is capable of, and are asking specifically for packaging to be printed on gravure equipment.
“We’ve also seen some brand owners that had been in flexo move into the roto world and get better impact on shelf,” Dolgin says. “And we love flexo, our business is about 50/50. But with roto, you achieve a higher ink opacity and an expanded graphics range.”
Additionally, Dolgin says that emerging brands are recognizing the need to implement sustainability into their packaging plans. With rotogravure’s ability to now combine its graphic quality with recyclable flexible packaging structures, the technology provides an enticing print method to explore.
“Younger brands tend to see the benefit on the community,” Dolgin says. “Emerging brands see it as part of their life blood.”
Beyond the quality and sustainability attributes brought forth with the new presses, Dolgin says APC has developed ways to increase its efficiency as well. Last year, he says, APC began engraving its own cylinders in house, increasing the company’s response time to its customers.
On the quality side, he adds that with the new presses and engraving technology, the company has seen further improvements in gravure printing, producing clear fonts, even at very small sizes.
“We’re seeing roto take another step forward,” he says. “The ink pockets are deeper, which allows for greater transfer onto the substrate. We are also printing the smallest fonts in fine detail that wasn’t there in the past,” he says. “We can get down to four points with this engraving.”
With the addition of the two presses, Dolgin says the DeForest location has continued on its rapid growth trajectory since its opening in late 2017. He says the facility had already undergone an expansion in 2019, and with this latest addition, it further cements APC’s commitment to its leadership position with gravure printing in North America.
“I don’t know of any others like it,” Dolgin says. “It’s great people and an amazing facility. Our Wisconsin Center of Excellence installing these new technologies represents an important commitment and statement.”