Water-Based Flexographic Printing Steps Up To The Sustainability Challenge

Water-Based Flexographic Printing Steps Up To The Sustainability Challenge

By Takumi Saito, Printing Solutions Project, Asahi Kasei Corporation

The recent Leaders Summit on Climate, hosted by U.S. President Biden, demonstrates the growing commitment leaders of many countries have to addressing the climate crisis by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) among other initiatives. This will likely translate into increased regulatory pressure on a variety of industries, including printing, to moderate their emissions of CO2 and other global warming gases such as CH4 and N2O. As a leading supplier to the flexographic printing industry, Asahi Photoproducts is dedicated to delivering flexographic solutions that are in harmony with the environment. In doing so, the company enables its customers to be proactive in contributing to the overall reduction of GHG emissions

Over the last half century, Asahi Photoproducts has worked hard to bring innovative solutions to flexography, and most recently with the Asahi AWP™ CleanPrint water-washable plates. This solvent-free process delivers more sustainable printing while at the same time improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) in the press room to the tune of 30% or more, which results in a significant increase in quality due to the precise register these plates deliver.

What that means for the printing industry is that flexography is now competitive with gravure for all except the longest print runs. To validate this assertion, Flexo Technical Association Japan (FTAJ) and Water-based Flexographic Printing Advancement Council partnered with the Sustainable Management Promotion Organization (SuMPO), a well-known Japanese association, to calculate GHG emissions during the entire printing process for each of these two technologies, using the Life Cycle Assessment method (Fig.1).

The results were enlightening. We found that when printing a job of 5,000 linear meters with water-based flexographic printing and comparing the result with the simulation of the same job with gravure printing, GHG emissions from water-based flexographic printing can be reduced by about 65% compared to gravure. We measured GHG emissions from the gravure life cycle at 668 kg, whereas emissions from water-based flexography were 231 kg.

The gravure printing simulation results from using electronic engraving of the cylinders and solvent-based inks, while water-based flexographic printing uses water-washable plates and water-based inks. The results are shown in the image below, broken down into 3 steps: platemaking/engraving, ink manufacturing, and printing.

<Fig.1>  Calculation result by SuMPO about GHG Emissions (kg-CO2e) at 5,000m printing.
(This result is calculated by the conditions of Ref.1 and not typical value of water-based flexo printing and solvent gravure printing)


The sustainability of the print can be further enhanced by using solvent-free laminating where lamination is required or desired, instead of dry lamination where the bonding agent is dissolved in solvent, applied, and then evaporated in a drying oven. With solvent-free lamination, a low viscosity adhesive is applied, requiring only a heated nip to mate it to the substrate. This creates an additional advantage of solvent-free lamination beyond the reduced GHG and VOC emissions since it does not require a drying component, further reducing energy consumption and increasing its sustainability as compared to the conventional dry lamination process. Thus, we recommend water-based flexographic printing technology combined with solvent-free lamination and water-washable flexographic printing plates as the most sustainable approach to producing packaging.

All of this demonstrates the significant progress that has been made towards reduction of the carbon footprint for flexographic printing as compared to gravure, and the fact that this approach to packaging printing has the potential to change the global packaging market. But we are not stopping here. The talented and innovative engineers at Asahi Photoproducts continue to seek new ways to reduce the environmental impact of flexographic printing processes even further, and we have full confidence that they will find even more ways to make flexographic printing more sustainable.

Asahi Photoproducts and Esko Join Forces

Asahi Photoproducts and Esko Join Forces to Educate Chinese Market on Flexo Platemaking in Harmony with the Environment

Tokyo, Japan & Brussels, Belgium, November 20, 2020. Asahi Photoproducts, a pioneer in flexographic photopolymer plate development, today reported it extended its relationship with Esko through an agreement to install Esko plate imaging solutions in the Asahi Tech Center in Suzhou, near Shanghai. The agreement, which was entered into during All-in-Print China, will result in the installation of an Esko CDI Spark 4260 and an XPS Crystal 5080 in the Center.

These industry-leading plate imaging solutions are supported by an Asahi AWP 230W plate processor using Asahi AWPTM CleanPrint water-washable plates to complete the industry’s most balanced flexographic platemaking solution in harmony with the environment, delivering the highest possible quality for China’s demanding flexo customers.

“Asahi Photoproducts has worked together with Esko in China for a decade and this agreement takes the relationship to a new level in our ability to serve the rapidly evolving flexographic market in China,” said Yuji Suzuki, Asahi’s Senior Manager of Customer Technical Service.

Suzuki points out that high-end print quality is increasingly required in China, and many repro houses in the region still have difficulty making plates that deliver the best print quality. “One thing we will be doing in our Tech Center with the new equipment,” he says, “is creating test plates for potential customers so they can see for themselves that we can deliver the quality they need. We will also use the facility to do training and seminars for customers and potential customers.”

Esko will also have access to the Tech Center, offering the possibility to Asahi’s customers to learn more about how the Esko plate imaging system functions with Asahi’s AWPTM CleanPrint water-washable plates. “We are pleased to continue to grow our partnership with Asahi, especially in the highly competitive Chinese market,” said Rocky Zhou, General Manager for Esko in Shanghai. “The solutions being installed at the Asahi Tech Center will benefit both of our businesses as we work to continue to bring the latest state-of-the-art flexographic solutions to this region”.

Label Impressions, The Most Eco-Friendly Label Company In The World With Help From Asahi AWP

CTGA customer Label Impressions, Inc. remains one of the greenest label companies in the world today, and part of that is due to it’s use of Asahi’s AWP Water Washout Flexo Plates and Equipment.  In their commitment to stay eco-friendly and sustainable, Label Impressions began working with AWP and never looked back.  They immediately saw an increase in productivity, quality, profitability and sustainability with AWP.

But that’s not the only way Label Impressions has achieved the greenest label company status…

In addition to operating a 100% wind powered, carbon neutral facility, Label Impressions is the exclusive supplier for tree-free, stone paper labels. They also offer 100% Post Consumer Waste (PCW) recycled labels, biodegradable labels with biodegradable adhesives, and we even create our own drinking water from the humidity we reduce in our manufacturing area.

Label Impressions, Inc. is dedicated to keeping our environment healthy “one label at a time.” As an industry sustainability leader, Label Impressions has been instrumental in developing several green label materials and environmental standards. They are currently the ONLY label printer to be certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) and to be awarded carbon neutral status through non-profit CarbonFund.org. Label Impressions’ president, Jeff Salisbury, is a contributor to the industry’s L.I.F.E. program (Label Initiative For the Environment) and a regular speaker on environmental packaging and manufacturing solutions.