This year’s Global Flexo Innovation Awards (GFIA) saw a staggering 208 entries submitted from 24 countries, demonstrating new ways to produce high quality work at lower costs or higher speeds, as they serve brand customers in a challenging and rapidly changing world.
But one observation stood out as strong as the most striking packaging – over half of the award winners, seven companies of a total 13, came from Latin America.
Uruguay’s Lorytex, the awards’ first-ever Platinum winner, took flexible packaging previously printed gravure in China, and created local flexo production; Colombia’s Litoplas, another gravure to flexo conversion, which showed how to achieve the savings and quality required by a major global brand; and Teruel, which pioneered new materials, printing for Colgate on flexible paper that’s not only resistant to humidity, water, grease, fungi and bacteria, but is also recyclable, pulpable and biodegradable.
And that’s not even half the winners from the region. Which begs the question – why is Latin America’s flexo scene so strong?
“The print market in Latin America is very revolutionary, and the average printer is used to adapting to new technology.”
According to Jaime Agudelo, Miraclon’s Technical and Service Manager for Latin America, the history of the region has left it primed to embrace the potential for innovation that flexo offers.
“When you go back through the history of Latin American countries, you see a lot of changes in politics and in economics – good situations as well as bad,” he says. “And that makes the people here a little more adaptable to change. Equally, the print market in Latin America is very revolutionary, and the average printer is used to adapting to new technology.”
Just look at how well Latin American printers embraced the new potential of KODAK FLEXCEL NX Solutions when it launched in 2008. Flexo had been around in the region since the mid-20th century, when it was used primarily for low quality, one- or two-color printing on boxes and basic packages. But printers embraced FLEXCEL NX Solutions so much it sparked a graphics revolution – thanks, in part, to the economic drivers specific to the region.
“We’re a continent of mainly small countries, trying to compete with products from Asia and the US,” says Agudelo. “So local manufacturing needs to be proactive and try to reach the same quality or better to become number one. We’ve learned that innovation is the right path to take, and the average flexo printer here can actually have better conditions, better processes and better machines than printers in other parts of the world.”
“Every printer here needs to be competitive. Hence, they try to pursue efficiencies, by saving ink or reducing colors.”
For the latest example of innovation in Latin America’s print industry, look at the use of expanded color gamut (ECG) in the winning entries.
Uruguay’s Lorytex’s Platinum-winning ECG workflow overcame a series of technical challenges to achieve a faster time-to-market than gravure, while delivering additional savings in consumables and freight costs. The brand now produces 90% of its packaging in this way. And Lorytex has now converted almost 500 jobs to flexo ECG printing.
Argentina’s Bosisio won Gold for their work with Celomat and Mondelez, using ECG to meet Mondelez’s need for lower costs and shorter turnaround times.
According to Agudelo, Latin American interest in ECG was sparked a few years ago, when PepsiCo began using the technology with a few of the region’s big printers. The technique is now common in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru and Mexico.
“Latin American countries tend to have local currencies that suffer from devaluation against the dollar,” he says. “So, every printer here needs to be competitive. Hence, they try to pursue efficiencies, by saving ink or reducing colors.”
It’s these innovations that the awards judges were looking for – the new concepts and techniques that go beyond providing a commodity, and which instead made a tangible difference in the value chain.
“There was a real sense of working together – between the brands, printers and prepress – that made these breakthrough improvements possible.”
A member of the independent judging panel for the GFIA based in the region, Sebastian Longo, goes one further, recalling how, when he began the process of reviewing the entrants for the awards, he was hungry for any information that showed the real work that went into turning a concept into shelf-ready packaging print.
It turns out that Latin American companies are also particularly good at documenting the benefits of their processes. Take Technofilms, an entry that stood out for the impact its press efficiencies had on reducing colors or using lighter materials.
Such information helped Longo discover a key reason why Latin American printers have proven so agile and fast-moving.
“A responsive spirit really comes through in the stories of collaboration we saw from the entrants in the region,” he says. “There was a real sense of working together – between the brands, printers and prepress – that made all these breakthrough improvements possible.”
This collaborative approach is central to how Miraclon works. Its customer service teams work closely with print customers to help them come up with new ideas for using FLEXCEL NX technology to drive quality, speed and savings, whether that’s printing on difficult new substrates, or reducing ink consumption.
But the innovation demonstrated in the awards entries wasn’t limited to the print itself. Among the GFIA winners, it’s notable how women are playing a prominent role in print operations, with women in leading positions at companies such as Technofilms, and Uruguay’s Cromograf.
“In two of the seven winners from Latin America, all the process work was conducted by women,” says Agudelo. “We don’t see that in our industry every day.”
As to the future, the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, but the Latin American print sector is already seeing the introduction of many new machines. This is hugely encouraging, given the LAR region is seeing flexo take over from offset in numerous areas, with one of the biggest conversions from folding carton to flexo in the world.
Which all suggests the Latin American showing at the next Global Flexo Innovation Awards will be similarly striking.
“The future of flexo in Latin America looks brilliant,” says Agudelo. “Printers here are in a continuous search for innovation, and they adopt new technology very well. In the many quality entries we had from the region this year, our customers showed they’re trying to move the bar higher every day. And we fully expect them to do the same next time.”