The Dispute between Traditional Technology and New Technology in Pharmaceutical Packaging and Printing

Now that more and more variable information is being printed on pharmaceutical packaging, this demand has forced packaging companies to consider the use of thermal transfer. Is there room for flexographic printing?

Flexographic printing is the most widely used printing method so far on pharmaceutical packaging. But now, thermal transfer is gradually occupying the flexographic printing market with a rapid offensive.

It is because more and more companies want to become global sellers. In order to meet the requirements of the European market, product packages must have product lot numbers and expiration dates printed on them, so the types of languages ​​printed on the packaging and the number of common symbols are also With it increases. Therefore, for flexographic printing, the printing plate needs to be changed once for each printing, which is uneconomical. In order to reduce costs, some medical device manufacturers started using thermal transfer printing. Thanks to its programmable design, the printing method is not constrained by the printing plate, and the advantages of variable information can be retrieved directly from the database. Therefore, the flexo printing is quickly replaced once it is used.

Not all manufacturers and users of flexographic presses have given up this centuries-old printing technique because some new inks and plates are still able to make flexographic prints new and attractive. The small flexographic printing press can provide customers with small batch production services to print fixed information on the packaging. It can be seen that both flexographic printing and thermal transfer are mutually complementary cooperative relations.

Flexo printing and thermal transfer competition

According to statistics from the Association of Flexographic Printing Technology, about 70% of the films in the $18 billion film processing industry are printed in flexo.

Tolas Health Products Packaging Co., Ltd. is a supplier of medical film packaging services. Since the flexo printing of pharmaceutical packaging is very common, this method is very versatile, the operation forms are diverse, and the price is low, so the printing method adopted by the company is flexible. Printing is the mainstay. Another Perfecseal company in Philadelphia, USA, has been using flexographic printing. Mr. Ron Fortunato, the company's printing business department manager, said: "If printed on metal foil, film or DuPont's Tyvek®, use thermal transfer thermal transfer. More suitable."

Mr. Wazir Nobbee, a senior engineer at the Tyvek division of DuPont, added that the quality of flexo printing at Tyvek® is not only good, but also the printing speed is fast, usually 30 to 40 meters per minute. Mr. Wazir Nobbee found that flexo printing is more suitable than thermal transfer. He said: "For large-volume printing, this method is very economical. You can continuously print the entire roll of packaging material, and the printing format is not only wide. Many, and the printing speed is much faster, because it is very suitable for printing fine stripes or LOGO. And other printing methods, may need stop-and-go, less efficient."

Although flexo printing is economical and fast, when print content changes, it cannot be compared with thermal transfer. When content or code needs to be replaced during the printing process, if it is flexo, the plate must be replaced, and sometimes even a new plate needs to be made, and the plate fee for each plate needs 500 US dollars. However, when the operator changes the text content or the effective date, if the thermal transfer method is used, all they need to do is input the corresponding content on the keyboard and send it to the printer.

Nowadays, printing or packaging companies often encounter such situations. During the printing process, the printed content needs to be replaced because the market requires that the product must print bar codes, product lot numbers or expiration dates, etc., and also requires the printing of multiple languages. For example, Medtronic, because it needs to print multiple words on the packaging of its cardiovascular drugs, the annual cost on the printing plate is as much as 150,000 to 200,000 US dollars.

For pharmaceutical packaging companies, not really benefiting from flexographic printing is not because of speed, but the problem of filling and packaging when packaging household medicines. Mr. Pugh said that molding, filling and sealing machines are generally intermittent when they are working, so continuous high-speed operation is no longer the deciding factor. Moreover, the speed of thermal transfer is not as slow as a snail. Bell-Mark's thermal transfer system uses an edge-type printhead that prints at an angle and does not print vertically, allowing high-speed operations on any shape of substrate. However, some people think that the cost of thermal transfer is too expensive. An industry insider said, "Flexible printing is easier and more cost-effective than thermal transfer."

A new way of cooperation

So, the best way is not to force flexo to exit the market, but to use it together with thermal transfer. The combination of the two systems allows the user to gain the advantage of two areas - the use of a low-cost, easy-to-operate flexographic system for printing standard information content, and easy-to-program heat when printing variable information content Transfer system.

GraphicControls has been using a thermal printer mounted on a blank packer to print variable information on polyethylene. But Noel Gharibian, the company's engineering manager responsible for Devon's product line, said that because the thermal printer is not programmable, it can only print very limited variable information, so the metal letters on the printer have to be manually replaced. However, after using a thermal transfer printer, the company was able to print information including part numbers, product descriptions, quantities, lot numbers, and expiration dates, all of which were generated by computer programming.

However, when printing standard information such as company names, contact information, and company logos in multiple languages, the company still used an online flexo printing press. GraphicControls' new system consists of two thermal transfer print heads mounted laterally on top of the flexographic press. In order to distinguish between variable information and fixed information, the color of the variable information for thermal transfer is black, and the invariant information for printing with flexo is purple.

The combination of the two printing methods is not valid for all companies. Mr. Tom Roberts of Medtronic said that he wanted a programmable heat transfer machine, such as that from Bell-Mark's thermal transfer printer, in order to get rid of the inks and plates necessary for the flexo press. Mr. Roberts said: "Ink and plate are troublesome. Even if you don't change the text, you need to change the plate frequently because of the problem of wear on the plate. In addition, when you use two different printing systems, you need to train different Technical staff to properly maintain and maintain the press."

Flexo printing is back to the market

Although there have been some criticisms of flexo printing, the flexographic printing system still has its advantages. Mr. Pugh of Bell-Mark Company stated that Flexo Printing helped their company solve the inventory problem of preprinted packaging materials. It is the most economical method to install the cylinder flexographic printing unit online on the filling machine. It is appropriate to use this method for applications with infrequent changes in information content.

Moreover, flexographic printing technology is constantly improving. In the case of printing plates, rubber stampers or laser engraving methods were used in the past, and photopolymers are now used. For example, the flexographic printing plate made by DuPont Cyrel can be well matched with the computer-to-plate (CTP) technology. Its low hardness characteristics are very suitable for printing Tyvek materials, because Tyvek is not like other materials, so the printing plate can be printed with The medium is well-matched.

At the same time, in order to meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) for reducing the use of volatile organic compounds, users in certain printing fields, especially flexographic printing presses, have begun to switch from using solvent-based inks to using water-based inks. However, material manufacturers must produce a specially formulated water-based ink that adheres to the substrate of pharmaceutical packaging and ensures that it can withstand packaging sterilization and transportation.

Tolas's Mr. Marotta said that only after knowing exactly how the packaging is disinfected can it be possible to create a stable ink. For example, it must be able to withstand steam sterilization, but it is doubtful whether there is such a universal ink that can withstand any disinfection method. In general, inks can be versatile, but no ink can meet a variety of needs.

Another big challenger appears

In the pharmaceutical packaging and printing market, there is another way that it may become a bigger competitor to flexo. According to a research report from SRI International, pharmaceutical companies should pay close attention to the progress of inkjet printing technology in variable data printing. Mr. Eric Shrader, the company's project manager, said: "Inkjet printing can also be controlled by computer programming, and it has made many innovations in the development of low-volatile inks that can withstand the sterilization process." He said that the U.S. postal service industry has recently replaced the original flexo printing system with an inkjet printing system to print those high-density bar codes.

Dale Ploeger, Director of R&D Technology at SRI International, said that inkjet printing may also solve some of the needs that people have not raised. For example, inkjet printing can be printed on the packaging that is being filled, and thermal transfer printers can only be printed on flat packaging. At present, there are two inkjet printer suppliers working on the development of better printing systems. They are Domino and Videojet.

in conclusion

On the whole, although everyone thinks that thermal transfer can be used instead of flexographic printing at any time, this has not actually happened. There are still some companies offering flexographic printing services such as Bell-Mark, Greydon, and KiwiCoder, including various models, high-quality printing, and high-speed printing equipment for small businesses.

On the contrary, pharmaceutical packaging companies will rely more on a combination of functional printing systems to meet their preferred goals. Because for some pharmaceutical companies, this combination is very successful. If it is also able to meet new demands for variable data printing economically and successfully, packaging engineers will immediately apply them to more efficient production lines.

Source: China Consulting Investment Network

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