Gravure has build on its strong position in the packaging markets and should remain a process of choice for brand owner’s packages. This was demonstrated at ERA’s recent Packaging Conference in Starnberg, Germany on 3-4 November 2010. At this year’s event at the idyllic Lake Starnberg, south of Munich, ERA Secretary General James Siever welcomed more than a hundred delegates from the major European packaging gravure printers and engravers, as well as the supply industry. His comment on the conference: “The presentations from key players of the industry and experts, as well as the excellent plant visit at Huhtamaki Ronsberg reflected our industry’s high standard and continuous innovation of the process.” He is convinced that “our industry has good reasons to look forward with confidence.” “Low prices, fast and flawless execution and superior products”, is how Peter Eizen-hoefer of Unilever summarized the expectations of the brand owners at the beginning of his joint presentation with Susanne Springmann of Janoschka. To produce their packaging material Unilever requires reliable printers with well designed processes “to give our consumer ‘on-shelf’ what we see during the artwork creation process.” They use both gravure and flexo depending on the job. As Unilever needs many printers the production process is outsourced to the print management agency PrintPool, a Janoschka subsidiary. Their role was described in more detail by Ms. Springmann: “We look for well thought-out, functioning and standardized processes across the whole graphic and print supply chain.” A successful year for the press manufacturers was reported by Arturo Bergamaschino of Cerutti: the North Italian company has sold a new press every week. Particularly the growing packaging markets in Asia, Middle East and Latin America show a tendency towards the gravure process. Technical improvements in Cerutti’s presses have led to faster job changes and reduced waste of substrate during makeready. Clemens Brinkmann of Windmöller & Hölscher spoke on “Green solutions for higher profitability”. Their well-established Heliostar presses have been further improved with new features. The Easy Sync preregister system and the Heliocontrol drive and register management reduce waste and save time, the variable air blade drying system saves energy and gives flexibility in materials, and the driven inking roller system keeps quality constant while saving ink and substrate. An update on the present state of laser engraving systems were given by Jan Breiholdt of Hell Gravure Systems. The Cellaxy, which laser engraves directly into copper, is now in production with Janoschka’s subsidiary Sächsische Walzengravur and German decorative printer Süddekor. Several hundred production cylinders have been engraved. His presentation was rounded off by a user report of Ralf Zähringer of Janoschka, which operates all four currently available laser engraving systems. Since their beta-test with the Cellaxy started in 2008 the laser control has been enhanced and the finishing improved, so that the system is now production ready. Two presentations covered technical aspects of the workflow. Under the title “Map your business processes!”, Christopher Graf of Dalim presented software solutions to avoid communication friction in the process, based on a centralized platform such as the Dalim ES. On the past, presence and future of PDF in packaging spoke Bjorn Wil-lems of Esko Artwork. Whereas many packaging jobs can already be transferred using PDF, extensions are being made to cover spot colours and non-printing contours, such as cut and crease lines. A different view point was brought to the conference by Prof. Martin Dreher of the German Flexographic Technical Institute (DFTA). He presented ideas about a simpli-fied methodology for standardisation in packaging printing. His goal is a process independent standard, which should not obstruct the advancement of the different print processes. As digital printing, used for small runs and proofs, has developed and could offer fur-ther potential in packaging printing the presentation of Stijn Simoens of Hewlett-Packard was listened to with eager expectation. Applications for digital printing of packaging are constantly growing: he showed a variety of fields of application such as printed labels and product decoration, flexible packaging, and shrink sleeves. An example of a successful use of gravure in a niche market was presented by Achim Kurrek of the H.C. Moog, market leader in the production of sheet fed gravure presses. He explained their newly developed 1 TBR press with one printing unit. This highly compact and flexible machine can be applied additionally to offset to print luxury packages for goods such as perfume and liquors. As an international organisation ERA naturally monitors developments outside Europe. The situation in North America was explained by Stephen Young, CEO of Mundet, leading printer of tobacco packaging, based in Richmond, Virginia. Until 2013 the market for flexible packaging is expected to grow by 2 to 3 % per year, for labels even by 3 to 4 %. The North American market is dominated by flexography, thus only one new packaging gravure press has been installed last year. Sustainability has become a key issue for the industry. As always, ERA’s conference not only covers market and technology items but also socio-economic themes. Against the background of the recent recession Franz-Josef Lange of Europanel explained the “consumer behaviour in Europe after two years of financial crisis”. So-called Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), which primarily includes food, were not seriously affected by the economic downturn. Only a move to cheaper brands was seen. The macroeconomics were then discussed by Dr. Gernot Nerb of the Munich based IFO institute. Generally the economy has returned to growth. Particularly the situation in Germany shows a robust upswing. However, this is not the case in countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. Nevertheless, due to the uncertainties in the finance markets there are still risks in the current development. On the second day the conference delegates went to the Allgäu to visit Huhtamaki’s packaging gravure plant in Ronsberg. Operations director Joachim Friebe and his col-leagues offered an excellently organised tour through their extensive facilities, equipped with the latest gravure technology. The visit gave a perfect impression of gravure’s high performance in packaging printing. ERA’s Packaging Conference next year is planned to be held on 17-18 November 2011 in Graz, Austria and will include a visit to ERA member Alfred Wall GmbH.