HelioChrome NEO – a process-ready and sustainable chrome plating process
von Ansgar Wessendorf,
The Huhtamaki Group is one of the world’s leading companies in the field of gravure package printing. In the corporate segment for flexible packaging, Huhtamaki produces for the global branded goods industry in areas such as food, pet food and pharmaceutical products. In addition, Huhtamaki operates its own repro and gravure cylinder production at 12 locations with an annual production volume of more than 160,000 cylinders. This makes Huhtamaki one of the largest manufacturers of gravure cylinders in the world.
A particular focus is on the Ronsberg site in Germany, which specialises in the production of flexible packaging. The reproduction and cylinder production manager there, Florian Ullinger, explains: “We cover the entire process chain for the production of flexible packaging, from pre-press with fully automated production of gravure cylinders to extrusion, printing, lamination and packaging.” This complex structure was the starting point of the cooperation with Kaspar Walter, a German manufacturer of state-of-the-art electroplating units for gravure cylinder preparation. This resulted in the joint development of HelioChrome NEO, a sophisticated and sustainable Chromium(III)-plating process for gravure cylinders.
The requirements for HelioChrome NEO
This partnership began in 2016, when a chrome plating system developed by Kaspar Walter for coating gravure cylinders was installed at Huhtamaki Flexible Packaging Germany in Ronsberg. The aim was to develop an environmentally friendly technology based on chromium (III) that offers a surface with comparable mechanical and qualitative properties to chromium (VI) coating. Over the years, various electrolyte formulations and system modifications have been tested and further developed. Kaspar Walter now holds several patents for the new HelioChrome NEO chrome plating process.
2100 chromium(III) gravure cylinders produced
Over the past few years, Huhtamaki and Kaspar Walter have carried out intensive tests with the HelioChrome NEO cylinders under real printing conditions. All printing parameters and their interactions were thoroughly tested. Florian Ullinger explains: “We tested various ink and doctor blade systems as well as different substrates such as paper, polyester, OPP and metallised OPP at various production speeds of up to 500 m/min. The result of this extensive development work shows that gravure cylinders produced with HelioChrome NEO can easily produce two million linear metres with consistent print quality. To date, Huhtamaki in Ronsberg has produced around 2100 HelioChrome NEO gravure cylinders (including test cylinders) for printing a wide range of flexible packaging, of which 650 cylinders have been used for the production of commercial print jobs.”
HelioChrome NEO reaches industrial process maturity
The long-standing collaboration between Huhtamaki and Kaspar Walter has paid off. Today, HelioChrome NEO is a highly standardised and stable chrome plating process that meets even the greatest challenges in industrial production. Florian Ullinger emphasises: “We have integrated the process by incorporating the HelioChrome NEO system into the fully automated line for gravure cylinder production. Since June of 2023, the parallel production of replacement cylinder sets, which was previously required to ensure print production, is no longer necessary. In addition, the process no longer requires intensive support from our prepress department and the experts at Kaspar Walter. This is a major milestone for Huhtamaki and the entire gravure printing industry, as Chromium(III) has now reached industrial process maturity.”