Rotoflex exploits synergies and benefits from close partnership with Daetwyler SwissTec
Meeting serious market changes with “Rotoflexibility”
von Ansgar Wessendorf,
Rotoflex is a renowned and very agile supplier of inks for flexo and gravure priting. The Swiss company is reacting with great dynamism to the serious and ongoing market changes caused by Covid and the Ukraine war. Particularly, this relates to a new organisational orientation and the permanent development of new and tailor-made product solutions for the international package printing industry.
The printing ink manufacturer, based in Grenchen in the Swiss canton of Solothurn, was founded on December 10th, 1975. The company’s headquarters and competence centre for the development, manufacture and distribution of solvent-based inks and varnishes are located there. Rotoflex concentrates on customer-specific solutions for flexo and gravure printing as well as selected applications in security printing. Thanks to partnership-based customer relations, competent support and the necessary degree of “Rotoflexibility”, the company maintained its position in the printing industry over decades despite tough international competition.
“We are able to react highly dynamic and flexible, even to very special and challenging customer requirements. The excellent training of our 50 employees and the very intensive research and development work contribute to this. The annual investments for R&D amount to about 15% of our turnover”, says Christina Tischer, responsible for international sales at Rotoflex. The company’s product portfolio includes printing inks and ink concentrates as well as various vrnishes for use in flexo and gravure printing. The products are suitable for front- and back-side printing and for various applications such as heat-sterilisable packaging for food and pharmaceutical products.
A milestone in the Rotoflex story
On 31 May 2017, Rotoflex laid the foundation for its entrepreneurial future: Daetwyler Global Tec Holding AG, based in Bleienbach, Switzerland, acquired the majority shares of the Rotoflex Group. The holding also includes Daetwyler SwissTec AG, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of coated doctor blades for the coating and printing industry. This acquisition enabled the company to take the next step in the expansion of its support for international markets. As far as Rotoflex is concerned, they benefit from the Daetwyler Group’s global network and its know-how in the printing industry. As a result of the merger, both companies now have a large number of sales channels at their disposal. This supports the objective of supplying high-quality products for the pressroom.
“It is self-evident that we consistently use the unique synergies that result from this acquisition. After all, doctor blades and inks represents some sort of symbiosis in flexo and gravure printing and – alongside the printing forme – are the decisive components for the high-quality and stable printing of flexible packaging,” says Christina Tischer. “Based on their extensive know-how and numerous printing technicians, both companies provide competent advise and support to flexo and gravure print shops to successfully meet their daily challenges.”
Well networked and with a direct line to the customer
Olaf Segbert, Head of Marketing and Sales at Daetwyler Swisstec AG: “The Daetwyler Group operates manufacturing facilities in Switzerland, the USA, China and India as well as numerous service and sales centres. Our products are marketed through a worldwide network of over 70 distribution partners. Thanks to our tight global distribution network, delivery routes are relatively short, enabling us to react quickly to our customers’ wishes. In addition, we have more than 50 printing technicians worldwide to provide on-site support. Our aim is to learn from our customers and to incorporate the knowledge gained from this into the development of doctor blades, inks and varnishes.
„Our printing technicians are on site with our customers every day. Their advice is in demand when it comes to solving printing problems or to achieve optimum settings and interaction of doctor blades, inks and varnishes on the press. The knowledge gained from this is then incorporated into the development of the products. This is why proximity and direct contact with the customer are very important in our corporate strategy. In addition, regular training and intensive communication with our sales partners are decisive factors for the success of our company. Our common goal is to optimally support flexo and gravure printers in their daily work. We want to achieve this by supplying our customers with high-quality products and by supporting them in solving the ever-increasing quality requirements with our printing technicians on site or in seminars. Our global sales network provides an excellent starting point for this,” Olaf Segbert continues.
Dramatic market changes successfully managed
Rotoflex and Daetwyler SwissTec had already been cooperating successfully in Russia since 2016 with regard to logistics and the sale of their products. But with the war in Ukraine, this market collapsed completely and close customer relationships were made more difficult or even cut. “This affected our two companies both on a human and of course also on an economic level,” says Olaf Segbert. “Rotoflex was strongly represented and very successful with its product range, both in Russia and in the Ukraine”, adds Christina Tischer. “However, we have successfully reacted to these dramatic market changes,” says Olaf Segbert. “For example, we have unified the organisational structures of the two companies and interlinked them even more closely. In addition, we succeeded in opening up new markets and further expanding established markets through our tight international sales network and our direct line to global customers. In addition, Rotoflex brought new, practice-oriented product solutions to the market, which focused primarily on the colour ‘white’ and on customised varnishes for different applications.”
Everything at the highest level
Decades of experience and extensive technical knowledge put Rotoflex in the comfortable position of being able to offer its customers a first-class portfolio of inks and varnishes. The development laboratory and production facilities are state-of-the-art. “All Rotoflex employees are excellently trained. For example, the laboratory staff in product development and quality control are experienced chemists who develop and optimise the products down to the last detail and also fulfil specific requirements. About 25% of our total workforce is active in the field of research and development,” says Christina Tischer. “The experienced and motivated production staff – many of whom are trained printers or have a background in printing technology – know the respective product characteristics precisely and think proactively when new developments are pending.”
“Our sales managers and application engineers in the respective countries are also trained in printing technology and are very familiar with the individual needs of our customers. They help the print shops on site with production-related problems. In addition, they support our customers in word and deed, taking into account the conditions of the processes at the film converters as well as the respective end applications,” explains Olaf Segbert. “The practice-oriented sales team is supported by a technical office, which quickly processes customer enquiries and internal technical tasks to find solutions quickly and efficiently,” adds Christina Tischer.
In particular, the high degree of innovation, the products and specialities with consistently high quality and the short decision-making processes make Rotoflex a sought-after partner for flexo and gravure printers. We do not require minimum order quantities from our customers but supply them with inks and varnishes even in small quantities,” says Christina Tischer.
High demands on varnishes
The market requirements for flexible packaging are becoming more and more demanding. This applies in particular to the use of varnishes. However, a partnership and close cooperation of all parties involved in the supply chain is required to ensure their functionality throughout the entire life cycle. “In recent years, Rotoflex has carried out intensive research and development work on its varnishes. This has resulted in a high-quality portfolio of different solvent-based solutions for flexible packaging, which also serve as the basis for varnish formulations according to individual customer requirements. In particular, the requirements in terms of mechanical resistances of the varnishes must be discussed in detail with the customer in advance and also tested,” says Christina Tischer.
She continues: “Ever faster packaging machines is very challenging for the varnish layer. This relates not only to the CoF values (coefficient of friction), but depending on the type of final packaging, sealing resistance, scratch resistance, sustainability and other parameters. A main focus is on tolerances or changes in stresses during the converting process. For example: How constant are the conditions during sealing or do they only have to be adjusted for another packaging project if the same varnish is used? For example, if the temperature is increased too much, the varnish will decompose or build up on the sealing jaws without a Teflon coating.”
Almost all properties of the various overprint varnishes available on the market can be significantly improved by the use of 2-component systems. Such coatings are usually formulated on the basis of Polyols and Isocyanates, which react to form Polyurethanes. The performance of these reactive systems is in strong contrast to the somewhat laborious handling and processing. Chemical and sterile resistance, seal strength and excellent adhesion to Corona pre-treated films are just some of the advantages of the cured varnish layer. In the meantime, there are also 2-component matt varnishes that also adhere to non-pre-treated PET or can be diluted with Ethanol. Often, certain properties such as seal resistance up to 260 °C or matt effects for retort applications can only be achieved with 2-component systems. It is fundamentally important that the ink manufacturer provides very comprehensive and detailed advice. This should also include possible sources of error, as they can only be eliminated on the basis of in-depth knowledge.
The problem with „white“
For flexible packaging, the colour “white” is a very important design component. But printing white is still a major hurdle, especially in flexo. On CI flexo presses, for example, white is predominantly printed on two ink units to ensure homogeneous white coverage with high opacity and no pinholes. In addition, the white must be suitable for lamination, which makes the already very high requirements even more complex.
“We have taken on this difficult issue and developed a new solvent-based white that incorporates all our experience and knowledge. Our laminatable ‘White 27-061’ is designed for printing on packaging films (pre-treated/varnished PE and OPP) using gravure and flexo printing processes particular for reverse printing. It is characterised by good printability and achieves a closed white surface without pinholes and high opacities with a relatively low layer thickness. Therefore, the feedback from our customers is excellent. Since flexo print shops only have to use one printing unit for the white application, great time and cost savings can be achieved. In addition, ‘White 27-061’ is characterised by a high level of adhesion, both with solvent-based and solvent-free laminating adhesives,” explains Christina Tischer.
Figure us out!
Would you like to get to know Rotoflex and Daetwyler Swisstec even better? During this year’s “International Gravure days”, organised by the European Rotogravure Association (ERA), participants from the international gravure community will have the opportunity to visit the ink and varnishing manufacturer Rotoflex and the doctor blade producer Daetwyler Swisstec. Get to know the people behind these two traditional Swiss companies in person! The gravure conference will take place from 18 to 20 October 2023 at the Hotel Weissenstein in Oberdorf, Switzerland.