Bobst -  Gravure press Vision RS 5003

Reflections on a year of ups and downs for the packaging industry

The Bobst Vision RS 5003 gravure press (Source: Bobst)

Bobst’s financial performance is strong in 2021, with a big increase of order entries compared to 2020. Taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns and the resulting 2020 decline, the net growth since 2019 is over 40%. In terms of geography, North America, Southern Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece), Germany and Poland performed very well. They also saw good results across the South American market. Although Bobst is observing a slow-down in China, overall results from the country were still very positive. South East Asia remains a complex and fragmented region, but one with great opportunities for the future.

2021 however also created upheaval within the entire packaging industry. The shortage of skilled labor in some regions, on top of unprecedented price rises in paper, board and flexible substrates, has created unexpected challenges and uncertainties for many clients.


The price increase of source materials was tremendous and impacted Bobst’s own pricing conditions. For instance, raw material used for machine frames and components increased unexpectedly as did hot rolled steel plate which increased by 119% since January 2020. Cold rolled steel plate increased by 126%. Structural section and beams increased by 91%. Aluminum alloy by 75% and copper by 65% . Raw material usage for mechanical components (LLDPE Resins, nickel, polyurethan, etc.) increased by more than 40% since September 2020 and materials used for commercial parts (belt, chains, lubricants, rolls, etc.) increased on average by 9%. Freight also increased since August 2020 – sea by 216%, air by 200% and road by 5%

Bobst launched new products in 2021 which reflect their industry vision, shaping a new reality where connectivity, digitalization, automation and sustainability are the cornerstones of packaging production.

Flexible packaging

Two words illustrate 2021 best for the flexible packaging segment: Digitalization and Sustainability. All converters are facing the rise in short runs and they all look for more automation, especially as manpower is more difficult to find. Substrates prices increased significantly, and some became more complex to source.

In flexible packaging, the entire market is facing the “plastic reinvention dilemma”. Recyclability and food compatibility are high priority topics, with strong demand for new high barrier and mono-material solutions or even paper metalized solutions. There is a strong demand driven by e-commerce home deliveries and in-home prepared foods. The highest growth rates are in stand-up pouches, flow wraps, and single-serve packages. The industry is growing at a stable rate but cautious on how new regulations may impact plastic production.

At the same time, Bobst identifies some flexible packaging moving towards paper-based packaging. But the biggest trend is the move from multi-material packaging to mono-material solutions, although waste collection and recycling capacities are not solved yet. Bio plastic material and recycle film usage needs to ramp up to be competitive.

In flexible packaging, Bobst expect the oneBarrier solution to be available for a paper-based usage leading towards more sustainability. This full PE high barrier solution has been designed to maximise the amount of PE in the packaging structure to increase the recyclability whilst also giving a more economical high barrier packaging solution. The concept behind oneBarrier was to provide an optimized metal oxide receptive layer via wet dispersion coating where typically thinner layers can be achieved compared to co-extrusion methods. Vacuum deposition provides an extremely thin and efficient barrier layer but performance is dependent on the chemistry of the surface to be coated. Combining these thin and efficient methods of dry vacuum coating and wet dispersion coating together with an optimized base film has resulted in the Bobst oneBarrier solution.

The one ECG extended colour gamut management solution will continue to make inroads into production sites, replacing ink mixing and related waste. This technology is deployed across analogue and digital printing processes in label, flexible packaging, folding carton and corrugated board industries. Extended Color Gamut printing (ECG) is a process to digitize color matching, thus making it stable, easy, repeatable, consistent and independent of human interpretation. ECG refers to a set of inks – 4 and beyond, but typically 7- to achieve a color gamut larger than the traditional CMYK ensuring color repeatability.

ERA Gravure Award

In Q4 2021, Bobst acquired the assets of the Italian gravure press manufacturer Officine Meccaniche Giovanni Cerutti SpA and Cerutti Packaging Equipment SpA, including the service and some R&D capabilities, which is in line with its strategic goal of further consolidating its technology and market leadership in the global gravure printing market. Furthermore, Bobst Italia received an award for their press developments to facilitate the use of water-based inks. The brand-new gravure press Vision RS 5003, an evolution of the RS 5002 and Nova RS 5003 series, now featuring speeds up to 450 m/min with fully automated job changeovers at production speed.

Looking ahead to 2022, digitalization will be the main driver for labels – converters will look for complete end-to-end digitalized solutions to optimize their production floor. All that can be digitalized, will be, enabling converters to deliver faster, with better quality and less waste, answering the growing demand for on-demand labels production.

In summary

2021 was strong, unpredictable and full of opportunities. According to Bobst, their clients confirm that the Industry Vision to connect, digitalize and automate is right on track. The sustainability developments are part of Bobst’s solutions, supporting all industries and particularly flexible packaging production, answering brand owners’ recyclability pledges. Bobst trusts that they will have a good year in 2022 but none can ignore the extraordinary pressures we face due to global supply chains and resource shortages. Likewise, the pandemic continues to play an important role on people’s behaviors.