The sustainability of the gravure printing process
von Ansgar Wessendorf,
Rotogravure printing is an exceptionally sustainable process that is highly suitable for the circular economy. This is particularly evident in reference to the life cycle of the printing cylinders.
100% recyclable printing cylinders
The high recycling rate of the raw materials used is already striking during the production of the printing cylinders. The steel blank is supplied custom-made by the manufacturer and goes through the entire gravure printing process. The cylinder with the steel core is then stored for the next production run. This cycle can be repeated almost as often as required, since steel blanks are hardly subject to wear. If it nevertheless becomes unusable, it is sent for recycling back to the steel industry. In this way, there is no waste in the entire material cycle of the steel for the base cylinder.
The metals used to produce the engravable functional layer, such as copper, have a very high degree of purity and can therefore be returned to the material cycle and reused. Even the copper dust from engraving and the chips from grinding are extracted, collected and recycled. After print production, the engraving copper layer can be turned off and the cylinder with the base copper used for new jobs. Since the turned copper layer is also reused, there is no waste in the copper material cycle either.
In order to protect the cylinder surface, reduce wear and facilitate ink transfer, gravure cylinders are chrome-plated. Since chromium is toxic in a closed chromium bath, this metal is processed in the gravure printing industry under controlled conditions in closed systems. The hardened chrome layer on the cylinder is harmless and can be removed after print production. Thus, all materials used in the manufacture of gravure cylinders are fully recyclable and therefore recyclable.
Among the environmental benefits based on process advantages of gravure printing is the fact that the impression cylinders can be used up to four times for print jobs with a total run length of over 800,000 meters.
New study on the sustainability of gravure printing
These briefly outlined sustainability aspects of gravure printing in comparison to other processes have now been proven in detail by a study conducted by the Leipzig University of Applied Sciences (HTWK Leipzig) and the Stuttgart Media University (HDM). The study was prepared under the leadership of Prof. Lutz Engisch (HTWK Leipzig) and Prof. Armin Weichmann (HDM) and will be published on the website oft the European Rotogravure Association (ERA) as well as on the platform of media partners Gravure Global and Flexo+Tief-Druck respectively once it has been compiled.