Modern printing technologies finish a wide variety of substrates: paper, cardboard, metal, glass, ceramics, wood-based materials, textiles and a wide range of plastics. Water- and solvent-based printing inks and frequently also transfer films are used for print finishing. Adhesives and release materials are also used. Metals are often involved, especially in the young 3D printing sector. The energy requirements of the devices, machines and systems along the process chain from the pre-press area, through the pressroom and drying, to finishing and binding, as well as packaging and shipping, also play a role.
Today, suppliers of printing and paper technology use all available adjusting screws to minimize raw material and energy requirements across this process chain. This starts with efficient servo drives with power recovery, continues with the use of energy-optimized drying technology, and does not end with the almost complete recovery of solvents or the systematic reduction of the quantities of adhesives and release agents used. Rather, sophisticated technologies make it possible to apply the lever where the resource requirements are highest: with the substrates, inks and films.
Modern packaging machines are processing ever thinner mono-material films containing up to 80 percent recyclate. In many applications, the film thickness can be reduced from the high double-digit to the single-digit micrometer (µm) range thanks to optimized process technology. The same amount of plastic previously used to protect a single product is now sufficient for six to ten. Similar leverage can be achieved where start-up losses in printing and finishing processes are minimized.
The trend towards ever shorter, often individualized runs is leading to more changeovers and restarts. This development should actually increase paper, cardboard and ink waste. However, process optimization and automation are achieving the opposite: startup waste and misprints can be reduced to a considerable extent with the help of state-of-the-art drive technology, automated equipment and close-meshed process control. Since modern printing presses process several thousand tons of paper and several hundred tons of ink every year, these savings effects are not only reflected positively in terms of resource conservation, but also in users' balance sheets. In finishing, too, the waste rate is now tending towards zero, which is economically imperative in the case of short runs alone. The same applies to the energy-saving solutions already available in printing and drying technology. These can not only save hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases each year, but also relieve print and packaging providers of the burden of soaring energy costs.
Future trends such as the use of artificial intelligence are also promising for resource conservation. This can be used to push savings to the limits of what is feasible, for example by reducing ink consumption precisely to the point where the human eye cannot yet detect any loss of quality.