ECOLEAF is a device aiming to revolutionize the market of embellishment for labels and packaging.
We wrote in our post-Labelexpo report that we saw few interesting technical innovations, but nothing revolutionary at this show. But there is always an exception.
We got this confirmation when meeting the owner of a big label printing company from the Veneto Region. When asking him if he saw any particular innovation at the show, he immediately answered «Come with me, I will show you what impressed me the most. »
We were not far from the ACTEGA and ABG booth where two finishing machines were equipped with the on-demand metallization unit ECOLEAF.
In the past I had already a chance to know this interesting news when I visited DURST in Bressanone. That´s when I met Paolo Grasso who was presenting ECOLEAF as a “liquid foil”. (v. https://www.metaprintart.info/tecnologie-della-stampa-e-del-packaging/45567-aria-nuova-e-sanificata-in-durst/ )
I spoke about it also when the first installation happened in 2020 at a prime German group of label printers, defined as “the first metallization unit fully sustainable and integrated into a hybrid digital press” ( https://www.metaprintart.info/notizie-in-breve/39328-unita-di-metallizzazione-integrata-alla-digitale-ibrida/ ) after having passed severe beta tests at the company in Hamburg. https://www.metaprintart.info/notizie-in-breve/37323-una-tecnologia-in-beta-per-stampa-metallizzata/
Created by Benny Landa in 2016, the ALTANA Group acquired the patents in 2017 and assigned it to ACTEGA, an Altana company specialised in coatings and sealants, who completed the industrial development of this unit. Today ECOLEAF is at the same time a technology and a product. A system ready to revolutionise the market of labels´ embellishment for three main reasons: sustainability, ease of use and economics.
Thanks to the commercial agreement with AB Graphic, (https://www.metaprintart.info/notizie-in-breve/38192-etichette-nuove-unita-di-metallizzazione/), ECOLEAF can be installed on their finishing lines. But as a retrofit it can also be installed on all flexo and hybrid narrow web printing presses.
So many people visited ACTEGA and ABG booths to look closely at this solution. So, we thought to enquiry for updates to Paolo Grasso, sales director for ACTEGA for this product.
So let´s start talking about the three reasons that turn ECOLEAF into a “revolution”.
Ease of use and economics
The first point is fast to explain: ECOLEAF is effectively made out of pure metal flakes in a water dispersion that get coated on a sleeve. No special skills are required for the machine operators, as it happens with foils.
About the second point, the topic gets even more interesting and surprising. As every label printer knows, when using cold or hot foils for embellishment, more than 90% of the raw material cannot be used and immediately turns into waste. In reality, on most labels, the silver or gold foil is barely used for a logo or thin lines. This process leads to an enormous amount of plastic waste which can only be buried or incinerated (but anyhow it was paid by the printer).
Paolo Grasso details more using as an example a standard long-run job with a metal coverage of 10% The amount of foil that would be used is 3 tons. With ECOLEAF we would use 1 kilogram of metal flakes. So, the impact on the environment and the cost plays a dramatic difference.
But we like to play the Devil´s advocate part and point out what might be the limit: the visual effect cannot be the same.
«Well – reports Paolo Grasso – the printer may notice a slight difference» and explains that the difference in terms of gloss points between ECOLEAF and foils is now truly minimal and hard to see. But the quality gap will continue to reduce with further developments on the chemistry.
«Such difference is maybe a key for those exclusive labels and packaging that sell in the premium luxury market. But those are majorly niches and not real industrial productions. »
But there is another fundamental aspect which has to be kept into consideration: Brands. Paolo wishes to stress out on this point.
«Today and even more in future, we notice that brand owners are looking at new ways to reduce the impact of their packaging. In terms of weight but also on the manufacturing processes. This is mainly driven by the increasing costs of raw materials, transports, and the need to reduce plastic waste. Having the possibility to substitute tons of plastic foils with few kilograms of metal pigments, becomes a primary need. Printers have now an ace up the sleeve being able to propose their customers a real way to reduce waste and CO2 emissions. »
On top of that, there is no need to stop the machine for the changeover of foil reels. This also leads to enormous savings in terms of production costs.
In terms of sustainability, ECOLEAF is certified ISO 14040 with a Life Cycle Assessment. Being a water-based solution, it is compatible with food packaging (indirect-food contact) and considering it like “liquid aluminium” it is less impacting that any aluminium wrap for food.
Ideas more than solutions
At Labelexpo, a sales person from a label printing press manufacturer, told me that today customers ask to supply new ideas rather than just solutions. Well, this is already a new idea!
Moreover, considering ECOLEAF as on-demand metallization, it is possible to print it in vignettes and half tones. And it is over-printable: silver base which is then colorised directly on press using flexo or ink-jet inks. The results are beautiful and it´s easy to achieve any color shade in an ideal infinite palette of metallic colours and golds.
Aluminium: in fact ECOLEAF flakes are produced by vaporising aluminium bars. This is the same process which is used in the production of foils. But instead of being deposited on a PET carrier, they are collected and dispersed into water (and additives).
After three years of applications (first as beta then on industrial bases), today ECOLEAF is suitable for production jobs with medium-high run volumes (running upto 80m/min) on narrow web machines for labels and packaging.
The metallizing unit can be installed and retrofit on any modular printing equipment.
For printers there is no need to buy upfront reels of foils but neither to order the ECOLEAF consumables. ACTEGA delivers the consumables on consignment to the plant and the printer will only pay for what has been effectively consumed at the end of each month. Practically after he/she had already sold the label to his/her customer. This simplifies a lot the logistic, storage and management process of raw materials, and eliminates the need for machines´ stops for reels´ changing. Those aspects have a great impact on the final cost of the finished product.
L'unità di metallizzazione Ecoleaf di Actega montato in linea su una macchina di finitura ABG