Q&A with Paolo Grasso, Sales Director for ECOLEAF

Insights into ACTEGA's label business

In this Q&A you will find out more about the role of ACTEGA as a key driver for sustainable innovation and new product development in label printing. You will also learn about the story behind the revolutionary ECOLEAF metallization technology and the huge impact it will have on our industry.

1. ACTEGA is one of the four divisions of the German chemical group ALTANA. When did it start operating and what led to its foundation?

ACTEGA actually consists of 10 companies, each founded in different years and regions with different business focuses, but all with a well-established, experienced offering. When ALTANA redefined itself in 2007 as a pure specialty chemicals company with four divisions, ACTEGA Coatings & Sealants was established. Now only referred to as ACTEGA, we develop, produce, and sell a broad portfolio of specialty coatings, inks, adhesives and sealing compounds. ACTEGA owns production sites in Europe, North and South America and China, as well as numerous technical service centers and sales offices all over the world. To provide the right solutions for the packaging and printing industry, ACTEGA is much more than the sum of its parts. It is a cross-functional and globally oriented organization that enables us to exploit synergies and optimally serve the interests of our customers.

2. ACTEGA has three business lines: Flexible Packaging, Metal Packaging Solutions, and Paper & Board. How important are each of them in terms of turnover?

As you know, we strive to be at the forefront of innovation in the specialty chemicals industry, with a particular focus on providing cutting-edge solutions for the packaging and printing sectors. Our three distinct business lines - Flexible Packaging, Metal Packaging Solutions and Paper & Board – are designed to meet the diverse needs of our customers, offering world-class solutions that help bridge the gaps in their current business strategies. We pride ourselves on offering a comprehensive range of both standard and specialty products that cater to the unique requirements of different packaging and print sectors. Our sales breakdown for 2022 consists of 43% Metal Packaging Solutions, 32% Paper & Board, and 25% Flexible Packaging. Our ultimate goal is to keep driving innovation and setting high standards for our industry while laying a solid foundation for future growth.

We also pride ourselves on contributing towards end products that enable brands and consumers to have a greater connection due to the "look and feel" of the packaging, or its environmental credentials, while also ensuring good economics throughout the entire packaging and printing value chain.

3. What is ACTEGA Metal Print?

ACTEGA Metal Print was founded with a mission to revolutionize the graphic arts industry with a sustainable metallization technology that significantly reduces the amount of material, waste, cost and production time for creating decorative embellishments compared to today’s conventional processes that are mainly foil-based. Drupa 2016, Benny Landa presented a technology proof of concept called Nano Metallography. In February 2017, ALTANA acquired the technology and founded ACTEGA Metal Print, a start-up within ACTEGA with a goal to industrialize this technology.

4. ACTEGA has 37 brands, but ECOLEAF is the one you are emphasizing the most. Can you explain what it is?

As mentioned above, we have a wide range of innovative products and solutions that meet the demands of our customers. Innovation is at the heart of our DNA, so we invest heavily in the development of new technologies that could change the packaging industry. ECOLEAF, sustainable, on-demand metallization technology, is a good example, and at ACTEGA, we are very proud of this particular flagship product; which is a truly game-changing technology for the packaging industry. It represents the culmination of years of research and development and embodies our commitment to sustainability, innovation, and excellence. ECOLEAF has been developed to provide a real-world solution for today's environmental issues, offering a balance between ecological preservation and economic benefit.

As you know, metallization of packaging is a popular choice with brands and converters when looking for ways to improve the aesthetics of a label or piece of packaging and, therefore, increase consumer appeal. However, due to the complexity of adding traditional hot and cold foil processes to production, the cost of doing this and the astonishing amount of waste that results - thousands of tons of foil and plastic waste that is landfilled or incinerated each year - metallization is currently limited to high-value products. Of course, brands looking to improve sustainability across their supply chain may not even consider it for these when they know the amount of waste that results. Therefore, there is an obvious need for change. The market needs a solution that can offer on-demand metallization - applying metallic decoration exactly when and where it is needed. ECOLEAF is that solution, a new category of sustainable metallization. It offers brands and converters a way to achieve that high impact, wow factor traditional metallic decoration delivers.

To put it simply, ECOLEAF, on-demand metallization technology, combines sustainability with high-quality product decoration. The technology significantly reduces economic barriers, such as material and waste and offers increased production flexibility compared to today’s conventional processes that are mainly foil-based.

5. What does ECOLEAF bring to the market compared to previous techniques?

ECOLEAF enables printers and converters to significantly reduce the environmental impact of metallic decoration on labels and packaging, whilst maintaining the aesthetics and quality standards required by brands. This technology delivers the high-quality metallic shine brands look to achieve with traditional solutions. ECOLEAF’s high resolution, metallic effect is even achievable on designs with the finest detail. It is also capable of creating tactile effects without embossing and backside printing on transparent substrates without adding any additional costs to the process.

Furthermore, ECOLEAF offers exceptional high-speed stability, ensuring that it is robust and ready technology for brands looking to enhance performance throughout their production cycles - is commercially viable. ECOLEAF can be integrated seamlessly into medium to high-run jobs on a wide range of existing narrow web packaging and labels production lines. It has the capacity to run at 70m/min on digital inkjet lines and 80m/min on flexo lines. This enables the same high-quality gloss usually expected from traditional foil processes while delivering much more sustainable production. With more and more forward-thinking companies adopting on-demand metallization, the ECOLEAF metallization application range now includes laminated tubes, shrink sleeves, and pressure-sensitive labels, expanding its market reach.

6. What is the environmental performance of the product?

Calculations from ECOLEAF’s Life Cycle Assessment, conducted by a reputable third-party company, show a hugely positive impact on sustainability and resource reduction. According to the result of the assessment, ECOLEAF realizes a CO2 footprint reduction of greater than 50% compared to cold and hot foil. 1kg of ECOLEAF flakes effectively replaces 3000kg of foil, which in turn eliminates 20 tonnes of CO2e: the equivalent of planting around 833 trees. The reason this process reduces waste so significantly is that the metal pigments are applied only to where they are needed. With traditional processes, the entire surface of the container or label is covered in foil, most of which will then be removed to leave just the small metallic detail the design requires. The discarded metal foil, often representing a shocking 90% of the roll, is waste.

7. Different solutions for label manufacturers: varnishes, color coatings, gold coatings... , eco-friendliness...many possibilities, but what is the price of ECOLEAF?

From the numbers we shared above, you can easily understand that reducing the consumption of raw materials consequently leads to a reduction in cost. ECOLEAF is on-demand metallization. Meaning that a printer will only pay when and for what precisely consume. There is simply no waste! And in general, embellishment is limited to small areas on labels. Hence, the waste with conventional foils is truly big.

But savings don´t come only from the comparison in the raw materials used. Big savings in the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) derive from machine uptime and ease of use for the operators. If you think of the way heavy reels are managed today, with continuous start & stop processes which require good skills too, you can imagine how many more jobs a printer could produce each day if they could eliminate downtimes. Let me say that this is a property that literally has no price for a company.

8. What is your collaboration with AB Graphic?

Our collaboration with AB Graphic has been a significant milestone in our journey towards bringing ECOLEAF technology to a wider audience. Our partnership began in 2020, and we started by incorporating ECOLEAF technology into AB Graphic's Digicon 3 lines, which were supplied as new or as retrofits to existing machines. AB Graphic has been a valuable OEM partner since then, deploying ECOLEAF as part of its finishing lines. We have been extremely impressed by AB Graphic's professionalism and skills in adopting this technology, which has provided some exciting results. Three years ago, when we were planning to roll out our technology, the appointment of AB Graphic was a key component. With their long-year expertise in the labels industry, AB Graphic was a great partner for ECOLEAF, and they share our vision for a more sustainable print market.

With more and more forward-thinking and innovative companies adopting on-demand metallization, the exciting transformation of the industry is well underway. Brands are excited by the promise of significant advancements in sustainability and refinement of the finished products.

Our collaboration with AB Graphic has been a great success, and we look forward to continuing our partnership and bringing more exciting and innovative technology to the print industry.

9. What other products does ACTEGA have for the label industry?

As mentioned, ECOLEAF is our main project today at ACTEGA Metal Print, but there are others within the wider ACTEGA business - for instance, the new Signite solution provides a ‘no label look’ pressure sensitive label system – ideal for a variety of glass, plastic, or aluminium direct to container labels, eliminating the waste created in traditional pressure sensitive label printing and increasing the recyclability of the containers. Amazing technology!

ACTEGA is a global specialist for labels and flexible packaging solutions, with production and technical service experts in many countries throughout Europe and the world. ACTEGA develops, produces and distributes a wealth of products, including coatings, inks and adhesives for labels and flexible packaging. The labels product portfolio includes solutions for self-adhesive labels, shrink sleeves, wet glue, wrap-around and in-mold labels, and addresses different market segments, from food and beverage to cosmetics, pharma, household and industrial applications. As well as offering functional benefits, the company’s products also deliver high-value, aesthetic finishes, enabling converters to offer labels with an outstanding, high-quality appearance.

In addition, ACTEGA’s portfolio includes specialty products that provide visual and haptic effects to enhance the appearance of labels further. With production facilities in Europe, the Americas and China, the company ensures that the full portfolio is available worldwide.

Recently, we showcased our haptic effect coating series, LED-UV coatings, White and Metallic Inks, and other innovative products that prove our commitment to products that provide customers with a clear competitive advantage during the Labelexpo Europe. Our goal is to help our customers create high-quality labels and packaging that are not only visually appealing but also kinder to the environment and offer improved functionality.

10. What does the label business represent in your company?

Our Label business is a key part of our overall portfolio of solutions, and we are committed to developing innovative label solutions that make a difference in the market. We create solutions for a range of industries, including food, beverage, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and more.

At ACTEGA, we always strive to be an innovator for sustainable solutions, whether for labels, packaging, or inks. We provide a broad portfolio of solutions dedicated to sustainability. This includes products that have themselves been sustainably formulated, as well as products that contribute to a more sustainable end product. We co-create industry-leading innovations in products that touch the lives of billions of people. Our label solution is no exception and stands as a testament to our commitment to excellence in innovation and sustainability. We will continue to lead the market with our innovative solutions and products, and we encourage our customers to join us in this journey towards a greener, more sustainable world.

11. How are you commercially organized?

ACTEGA serves its customers primarily in a direct B2B form. For ECOLEAF we´ll do the same for a period of time, but we could consider a network once the volumes should increase in future. For the moment, customers will be served through our after-sales service from Germany and delivered via our warehouse (also in Germany).