The partnership concept is taken to a new level and “highlights the opportunities for close collaboration between converters and brands”
Partnerships between converters and brands are important in today’s rapidly changing, dynamic packaging industry. Many companies make such collaborations a big part of their strategy, but few have taken the partnership concept to the level of Colombian flexible packaging manufacturer Litoplas. Add to that the complicated approach of extended color gamut (ECG) flexography, which according to Luis Mora, the company’s Chief Customer Officer, “could only be implemented successfully with FLEXCEL NX plates,” and you have an award-winning business strategy.
Founded in 1967, the company makes food packaging the bulk of production at its manufacturing facility in the northern city of Barranquilla (a second facility will open in Guatemala in 2023). The Litoplas website describes the company’s mission as “delivering unique solutions through the design, development and manufacture of flexible packaging” and its vision to become “the partner of choice for flexible packaging value” of brands.
The partnership between Litoplas and its customers was one of the things that caught the judges’ attention at the Miraclon-sponsored Global Flexo Innovation Awards, where Litoplas won a Silver Award for achievements in two categories: gravure-to-flexo conversion and efficiency in Print production workflow. The jury noted that Litoplas’ entries – all examples of ECG printing made with FLEXCEL NX plates – “underlined what can be achieved when manufacturer and brand work closely together.”
“Only FLEXCEL NX technology makes ECG possible”
Litoplas added ECG printing to its toolbox for the first time in 2015. “We had seen EKG at drupa and at first glance it seemed magical due to the efficiency and capacity benefits it offered to both converters and brands, especially as there was a need for shorter lead times as well as an increase in SKUs. But it also seemed utopian because initially the statistical process control that was so important was missing. Anyone could buy a machine, the inks were there, but without tight process control you couldn’t reap the productivity benefits. For us, this was a critical deficiency that was not addressed until the FLEXCEL NX technology came to market.”
When Litoplas invested in a FLEXCEL NX system in 2017, he recalls, “We understood what we needed to make the EKG work and the flat-top dot made all the difference. Our previous technology was plagued with pinholes and voids that gave poor data for process control. The flat-top dots provided the accurate, predictable, and consistent color. Without that, excellent EKG printing is impossible.”
There are other ways FLEXCEL NX plates allow the EKG to show its potential, Luis says. “We can print more vivid colors without using excess ink, which increases shelf impact at a competitive price. And the flat-top dots don’t wear out, they stay stable throughout the run, so we don’t have to stop the press to make adjustments as often.”
Tightly embedded partnerships
Luis Mora’s title as Litoplas’ Chief Customer Officer is a testament to how firmly the company has placed partnership with its customers at the heart of its business. To ensure this, Litoplas has formalized the concept into two models – a ‘partnership model’ aimed at ‘building trust through collaboration’ and a ‘packaging for value model’ aimed at creating value through technology.
The models are the result of careful thought and analysis, as Luis Mora explains: “We are a very technology-oriented company and the idea of using technology to create value is very important to us. But we recognize that it’s important that our customers trust us to provide the right level of technology and support for them.” He goes on to explain how the Packaging for Value model achieves this. “The model has four ‘levels’ – 1 through 4 – that customers are assigned based on which of the technologies in our toolbox best suits their needs. The higher the level, the more of our technologies the customer can access.”
A major advantage of this approach, he continues, is “it prevents us from over-promising and not delivering because when that happens it damages trust. Take EKG as an example: we only offer it to Level 3 customers because they have the right technical know-how.”
The “partnership model” complements this approach by rethinking how Litoplas employees work together with their customers’ internal employees. “Dealing today is too complex for a one-to-one relationship alone, so our structure now encourages fluid conversations between all of our employees who work for the account and the appropriate point of contact at the client. In this way, every conversation between the two companies is of high quality, which builds trust.”
Patience, hard work and trust fuel the adoption of ECGs
As with any radically new technology, convincing customers to implement ECG printing takes patience, hard work and trust between the converter and the brand. The reason why Litoplas only offers EKG to Level 3 customers becomes clear when Luis describes the negotiations involved in planning a typical gravure to flexo switch. “Sometimes the customer needs to make minor design changes to allow the FLEXCEL NX technology and the ECG to play to their strengths. For example, we recommend printing small fonts in one color to avoid misregistration. Or the pastel colors made possible by FLEXCEL NX sheets are a great advantage that brands can take advantage of. Such a mature conversation doesn’t happen the first time. But when we talk after we’ve gained the customer’s trust, that’s a different matter.”
The implementation of the winning entry, the Cordillera Dark Chocolate packaging made for Compañía Nacional de Chocolates, is an excellent example of Litoplas’ partnership strategy and the company’s innovative approach to selling technology. The order was a direct result of a “packaging academy” organized by Litoplas to show the client what EKG is all about – as Luis puts it, “to show the ins and outs and how we can best reproduce their artwork .
“We asked the design team to give us a really challenging job and they did it. It was a high quality chocolate product, currently in carton packaging, but they wanted to switch to flexible packaging. The color of the chocolate on the box had to match the product itself exactly, and as both packs have been side by side on the shelves for a while it was important that there was no color difference between the box and the flexible pack. They also wanted to get the product to market as quickly as possible and produce a relatively small amount.”
Litoplas met the requirements in every respect, using green, orange and violet in the ECG to reproduce vivid, dense colors that the customer liked and matched exactly to the background color. In a radical approach to color measurement, Litoplas went so far as to smear real chocolate on a sheet of white Pantone paper and measure the color with the color measurement system to match the color of the chocolate.
Improving conventional technology
As Litoplas prepares to expand into Guatemala over the next year, EKG printing will remain at the heart of the company’s offering – so much so that one of the three new presses in Guatemala will be a custom Bobst machine, which will be sold at 100 % dedicated to ECG production. “As for how large the proportion of ECG production can become,” says Luis, “in order to convert customers to ECG, we need to develop ECG technology that is better than conventional technology. We think we’re busy with that.”
He adds that Miraclon has provided excellent support so far, and he expects that to continue in the future. “We really appreciate their support in improving printing capabilities and press performance. With local technical support here in Colombia, any issues were resolved promptly – one thing Miraclon has is adaptability backed by persistence. Without our partnership with Miraclon we would not have been so successful.”