From a technological point of view, gravure is considered “mature” and on the market, at least in Europe, it has lost market share to flexo and is likely to lose more. These two facts, together with the (so far) poor communication of the industry, could lead one to think of a slowly declining rotogravure press – Darwinianly “less suitable” to manage new trends made of shorter and shorter runs and more and more frequent customizations. But no. If we listen to the newfound voice, first of all thanks to the megaphone of the Acimga Rotogravure Group, we see this technology evolving at all levels. This is witnessed by the operators of prepress (Inciflex and ICR down below) and of printing (Uteco, Bobst) that offer an interesting overview of the state of the art and prospects at global level.

But how much are rotogravure printing presses worth on international markets, and with what prospects for development?

According to calculations made by the Acimga Studies Office, at the end of 2020 world trade was worth 189.2 million euros (215.6 million dollars), with average annual rates of change (in current euros) of +1.4% in the period 2001-2008, +0.4% in 2009-2020 and +7.9% estimated for the next five-year period 2021-2024. Again in 2020 the major importing countries were, for the most part, in the East (but the top ten also included the USA, Russia, Slovakia and Ireland) and the exporters in the West, but with China in second place after Germany and before Italy, and in interesting positions also Korea, Japan and, a little further down, India.

Last year, as a result of the pandemic, global trade fell by over 16 percentage points (values in euros) and Italy, positioned in the top price bracket, by around 46 percentage points. As a result of this downturn, Italy has lost the world leadership it previously held and, as mentioned, has been repositioned in 3rd place among world exporters, behind Germany and China. According to initial estimates, in the coming period 2021-2024 Italian manufacturers will only partially recover the lost ground, with an average annual increase of +4.9%, insufficient to return above the 50 million euros recorded in 2019.

Teamwork for a stronger roto

Founded at the beginning of 2019, Acimga’s Gruppo Italiano Rotocalco has launched a range of initiatives to restore voice and representation to a primary package printing technology. Gianmatteo Maggioni, ICR manager and coordinator of the group, and Mario Maggioni, father of the project and active proponent of the “principle of intelligent competition,” tell us about it.

ICR-Incisioni Cilindri Rotocalco SpA is a certified Italian pre-press operator, repro house for all cylinder engraving technologies and services of all formats for all gravure processing: printing, embossing, lacquering, adhesives and anything else in the various applications.

Structured with integrated hi-tech and highly automated systems, state-of-the-art software, a Color Management System and a technical department with long experience, it stands out for its openness to new ideas and its active commitment to R&D. This commitment, as we know, is as rare as it is precious: ICR makes its machinery and its experts available for the development of tests and new projects in collaboration with other players in the printing and converting supply chain: from 3D printing to heptachromy, from water-based inks to laser engraving of new cylinders with polyurethane coating…. And it is this feature, perhaps, at the base of the project that Mario Maggioni, president of the Varese-based company, has cherished for a long time and that finally, at the beginning of 2019, resulted in the birth of Acimga’s Gruppo Italiano Rotocalco (Rotogravure Group). Where the love for this technology and the attitude to work together, “even with competitors” live.

Spirit and reasons for an ambitious project

The basic idea is that rotogravure is and remains a guarantee of quality, with prerogatives that make it irreplaceable in countless applications and developments. For too long, however, it has stopped “talking”, slipping little by little into the shadow of the inessential. For this reason, for years Mario Maggioni, a veteran of gravure and passionate proponent of the principle that “together is better than alone” cultivated the project of a working group dedicated to develop this technology and its visibility.

“After countless missed meetings, I finally found that Acimga listened to me and agreed with me, and the Rotogravure Group was born”, says the entrepreneur, 61 years in the business and certain that skills count: “those who say that doing graphic arts today is the same as producing bolts – ‘you press a button and the machine does everything by itself’ – are talking nonsense”. The Group carries out information, training and lobbying activities, cultivates relationships with schools and legislators, and promotes Italian excellence on an international level. “And then it offers the opportunity to meet among ourselves in the industry, perhaps even with competitors: those who see the competitor as an enemy lose the chance to confront the only one who can really understand their point of view.

Competition is played out in the world, by putting into play what you are and what you have, not by building fences that those who want to climb over have no problem”.

Training and informing: in-person insights

Gianmatteo Maggioni , a graduate in economics, commercial director of ICR and coordinator of the Rotocalco Group, takes the same line. While waiting for the next Roto4All conference, which this year he plans to organize in presence, he takes stock of the activities carried out by a small but participatory structure of themed work tables.

“The group today is made up of 25 companies representing various specializations, with an energy and willingness that have made it possible to field several relevant projects at speed. The first was the publication in Italian and English of the guide “Rotocalco, conoscerla per meglio apprezzarla”, written by several hands and immediately sold out”.

Then came the chapter on training, both scholastic and professional. “With schools, which we immediately involved together with ENPG and to which we provide materials for teaching, we work to update programs, organize internships and bring different experiences and points of view to lessons. This year, the ITS Rizzoli in Milan joined the original network and asked us to develop the gravure part of the new two-year course focused on packaging”.

On the other hand, the continuous training activities for operators are managed directly, with the organizational support of Acimga secretariat, and have been a great success. “The first cycle of thematic webinars has just been completed and we are planning to repeat it after the summer, with in-depth meetings in presence, to work together on teaching materials and interact with questions and answers. But also the first short course to train specialists in packaging printing, organized together with the Istituto Italiano Imballaggio, was much appreciated and it was included among the recurring courses of the III, every six months”.

Lobbying, the market and the GAA awards

Among the current topics in European institutions, the debate on the possibility of continuing to use hexavalent chromium, which is also used to coat rotogravure cylinders, has led to an extension to 2024, with the prospect of a further postponement (and a clarification, underlines Maggioni: “The chromium in gravure cylinders does not generate any migration on packaging: the toxicity problems of this material affect the previous stages of processing”). In the meantime, as is well known, the industry is working on the development of alternative coatings, of trivalent chromium or polyurethane-based materials. “Having access to information and working tables is fundamental, as we have verified in the ISO sphere where, thanks to Acimga’s garrison, we will be the ones to draw up the new standard on gravure packaging printing, bringing “in house” prestige and market advantages.”

But the industry’s support does not only come from the tables of the institutions. Among the marketing actions in favor of a “Made by Italy” roto, a recent novelty stands out: the proposal of the GAA – Gravure Association of the Americas – to participate in the Golden Cylinders Awards. “We accepted: it will be a formidable showcase, in a competition attested on a global scale, for which the Gravure Group will act as a collector of national candidacies and will organize the award ceremony during Roto4All. Which, we trust, will be in attendance, finally offering an opportunity for meeting, knowledge and exchange.”