Since 2007, the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) Directive has been in force across the EU and its aim and purpose is to ensure the safe use of chemicals throughout not just the flexible packaging supply chain and its uses in gravure and flexo printing, but other industries so as to provide a high level of protection to human health and to the environment from those chemicals and substances that pose a direct or indirect risk to us.
Whilst the use of chromium primarily in its hexavalent state, but also its trivalent state (i.e. chromium trioxide) has long been used by the gravure and flexo printing processes amongst others, as a cylinder and anilox roll coating substance there is no escaping that whilst most countries and the businesses within those countries may have robust procedures for chromium use, that nevertheless there are still risks attached to chromium use and regardless of the procedures, which can fail, chromium is a known human carcinogen and mutagen.
Hexavalent chromium (chrome vi) is included within REACH because it is the most toxic form of chromium and the toxic waste produced from the plating bath during electroplating is deemed a hazardous waste material. Whilst chromium trioxide (chrome iii) is in receipt of less sanctions from REACH it is still identified as substance of very high concern (SVHC) and is classified as carcinogenic and mutagenic and the belief is that in years to come both substances will be eventually banned entirely from the gravure and flexo industries.
Other regulations are expected to increase for other substances suggested as gravure and flexo ‘chromium replacements’ such as Nickel compounds as it’s plating process also contains substances of very high concern such as Nickel salts and boric acid and the belief is that it is only a matter of time before these also gain more attention from REACH.
The cost of regulation
The use of substances of very high concern comes with a cost over and above the material cost of the substance itself and one that companies are required to bear in the identity and management of the risks associated with the use of these substances.
As the use of a substance of very high concern becomes more restrictive the costs of using this substance also increase substantially, as Health, safety and environmental concerns need to be addressed and the implementation and regular inspection of air and water filtration, training workers and other costs plus the loss of employee-hours all collectively come attached with the continued use of chrome.
De-risking Gravure & Flexo with a Chrome Free alternative
In short a chrome free solution exists with the Roto-Hybrid Process® in which a hybrid version of a Diamond-Like Carbon coating process is used to replace chrome plating and other electrolytic processes like copper or nickel plating.
The use of a Diamond-Like Carbon coating process aids superior print performance and cost reduction over the use chrome and nickel and ceramics in anilox rolls due to the superior micro-hardness of diamond-like-carbon, better ink release properties, its reduction of wear on gravure cylinders and anilox rollers, and when it comes to REACH, diamond-like-carbon is both chemically inert, and bio-compatible and as such is not subject to any current or future restriction of use owing to its green credentials.
In any business, risk needs to be minimised and aside from the cost and technical advantages outlined above of using the Roto-Hybrid DLC coating over chrome plating and other electrolytic processes like copper or nickel plating, de-risking gravure cylinders & flexo anilox rolls with a chrome free alternative also removes the cost and headaches of compliance with increasing regulation and any eventual ban.
The Roto-Hybrid Process provides a unique solution to help address key challenges facing the global printing industry, enabling faster, more cost effective, technically superior and environmentally friendly print cylinder production and processing to help strengthen the competitiveness and sustainability of the printing industry on a global scale.