- January 01, 2002, Teresa Koltzenburg, Senior Editor
A direct answer, typically, leads to greater clarity more quickly. “I want Italian,” usually leads to speedier appetite satisfaction than “I don't know” or “Whatever you want.”
Think of the time that could be saved with direct answers! As many as nine out of ten politicians and teenagers might disagree, but direct answers are the substance of simple logic. And, in many instances, simple logic (when applied) has saved us all time. Logically, attending a trade show is time well spent for live equipment demos; it certainly beats traveling to each machine manufacturer across the globe.
In the spirit of better time management and direct answers, you will want to attend IPEX (ipex.org) slated for April 9-17, National Exhibition Ctr., Birmingham, U.K. Among the technologies you can spend your time learning about whilst there: direct-drive technology, also called “gearless.”
Gearless Greetings, Direct from Europe
Engineers and press manufacturers are applying simple logic to design these days: Direct-drive technology is fortifying converters' production with the greater efficiencies afforded by the “direct” factor of the equation. Two German converters, Rahning of Bünde (Windmöller & Hölscher, Novoflex installation) and Böhme-Clopay GmbH of Dombühl (Fischer & Krecke, Flexpress 16 S installation) have taken this “direct” route and both touted the gearless drive benefits when featured in PFFC *(see last paragraph).
Last October Schiavi SpA, a div. of Bobst Group, sold a 44-in. Alpha gearless flexo press to Chemosvit a.s, a major manufacturer and converter of flexible packaging in Solvak Republic. “The Alpha press will provide Chemosvit with very quick job changeovers,” says Schiavi of its equipment. “[It features] an infinitely variable repeat capacity, plate cylinder, and anilox roller sleeves, [thus resulting in] reduced manpower.”
The Dirt on Direct Drive
It's clear converters and suppliers realize gearless presses can be the direct route to a more solid bottom line. Martin White is one industry expert who has a clear “line” on direct-drive technology benefits. White, who has written and gathered information about Europe's flexo industry for several years, also recognizes direct drive as a significant boon for packaging production.
“Direct-drive technology is one of many developments in recent years that's helped flexo keep pace,” he says. “It isn't used [only] in flexography, but it brings forth [some of] the benefits enjoyed by today's flexo.”
White details how Schiavi arrived at its gearless press version, the Alpha model:
“Approximately five years ago, Schiavi [instructed its] technical department to develop a narrow web flexo press for carton-board printing. The result: the Lemanic Flexo 65/82F. With in-line printing units, this press is characterized by the direct drive applied to the plate-cylinder axis. Schiavi's R&D focused on the printing unit, which led to a gearless press suitable for short runs and quick changeovers. Schiavi applied this 1995 innovation to its central impression flexible packaging press design, which is how the Alpha GL/NC 8-CI was conceived.”
Automation and Beyond
“Few would argue that direct drive's flexo introduction is the single most significant [advance] in press automation in recent years,” White contends. “It brings flexo into a new arena, particularly in the area of sleeve changes.” White believes most press manufacturers are using this technology.
And, he says, this technology provides certain advantages. “When starting a new job, all the plates register to one another automatically. The sleeves are mounted in their preregistered position. All data relating to the repeat and material thickness is input by the operator [beforehand]; thus, the system guarantees a very quick job startup, particularly on repeat runs.”
The Gearless Evolution
Gearless is here to stay, says White, and it's getting better. “Now that we're seeing the advance in this technology, which will be applied to both gravure and flexo, gradually it will replace conventional systems ruled by mechanical shafts.”
White also notes many machine and quality benefits can be attributed to direct-drive technology itself. “Because you can synchronize the surface web speed with plate speed, direct drive provides higher print quality,” he explains. “Also, gearless technology yields a better performance of anilox rollers, which can rotate at the proper speed during printing, slow rotation, and on-press washing.”
*In addition to checking out the gearless technology on display at IPEX, you can read about converters already benefiting from direct-drive printing presses by going to pffc-online.com. In February 2001, read about W&H's Novoflex in “Gearless Press Makes Its Mark Where Printing Began,” or in May 2001, peruse the information about F&K's Flexpress 16 S in “The Missing Link: Plastics History Leads to Packaging.”
Schiavi, SpA (a member of the Bobst Group of cos.) —Piacenza, Italy; +39 (0) 523 493 (in the US — Bobst Group Inc., Roseland, NJ; ph: 888/226-8800); bobstgroup.com.