- April 01, 2003, Teresa Koltzenburg, Senior Editor
Flexo printing: Where to begin? How about with servo-driven (gearless) technology? Or maybe CTP (computer-to-plate) imaging? Then again, there's sleeve technology, and oh, we can't forget significant ink and anilox roll developments that have pushed flexo.
These days flexo printing provides not only economy for its purveyors (and ultimately, its end-users), but innovations relating to the process (such as the above-mentioned) have raised flexo printing quality and efficiency to its highest level yet.
“I think digital platemaking is probably one of the biggest things that's come along in years,” says Gerry Nigg, director of sales, Ko-Pack America, Williston, VT (ko-pack.com). “I've seen some remarkable stuff come off flexo presses using [CTP].”
Computer-to-plate technology seems to be making its way into the flexo printing mainstream. Whether doing it in-house or via a prepress shop, CTP offers flexo printers quality levels never before seen for this methodology.
Then there's efficiency. To get that, you need fast makeready, which CTP also can help engender.
And you need quick changeovers between jobs. Enter sleeves: “The area in which sleeve technology is so useful is job changeover,” says Kevin Quinn, director of sales, Nordmeccanica N.A., Edgewood, NY (nordmeccanica.com). “Most manufacturers charge for that time, and they have a set fee. So if they can decrease downtime between jobs, say from two hours to 20 minutes — wow! [They've] increased profit on that single job [a great deal].”
Back to servo: Called “gearless” in the printing industry, this technology offers makeready benefits as well as a host other advantages, says Jim Hulman, account executive, Bosch Rexroth, Hoffman Estates, IL (boschrexroth.com). “By being able to eliminate waste during accelerations and decelerations, [servo-driven presses] reduce makeready waste and time,” Hulman reports. “[Servo technology provides] flexibility because presses aren't limited by the mechanical gear train. Now you can pre-set the machine electronically,” and get infinitely variable repeats, he adds.
Hulman cites gearless technology as “revolutionary” for the flexo printing industry: “Revolutionary technology is technology that fundamentally changes the way we go about doing things; it eliminates the original flaws in the previous design,” Hulman explains. “Servo-drive technology eliminates the mechanical gear train that induces error into the process.”
Press manufacturers' current emphasis on (and their subsequent marketing of) their gearless models seems to support his assertion. In recent years, PFFC has covered a number of converting operations that have made the leap to servo-driven flexo printing presses, and all have touted the benefits of “going gearless.”
But even if you haven't “gone” gearless, to CTP, or even to sleeves, you can still get benefits from recent flexo technology improvements.
Ko-Pack's Nigg says anilox roll technology upgrades and advances by ink manufacturers have increased flexo's status, too. “These guys have put a lot of money into research and development into how inks transfer to materials.” In particular, advances in electron beam (EB) technology (both on the ink and equipment sides), Nigg asserts, will bring advantages to flexo printers; Ko-Pack recently produced a CD that highlights EB developments by Energy Sciences (ebeam.com).
With all this going for it today (and continued R&D into the process for tomorrow), there seems to be no end in sight for flexo printing.
Restrictions of time and space limit the number of companies, products, and trends that we can discuss in these reports.For additional information, see PFFC's features and departments each month, consult the June Buyers Guide, and check pffc-online.com.