DFTA – Prof Dr Martin Dreher responds to flexo forme market survey

GERMANY • In order to further differentiate between the current and future status of flexo printing formes, whether it be plates or sleeve systems, Flexo & Gravure Global’s editors have asked several suppliers of printing formes and prepress service companies for their opinions. Below are the responses of Prof Dr Martin Dreher, Scientific director of the DFTA (German Flexo Technical Association)’s Technology Centre.

Prof Dr Martin Dreher, Scientific director of the DFTA (German Flexo Technical Association)’s Technology Centre (Source, DFTA)

Please note, we welcome and encourage any interested readers to send in their own responses to buchsbaum@gk-techmedia.com to the following questions:

  1. Is there any further optimisation potential for flexo plate-making (plates, sleeves) processes?

Further room for optimisation in flexo I do see in several aspects. With the multi-step processes of plate making this is in automation, of course. It is supposed to eliminate the impacts of manual handling and straighten the respective integration. This will enhance the uniformity of print quality, but will be limited to the printing plates. With the photopolymer ITR print forms I do see a huge gap between their market demand and the respective effort to develop further automation. However, with the ITR print forms from Laser Direct Engraving I see market demand, usefulness and expenses for further automation to be much more favourable, which is why I consider this path to be likely to be pursued.

In an overall consideration, however, it is also the entire expenses and workloads of file manipulation prior to plate making that has to be considered with the question at hand. I believe there are quite some treasures to be found here!

As soon as Flexography is capable of printing the highlight end of the tonal range with no apparent step to substrate white on a broad basis, unforeseen possibilities will arise, which are coupled with improvements and savings mostly. This is namely the absence of having to retouch every image so intensively and it may even be possible to just use colour separations from other printing processes instead. Flexography does move into this direction to much of my own satisfaction, while being assisted by alternative and new, but also older, well known instruments (e.g. Stochastic or Hybrid Screening, etc.).

  1. Does fixed colour palette printing contribute to a further increase the performance in flexo printing?

This question must be reviewed in a different way. Yes, on one hand the FCP process does help to reduce the vexatious make-ready times on press and raise productivity significant. Moreover, there are further advantages for the print shop to be considered. But there are also aspects that will be harder to master and more critical to quality than otherwise. Colour Management is one of them. The correctness of the colour profiles on one hand, but also their reproducibility on press on the other hand are much more dominant and far-reaching in their consequences with FCP. Also, the meaning of registration quality on press will increase much (but I don´t subscribe to the point of view that it will only be the ITR print formes that will allow FCP to be practiced successfully). 

Print jobs will be rather more complex to run due to their more complicated organisation and the required precision on press and in prepress. And it should not be forgotten at this stage that FCP will only really work when the aforementioned precondition of being capable of printing a truly linear highlight dot throughout even the longest runs has been achieved! This is due to the mere fact that such faint tints will not only be needed at the end of vignettes, but also for many built tints, perhaps even more than currently. And if you convert to such an “industrialised” process you don´t want to have to retouch all files to cover the particular characteristics of the highlight tint. If we tried to do this I reckon that we would just exchange the laborious retouching work of the files against an at least as laborious and exhausting, never-ending discussion with the print buyer about which colours may be altered by how much to make them printable.

  1. The aim of Industry 4.0 or Print 4.0 respectively is the comprehensive networking and automation of the whole production chain. During drupa 2016, suppliers like Esko, Vianord and AV Flexologic introduced solutions for the further automation of the flexo plate-making processes. Do you consider this as indicative of a trend towards a sustainable change of the whole flexo industry?

Yes and no! Flexography will move towards further automation and this will be sustainable. But this will not come with a big bang, but rather be a migration process. The automation of the plate making systems, in my opinion, does come with a relatively shallow positive balance between expenses and returns. Or why is it that the automatic loading and unloading of photopolymer raw materials has not broken through on the CDI machines, although this has been shown about 2 (or was it 3?) Drupa cycles ago?

What remains to be answered is the question, whether there are Flexo segments which are easier to automate and integrate than plate making? Printing for packaging is a relatively complex and heterogeneous process – and will persist to be so, no matter whether it is Flexo, Gravure, Offset-Litho or Digital printing that is being looked at, whilst Flexography perhaps is best suited of all of them to be automated and live the Internet-of-things chain of thought! Nonetheless, I can foresee only partial automation and integration because the entire system is so immensely complex.

Please note, we welcome and encourage any interested readers to send in their own answers to the above questions to buchsbaum@gk-techmedia.com

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