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 Pascal Thomas, Esko’s director of flexo business.
- Is there any further optimisation potential for flexo plate-making (plates, sleeves) processes?
Yes, there are, primarily in the following two areas:Productivity and, consequently, imaging quality, are determined by the LAMS layer. With a more sensitive LAMS layer for fibre lasers, the same imaging productivity can be achieved with a lower laser performance, reducing CTP machinery costs.
Further potential for improvement can be achieved by better adapting the photopolymer plates to the UV LED light sources for main and rear exposure. Digital UV LED exposure provides many benefits, but is more costly. A more sensitive plate would increase productivity and reduce the price of the machine at the same time.
- Does fixed colour palette printing contribute to a further increase the performance in flexo printing?
Most definitely. And I would even say that it’s been long overdue. The fact is that run lengths are getting ever shorter, and there is more and more ordering on demand – in other words, fast delivery is required and packaging is no longer kept in stock. The number of product variants is also increasing, not to mention the increased use of digital printing.
This means flexo really has no other option than to reduce its make-ready times between jobs from one hour to no more than five to 15 minutes. An example: You receive a job with a run length of 20,000 linear metres. The printing machine is, depending on speed, ready in about an hour. Afterwards, it takes about 90 minutes to make-ready for the next job. This results in an efficiency rate of less than 50%. This is just about tolerable for runs of 20,000 metres, but certainly not for smaller jobs of 3,000, 7,000 or 10,000 metres.
Excessive make-ready can fill up one shift, using a piece of equipment that cost several million euros. The answer here is categorically: “Yes, Fixed Colour Palette can contribute to performance enhancements in flexo printing!” By using a fixed set of inks, there is virtually no make-ready time between jobs. Plus combo work is easier, making better use of expensive substrates an increasing overall throughput. All of this, with no compromise in quality.
- 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?
We should be careful here not to put an Internet connection or the possibility of remote machine maintenance on a level with Industry 4.0. They are really quite different. That being said, there is still a lot of room for improvement in equipment connectivity along the value chain. But there are already several interesting concepts and promising trials out there, which will have a big impact on our industry in the coming years.
In terms of automation, the entire platemaking process will soon become fully automated. Once a plate has been placed on the CDI, it will not need to be touched again until the production process is completed. In this case, a process of nine steps will be reduced to one single step! This fully automated plate production will be launched in Italy in the summer of 2017. There is a huge amount of interest, and many will (or must) follow this example to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
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