Minimizing Plate Costs: Part 2 – Plate Demounting

FlexoGuide-600

By Tim Reece, All Printing Resources

Introduction

This multi-part article will explore some of the more common but less controlled causes for replacing the photopolymer printing plate. Reasons for replacing an expensive photopolymer plates can vary greatly. In Part 1 of this series we focused on many advantages of deep plate cleaning with automatic plate washing systems, including how we extend the life of the plate. Part 2 will focus on minimizing damage during plate de-mounting, while the final chapter will address how to properly identify a worn plate and taking the “guessing” out of the decision to replace the plate.

Where Plate Damage Occurs

In this article we will turn our primary focus to plate demounting. Those who imagine plate and tape removal to be a relatively simple task, have most likely not performed this task and been held accountable for plate damage for an extended period of time. It seems that we take great care during the methodical steps of platemaking to insure a quality plate has been manufactured, free of pinholes and with optimal relief and exposure. After leaving platemaking these plates are handled with care and trimmed to size with care before being mounted and wrapped in opaque polyethylene to protect them from harmful UV, ozone and surface debris and scratches. Then it’s time for the plate to do what it was created to do; transfer a beautiful multi-colored artwork to the substrate. The marriage of plates starts

Image A

Image A

peacefully with a kiss impression. But after that optimal setup check and the thumbs up from the supervisor to “run it”, the plate that was handled so carefully prints what can be millions of feet of product and running sometimes in excess of 2,000 fpm, not to mention exposure to solvent mixtures that swell and abrasive white inks that wear on the plate surface. This sounds like a harsh environment, and it is, but this is NOT where most plates are damaged or worn out. More plates are deemed unusable after incurring damage during demounting, or the stripping of the plate from the stickyback. When polling convertors, an estimated (average) of 78% of plates are replaced due to damage versus the plates actually wearing out.

Oh, The Shame…

Image B

Image B

If it wasn’t bad enough that an expensive plate is damaged beyond use during the demounting process, it often gets worse. We have made it a point to inform employees how expensive a photopolymer plate can be. So when an employee inadvertently tears a plate during demounting, believe me they get a sick feeling in their stomach. People who would never consider damaging company property and take pride in their job, with one slip, just a little too much pressure, or pulling at the wrong angle tear the plate. The dilemma now is to report it, or quickly hide it in the trash and hope it will be classified as “lost” or maybe the job will incur a change in artwork and it will all work out. Of course the problem comes when the damage does go unreported and the platemaker is already behind and thinks he/she is going to just pull the “full” set from storage.

Avoiding the Tear

Image C

Image C

Plates damaged during demounting typically fall into two different areas, tearing the plate at a stagger (see image A) or creasing the Mylar backing by pulling the plate in an offset angle from the plate cylinder or sleeve. When carefully trimming a plate, often just prior to the mounting process, we often need to trim 90 degree cuts where the design nests or lanes are staggered. It is at the inner angles that the plate is most susceptible to tearing during demounting. No matter how careful the trimming, the two cuts intersect one another creating a small slit that allows tearing to easily occur when removing the plate from the mounting tape (see image B). The individual can do something so easy at this point to minimize this mousetrap. Simply take a commercial grade hole punch, and punch out the area of the intersecting cuts (see image C). When the plate is pulled from the tape the force will follow around the radius of the holes before changing in the Y to X axis. You will be amazed at how well this method works. Industrial handheld

Image D

Image D

hole punches cost around $50 and can punch a variety of holes sizes, not just the standard 3/4″ although that size does work well. The larger the diameter of the hole, the more that forces is spread and the better the result, but in some cases the convertor may choose something smaller, not to cut into the artwork. A Kongsberg (see image D) table takes an automated approach to plate trimming with the ability to trim multiple plates from a master sheet of polymer with radius at each critical area prone to incurring damage.

Everybody’s Got an Angle

The second area that damage occurs during demounting is creasing the Mylar backing by pulling the plate in a non parallel angle from the cylinder in hopes to get it to release from the mounting tape (stickyback). It’s difficult to tell the person demounting the plate to “just pull the plate away and parallel from the cylinder. The fact is that if it was that easy, that is exactly what they would be doing. When demounting a plate by hand, many of us refer to a method coined by 3M as the “low and slow” technique. Folding the plate over on itself or pulling the plate side to side inevitably will result in some damage to the plate. Removing the plate in a steady slow motion while using a low angle of peel (less than

Image E

Image E

90¡) will help minimize damage to the plate (see image E). Still we must consider that after a plate is mounted, the adhesive level typically increases. The reason for this is because when we mount the plate, we want to be able to easily reposition the plate. Once the plate is mounted we want it to stick aggressively until the order is run, then magically release. The truth is that it increases in adhesion, and impression in press only enhances this effect. The result is a plate that often doesn’t want to release, and a lot of pulling back and forth and side to side to get it to release. There have been cases that the employee pulling the plate or stickyback from the print cylinder actually pulls the cylinder off the cart or stand in which it is resting. Considering the awkward movement and amount of force required to get the plate to release by the employee, it isn’t hard to image damage to the plate, or worse yet, physical injury to the employee. It only makes sense that this would be a likely area for automation.

Automated Demounting

Image F

Image F – Click the image above to learn more.

Automated plate demounters are designed to automate the removal of polymer plates and tape (stickyback) from sleeves or print cylinders (see image F). The effectiveness of these demounters is only enhanced by the plate punching methods and use of automatic cutters like the Kongsberg table. The auto demounter replaces the need of an operator to remove plates or mounting tape by hand, an operation that can be particularly time consuming especially for wide web plates. The demounters can be equipped with an expandable shaft, allowing the machine to work with all sleeve inner diameters or work with conventional plate cylinders. The cost savings in time and damage to plates can be great; the operation of these machines seems rather simplistic initially.

Once the mounted plate cylinder or sleeve is placed in the demounter, a key part of the demounting operation takes place. A specially coated pneumatic roller gently moves forward to prevent damage to the plate and locks on to the lead edge of the plate. Once this “clamp roller” locks down on an edge of the plate, the machine gently pulls the plate off of the sleeve or cylinder perfectly parallel and at a constant (controlled) speed and peel angle without tearing the photopolymer. The very same process can be used to then remove the mounting tape.

Current automated plate demounters do require the operator’s assistance in releasing the initial lip of the plate to start the removal process. The reason this intervention is required is to address butt fit plates, radical plate gap patterns and step and repeat staggers. The is most safely executed by using a plastic tool with a flat beveled edge to start to lift the plate without fracturing the mylar backing which can occur by using ones fingers.

More to Come…

In Part 3, we will look into minimizing plate costs by using a quantitative process determine how we can be sure a plate is worn and no longer suitable for use. We have formed our Technical Solutions Group to encompass our full range of expertise in all critical areas of the flexo process. This team is made up of industry professionals dedicated to being up to date on new technologies, armed with the last in diagnostic tools, and experienced in problem solving that can achieve sustainable results. The TSG have walked in your shoes, and has felt your pain. For any specific questions please feel free to contact me at 847-922-0134 or treece@teamflexo.com.

apr-logo-new-200APR Technical Solutions Group

We have formed our Technical Solutions Group to encompass our full range of expertise in all critical areas of the flexo process. This team is made up of industry professionals dedicated to being up to date on new technologies, armed with the last in diagnostic tools, and experienced in problem solving that can achieve sustainable results. The TSG have walked in your shoes, and have felt your pain. For any specific questions please feel free to contact me at 847-922-0134 or treece@teamflexo.com.

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Digital vs. Flexographic Labels

chicago_taglabel_logoBy Don Amato, Chicago Tag & Label

 

You and your company have a number of options when it comes to label printing, and there are countless considerations that you’ll need to weigh when choosing the ideal option for your business. Consideration of criteria such as print quality, cost effectiveness, and adaptability are just a few of the factors that you should evaluate. If you’re looking to compare digital vs. flexographic labels, it’s smart to look at what the two technologies have in common and how they’re different. You’ll also want to know the advantages and disadvantages of each process, especially when looking at the applications you’ll be using.

Understanding the Basics
Put simply, digital printing refers to the process whereby an image and/or text is transferred onto a variety of surfaces primarily via ink jet or laser printer technology. Pigment or toner is distributed over the material, which would typically include paper, canvas, some fabrics, glass, and some others. Lesser-used solutions involve digital laser exposure onto photographic paper to reproduce the intended image.

In contrast, flexographic printing utilizes flexible plates and rotary style equipment for mass production. The process begins by creating the printing plate using one of a variety of methods and assembling the apparatus that holds it, known as a plate cylinder. Then, the stock is fed into the rotary press, where ink is transferred from the ink tank to the ink roll to the plate. Once evenly distributed over the plate, the image and text is imprinted upon the surface of the stock.

Digital vs. Flexographic Labels: Cost
With these basic descriptions of the two different processes, you can probably see where certain advantages and drawbacks emerge for printing digital vs. flexographic labels. First, digital printing has a lower upfront cost, essentially involving a computer and an ink jet or laser printer. Over time, however, the printing process can be expensive with supplies and maintenance. Digital printing is not suitable for large-scale projects in excess of 50,000 reproductions.

In contrast, flexography is considerably more expensive to implement, due to the plate creation, equipment, and assembly. There are many components to such a press, including the plates, cylinders, rollers and dryers. Purchasing all of the upfront technology can be more than the cost of the labels themselves. Still, once the initial investment is made, flexographic printing of labels or other media is significantly less if you’re running more than 50,000.

Comparing Digital and Flexographic Turnaround Time
With digital printing of labels, you simply locate an image or text file on your computer and click on print. Of course, there’s maintenance of the equipment, refilling ink or toner, and other matters that might mean your print job takes a few minutes. Nevertheless, when printing a couple thousand labels or less, you’re usually looking at minimal turnaround time with digital vs. flexographic labels.

On the other hand, flexography does require more time to complete a job. The process of creating the printing plate, filling the ink tank, and assembling the ink roll and plate cylinder result in higher turnaround time as setup before beginning each job. However, it’s important to consider the size of the job that you’ll be running. The time investment when setting up a longer run is minimal when you compare it to the fact that you’re creating multiples of thousands of labels. Imagine using your digital printer to run 50,000 labels and you’ll see the advantage of flexographic over digital label printing.

Ink Usage for Digital vs. Flexographic Labels
If you’ve ever purchased toner for a laser or ink jet printer, you know that you’re basically getting three colors. Whether they come in one cartridge or separately, these dyes are mixed during the process to provide the best match of the computer images you’re reproducing. Of course, a typical printer would be printing onto paper, though specialized models are available that can handle fabric, glass, metal, tile, and other materials. However, some of the ink color quality and hue can be affected with these substrates.

With flexographic printing, your ink options are more extensive and can be perfectly suited to your substrate. Whether you go with water-based, solvent, vegetable-based or some other formulation, your colors stay true and dry quickly. Some UV-curable inks dry almost instantly and can be handled immediately. Plus, because the ink trays of a flexographic printer are easy to fill, the need for expensive toner cartridges is eliminated.

Substrates and Surfaces
Flexographic printing is hands-down the better alternative when it comes to various surfaces, since the technology has no trouble with reproducing labels on any porous or non-porous substrates. It can print on all types of fabrics, paper, photo paper, corrugated cardboard, metallics, cellophane, and glass. In fact, flexography is even used on stretchable plastic and on the reverse side of non-porous film. You essentially have your choice of materials when printing labels and product packaging.

With a few exceptions, digital can simply not accommodate many substrates, as the ink being deposited will smear off of non-porous surfaces. In addition, due to its rotary action, flexography is also best suited for printing continuous patterns. Giftwrap, wallpaper, and certain labels are examples where continuous printing action is necessary. Digital printing doesn’t have the capabilities to print in one, long constant run.

After considering printing options with digital vs. flexographic labels, it’s best to weigh all the pros and cons before making a decision to invest. If your business has extensive printing needs that number in the thousands or millions of units, flexography is the premium option. Your startup costs may be significant, but turnaround time on large-scale projects is minimal when compared to digital. You also have to consider the surfaces you intend to print upon, as flexographic printing essentially offers unlimited alternatives. Digital printing also has its advantages, but its drawbacks can be prohibitive.

About the Author:
chicago-tag-don-amato
Don Amato is Vice-President, Sales of Chicago Tag & Label in Libertyville, IL. Chicago Tag & Label manufactures form labels, labels and tags that deliver solutions to a broad range of industries including retail, industrial, manufacturing, distribution and medical environments.

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How UV-LED Inkjet Technology is Increasing Profits for Flexographic Printers – Part 3

By Roland DGA 

Package Prototyping 101: Why Universities Have Adopted Roland VersaUV Technology 

Outside the business arena, VersaUV technology has found an enthusiastic audience within the university system, where the basics of the design, printing and finishing processes are taught to aspiring package designers.  Across the U.S., several of the most renowned package design schools have adopted VersaUV technology, citing its quality, efficiency and overall versatility as key factors in their selection process.  While these institutions often serve a range of student requirements and applications, having VersaUV in-house allows them to also explore design concepts on the vast range of substrates that flexo presses support.

Two such universities include the Sonoco Institute of Package Design & Graphics at Clemson University and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) School of Print Media.  For these and other institutions, VersaUV’s unique ability to print, score, die cut and emboss actual press substrates to exacting specifications makes it a great platform for both instructional and research purposes.

The Sonoco Institute of Package Design & Graphics at Clemson University

What makes packaging appealing to consumers? Why do certain colors, textures and graphics generate interest while others get passed over?  The Sonoco Institute of Package Design and Graphics at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. exists to help answer questions like these.   Each year, its faculty instructs more than 200 students in the art of packaging design.

“Our students are interested in developing real packaging for real applications,” said Dr. R. Andrew Hurley, assistant professor at the Sunoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics. He and his students value the VersaUV for its ability to print on a wide range of substrates, creating prototypes that are virtually identical to full production packaging.  They have run projects on plastic bagging material, thermoformable substrates, corrugated cardboard, and several types of paperboard. “The Roland prints on virtually any material, so when our students designed flexo packaging, we rarely had to worry about substrates,” Hurley noted. “It was liberating knowing that our designs would come out perfectly on the final manufacturing material without having to print on roll stock, cut, glue, score and then have a smear or air bubbles. With the LEC-330, we were able to save time, money, materials and design according to our specifications, not to the limitations of our equipment.”

The Sonoco Institute of Package Design and Graphics is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including a cutting-edge prototyping lab.  Among the lab’s current high tech equipment is a Roland VersaUV LEJ-640 64-inch UV inkjet printer. Originally, an LEC-330 was being used for the program, but the Institute recently replaced that model with an LEJ-640 to be able to print on thicker stocks such as corrugated boards.

According to Hurley, students leverage the VersaUV’s capabilities to run multiple iterations and then determine what works best for their respective projects.

“The results are stunning” said Hurley. Using the VersaUV’s CYMK plus white and clear inks, students can reverse print with a basecoat of white ink, produce full-color images, and finish each project with unique patterns, textures and varnishing effects using layers of clear ink.  “Elaborate textures and effects like these would be very expensive to simulate on other equipment,” Hurley noted.

In addition to students, the university serves more than 600 corporations who have worked with the Institute’s faculty and staff to train their employees in digital design, as well as to take advantage of the Institute’s comprehensive packaging design and testing process. The design and testing process begins with faculty and students working collaboratively with corporations to develop specific packaging designs and prototypes.  Next, the Institute uses its own fully-stocked grocery store to test the effectiveness of the packaging.  Prototypes are placed next to competitors’ products in the store aisles.  Shoppers are given a list of products to purchase and are asked to wear eye-tracking glasses.

As shoppers make their selections, the inward- and outward-facing cameras on the glasses record the movement of their eyes, giving researchers a window into their cognitive process.

“Especially for the testing process, we rely on the VersaUV for its precision color matching and accurate registration to print realistic prototypes,” reports Hurley.  “I am completely amazed by this machine.  It fits in perfectly with our curriculum and allows the students to see the results of their work almost instantaneously.”

Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Media Sciences

For RIT’s School of Media Sciences, VersaUV technology is equally important. The university is known for leveraging its state-of-the-art facilities to prepare graduates for careers in printing and publishing. RIT has been using a Roland VersaUV LEC-330, and the inclusion of this advanced 30-inch UV inkjet printer/cutter has helped to fill an important need in the school’s curriculum and research.

“The VersaUV has generated a lot of excitement among the staff and students. It raises the bar with multiple colors and surface effects,” said Erich Lehman, Premedia Facilities Coordinator, RIT School of Media Sciences. “The students have used it to turn out some really innovative work.”

At RIT, Lehman and his students have the opportunity to test out the latest in printing technology from a variety of manufacturers. Students use the VersaUV to produce a variety of graphics, including packaging prototypes.

“We find the VersaUV incredibly valuable for teaching concepts for flexographic applications,” Lehman said. “It prints on a wide variety of flexo substrates, and since it prints white ink, we are not limited to opaque substrates. The VersaUV gives us the ability to take a student’s flexo project from ideation to realization.”

RIT students often employ the VersaUV’s white and clear inks on their designs, creating gloss and texture. “The clear ink has been incredibly popular,” said Lehman. “Students enjoy using it to add texture and interest to their projects. They also enjoy experimenting with the wide variety of substrates that can be run on the LEC.”

Student packaging designs have earned top honors in the American Packaging Corp./Kraft Product Design Challenge at RIT. In the four-week challenge, students from the industrial and graphic design departments worked with packaging science students to create new packaging for familiar brands, including Planters Peanuts, Wheat Thins, Oreos and Nutter Butters. The teams’ formal presentations were judged by representatives from the sponsoring companies.

Professor Alex Lobos of the School of Industrial Design noted that having the VersaUV allowed the students to produce actual prototypes rather than appearance models. “This is a critical difference for the students as well as for the judges. The packages were created as designed, with nothing lost in translation,” said Lobos. He also credited the VersaUV with allowing the students to attain an additional level of understanding of the production process.

Download the entire paper.

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How UV-LED Inkjet Technology is Increasing Profits for Flexographic Printers – Part 2

By Roland DGA 

UV Printers in Action

To get a feel for how UV technology is revolutionizing pre-press and proofing, it helps to take a look at some real-world examples.  These companies are currently putting advanced UV-LED printers to work in their respective businesses to increase the efficiency, capabilities and overall success of their operations.

PBM Graphics, Inc.

Packaging Prototypes Increase Sales for North Carolina Printer
Durham, North Carolina-based PBM Graphics, an “A to Z” printing and fulfillment company that employs a staff of nearly 600 and has specialized in commercial printing for more than 30 years, operates under the umbrella of Consolidated Graphics – a 70-company business network generating $1 billion in annual sales. PBM, which runs multiple sheetfed and digital presses as well as a full web and flexo press, started producing packaging prototypes in late 2011 when it purchased a Roland VersaUV LEC-330 UV inkjet printer. Since then, the company has successfully grown its business by offering package prototype services.

PBM uses its VersaUV to produce prototypes of gift card carriers for many of the most recognized retailers, overwraps for trading card clients, and shrink wrap prototypes for bottle packagers and adhesive label packages.

“We originally purchased the VersaUV for its opaque white capabilities, but use it far more often for prototyping,” said Adam Geerts, President of PBM Graphics. “We really appreciate the LEC-330’s ability to produce textures, like simulated foil stamping and embossing, as well as the wide variety of substrates the printer can accommodate.”

Geerts points out the significance of PBM’s LEC-330 purchase. “Among all the millions of dollars of equipment we’ve purchased over the years, nothing has generated as much excitement with the sales team as the VersaUV LEC-330.  There’s a lot we can do to show the customer what a finished product will look like without having to manufacture one,” he said.

According to Geerts, the functionality and capabilities of the LEC-330 have allowed PBM to save a significant amount of money. “The foil stamping, embossing and printing plates made a lot of prototype projects cost prohibitive in the past,” Geerts said. “With our VersaUV, we’re now able to produce the same jobs that previously would have gone through full manufacturing for pennies on the dollar.”

Geerts also notes the importance of being able to create realistic prototypes affordably and in-house when it comes to acquiring new business. “A lot of what we do is done at our own expense to help a sales person get a foot in the door or to assist an agency in winning a campaign. It’s one thing to talk about an idea, but to be able to see and hold the concept is much more compelling,” he said.

“The VersaUV is the highest quality digital proofer that we’ve ever experienced,” said Geerts.  “We can get the resolution, color and textures needed to make accurate prototypes for any of our customers.”

K1 Packaging Group

VersaUV Allows California Printer to Fully Satisfy Existing Clients and Attract New Customers
Headquartered in City of Industry, Calif., K1 Packaging Group produces paperboard folding cartons, digital and flexo printed labels, and high-end graphic packaging materials for both domestic and international retail.  K1’s clients include companies within the food and beverage, beauty and cosmetic supply, media software/hardware, and nutriceutical and pharmaceutical industries.  In addition to their main 85,000 square-foot location, K1 has another 20,000 square-foot facility in Pomona, Calif. that houses Everest Packaging, which focuses on contract packaging.  Altogether, K1 employs a staff of 90 and a variety of devices, including Mark Andy, Inc. flexographic printers and a Roland VersaUV® LEC-330 UV-LED Printer/Cutter.

Jimmy Tsai, K1 Packaging Group’s sales manager, notes that the LEC-330’s ability to produce highly realistic prototypes, along with the printer’s unique embossing and spot UV capabilities, is what won them over. “Many of our customers’ projects are printed on holographic material. The fear of running a print job without first producing a sample is very high, with all that could go wrong and the costs involved if it does,” said Tsai.  The LEC-330 has eliminated that fear by enabling K1 to create prototypes that closely resemble the finished product.

According to Tsai, early concerns over the ROI his company would see from the LEC-330 purchase were quickly alleviated.  He notes that the investment has completely paid off, allowing K1 to bring in a new base of customers – primarily from the personal care and cosmetic industries – in need of package prototypes that look like the real thing.  In serving this higher-end clientele, K1 has also found the LEC-330’s ability to print white ink extremely useful for creating packaging that really pops and attracts consumers.

Tsai points out that his customers are thrilled with everything the LEC-330 can do. In addition to enabling K1 Packaging to create realistic prototypes efficiently and cost effectively, it has allowed the company to increase their relationships and become more involved with clients at an even earlier stage in the creative process.

White Graphics, Inc.

UV-LED Technology Enables Illinois Shop to Produce Realistic Flexible Packaging Prototypes
Employing a staff of nine at its Downers Grove, Illinois headquarters, White Graphics produces flexible packaging, displays, cartons, pressure sensitive labels, mockups and sales samples.  The company’s client list includes a number of corporations, such as M&M Mars, Unilever, PepsiCo, Sonoco, Handi-Foil and Packaging Corporation of America – all of which depend on White Graphics to provide them with high quality, innovative packaging solutions. To expand their production capabilities, White Graphics purchased a Roland VersaUV LEC-300 printer/cutter.  Following the success of the 300 model, a VersaUV LEJ-640 flatbed printer was recently added to the workflow. The ability to print on such a wide variety of substrates has made a major impact on the company’s success.

Richard White, president of White Graphics, appreciates the durability of Roland’s ECO-UV inks, especially when printing on foil bags and other flexible substrates.  “The inks have a lot of stretch to them so they don’t crack, yet the surface passes any rub test you can imagine,” he noted. “The ability to create very tight comps of flexible bags with white underlay, as well as the corresponding corrugated and folding carton pieces, has made us a valuable partner in product development for our clients.”

“Applying white underlay and ECO-UV Clear Coat overlay on foils in conjunction with full-color process creates an almost perfect comp as an end result,” added vice president Andrew White.

Because White Graphics produces packaging for the food industry, samples of their printed products are rigorously tested at sensory laboratories to check for any retained odors from the printing process. To comply with the testing procedures, White Graphics’ food packaging print samples are wrapped in aluminum foil as they emerge from the printer and sent directly to a laboratory. “The packages we printed on the VersaUV passed the lab test with an A+,” Andrew said.

Operating in a niche market that depends on their ability to turn around complex jobs quickly, White Graphics relies on the company’s ingenuity and the advanced functionality of its equipment to satisfy its existing clients and attract new customers. “There isn’t a job that comes in here that isn’t a challenge, said Andrew.  “The VersaUV quite simply allows us to provide better service to our clients.”

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How UV-LED Inkjet Technology is Increasing Profits for Flexographic Printers – Part 1

By Roland DGA

Having the ability to quickly create a realistic package prototype that impresses a potential client with its detail and accuracy can make all the difference in the world when it comes to winning business in today’s competitive marketplace.  Until recently, the problem has been how to easily and effectively achieve this level of realism – a prototype that closely matches the final product – cost effectively and within a short window of time. Using specialized proofing equipment or stopping the press to run samples can cause considerable inconvenience not to mention thousands of dollars of lost production revenue.  Today’s advanced digital UV inkjet printers and printer/cutters offer companies specializing in flexographic printing an effective, affordable, user-friendly solution.

How Digital UV Inkjet Printers are Revolutionizing the Pre-Press Process

Incorporating state-of-the-art technology, UV inkjets are capable of producing realistic package prototypes in hours instead of days or weeks, without the long set-up time, waste and returns associated with traditional package prototyping methods.  In addition to enabling flexo printers to create high quality prototypes in-house and in record time, the ability of UV devices to print on virtually any substrate allows for the creation of package prototypes using materials identical to those used in the final print run.  The advanced features of UV inkjet printers also make it possible to incorporate unique, eye-catching varnish and embossing effects that add value and appeal to any prototype. These innovative UV devices are opening up new profit centers as well, allowing flexographic printers to accept shorter runs and new types of print jobs that previously wouldn’t have been economically feasible.

By making it possible to create detailed, realistic prototypes without taking the press offline or outsourcing, a digital UV inkjet printer, such as those within Roland’s VersaUV® series, can save valuable time reducing both cost and labor. Because these machines are capable of printing directly onto the flexible substrates and clear films often used in flexo jobs – including PET, PP and shrink wrap – accurately matching colors and providing “proof of concept” becomes a much easier task.  A packaging design firm, flexo printer, or converter that adds a UV printer into its daily workflow can show a prospective customer a prototype that resembles the final, finished product in every respect – right down to the client’s desired packaging material – within hours.

Proofing

A big part of the pre-press process is proofing, which can be an expensive and painstaking process. In a flexo operation, even a single proof or comp requires creating plates, which adds labor and material cost to the job.  While many shops rely on water-based inkjet proofing devices to curb costs and produce proofs, these platforms don’t always support the types of films and other substrates used to produce flexible packaging.  And, prototypes produced on substrates differing from those used in the final product – even if those differences are subtle – can cause problems when the job goes to production.  The emergence of UV-LED inkjet printers addresses this dynamic.

These devices deliver both the precise color imaging of water-based inkjets and the broad media support needed to effectively simulate on-press results, at a fraction of the time and cost.

Distributed Print Operations

Employing a UV printer can also greatly enhance and expedite the pre-press process when more than one facility is involved.  Advanced color management software designed to interface with Roland’s VersaUV printers – including programs from GMG, CGS and EFI – dramatically improve color-matching accuracy and simplify the entire proofing/color verification process.  Working in conjunction with Roland’s advanced VersaUV printers, this software not only enables you to hit the exact color you’re looking for, it also ensures consistent results across pre-press and production platforms when printing takes place at multiple locations. For example, proofing can take place at a facility in the U.S., and you can expect the same results from printing presses, whether flexo, rotogravure, or lithographic, located anywhere in the world.

Finishing

Package designers and brand managers often wish to see a variety of packaging options that differentiate their products from competitors while capturing the look and feel of finished goods.  VersaUV printers and printer/cutters offer a variety of finishing options. Clear Coat ink offers the ability to add matte or gloss varnishing effects for highlights or floods that closely match the final printed product. You can even simulate embossing for brand names or special effects.

Finishing also includes die-cutting and scoring of the materials. A UV-LED printer featuring integrated contour cutting, such Roland’s LEC-330 and LEC-540, not only prints but also performs scoring, kiss cutting and die cutting functions all in one seamless workflow, assuring that the proof you review is truly representative of the final product.

Low Heat Curing

Although UV inkjet printing has been around for quite a while, until recently, it was limited by the nature of its curing technology.  Conventional UV lamps can reach temperatures as high as 1500°F (800°C), virtually eliminating the possibility of printing on any heat-sensitive material.  Today’s UV-LED lamps, generate very little heat, allowing them to print on a wide variety of films used in flexible packaging, including clear, metallic, colored and shrink.

Specialty Ink Benefits

In addition to printing CMYK, Roland’s VersaUV printers can also be equipped with specialty inks, including clear and white. The ability to print high opacity white ink is especially important for flexographic printers, since many flexo jobs involve printing on metallic, clear films and shrink wrap.  Roland’s ECO-UV® and ECO-UV® S inks dry instantly and are extremely durable, so they won’t rub off like other white inks. ECO-UV S ink can also be stretched and applied around curved surfaces and edges without peeling or cracking, making it ideal for shrink sleeves, shrink wrap and other vacuum forming and flexible packaging applications. Clear coat offers advantages, including an unprecedented high gloss finish on output, special varnishing and embossing effects, scratch and chemical resistance, and enhanced outdoor durability.  Digital UV inkjet printers that support specialty inks improve and expedite the proofing process, allowing you to get the highest degree of accuracy and assuring the success of your final press run.

Low Operating Costs

Low cost of operation is another UV-LED technology benefit.  In fact, the cost of producing a sample on a UV-LED device can be as low as a few cents per sample. Compare that to an estimated dollar-per-sample cost basis for the same proof generated on a water-based inkjet or $50 to $500 per sample when outsourced.  Running a press to produce proof samples is even more expensive. Plus, UV-LED inkjet proofs can be produced on demand – in one or two hours if needed – allowing design and production changes to be implemented in real time.

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G7® and Paper Color: The Challenge of Achieving an Acceptable Color Match

By Ron Ellis

g7expert_sealG7® has proven to be a valuable method for calibrating printing devices, as well as specifying color. One of the limitations of G7, as well as other calibration methods, has been the problem of paper color.  The G7 method is based upon ISO 10128. This means that the LAB values for inks, the traps, and the gray curve are all based on the global print standard, ISO 12647-2. When performed on the stock specified, the process works spectacularly well. Because of this G7 has been very successful. Part of the consistent results we see from G7 are due to the fact that G7 sits on top of ISO 12647-2. In the world of standard papers and inks everything works well.

When we use papers that are out of spec then we begin to see color matching problems. The more out of spec the paper is the worse the color match will be. (By out of spec we mean the paper color is shifting away from the neutral paper specified by ISO 12647-2.) Paper color is a big deal and can cause all sorts of color management issues. The more colorful (and away from the standard) the paper is, typically towards blue or yellow, the more the printed color shifts away from the desired color. Deviating from the standard sounds like an easy problem to fix. The easy solution is just to make sure that the paper you are using meets the standard. This however, is not easy. First, the paper described in ISO 12647-2 (verify) is not easily obtainable. In commercial markets paper grades have brightened dramatically in the past few years. For packaging the typical SBS paper is more yellow than the standard describes. Very few papers match the specifications of ISO 12647-2.  Second, print buyers are selecting papers that are much whiter and brighter than the standard ISO paper. In some industries like packaging the customer is supplying them with a GRACoL C1 proof (which is based on a more neutral paper) even though the packaging substrate is more yellow.

The scenario tends to go as follows: The customer submits a print job along with a GRACoL proof. The proof is to GRACoL specifications and scanning the control strip indicates that the proof is GRACoL compliant. The paper selected for the job is a new and popular paper, which is both much more blue and even more red than the ISO specified paper that GRACoL is specified on. On press the operator quickly comes up to color, pulling to within 5 points of the target densities. The pressman looks at the proof and press sheet and realizes he has a problem. His normal procedure ,he begins to adjust the solid densities to visually match the proof. Though he can get some parts of the sheet in the mid-tone to match the proof, other objects such as the light tan process builds and the dark purple builds are way off. The plant manager comes out and asks if the press operator has run to the numbers – which he has.

It is important to note that this isn’t just a problem with GRACoL, but that this same problem applies to all proof to press matches because they are based on an assumed paper color. In the case above, because of the paper color change it is impossible to get a reasonable match to the proof. While the buyer is using the proof and the ISO values in the control strip religiously, the painful truth is that because of the paper shift these values are no longer valid  — on the paper stock specified by the print buyer, the printer cannot achieve the specified overprints. The paper is so blue that all of the solids and overprints are shifted, and in the case of the beige quartertones everything looks slightly green and no amount of curve changing will make those light highlight areas match the proof. The scenario above is dramatic. Many stocks are close enough that the press operator can often hit the proof. Brand owners and those seeking precision expect perfect proof matches from their printer – and when the match isn’t there on an odd stock, they don’t understand why. Paper is as we have all heard over and over, the fifth color.

IDEAlliance, the organization that owns G7, GRACoL and SWOP has been aware of this disconnect.  Standards are like ISO are standards for a reason, and when you stop using standard material (like using an extremely different shade of paper) then the standard becomes broken and does not work as intended.  The problem is bigger than just sheetfed printing, where we have more control over the sheets we print on. In other print processes like flexo, or board printing, the substrates are even more out of spec. In order to have a brand render correctly across a variety of substrates, and to give the printer a fair chance at matching color, G7 and additional color management may be required. One member of the IDEAlliance Print Properties & Colorimetric Committee who has thought long and hard about this is David McDowell. David is a color scientist and US ISO delegate. He has developed a formula for paper scaling which the GRACoL Tolerance Committee is currently testing. The formula has been integrated into a spreadsheet, which contains the GRACoL and SWOP datasets. By typing the paper color into the spreadsheet, the spreadsheet will do the math and recalculate the dataset with new aim points based on using that specific paper color. It’s a very interesting concept and in near future IDEAlliance may release it as a tool with a set of guidelines for printers to test.

How would a paper scaling tool work? The idea is that by typing in paper color you would be presented with a new dataset that is more realistic for that paper. This includes aim points that are more appropriate for the paper. Great news – but we’re not done yet. This doesn’t mean that the press sheet will now magically match the proof. There is just no way  that the  specified super blue substrate is going to render color the way the neutral paper color of ISO would. To make it work the proof should be created using this new dataset as well. That means making a new proof profile based on these numbers. It is not something you would want to do for every job but something that could be very important if you are printing on non-standard substrates, custom colored paper or other situations where you will be expected to match a proof precisely. In practical terms, this could result in a printer having a traditional GRACoL C1 proof as well as one or two other for non-standard substrates such as blue/brightened or SBS.

Intriguing? Once tested, if it works the method and procedure will be available for download by IDEAlliance members. (To learn more watch the GRACoL web site at www.gracol.org where there are updates on the progress as well as updated downloads.) Until then keep in mind the challenge paper brings to our industry. Not everything will match a supplied proof, and more often than not, the problem could be the paper. Paper is the fifth color, and just ignoring it doesn’t help.

About Ron Ellis

ellis-ronRon Ellis is a Boston-based consultant specializing in color management, worflow integration, and press calibration. He has provided installation and training services to dealers, manufacturers, and content creators since 1986. An IDEAlliance G7 Expert and chair of the GRACoL Committee, Ron has performed over 100 G7 calibrations. In addition to calibrating pressrooms for customers such as Pantone, Ron also specializes in creating internal working spaces for brands and agencies that allow them to work more efficiently with vendors, saving both time and money. Ron is published frequently in industry magazines, and has produced training materials for numerous printing industry vendors and publishers. He can be contacted at 603-498-4553 or through his web site at www.ronellisconsulting.com

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Calibrating Eurostampa’s Flexo Methodology to G7® Standards Returns Big Dividends

lBy Salmon Creek Media & Marketing

Since 1966, Eurostampa, an Italian-owned company, has produced high-quality labels for the wines and spirits industry, including major international brands Bacardi, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Skol Vodka, and Kahlua. In 2010, they broke ground on their new 70,000 square foot printing facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, headquarters for their North American operations.

siller-francisco“As a family owned, global company that is well-known for supplying the highest quality products and service to our customers, we are always looking for innovative ways of improving our processes to ensure that the products will be fit for purpose, with the leanest and fastest operations available,” explained Eurostampa’s Quality Manager Francisco Siller. “We were already qualified on G7® in offset when the decision was made to qualify as a G7® Master Printer for flexo. G7® for offset brought immediate benefits to our prepress operations that were immediately perceived by our customers, mainly for new projects.”

Beginning the G7 Qualification Process

To manage the process that would lead them to formal qualification as a G7 Master Printer by IDEAlliance, Eurostampa turned to All Printing Resources (APR). The role of the G7 Expert is to facilitate the implementation of the G7 process and submit documentation and samples to IDEAlliance on a company’s behalf.

“APR has been a reliable supplier of flexographic solutions for Eurostampa in North America, and their qualified flexo team is always willing to help Eurostampa on continuous-improvement initiatives,” said Siller. “As soon as we learned that they had G7 expertise in flexography, we decided to develop this project together.”
CatHaynes2Bringing a level of experience and a real understanding of the project’s challenges was APR’s Catherine Haynes, a Qualified G7 Expert, who worked closely with Ken Codling, Technical Manager; Bob Fenster, Production PSL Manager; and Francisco Siller. “It was a great experience working with her,” Siller continued. “She is a knowledgeable, ‘hands on,’ committed professional.”

As a neutral, objective observer, Haynes was able to work with the press operators and show them how the G7 qualification process gives them new tools to make their jobs easier. As with any new project, there is always some resistance; however, standardization and process improvement have always been a part of Eurostampa’s culture, and their press operators quickly realized the benefits the G7 process would deliver for their workflow.

Prior to starting G7 implementation, Eurostampa had great process control and was at a GRACoL 6 Standard, which made for a smooth qualification process. They have always been a company striving for operational excellence and measuring the critical variables of every process, and not just on press. This has been the key to the company’s success.

APR brought their own software for the qualification process, but their ultimate goal was to have Eurostampa be able to do it themselves with their own tools. Eurostampa did use their own RIP.

The G7 Qualification Process

The entire G7 qualification process entails:

  • Defining the goal
  • Running a gray-balance target
  • Measuring and analyzing the target
  • Applying the curves to the file
  • Running the gray-balanced plates
  • • Profiling the process

The first phase of the calibration process required linear press runs to benchmark where Eurostampa was and then develop the necessary adjustments curves. Calibration has a two-fold benefit. It brings a process into a known state, one defined by standards that direct us to a commonly agreed state of order. It also helps extend the life of the process, bringing it back to a known state of order—to the specs.

ES_G7Anal

The second phase involved rerunning the jobs with new adjustments. There was a third and final run to confirm the results.

The goal was to qualify three different substrates—metallized, paper, and film—within a three-day period. Everything was calibrated using Curve 3 software for curve adjustments and setting the definition of neutral gray. Calibrating each of these processes to a common, known state means that Eurostampa can now generate one proof because all of their processes share a similar neutral appearance.

For flexographic printing, the standards are still offset-based, so it can be difficult to get the flexo inks to match the target values. The standards are also based on paper and not film. “There were many variables involved,” noted Siller, “and the latest technologies were required. G7 can be more complicated for flexo than it is for offset. With less control of an ink’s density at the press, it limits the ability to achieve target densities. Note: There are flexo-based targets, but they are not presently part of IDEAlliance’s qualifications.

ES_InkTarget

The challenges of Flexo often make it difficult to become a flexo-qualified G7 Master Printer. While there were only 11 printers worldwide that had achieved the high expectations of IDEAlliance’s G7 Master program and were listed in the IDEAlliance G7 Master Database when Eurostampa completed the process in March 2013, Eurostampa easily qualified.

“Although a company only needs to qualify on one substrate,” said APR’s Catherine Haynes, “Eurostampa chose to run three different substrates, and all three passed.”

ES_NPDC

Now that the G7 qualification has been completed successfully, Eurostampa is educated about the process and enabled to continue applying this gray-balancing process for themselves. However, future G7 Master qualifications by IDEAlliance will require a submission process through a G7 Expert.

Using G7 process control is providing returns in improving quality and efficiencies at Eurostampa. Operators now have specific targets and the tools to help them manage the process, and there is no need to constantly tweak the press conditions.

While it isn’t easy to maintain G7 process control, Siller says that it is doable. “We need to keep current on software updates, target updates, and measuring equipment upgrades. It forces the verification of critical variables on every process before any project goes to the press, and it makes us ‘do it right the first time.’”

Eurostampa Realizes the Benefits of G7

G7 Master Printer status brings significant benefits to a company. Eurostampa has added verification steps, but decreased time lost at the presses for not having the right elements for production. They are seeing quality benefits including color consistency, better setup times, and reduced waste. And, their customers are now working with known standards throughout the prepress workflow, allowing them to achieve a common appearance across their product lines and reduce their costs and time to market.

About Eurostampa:

eurostampaEurostampa is a family owned company. In over 40 years of activity it has been able to stand out in all five continents in the world of quality and highly prestigious label printing. It has been able to offer a combination of traditional artwork, typical of what is made in Italy, and high technology using off-set, flexo, screen and digital printing. Right now, Industria Grafica Eurostampa has three different plants, the headquartersin Bene Vagienna (Italy), a second one in Cincinnati, Ohio (Eurostampa North America) and a third one in Glasgow (Eurostampa UK).

About All Printing Resources, Inc. (APR):

apr-logoAll Printing Resources, Inc. (APR) is a proven resource for solutions, trusted service, and support to the flexographic printing industry. APR delivers measurable performance enhancements and total cost reductions, including the after sale attention needed to see optimal results. APR represents some of the most innovative product lines worldwide and takes a “team” approach to deliver process improvement and innovative solutions.

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Filed under Case Studies, Color Management, Quality Control, Standards

Measuring Before Wasting

andersonvreeland Jessica Harkins, Anderson & Vreeland

Converters are always searching for ways to reduce waste but a significant method of doing that is often overlooked—instituting a solid data collection and management system that defines, measures, and minimizes waste.

The success of arriving at a consistent and quality end product is predicated by the institution of a measurement plan that controls data, says Jessica Harkins, Technologies Manager at Anderson & Vreeland, who recently gave a presentation, “Measuring Before Wasting,” at the 2013 Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute Technical Conference in Chicago, Illinois. “Data collection requires interpretation,” she says. “Employees may interpret the same information differently, so converters need to have a program in place that evaluates the data and provides strong guidelines.”

Best Practices

“Why are jobs rejected?” asks Harkins. “Usually because of color inconsistencies, and copy and material issues.” Harkins has identified a program of best practices to reduce waste: The establishment of a controlled environment, a target, and a determined tolerance for data results. Another necessity, says Harkins, is having a plan for identifying data the falls outside of your established tolerance parameters, along with a corrective program.

Prepress

 To reduce waste, proofing must be consistent and accurate, says Harkins.  Software-based-services are an efficient method of doing this, but, of course, automation will only work if the files its based upon are correct. If a file enters the system for which proper rules are not set, there may be errors in output. “It’s essential that there is high-level quality control approval of jobs after an automated process,” says Harkins.

Accurate color proofing is another area effects final job output. “The whole point of proofing is to generate a predictable match to the final output, and in order to do this, the press room must be consistent and accurate when creating color profiles, then running live work. 

Platemaking

The main functions in the plate department include laser imaging, exposure, and processing. Implementing quality control checks in the platemaking department will help ensure that all equipment is functioning correctly. Operators should check raw materials for gauge, laser ablation (to ensure clean imaging), UV lamps for proper and consistent exposure, and general cleanliness and care of the plate processor. Then using a plate measuring device to assess a few measurements on a control strip will confirm (or not) that the platemaking equipment is working correctly. “If any defects are found in the final print, it is easy to determine that the plateroom is not the culprit,” says Harkins.

Press

The core functions of the press department include job make-ready and job approval, plus verification of print consistency over the length of the run.

While make-ready preparation times can vary, instituting a standard procedure for operators to follow is important. This should include inspection of raw materials and tooling, such as substrates, inks, plates, sleeves, mounting tapes and anilox.

Finally, the approval process, while the last step, is just as important in ensuring a waste reduction program is effective. Setting guidelines pertaining to who is qualified to approve jobs and how jobs are proved will ensure consistency, while creating a course of action for approvals during the life of the run to avoid degradation.

Handheld devices for density, dot gain, gray-balance and spectral color data are available, and it’s just as important that the operators and approvers know how to use and troubleshoot measurement devices. Fairly new to the market are web-inspection color measurement devices that can dial into areas on the printing job and collect measurements throughout the length of the run. Once collected, either by hand or via web-inspection, software applications are available that can direct the operator to a better match, or store the color information history and use on repeat jobs. “This makes the process of repeating and verifying consistency over the life of the run relatively painless,” says Harkins.

About Jessica Harkins

JessicaHarkinsJessica joined the A&V team in June of 2010. She previously worked for Esko Artwork as the FIQ Supervisor with a strong focus in digital laser imaging, platemaking, fingerprinting presses, and software including the HD Flexo and Digital Flexo Suite applications. She also worked for Schawk in Chicago as the Technical Director completing R&D on digital plates, press curves, and photopolymer In-the-Round. She is a graduate from Clemson University in Graphics Communications. See more at: http://andersonvreeland.com/staff/jessica-harkins#sthash.B3i63aj2.dpuf

 

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Minimizing Plate Costs: Part 1 – Automatic Plate Cleaners

 

FlexoGuide-600

By Tim Reece, All Printing Resources

Introduction

There is certainly no shortage of articles written on how to store and handle photopolymer printing plates in order to maximize performance and extend life. We know that exposure to ultraviolet light and ozone damages the plate once it reaches production, but when it comes down to reasons for replacing an expensive photopolymer plate the reasons vary greatly. In this multi-part article we will explore some of the more common, but less controlled causes for replacing the plate.

  • Plate cleaning
  • Plate de-mounting
  • Identifying when the plate is worn

First Things First

In this article we will turn our primary focus to plate cleaning. Most of us understand the basics of plate cleaning. We know the importance of selecting a compatible cleaning solution, acceptable methods of wiping the plate to avoid damage to screens, and the importance of cleaning the ink from the plate sooner than later after the production run is complete. There is one aspect of plate cleaning that remains somewhat inconsistent that has a tremendous effect on plate life and performance, and that is a consistent deep cleaning into the screen areas of the plate.

Taking a Closer Look

Image A

Image A

It is reasonable to assume that a .067″ plate that contains screens would have a plate relief (distance from face to floor) of .018″ – .025″. However if we take a cross cut section through a screen, we can easily see that the relief area between the dots within the screen is actually much less than the surrounding relief. Space between individual dots routinely measure .006″ – .010″ (see image A).

Image B

Image B

The same holds true for fine reverses within solid print areas (see image B). It is in these areas that ink remains after what can be a good attempt at cleaning the printing plate. The problem isn’t just that the effort isn’t put forth to clean into these areas, it’s the fact that the ink has often thoroughly dried and a saturated lint free cloth or coarse bristled brush just doesn’t have the ability to clean deep

into these areas.

The Dirty Truth

Image C

Image C

The result of insufficient cleaning into these problematic areas can drastically diminish plate life and performance. As seen in image C, the relief within a screen can be reduced greatly as ink builds up. This often results in dirty print within the production run.

Image D

Image D

Even after a valid attempt of cleaning, ink often remains in these areas (see image D) and is sent into storage to await the next order. When that plate is pulled from storage and mounted back in the round, that dried ink has one of two directions to go. It either remains locked to the floor

within the screen, further reducing the relief and leaving the potential for fill-in; or it begins to flake out in small pieces and is released to the substrate or is re-deposited. Either way, the quality of the print is compromised. When asking a press crew the question, “Do you have a problem with the consistency of plate cleaning?”, the answer may often be “no” or “I am not sure.” But rarely is the answer “no” when asking press crews if there is ever a problem with dirty print or streaks in the anilox cells from ink particulate lodged between the doctor blade and anilox roll.

Wash Your Hands of the Whole Mess

Image E

Image E

Automatic plate cleaners were designed not only to effectively clean plates in these problem areas, but they also offer a much more consistent “hands free” result. Not unlike the plate processors that washout out the relief between images and dots during the manufacturing of the plate, soft bristles scrub deep into the relief areas of the plate using solutions that are compatible with solvent, UV, and water-based inks. Some solutions are suitable for all three ink types. The result is a plate that has been returned to its original condition in regards to cleanliness and relief (see image E).

Sooner is Better When it Comes to Cleaning Plates

It is generally understood that after a press run, plates should be cleaned as soon as possible to avoid ink from thoroughly drying on the plate. Ink that has been left to dry for an hour or even more not only requires the individual to work harder to clean the plate, but it also begins to affect the surface energy of the plate which may lead to long term inconsistencies in ink release from plate to substrate. When testing the effects of dried solvent inks on plates, the surface energy had a difference of up to 6 dyne when compared to plates that were cleaned immediately following the production order. This also indicates the importance of consistency when cleaning the plate surface.

Automation Justification

So if it is understood that it is important to clean expensive photopolymer plates immediately, why doesn’t it always happen in this fashion? A simple fact is that some people just don’t like to do it… me included. Cleaning a plate with large solids is relatively easy, but even given the correct solution, lint free cloths, and soft bristle brushes, it isn’t easy to get all the ink out of a screen area. Some individuals claim that the repetitive scrubbing motion gives them pain in their hands and wrist. This repetitive motion can cause muscles and tendons in the hands and wrists to tighten up and lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, and other forms of repetitive stress injury (RSI). But beyond just not wanting to clean plates, the people cleaning plates are often the same people focusing on getting the press set up for the next production order. So even though we say we want the plates cleaned immediately, we may not be willing to enforce this if it has a negative impact on press uptime, so plates often get put by the wayside. Because the operator is not required to babysit the plate washer, it is much easier to get plates cleaner and faster following a press run by allowing pressroom personnel to drop the plates onto a conveyor or multi tray stacking system, letting the machine wash, rinse, and dry the plates.

How an Automatic Plate Washer Works

The dirty photopolymer plate is automatically carried into processor by the transfer rollers. The plate transport speed and temperature are controlled by the computer for consistency; both of which are features that are hard to monitor and maintain when performing this task by hand. Soft bristle brushes with alternating and floating movement offer maximum cleaning capability, while ensuring no damage occurs to the plate. Taking this process out of the hands of various individuals also ensures the correct “safe” cleaning solution is be used, and items like nylons or other abrasives do not come into contact with the plates. Because of the “floating” brush design, any thickness flexo plate will be cleaned quickly and effectively in the automated system. Two types of rinsing systems are available – an open rinse system with fresh water that is led to a drain and a closed loop recirculation system.

More to Come…

In Parts 2 and 3, we will look into minimizing plate damage through automated de-mounting and determine how we can be sure a plate is worn and no longer suitable for use.

apr-logo-new-200APR Technical Solutions Group

We have formed our Technical Solutions Group to encompass our full range of expertise in all critical areas of the flexo process. This team is made up of industry professionals dedicated to being up to date on new technologies, armed with the last in diagnostic tools, and experienced in problem solving that can achieve sustainable results. The TSG have walked in your shoes, and have felt your pain. For any specific questions please feel free to contact me at 847-922-0134 or treece@teamflexo.com.

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Filed under Cleaning, Plate Technology, Printing

“Made in Germany” Customized Stroboscope Targeting the Printing Industry

Rheintacho Messtechnik GmbH broadens its light-intense, compact stroboscope offering with a focus on the narrow web industry

The rotational speed measurement technology business Rheintacho, based in Freiburg (Southwest Germany) joined forces with ROTOCONTROL, a German manufacturer of high-speed inspection, cutting, and rewinding finishing machines headquartered near Hamburg to develop a customized stroboscope benefiting printers with a wide range of measurement, observation and inspection tasks.

The result is a unique light-intense, long-lasting, and compact stroboscope designed to meet the needs of converters utilizing the technology for the finishing of labels and packaging applications.

The customized stroboscope for ROTOCONTROL
Stroboscopes are versatile instruments for the observation of fast-moving objects or materials. They are important and necessary tools for the inspection and control of machines operating in manufacturing, such as printing industries, and can also be used for non-contact measuring of rotational speed.

Built with a large, homogenous illumination area, the Rheintacho RT STROBE 3000 delivers results even in unfavourable light conditions making it ideal for a wide range of measurement, observation, and inspection tasks, especially suitable for difficult tasks in the printing industry. Powerful electronics give the RT STROBE 3000 high illumination intensity with up to 10 megalux (for each individual flash). Because of the extremely short flash duration (< 5 µs), precise sharply defined images are captured regardless of the speed of movement.

Rheintacho RT-3015
ROTOCONTROL Stroboscope

Working with Markus Lübcke, lead software and system engineer at ROTOCONTROL, Rheintacho took the RT STROBE 3000 performance one step further to design a customized alternative named the “RT-3015.” Of critical importance to ROTOCONTROL in the customized design was the ability to switch input signals (internal/external control). Also important was the elimination of ventilators, so failures caused by dust are prevented and the stroboscope is much more durable. This requirement is essential in the target industries.

Additionally, the customized stroboscope was built with Rheintacho-designed bulbs that have an extra-long lifespan. One ROTOCONTROL customer at a factory in Durban, South Africa, runs their finishing machine built with a customized Rheintacho stroboscope consistently five to six hours a day, sometimes six days per week, with no degradation in performance.

When asked for feedback regarding working with Rheintacho on this customized project, Markus Lübcke of ROTOCONTROL commented: “It was clear that Rheintacho is focused on quality and understands OEM business. We needed some special modifications to optimize the integration with our machines, and they had a quick, responsive system in place to make sure the changes were developed without compromising the quality process.”

With reference to performance and technical advantages of the customized stroboscope, Mr. Lübcke reports: “The RT-3015 has performed better than expected and the reliability exceeds our specified requirements. The Rheintacho product is especially efficient as it relates to light intensity and dwell time. Also, the custom-designed bulbs are showing evidence of exceptional lifespan in high-usage environments.”

Strobe Lighting from Xenon to LED

Rheintacho_RT-3000 Stroboscope

Rheintacho offers a range of stroboscopes built with different designs, technologies, and powerful light sources including Xenon and LED. Beginning with the success of the Rolux 1.0 Xenon handheld stroboscope launched in October 2002, Rheintacho released its next version, the Rolux 2.0 for proximity rotational speed measurement of plants and machinery soon after.

Next came their revolutionary RT Pocket LED-hand Strobe with up to 300,000 flashes per minute, followed by the RT3000 strobes for stationary and mobile use and the RT5000 offering extremely short flash times and high light intensity for optimum focus. Stroboscopes focusing purely on LED Technology were then released (RT 3000Led, RT5000Led and finally the RT7000Led).

The company is gearing up to release an extended LED stroboscope and a new handheld stroboscope at the upcoming Labelexpo Europe in Brussels.

Long-term partnerships with open communication
Rheintacho works closely with their employees, customers, partners, and suppliers to develop successful long-term relationships. Delivering first-class products with short lead times and on-time delivery are important goals of Rheintacho. Equally important is maintaining open communication and incorporating all sources of product and service feedback into the existing and future Rheintacho offering.

Rheintacho Strobe 5000 LED

Heading up supplier and OEM partnerships for Rheintacho is their Sales/Business Manager Jörn Strasser. “Rheintacho is focused on customized developments and production of various high-precision products,” explains Mr. Strasser.  “Most of them are exclusive to OEMs and are thus manufactured without our label and are not available directly from us, such as the customized RT-3015 stroboscope we developed for ROTOCONTROL. As we compete with companies on a global level, we strive to reduce costs and take advantage of successful sales models and customer relationships already in place with OEMs.”

In addition to engaging in customized product developments, such as the stroboscope project with ROTOCONTROL, Rheintacho also partners with well-known international resellers in the field of high-precision measurement technology to broaden their market presence. This also helps the company enter into new regions where a customer may not be familiar with the German-designed technologies and capabilities available from Rheintacho.

Looking ahead
With over 111 years of business experience and serving reputable customers such as M.A.N, Linde group, Bosch Rexroth, and Volvo, building long-term relationships with OEMs and designing unique custom projects comes naturally to Rheintacho. With 71 employees, and a branch office in the United Kingdom, Rheintacho develops, manufactures and distributes measuring instruments and sensors that measure rotational speeds of motors, machines and systems. These instruments and sensors are implemented in applications around the world from combustion engines in power plants to labeling and packaging production systems in manufacturing facilities.

As Europe´s leading manufacturer of portable and stationary stroboscopes, Rheintacho plans to broaden their distribution presence of stroboscopes worldwide, with a continued focus on their core business of rotational speed sensors. With over a century of experience, and a constant change in market requirements, Rheintacho acknowledges that long-term business relationships and honouring economic, social, and ecological responsibilities are key to continued success.

For more information, visit www.rheintacho.de or www.rotocontrol.com

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