Are You Doing Trials or Just Getting Doctor Blade Samples?

FlexoConcepts-logoBy Flexo Concepts

Doctor Blade Supplier Assisting with a Blade Trial

Doctor Blade Supplier Assisting with a Blade Trial

How many times have you requested a box of this or a sample of that and had a winner right away?  When testing a new product, the chances of success go way up with a little communication between the customer and the supplier.  It’s no different with doctor blades.  Like other parts of the printing process, investing a little time and effort in a doctor blade trial vs. sampling will improve your odds of finding the best blade for your application.

Sampling vs. Trialing

There are two ways to test a new doctor blade:  a sample and a doctor blade trial.  The critical difference is the information that is exchanged between you and your doctor blade supplier.  While both offer the chance for you to try something new, a trial greatly increases your probability of success.

Sampling

If you’ve ever requested a doctor blade sample, you probably submitted your request through the company’s website, waited several days, and received your new blade samples in the mail.  They may have sat on your desk for a while until you were reminded of the reason you requested the samples in the first place and installed them in your press.  If you were lucky, the blades worked well and you proceeded with your first order.

If you’re like most companies, however, several rounds of sampling are needed to find a good fit.  This requires sustained effort and patience on your part.  With doctor blades, a different blade material, thickness or tip may be needed, and you keep your fingers crossed that you will eventually happen upon a winning combination.

Trialing

An alternative to sampling a new blade is a doctor blade trial.  When you perform a blade trial, your odds of finding the right product go up significantly.  Through communication and participation in a production run, the supplier acquires key information about your process.  This information is used to zero in on the ideal product for your application and shortens your path to finding the right doctor blade.

Doctor Blade Trial Process:

1. Initiation of Blade Trial – You request a blade trial from your doctor blade supplier.  The supplier will take the time to learn about your process and ask questions regarding your press and application:

    • Press type
    • Press speed
    • Run length
    • Print type
    • Anilox line screen
    • Chamber type
    • Substrate
    • Ink type
    • Problems such as ink spitting, streaking

The supplier will then make a recommendation and supply doctor blades for a production run.

2. Production Run – The blade supplier will be on site to observe the production run.  He will confirm all of the information gathered about the application, verify that the blades have been installed correctly, make sure there is proper chamber alignment and help make adjustments if necessary.  The results of the run will be documented along with any challenges faced by the press operators.

3. Analysis and Evaluation – Following the production run, the used blades are returned to the supplier’s facility where the engineering department is engaged to do a complete evaluation.  The engineering team will assess the worn blades and look at how much wear has occurred, the contact length of the worn area and the contact angle of the blade.  These findings will reveal how the blade performed on press.  By looking at the wear patterns, the engineers can also determine whether the chamber was aligned to the anilox roll, if the blades were positioned properly and if there was too much pressure on the chamber.  A complete report containing these results is provided to you.  These results may be used to make improvements to your current process.

4. Feedback and Recommendation – After the blades are analyzed by the engineering department, the blade supplier will either confirm that the blades were successful in the application or recommend a different blade based on the results (such as different blade material, thickness or tip configuration).  Having taken the time to gather all important information about the press and application, the supplier will be able to provide the doctor blade that maximizes press efficiency and resolves any issues he was experiencing.

For people willing to roll the dice and be patient until finding the right product, sampling is a reasonable way to search for a better doctor blade.  However, to shorten the process of finding the best blade for your application, taking the time to conduct a doctor blade trial is the way to go.  For a small commitment of time and resources up front, the payoff is substantial in terms of saving time and money in the long run.

Request a TruPoint Doctor Blade Trial | Request a TruPoint Doctor Blade Sample

FlexoConcepts-logoAbout Flexo Concepts

Headquartered in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Flexo Concepts manufactures TruPoint doctor blades, the TruPoint QuikWash™ System and wash-up blades, and MicroClean™ dry media anilox cleaning systems.  All products are designed to improve print quality and reduce operational costs for flexographic and offset printers.  Flexo Concepts maintains distribution locations in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.  For more information about the company and its products visit www.flexoconcepts.com.

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Elimination of Gear Banding with Open-Cell Mounting Tape

By Rogers Corporation

Banding in tonal areas is a common problem for many printers, especially in the narrow-web industry. These bands of alternating high and low ink density are shown below.  This defect has many causes including, machine vibration as well as image layout on the plate.

In order to eliminate this problem, we recommend using open-cell urethane cushion mounting tape to provide unequaled energy absorption that eliminates the banding defect in most situations. Compared to closed-cell polyethylene foam mounting tapes, open-cell better prevents plate bounce and dissipates vibration resulting in noticeably more uniform tonal areas.

Still not convinced? A simple ball drop demonstration shows a dramatic difference between these two different types of mounting tapes and how they handle impact energy. This difference can improve your print quality.

Ball Drop Video:

About Rogers Corporation

rogersRogers Corporation is a global leader in engineered materials to power, protect, and connect our world.  With more than 180 years of materials science experience, Rogers delivers high-performance solutions that enable clean energy, internet connectivity, advanced transportation and other technologies where reliability is critical.  Rogers delivers Power Electronics Solutions for energy-efficient motor drives, vehicle electrification and alternative energy; High Performance Foams for sealing, vibration management and impact protection in mobile devices, transportation interiors, industrial equipment and performance apparel; and Printed Circuit Materials for wireless infrastructure, automotive safety and radar systems. Headquartered in Connecticut (USA), Rogers operates manufacturing facilities in the United States, China, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, and South Korea, with joint ventures and sales offices worldwide. http://www.rogerscorp.com/

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Minimizing Plate Costs Part 3 – Identifying When the Plate is Worn

FlexoGuide-600

By Tim Reece, All Printing Resources

Introduction

Image of slightly worn plate edg

Image of slightly worn plate edg

I think many would agree that it is easier to take steps to help extend plate life and minimize damage to the plate than to effectively recognize a worn plate in need of replacement. As a matter of fact, the odds are often greater that the plate will be damaged, lost, or require a change in artwork before it can be deemed “worn out”. One of the most difficult questions to answer in our industry is, “How long should my plate last?” or “How many feet or impressions should I expect to get out of my photopolymer plates?” If we all knew the answer to these questions, then throwing out worn plates would be as easy as tracking the footage. But considering the number of factors that must be taken into consideration this is not a reasonable expectation.

Graph of the same plate edge - showing the shoulder profile

Graph of the same plate edge – showing the shoulder profile

A few months have passed since we explored some of the more common but less controlled causes for replacing the photopolymer printing plate in Part 1 & 2 of this series. During the past few months, we have uncovered a tool that makes identifying a worn plate far easier than ever before. Part 3 will focus on how to properly identify a worn plate and take the “guess work” out of the decision to replace the plate.

The Problem

Plate wear color mapping. As plates wear the worn edges change hue.

Plate wear color mapping. As plates wear the worn edges change hue.

How many times have you witnessed a long production run slowly drop off in image quality during the printing process? There is a common reaction to this circumstance. (1.) Take a deep breath, cross your fingers, and hope you can make it to the end of the run. (2.) Start making a deal with GOD, promising that if the plates just last until the end of the job, you promise to never use them again, and this time you really mean it. (3.) Stop the press…

It is after the press is stopped, that we come to a split in the road. Do we take a chance that replacing the stickyback will be enough to get us by or do we replace the plate? The truth is that it can often go in either direction. Unless the edges of the plates are clearly visibly worn, or the screens are breaking down, we just don’t know what to do at this moment. Replacing the stickyback could take 10-20 minutes, but it may not fix the problem. If it doesn’t correct the problem, we then have even more downtime without the proper action being taken. Depending on plate type, a replacement plate could take 1-3 hours and that’s if platemaking is on-site. Then there is the sickening thought of making or ordering a new plate only to find out the first one really wasn’t worn out.

3D Image of same plate with slightly worn edge.

3D Image of same plate with slightly worn edge.

The Solution

The best way our Technical Solutions Group (TSG) has found to determine if a plate should be identified as “worn out” is through image analysis and/or 3D plate scanning. The most effective means found to determine wear on the plate was through 3D color mapping, as described below. As each of these plates wear, the surface also changes. Most often the wear shows at the leading or trailing edges. Depending on the type of plate, the wear can either begin to polish the plate, making it more reflective in worn areas, or on some polymer materials with an already smooth surface, wear can have a roughing effect. Regardless of the direction it takes, in each situation there is a measurable change and there is a definite reduction in plate height in the worn area(s).

The Tool - Troika AniCAM 3D Scanning Microscope

The Tool – Troika AniCAM
3D Scanning Microscope

Using a 3D microscope, the process of identifying plate wear becomes much easier to determine. 3D dot profiling allows you to check surface topology of solids, dot shape, relief depth (even between dots) and detect the first signs of plate wear. The AniCAM 3D Scanning Microscope with Flexo Plate QC is easily

positioned onto the photopolymer plate and physically does not touch the area analyzed. This particular device is portable so measurements can be taken in the press room, the plate room or in the plate storage area. 3D color mapping shows distinct color differences as the plate experiences wear in increments as small as a micron. Wear can be identified using this method far before differences in plate thickness could be detected on a plate micrometer. Note: 1 micron = 0.00003937″. An added benefit to this method is that it can be done while the plate is still mounted to the sleeve or print cylinder, further minimizing press downtime.

A Two-Step Process

The first step in establishing a system to identify worn plates is to establish a target that will most likely fail in the trim area where run control targets are likely to exist. Your first inclination may be to use an ultra-highlight dot patch, but a solid patch is often a better choice. Tonal patches often have the ability to absorb some of the abrasiveness of the anilox and substrate, whereas a solid polymer surface only has the compressibility of the stickyback and often show the first signs of wear. It’s kind of like the flexibility your hand has when the fingers are extended compared to rolled into a fist. The solid patch could be as small as a ¼” square area. The nice thing about wear first showing up on the edges of a solid is that you can establish your “fail” benchmark before process or screen areas are affected. You may decide to insert a fine .5 pt horizontal line ¼” wide, or even isolated dots as “fail areas”. The targets you design should be based on your experiences and what you see failing first.

The second step is to create a pass/fail benchmark. If using a conventional plate reading device, take a reflectivity reading on what has been established as “target(s) likely to fail”. Each reading only takes a moment, but takes into account roughly 700 reflectance % data points across region of interest (ROI) and they can be plotted in either the horizontal or vertical axis to avoid laser signatures that can give misleading results. If using an AniCAM with Flexo Plate QC, you will simply place the device on the plate on what has been established as “target(s) likely to fail” and with one click the device will build a 3 dimensional image of the plate surface along worn targets. Take these readings from the point the plate is new, through varying degrees of plate wear, i.e. skipping edges, loss of image sharpness, all the way up to the point of failure. We found that once wear was evident .002″ in from the plate edge that it would quickly become visually apparent and then spread to screen areas. Your pass/fail will likely depend on plate type, thickness, and durometer.

You will be tempted to want to associate and assign a “moderate wear” or a “fail” to the number of impressions or footage while performing this step. The amount of impressions and footage experienced is only one small factor of plate wear. DO NOT assume that the plate knows how long it has run and when it’s time to quit. There are too many changing variables to base plate wear on footage or impressions alone. What you will find is a pass/fail tolerance which has quantitative data to support your findings.

About the TSG

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 about determining plate wear through reflectivity readings and 3D color mapping or assistance in determining your plate wear pass/fail limits, please feel free to contact me at 847-922-0134 or treece@teamflexo.com.

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Dr. John Writes: It’s Flexo Jim, But Not As We Know It!

why-in-the-world

When we look at what is being done today with flexo printing in terms of security and functional printing, it truly is a new world. To a flexo printer from the ’80s, what is on the supermarket shelves is already out of this world, but if they could see what’s on the horizon, I might as well be Bones from Star Trek telling Captain Kirk “It is Flexo Jim, but not as we know it!”

The trouble with these new applications is that most customers don’t want to talk about the details—that’s the nature of security or industry-leading technologies. Flexo offers a unique set of benefits in terms of flexibility, ink technologies, and a raised surface to print continuous thin lines without any breaks. The big challenge in flexo has often been in terms of imaging and resolution on the plate. In fact, many security applications continued to be produced with an analog flexo process because of the imaging and flat top dot benefits for line stability and consistency.

There are many applications today that feature color shifting inks, thermochromic inks, or just conductive inks that are moving to flexo. When looking at the printed electronics market, a lot of R&D is done using digital printing. That’s great for a few copies or for prototyping, but when moving into manufacturing quantities of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, a day instead of tens per hour, flexo really comes into its own.

When considering these applications, it is critical to look at a complete system approach in terms of optimization. You can have the best plate in the world, or the best ink, but on a poorly maintained press, or a press with dirty anilox rolls or the wrong tape, you won’t get the print results—and in turn the product yield—you’re looking for.

Another issue is how thin a line can be produced. With the explosion of touch screens, there is a need to print conductive lines in a grid that are so small, down to sub 10 micron width, that they are virtually invisible to the human eye! In flexo printing, lines grow with impression, so even for a 10 micron line width, the lines on the plate would need to be 7 microns or less to account for the growth. Putting that into context, the standard KODAK FLEXCEL NX System at 2400×2400 dpi images a 10.6 micron pixel. At the 4800 dpi used with KODAK DIGICAP NX Screening, it is a 5.3 micron size.

Flexo imagers used for security printing focus on addressability—how accurately the laser can place each laser hit—with the fine lines still printed large enough to be visible, at least under a loop.

For the electronics market, resolutions and addressability are often even higher, but in this market the demands are also higher. Here conductivity and resistivity are king. The printed conductors must be continuous and of uniform width. If the conductor narrows, its resistance goes up and it will not function as required, and in the worst case a break in the circuit means the whole print is unusable.

Over the next few years, more and more of the security and electronics markets will move over to flexo, and although few of us will get to participate in these applications, the developments in imaging and plate/ink/press technologies required to make them happen will benefit all of the broader flexo market in the long run.

Dr. John’s Contact Information:

John-Anderson-AugFor anyone who does want to email me, please use john.anderson3@kodak.com and please don’t miss out the number 3 in the address, or you will reach another John Anderson in Kodak manufacturing!

Have a wonderful day,
Dr. John

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How Doctor Blades Provide Superior Ink Metering

AV-Doctor-Blades-473x316For anyone not familiar, the benefits of Doctor Blades lie in their excellent tensile strength and spring-like qualities, a hardness that allows maximum metering, and a wear resistance that lasts much longer than other blades.

Offering an assortment of blade materials, Doctor Blades can be used for all ink metering applications.  The list of materials these blades are made from includes carbon steel (blue and white), alloy steels which are very wear resistant with laser hardened tips, stainless steel, ceramic, plastics (UHMW, acetyl,  and polyester compounds) and composites made from fiberglass and carbon fiber.  With such a variety of materials it’s very important to ensure the blade used is the right one for your application.

In addition to offering the range of materials for the blades themselves, Doctor Blades come in a variety of tip shapes to achieve the utmost in ink metering.  These shapes include square for plastic containment and back up steel blades; round for metal metering; beveled on the UHMV plastic, metal, composites and stiffer plastics; and single and double stepped.  The single stepped are best when a thinner tip and stiffer body are needed and the double stepped are used when the job calls for a stiffer blade and narrower contact angle.

If your job calls for the thicker blades to be used it’s important to note these blades increase the blade angle because they deflect less ink in the metering process.  These thicker blades also increase the wear area and spread the load which is a great benefit to offer a more complete metering process.  It is also very important to remember to change your Doctor Blades whenever the CPI is changed, and care needs to be taken in handling the blades as they are extremely sharp.

With the use of Doctor Blades for your ink metering you will experience a result better than any other on the market.  Be sure to visit the Provident Group and choose from a complete selection of premium doctor blades available in a variety of alloys and tips.

For a more visual lesson, watch Tim Allen of the Provident Group and Randy Carter of Anderson & Vreeland show off new printing innovations & technology from Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin. The video below discusses the most important components of an enclosed, chambered doctor blade system and how to utilize this technology in your plant.

 

For further education on Doctor Blades, browse through the “Doctor Blade Metering: The What and How in Anilox Ink Metering” presentation below.

About Provident Group

Provident is the leading manufacturer and distributor of doctor blades and end seals specifically designed for flexo. Over 20 years of flexo press operation gives us direct involvement in ink metering and containment to address your specific production requirements. We clearly understand the intricacies of flexo printing. We offer the most comprehensive selection of premium-quality doctor blades as the exclusive master distributor partner of Prime Blade – the Swedish doctor blade, throughout the U.S. and Canada. Supplying the best doctor blades and end seals is only part of our mission. We are a service-oriented supplier that has grown with the industry we serve by offering superior materials and high-technology manufacturing. Better products and better service. That’s the winning combination you get from PROVIDENT.

About the Author:

adminDave is Creative Director at Anderson & Vreeland working with a talented team of designers, copy writers and site developers creating educational content specific to the Flexographic industry. We value your comments and feedback and encourage you to engage with us. www.flexodaily.andersonvreeland.com

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Dr. John Writes: Digital Printing – Friend Or Foe For Flexo Printers?

why-in-the-world

By Dr. John Anderson

As I travel throughout the US & Canada these days, the conversations often turn from flexo, to digital printing as the technology for the future. If you listen to the marketing hype then digital is poised to take over from flexo as the process of choice for packaging. I guess one day this may be true, but is it really imminent?

What makes me smile most about the conversations is the thought that it has to be one technology or the other, where in reality a combination of the two, producing products for the optimum cost and efficiency, is the most likely solution for a LONG time to come.

When I started my PhD back in 1993, researching screen printing at the University of Wales Swansea, it was a 3 year research project sponsored by the UK government and the Screen Printing Association, with 30 screen printer companies as members of the project group. The drive behind the project was the emergence of digital printing, and how it was being marketed to wipe out and replace the screen printing industry within a few years. Sound familiar? There were huge issues in the screen printing industry at the time, with companies experiencing, in some cases, waste in excess of 50% of all of the raw materials, high costs, and bottlenecks with the slowest of the major print processes. In reality a perfect target for the digital printing technologies.

Half way through the project, just 18 months later, all of the project member screen printing companies were still in business, and every one had added some form of digital printing to their business. Instead of eliminating all of the screen printing, it was used to replace the high waste loss making short runs and allow the screen printing process to be used on more profitable jobs. By combining the two, it allowed the printer to reduce costs and increase profitability. In fact many of the printers commented over time that the digital printing services helped to attract more new clients, who then also gave them their screen printing work as well, making digital a true friend and not a foe!

Today, 19 years later, digital now has a much larger % of these companies, in some cases 100% of the business, but in many others screen printing is still used where it has technical or economical benefits over digital in terms of ink film weight, specialty inks, investment costs, or a number of other reasons.

So as we look at the packaging market, can we expect the same to happen with flexo and digital printing? I think the simple answer is yes, but in a long time from now! Flexo is still a strong and rapidly growing print process with many benefits and advantages that will make it a much tougher to replace than screen printing, or even litho in commercial and book printing.

Digital printing has come a long way. The new technologies and presses promise new levels of productivity, but they still face challenges in speed, substrate compatibility, conversion requirements, and food contact regulations, etc. High speed continuous inkjet seems to be the most likely contender to address the speed and productivity and ultimately the food contact regulations will be solved without the high cost barrier laminations of today, but the challenge to take over from Flexo remains a significant one.

There are certainly parts of the market today that are better suited to digital technology; narrow web labels is a clear example. At the last Labelexpo over 40 companies promoted their versions of digital printing presses. This year in Chicago there are sure to be even more! The challenge is how to transition from short runs and variable data, to producing millions of labels, or shrink wraps, or pouches with fixed graphics, and be able to do it economically.

There are thousands of flexo presses in the market, most are already paid for, many running at speeds of 1000-2000 ft/min on a 50+” wide web CI press, or 300-800 ft/min on a narrow web press. To match the productivity of one new fast change wide web CI Flexo press will take 3 or more digital presses, with each digital press costing as much if not more than the Flexo press. The economics of the press costs and replacing existing equipment may be digital’s biggest challenge in the next 15+ years.

A key benefit of the digital press has always been no plates, and instant change overs, but the quick change sleeved flexo presses, standardized process printing, and minimal startup waste focus, has somewhat eliminated most of the benefits for digital for all but the shortest runs. Plus as more printers move to co-printing multiple versions of jobs side by side, for example 4 cookie varieties run side by side instead of 4 individual jobs at 4 across each time, this reduces the flexo plates used on this set of jobs to just 25% of before, and increases the run length to be 400% longer, lowering costs and increasing productivity.

Flexo has also gotten smarter, higher quality, faster, and more productive, raising the bar daily for the digital offerings. Flexo today can also match or better the quality of digital, a fact that was certainly not true 5 years ago, so quality is no longer a driver to choose digital. The amount of packaging in each supermarket or store, and the number of stores globally, means that the challenge is way beyond any of today’s digital printing presses.

In the near term one area that digital and flexo WILL work together is in hybrid systems. Combining flexo and digital in-line, with flexo printing the standard overall graphics, and digital taking care of the identification, ingredients, etc., especially for the number of languages in Europe, etc., This practice is already starting to be seen, but for mass volume commercial viability production must be at flexo speeds, and not slowed significantly by the digital printing. It is exciting to see digital print technologies coming into the packaging space now that are starting to make this a reality.

The next wave of enhancements for digital printing will include hybrid technologies combined on existing presses,that add variable data and QR codes to help drive customer interaction, or brand value in the perception of the end customer, or security information with offset and flexo presses for packaging, to enhance and/or protect the final product.

As a flexo industry we should not be afraid of digital printing at all, instead we should be looking at how can we leverage and use digital to grow and enhance our businesses, and give our end customers and brands more of what they are looking for.

I am looking forward to seeing many of you at Labelexpo in Chicago this year, one of the best places to see the latest and greatest in flexo and digital technologies, and judge for yourself where the future is heading.

Dr. John’s Contact Information:

John-Anderson-Aug

For anyone who does want to email me, please use john.anderson3@kodak.com and please don’t miss out the number 3 in the address, or you will reach another John Anderson in Kodak manufacturing!

Have a wonderful day.

Dr. John
john.anderson3@kodak.com

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Achieve Better Flexo Print Results

By Rogers Corporation

Your choice of cushion mounting tape is crucial to achieving high quality printing whether it’s on boxes, shopping bags, beverage cartons or labels. The improvement in print quality using an open-cell cushion mounting product is shown below.

rogers-blog-article

Open-cell cushion mounting materials have a greater resistance to compression set compared to typical closed-cell products.  Compression set is defined as the ability of the product to return to its original thickness after being compressed.    Open-cell materials typically hold 97% of their original thickness even after one million impressions while the closed-cell products typically maintain 70-90% of their original thickness.  This means that open-cell foams will provide the most consistent print results over long runs while making little or no adjustments.  Closed-cell products require multiple adjustments due to loss of impression.

The open-cell has a greater resistance to compression set compared to closed-cell. This means that on long runs open-cell will be able to provide more consistent print results whereas most closed-cell tapes will begin to lose impression and require replacement.

Banding is the visible web direction variation in print results, typically in tonal areas that appear to be “gear bands.” There are many causes for banding including machine vibration and the design on the plate. If this problem plagues your work, change the type of tape to determine if it can eliminate or reduce this defect.

If this article has made you curious about experimenting with tape, you should first ask yourself what issues do you face: Do you have long runs, are you unable to reach high line speeds, do you struggle with banding, is it difficult to achieve solid ink density while minimizing dot gain? Hopefully the information above provides some direction in your efforts to improve your print quality and effectiveness.

rogersAbout Rogers Corporation

Rogers Corporation is a global leader in engineered materials to power, protect, and connect our world.  With more than 180 years of materials science experience, Rogers delivers high-performance solutions that enable clean energy, internet connectivity, advanced transportation and other technologies where reliability is critical.  Rogers delivers Power Electronics Solutions for energy-efficient motor drives, vehicle electrification and alternative energy; High Performance Foams for sealing, vibration management and impact protection in mobile devices, transportation interiors, industrial equipment and performance apparel; and Printed Circuit Materials for wireless infrastructure, automotive safety and radar systems. Headquartered in Connecticut (USA), Rogers operates manufacturing facilities in the United States, China, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, and South Korea, with joint ventures and sales offices worldwide. http://www.rogerscorp.com/

1.800.755.6766

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Dr. John Writes: Do You Accept Things as “NORMAL” in Flexo that You Should NOT Accept Any More?

why-in-the-world

Throughout my time in the flexo market I have continuously been involved in research, training, troubleshooting, and projects to revolutionize the industry. Sometimes the results are small, sometimes big, sometimes accepted, but most often resisted. Most often the answer when I ask “Why do you do that?” is “because we always have!”

After a while you get into the same habits, and without realizing it you end up in the same mode of “that’s normal for flexo” and accepting some things that you really should not. We all do it! One example that comes to mind is “I have to choose between good highlights or good solids, I can’t have both!” This comes from the typical pinholed nature of the solids in flexo and the four main actions that people take to address it:

  1. Increase the amount of ink used with higher anilox roll volumes
  2. Increase the ink strength with more pigment
  3. Apply more impression pressure from the plate to the substrate
  4. Separate the screens (highlights) and solids onto two separate plates for that one color

However, when we look at each of these four “normal” actions in flexo, because of the need to choose between highlights and solids, we see the true results:

1. MORE INK! Adding more ink does not eliminate the pinholes in the solid, but instead it applies larger ridges of ink to the substrate surface. More ink means more raw materials, more solvent to remove in drying; more drying means more energy as heat. More dryer energy often means that there is a need to slow the press down to achieve this, resulting in lost productivity. These are all “normal” actions in flexo, resulting in more raw materials, more energy, higher costs, and reduced productivity.

Other issues with using more ink are that it tends to cause more dirty print, which causes more stops to clean the plates, and increases the risk of damaging the plates. This is a cost in time, productivity, and materials, but results in inconsistent print quality, and often negatively impacts subsequent processes such as lamination and slitting/conversion when the materials need to be stripped out. A common accepted “normal” action to reduce the risk of dirty print is to reduce the applied resolution, as LPI, making the minimum dots bigger, decreasing image quality capabilities.

2. MORE PIGMENT! Pigment is the component of the ink that provides the color we are looking for, and the theory is to use more pigment for more color. But when the ink is applied in ridges separated by pinholes, the effect and value are minimized. The best way to get the strongest and cleanest color is a thin even layer of pigment with no pinholes, more like what we traditionally see in gravure printing! The light then reflects more evenly, giving a cleaner, brighter, and stronger color.

Pigment is one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, components in the ink, so adding more increases the costs significantly. Also if you keep adding pigment, density goes up until it reaches a point at which it interferes with the ink flow and can cause the density to drop. Most flexo inks are pigmented to the maximum, often beyond the optimum value for efficient printing. Ink flow is a critical factor, especially as press speeds increase, and poor ink flow will result in ink starvation and poor solids.

This can also cause increased dirty print in a similar way to more ink volume in the first action, with similar solutions to address it, resulting in higher costs, lower productivity, and lower image quality!

3. MORE IMPRESSION PRESSURE! This is something that every flexo printer in the world seems to know—that when you apply more impression pressure from the plate to the substrate, the density goes up!

When you ask why, not many can explain it to you, but they know it just works! The explanation for this is actually very simple—the ink is applied in ridges separated by pinholes or voids; and as you apply more pressure on the top of the ridge, the ink is squashed sideways, filling the voids and increasing the ink coverage, and increasing the density achieved!

 dr-john-5-1

Image 1: Typical Flexo Solid – showing the ridges of ink and pinholes

Unfortunately most also work on the principle that “If a little more impression pressure is good, then a lot more must be better.” This results in over impression, and that introduces a whole new set of issues.

Over impression causes excess dot gain in the highlights, accelerated plate wear in the highlights, and ink build up for dirty print. Although true for flat top and round top dots, the issues are particularly true for the round top dots of traditional digital LAMS (Laser Ablative Mask System), with the very small surface area being very sensitive to the pressure, growing rapidly, and causing excess heat and friction to wear the smallest dots. This accelerated wear, along with impression sensitivity of traditional LAMS plates, causes greater operator sensitivity and inconsistency in setup and through the run.

Over impression also tends to drive the ink off the smaller dots to the edges more, causing ink build up, resulting in dirty print. This then means more stops to clean the plates and that increases the risks of plate damage. Increasing the minimum dot size can help—with a lower LPI for the image, larger dots are less sensitive, tend to be flatter on top, and distribute the impression better. But doing this is a clear sign of accepting that this is normal to compromise the highlights to improve the solids.

4. SPLIT SOLIDS & SCREENS! This is really a sign of having to throw in the towel and accept that instead of one or the other you need to get the best of both worlds. This is a normal action with traditional LAMS plates with their rounded tops, and less often with the digital flat top dot solutions. This means more prepress—two plates, two mounting tapes, two inks, two print stations to setup, two driers to run, etc. Basically more materials, more energy, so more costs. One thing in its favor is that doing this means the plate suffers less from ink starvation and drying issues, and often runs easier and faster at times with traditional LAMS plates.

These four actions are “normal” and accepted as necessary throughout flexo, and in the past they often were needed. Today however this is not true.

The micro plate surface texturizations designed to break up the pattern that causes the pinholing in the ink transfer—like DigiCap NX introduced by Kodak in 2010, which minimizes pinholing without needing more impression pressure—has resulted in a very new situation. Now the ink volumes and pigment loads can be reduced, with often 25 percent lower anilox volumes. This means less ink is used, fewer raw materials, lower cost materials, and less energy to dry, plus this can often mean higher press speeds in turn.

All of the micro surface texturizations like DigiCap NX, or its closest clone, help the densities achieved! Kodak DigiCap NX is the simplest with no loss of imager speed or increased costs. They all require flat top dot structures without oxygen inhibition to form correctly on plate, which also helps with greater impression latitude and plate life. But only Flexcel NX with pixel for pixel imaging to gives you the optimum imaging in the highlights. The others all give up the positive effect for the highlights in traditional LAMS imaging of dot sharpening through oxygen inhibition shrinking the dots to be smaller!

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Image 2: Solid produced with same anilox roll and ink as Image 1 using DigiCap NX

The days of choosing highlights or solids are almost past us now as a normal practice, unless you are still using the rounded top dots of traditional LAMS plates! Yet many people still seem unaware that they don’t need to make that compromise, or accept its resultant effects in terms of costs, materials, and productivity.

Isn’t it time you proved to yourself that you don’t need or want to compromise in the same way anymore, and you really can get both at the same time? So why not try for yourself, either with Flexcel NX, alone or head to head with the competitions best? I know you will glad you did.

Dr. John’s Contact Information:

John-Anderson-Aug

For anyone who does want to email me, please use john.anderson3@kodak.com and please don’t miss out the number 3 in the address, or you will reach another John Anderson in Kodak manufacturing!

Have a wonderful day.

Dr. John
john.anderson3@kodak.com

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Filed under Ink, Plate Technology, Print Defects

Sun Chemical Introduces Packaging Manifesto: 10 Key Challenges & Opportunities for Brand Owners

Expertise, demos and samples of solutions across all issues on hand from Sun Chemical at Interpack

SunChemical-PackagingManifestoAt Interpack 2014, Sun Chemical introduced its Packaging Manifesto, setting out the ten most significant challenges and opportunities for brand owners where packaging is concerned. Based on intensive dialogue with brand owners worldwide, Sun Chemical’s team of packaging specialists has crystallised the most pressing issues as follows:

  1. Compliance
  2. Brand Protection
  3. Sustainability
  4. Late Stage Differentiation
  5. Lightweighting
  6. Colour Consistency
  7. Shelf Impact
  8. Shelf Life
  9. Packaging Plus
  10. Consumer Experience

The Sun Chemical Packaging Manifesto sets each challenge against its market context, and summarises possible solutions from Sun Chemical’s portfolio. The printed Manifesto comes with specific documents for each of the ten points of the Manifesto and is available to download from the Sun Chemical website www.sunchemical.com/concept2consumer.

Manifesto-Inforgraphic

Subject area specialists from the global Sun Chemical team were on hand throughout Interpack 2014 to answer individual visitors’ questions about each of the Manifesto points and to help brand owners explore possible solutions that can be applied across their supply chain.

During Interpack 2014, a portfolio of packaging samples shared by Sun helped brand owners to see real-world solutions to each of these challenges for themselves, while the new SunInspire Samples Box specifically invited more in-depth exploration of Sun Chemical’s innovations to boost shelf impact.

Other new solutions showcased by Sun Chemical at Interpack 2014 reinforced the company’s commitment to helping brand owners address many of these mission-critical challenges. Some solutions addressed one particular challenge, while others straddled several issues, helping brand owners to improve performance across many areas simultaneously.

For example, the new SunLam lamination adhesives and coatings, which was launched globally at Interpack, can help brand owners to enhance the performance of flexible pouches, lightweighting the pack and improving environmental profile by removing film layers and increasing efficiency. The oxygen barrier qualities of SunLam have the scope to improve shelf life and to optimise consumer experience by forming a robust barrier against malodours and other environmental contamination, maintaining texture, colour and freshness. The barrier performance of these coatings also has the potential to prevent migration of mineral oils from carton board in packaging for sensitive food, cosmetic and pharma applications, helping brand owners to attain compliance with consumer safety legislation.

Visitors to the Sun Chemical stand also saw a demonstration of the SunLase laser marking solution for late stage differentiation, as well as seeing PantoneLIVE™, a tool to help brand owners achieve global colour consistency. Sun Branding Solutions showcased its innovative approach to the use of augmented reality to add value to packaging through enhanced content, converting it into a long-term engagement platform between brand and consumer – the essence of the ‘Packaging Plus’ manifesto item.

Sun Chemical Chief Marketing Officer Felipe Mellado explains the thinking behind the introduction of the Packaging Manifesto:

“Brand owners are performing a complex juggling act, balancing the desire to optimise the physical and promotional performance of their packaging with the need to manage costs and ensure that their packaging meets or exceeds legislative requirements and consumer expectations for safety and sustainability. Across our global business, we see that there are many common threads to the complex issues, which brand owners bring to the table to discuss with us. However, we also tend to find that it can be difficult for brand owners to understand how innovations in inks and coatings are relevant to their commercial concerns.

“We wanted to summarise the leading issues in the language of the brand owner, and use the Packaging Manifesto to offer brand owners reassurance and proactive solutions. Not only are their issues common to many other brands, but we can help solve these problems now, at a global level, through even the most complex multi-territory, multi-process supply chain. Brand owners rely heavily on their packaging designers and converters to help them address these pressing issues. As a global leader in packaging solutions from concept to consumer, working closely with every link in the supply chain, we can offer a broad portfolio of product innovations, backed by deep technical capabilities, to help brand owners achieve their goals and optimise all the key performance aspects of their packaging.”

To download the Sun Chemical Packaging Manifesto or any of the ten individual manifesto documents, visit www.sunchemical.com/concept2consumer.

sun-chemical-300About Sun Chemical

Sun Chemical, a member of the DIC group, is the world’s largest producer of printing inks and pigments and a leading provider of materials to packaging, publication, coatings, plastics, cosmetics, and other industrial markets. With annual sales of more than $3.5 billion, Sun Chemical has over 8,000 employees supporting customers around the world.

Sun Chemical Corporation is a subsidiary of Sun Chemical Group Coöperatief U.A., the Netherlands, and is headquartered in Parsippany, New Jersey, U.S.A. For more information, please visit our Web site at www.sunchemical.com.

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Dr John Writes: FFTA Success in Baltimore, With The Strongest Attendance In Years!

why-in-the-world

After spending my second weekend this year in Baltimore with the FTA, (the first was for the print awards judging in January, and now for the FFTA Forum and INFO*FLEX), it is clear that the event was a great success for the FFTA, and for all of the volunteers and staff that worked long hours to achieve it. I want to congratulate FTA President Mark Cisternino for generating so much interest (as well as his 30th anniversary at FTA), and his team for all the work they are doing.

As the sole Platinum Plus sponsor again in 2014, Kodak is a great believer and supporter of the FTA, and see this as one of the most important events for the Flexo industry globally each and every year. This year was filled with a very upbeat air, lots of people are as busy as they have been in a long time, and there is clearly a need and desire to invest in upgrades to the latest technologies. I want to congratulate all of the 2014 FTA Excellence in Flexography  award winners, many of which were produced using Kodak plates, but especially I would like to recognize Sunshine Plastics of California (with prepress and Kodak Flexcel NX Plates from Trisoft Graphics) for their 3rd Best of Show award in Wide Web in 4 years. There were some great entries in the print awards, and it was a real pleasure to participate in the judging process this year. I encourage more of you to enter your prints, it really is a great competition with an impartial and fair judging process, but if you don’t enter then you have no chance to win! What I will say is make sure you read the rules, and enter the correct number of samples and the proof. If you’re unsure call Shelly or Joe at the FTA and they will help you through it. Submissions for 2015 need to be entered by January 2015 at the latest, so start planning now in order to be included in the entry for next year.

For our industry, one of the exciting and encouraging parts of the Forum was the need to bring in lots of extra chairs for the FTA committee updates and meetings on the Sunday morning The FTA revolves and thrives around the activities of the committees and the volunteers who participate. It is great to see so many people willing and interested to get- involved. The FTA is a members association, and it is critical that the members participate.  Kodak plans to increase our active involvement his year and we’d encourage you to do the same.

On the Saturday before Forum kicked off Kodak also held its inaugural Flexcel NX users meeting, a forum for Flexcel NX System owners that allowed Kodak to present not only what is available today, but also what is coming down the road in terms of developments and innovations, and gain feedback and interaction with our user base. The event was a great success, attracting attendees from as far away as Australia and putting some of the newest Flexcel NX System owners together with those that have been growing their Flexcel NX System business for many years. There’s always so much to learn from each other, especially when at least 3 of the companies in the room have just invested in their 4th Flexcel NX System!  We plan to repeat the event in 2015 alongside the FTA Forum in Nashville and will be encouraging users to attend both events.

As Kodak we are proud to work with and sponsor the FTA at this important industry event, and we look forward to seeing you in Minneapolis for the Fall Conference October 20-22, or down in Nashville for the 2015 for the FFTA Forum and INFO*FLEX May 03-06.

Dr. John’s Contact Information:

John-Anderson-Aug

For anyone who does want to email me, please use john.anderson3@kodak.com and please don’t miss out the number 3 in the address, or you will reach another John Anderson in Kodak manufacturing!

Have a wonderful day.

Dr. John
john.anderson3@kodak.com

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Filed under Plate Technology, Printing