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

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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!

dr-john-5-2

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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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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New Polymers Meter Like Steel Doctor Blades

FlexoConcepts-logoBy Flexo Concepts

 

MicroTip-Technology-01_border1Steel doctor blades used to be a printer’s only option to produce high-end graphics.  It wasn’t because he didn’t want longer blade life and the safety benefits that came with using plastic, steel was simply the only material that could sufficiently meter a high line screen roll.  Not anymore!  Today’s next generation polymers and advanced tip engineering have at last resulted in a non-metallic doctor blade with the metering quality of steel.  This blade can replace steel doctor blades in a full range of flexo printing applications from solids and lines, to reverses and fine print, to screens and process work.  Here’s why.

Steel Doctor Blades vs. Traditional Plastic

Due to its thinness and stiffness, steel has been the only blade material that could achieve a fine point of contact sufficient to execute a clean wipe on a high line screen anilox roll.  By comparison, the characteristics of traditional plastic doctor blades require them to be thicker to provide the same rigidity.  While they have other benefits in terms of safety and blade life, their thickness prevents them from maintaining a fine contact area with the anilox.  As they wear and their contact area with the anilox roll grows, plastic blades produce changes in tonal value and dot gain when metering high line screens.  For this reason they have historically been limited to  jobs with low to modest graphics requirements.

Next Generation Polymers

Now, specially formulated polymer doctor blades can compete with steel in the most demanding graphics applications.  Unlike traditional plastic, the stiffness of the next generation material with a precisely engineered MicroTip™ edge allows the blades to achieve and maintain a fine contact area with the anilox roll.  They can deliver effective metering on line screens up to 2,000 lpi (785 L/cm) and produce graphics of the highest quality.  The following diagrams compare the contact areas of traditional plastic, steel and next generation polymer blades:

Contact_Area_Comparison_border_6.5x2

Doctor Blade Contact Area Comparison

As shown, the contact area of a worn traditional plastic blade grows to .060″ (1.52mm) compared to a contact area of .016″ (.40mm), for a worn steel blade.  The next generation polymer is able to maintain a contact area of .012″ (.305mm), equal to or smaller than that of most steel doctor blades, throughout the life of the blade due to the edge design.  The engineered tip wears slowly and evenly and delivers consistent ink film thickness for the duration of the print job.

Today’s innovations in polymer doctor blades offer printers a viable alternative to steel.  A combination of advanced materials and new tip technology has yielded a blade that meters as well as steel on the highest line screens yet retains the benefits of traditional plastic.  Printers no longer have to compromise on anilox scoring, blade life, and safety to fulfill the most demanding graphics requirements!

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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Dr. John Writes: The Plates are the Brains of Flexo on Press!

Why is the plate the brains of the flexo press you may ask, when we have all the fancy electronics and management systems on modern presses?

Well, many years ago the anilox roll manufacturers claimed that the anilox roll is the heart of a flexo press because it controls the ink delivery like the heart does for the blood. But as we have learned over the last years, the plate is the most important piece in the ink transfer process, with the anilox a close second. When we go to press, for a printer who has struggled with density for years, and with a plate change including DigiCap NX, and with matching tape they often achieve more density than they ever had before. It is clear that the plate and its properties are the controller of the ink transfer and final print achieved in flexo, just like the brain does for our bodies.

Now with the right plate, it is still possible to mess it up with the wrong anilox, bad inks, poor surface properties on the film, or some other issue, but that is like trying to run a marathon in flip flops—it can be done, but we are sure making it hard on ourselves.

One of the challenges we often face is when a printer who chases density with Flexo everyday achieves a 2.2 density value in Cyan; they are so elated that they want to run it everyday. This is not a realistic way to go, because you can’t easily do it every day. It messes up and actually reduces the color gamut available, and is almost impossible to predict in proofing accurately using standard systems.

Here the brain has opened the door, like winning the lottery, and you can only encourage the winner to spend their new found wealth wisely and not blow it!

The secret here is optimization to the new capabilities, reducing the ink volume and pigmentation to reach an industry standard that makes communication and prediction easy. This does not necessarily mean the flexo standard you have always used, but instead many choose an offset or gravure standard for densities to compete at a higher print quality/capabilities level. Others are using the offset version of G7 rather than the modified flexo version.

However, when the system is re-optimized for these new capabilities, the opportunities are immense!

Benefits of this optimization there are usually thinner ink films, so less ink is used, faster drying with less energy used, and potentially faster press speeds, with resulting cleaner and brighter colors with a larger color gamut. Less ink usually results in less dirty print and less stops to clean the plate, resulting in efficiency gains and productivity, not just in printing, but in lamination, slitting, and other processes following printing. See how smart the brain is—it even helps the sister conversion processes be better too!

Now as were all adults and we don’t tend to learn so much by reading, but instead by trial and error and experience based learning, “like when you put your thumb on a nail and hit it with a hammer,” many of us have done it, and you have to hope you learned not to do it again. So isn’t it time you tried something new, put a Kodak plate on your press and see what an upgrade to the brain of your Flexo press, irrespective of how old it is could potentially do for you and your company?

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
john.anderson3@kodak.com
Tel: +1 412 531 6209

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Filed under Plate Technology, Plates, Printing

RFID-Based Inventory Management System Delivers Efficiencies and Cost Savings

by Salmon Creek Media & Marketing

Today’s Flexo printer can’t afford to have stock-outs. The cost of shutting down a press for lack of the right end seal or doctor blade or changing the schedule because the right stickyback to mount a job is gone is unacceptable.

The solution is a real-time inventory management system, APR’s SupplySentry, which uses RFID technology with a web-based interface to manage supplies, making sure that a company doesn’t run out of the things that it needs to get everyday work done.

How does it work?

Crucial supply items are stored in an RFID-enabled cabinet that is equipped with an RFID reader and a computer that keeps track of the inventory and sends the data to APR. The cabinet requires standard 110V power and access to the Internet.

For each item to be tracked, minimum, maximum, and reorder quantities are established collaboratively between ARR and the customer and entered into the system, ensuring that there are no stock-outs and allowing APR to minimize the amount of inventory dollars for the customer. All new supplies shipped to the company have RFID tags attached, so all that is needed is to put them in the cabinet. Because APR has real-time information on the inventory, they manage the rest.

supplysentryThe cabinet, which comes in a variety of sizes designed to meet companies’ specific needs, continuously tracks what’s in stock and what’s been used. When an item’s quantity reaches its reorder point, an order is automatically generated to replenish that item. With the web-based user interface, a company can tell at a glance what it has in stock at any given time, eliminating the time-consuming manual counting of inventory.

To make sure supplies get used in a timely manner, the inventory management system sends an e-mail alert if an item has been in the cabinet for too long. That way, items don’t end up sitting on shelves for extended periods of time, becoming too old to use. It also allows for the consolidation of shipments to save companies shipping costs.

In addition to the cabinets, customers are now having excellent success using RFID-enabled racking systems and, in one case, an entire room. These options allow companies to more efficiently manage their space requirements and optimize the amount of inventory carried.

Balance Supply Inventory for Better Efficiency

Old-fashioned consignment inventory or traditional vendor-managed inventory programs, with all the human intervention, can result in stock-outs or increased inventory amounts because the system is not operating on a real-time basis. The SupplySentry RFID inventory management system is a real-time system that increases profits and decreases costs by improving visibility (and confidence) into a company’s inventory management system.

Control Access to Supplies

The RFID-enabled cabinet can be fitted with a biometric lock that requires a fingerprint scan to unlock the doors and controls who can remove items. A company can be sure that the items they can’t run out of will always be in their supply cabinet when they need them!

The Benefits

APR’s SupplySentry system delivers improved supply chain reliability, lower inventory carrying costs, and increased employee efficiency. Integrating this RFID solution into a company’s supply chain means:

  • Needed supplies are always in stock
  • Visibility of real-time inventory levels at any time
  • No more manually counting supplies and placing orders
  • No outdated stock sitting on the shelf until it’s useless
  • Controlled access to supplies

RFID Inventory Management at Work

To understand how RFID inventory management is changing the flexographic pressroom, it helps to take a look at some real-world examples. These companies are currently putting RFID cabinet systems to work in their respective businesses to reduce costs and increase the efficiencies and overall success of their operations.

coating_excellence_logocei (www.coatingexcellence.com)

cei is an industry leading flexible packaging and technical products company specializing in wide-web extrusion coating and laminating of film, foil, paper, board and nonwovens. cei features EB (electronic beam) coating and laminating, wide-web flexographic presses with award-winning 10-color process printing with registered backside print capabilities, offset printing up to four colors, and onsite graphics including design, layout and digital plate production and High Definition and Expanded Gamut printing.  cei is also an industry-leading sustainable manufacturer and printer, holds ISO, BRC, Chain-of-Custody certifications (FSC, SFI, and PEFC) and is one of a limited number of certified Sustainable Green Printers (SGP).

cei decided to move to an RFID-based inventory management system to help make their process more efficient, more precise. “It creates accurate information for invoicing, P.O. payments, and inventory tracking,” explained cei’s Platemaking Coordinator Eric Huth. “It helps remove the human element of mistakes that can occur during the process.  We pride ourselves in offering the best quality, service and innovation to our customers.  This system helps us uphold that philosophy.

During the installation process, cei worked with APR to determine the proper location and setup of the antennas. “They were great to work with and stopped in as my schedule allowed. There were no specific challenges whatsoever in the installation process. We only needed to reposition some antennas to pick up all the RFID tags,” continued Huth, “and the training required was minimal. APR had the program up and running in no time.”

Today, all of CEI’s flexo plate materials, stickyback, and a wide selection of press supplies are RFID managed. Huth stated that the SupplySentry system is easy to use. Using the RFID system, cei’s inventory management team now has real-time access to the inventory database. Manual counting is a thing of the past, flexo plate materials and stickyback are always in stock, and when inventory levels drop, orders are automatically initiated.

packaging_specialties_logoPackaging Specialties (http://packagingspecialties.com)

Convenience was the big reason for Packaging Specialties’ switch to RFID. “It keeps us from having to worry about our inventory management,” explained Terry Martin, Plate Room Team Leader. “APR takes care of it all now. They monitor when we get low and keep inventory levels where we need them. If we use more than normal, the system automatically keeps up, and we don’t have to worry about running out. We don’t have to be continually checking inventory levels. It’s a good fit for both sides that is working well.”

Packaging Specialties was already ordering supplies from APR, when the RFID cabinet system was suggested. The concept was one that they were all more than willing to try once they understood the benefits. Martin stated, “It seemed like a logical move, a no brainer! APR came in and set up the cabinet, which was supplied at no cost to us. On our part, setup required only one maintenance person and one tech person. The installation when smoothly, and there was no special training required.”

According to Martin, the RFID system is easy to use, and there have been no problems since it was installed. When Packaging Specialties had a planned shut down a few months ago, they notified APR and were walked through a manual system shutdown. When the company powered back up, the system came back online without a hiccup. For unexpected power outages, there is a battery backup system.

“Stickyback and glue sticks are now off the floor and in the RFID-controlled cabinet,” Martin said. “We’ve liked the system so much that we’re now looking at expanding inventory control and working with APR to see if we can convert a storage area into an RFID area.”

So what is Packaging Specialties overall opinion of the system? “The SupplySentry is an easy fit,” Martin concluded. “We’re saving a lot time since we no longer have to periodically do manual inventory counts. Our inventory levels are lower, and someone else is always monitoring and taking care of ordering. Gone are worries about ordering extra supplies if the person normally responsible for inventory management is on vacation. It’s all done automatically—we’re never overstocked with outdated inventory, and we’re never out! Converting to the RFID-managed inventory system is one of the greatest things we’ve ever done. If we could get our entire inventory under RFID control, we would!”

plastic_packaging_logoPlastic Packaging Inc. (http://ppi-hky.com)

Plastic Packaging Inc. is a family business with over 50 years of experience in flexible packaging, providing a wide variety of sizes and configurations including bags, pouches, roll stock, and sleeve labels. Their full range of equipment and expertise includes prepress, plate making, printing, laminating, slitting, and converting. They have won numerous awards for excellence in flexographic printing and sustainability and are a national leader in protecting the environment and conserving and recycling resources.

When APR contacted Plastic Packaging about the opportunity to move to an RFID-based inventory management system, they were open to the idea. “APR was already using the system,” explained William Jenkins, “and we thought that is would work for us. There was an immediate buy in by our inventory management team.”

Plastic Packaging’s IT department worked with APR during the installation process, which was unique in that the RFID system manages a whole room versus a cabinet, and it went smoothly. “Our only specific challenge,” said Jenkins, “was deciding on where to put the sensors and computer in the room. Now that the system is in place, it is giving us better control of what we have on hand.”

“Today, we use the SupplySentry system to manage backing tapes and doctor blades,” continued Jenkins. “Inventory is RFID controlled by APR, and orders are automatically initiated. It’s a much better way to monitor and control what we have on hand.”

American_Packaging_logoAmerican Packaging Corporation (http://ampkcorp.com)

American Packaging Corporation was already an APR customer when the SupplySentry RFID product was introduced, and their inventory management team felt it would be a great tool to manage their inventory needs. “Once we saw the control, accuracy, and efficiency of the system,” stated Aaron Lowry, “we were convinced. There was immediate buy in.”

American Packaging Corporation employees, Steve Moss and Aaron Lowry, worked with APR during the installation process and had a very positive experience. The installation was “graceful,” according to Lowry, and it has proven to be a great tool in controlling their inventory of stickyback tapes, primer, and a wide variety of other tapes.

“The SupplySentry system really is more accurate and efficient,” explained Lowry. “It saves time by eliminating having an employee routinely checking inventory levels and placing orders. With one quick glance at the SupplySentry RFID website, we can easily view and monitor our inventory. Also the rotation of stock according to date is simplified.”

American Packaging Corporation combines award-winning high definition flexographic printing with adhesive laminating to meet customers’ requirements to package a variety of food, personal care, medical, pharmaceutical, and industrial products. Located in Story City, Iowa, the APC Flexographic Printing, Laminating and Preformed Products Division specializes in producing specification that combine performance with high definition award-winning flexographic printing of up to ten colors. The division specializes in film/film laminations including two- and three-ply adhesive laminations, and in the production of Preformed Bags and Pouches.

apr-logo-new-200About All Printing Resources, Inc. (APR):

All 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.

To learn more about SupplySentry, contact All Printing Resources at 800.445.4017 or visit www.teamflexo.com/supplysentry/

 

 

 

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Dr. John Writes – Why In The Flexo World Do You Care About: Is 7-Color Process the Right Direction for Brands in Flexo?

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Is 7-Color Process the Right Direction for Brands in Flexo?

Ever since I joined the EFTA in 1997, fresh out of University with Tony Bath, who was a driving force behind the growing association, people have talked about flexo and 7-color process printing like it was the Holy Grail for packaging.

The challenge for flexo was that consistency was not very good, and we were challenged to deliver consistent 4-color process at that time. A question I often heard Tony ask was, “If you can’t do 4-color process well, why do you think you will do better with 7 colors?

Why did the trend toward 7-color process start?

The drive behind it was simple in many ways. Flexo used a LOT of spot colors—some companies or applications used spot colors almost exclusively—and this was seen as a significant cause of waste including inks, press time wasted changing colors, time washing down the decks, etc. As flexo became less “cheap and cheerful” and went after more challenging work, cost became more important. In the late ’90s, I visited companies that were taking 8 hours to change over a job, and the runs were extremely long, often taking days. The advantage of the 7-color process is to achieve quick changes, leaving the ink and anilox rolls in the press, so only changing the plates for the next job made 7-color process very attractive.  In addition, 7-color processes also partially drove the opportunity for sleeved presses which we take for granted today. In reality, today with the quick “job change over” equipment and mentality, the thought of an 8-hour change over sends shivers down the backs of plant managers.

The need for 7 colors instead of 4 colors related to the relatively poor ink transfer and compressed color gamut of traditional 4-color flexo compared to other print processes. The pin holing in flexo killed the solid ink density achieved, giving flexo its reputation for “muddy” colors from overprints, so most brands did not like the results from 4-color process in flexo. The addition of 3 more colors allowed flexo to expand the color gamut that could be achieved on press, but this still did not match more than about 85% of the Pantone colors.

7-color process was a major driver in the development of the 10-color CI presses, where you often need more than 8 print decks to print 7 colors, plus white, plus any remaining spot colors or a line black for the text, etc.

What has changed in flexo?

Since the early days of digital flexo plates 15 years ago, fast change sleeved presses with automatic ink changes are much more common. Flexo plate technologies have moved to a new level with Flexcel NX and DigiCap NX, often capable of a 25% gamut increase compared to traditional digital flexo plates using just 4-color process. The anilox technologies and chambered ink delivery systems have changed, with finer rolls and more efficient ink transfer, combining with the plate enhancements to get stronger cleaner colors, often using less ink.

Print runs are also getting shorter and shorter and the costs are more competitive with reduced margins throughout the supply chain, so the shorter runs and need for faster change overs supports the 7-color process as a viable option. There is a need to be dedicated to 7-color process, and to dedicate at least one press to it to stop continuous ink changes. When dedicating a press to 7-color process, it really needs to be dedicated to either surface or reverse printing, because switching back and forth with the reversed print sequences kills the primary benefit of 7-color process which is press productivity and minimum down time.

Is flexo the only print process used?

Flexo is not the only print process that uses process colors, or even expanded color gamut color sets like 6-color or 7-color process. In fact, flexo is about the last major print process to embrace it in the way it has. Offset and digital printing processes are dominated by 4-color process, and it is relatively easy to move jobs between offset and digital. Publication gravure also uses primarily 4-color process, with packaging gravure still using a mix of 4-color process and spot colors.

Almost all of the proofing devices on the market base their standards on offset printing using 4-color process. So much of flexo is relatively late to the process printing party, but now that we have learned the printing dance, (with me, dancing is not a strength) we want to dance it all the time. In fact, we have to dial back to get the densities down to the standards that the others used to match, something almost unheard of five years ago!

The challenges of matching on shelf

The challenge for brand owners when converting to flexo process printing is not whether we can print the job in 4 or 7 colors, or how great it looks when we blow the doors off the color expectations. The reality hits later, in the cold light of day, when a family of products on the shelf surpasses the quality of the 4-color offset process printed carton, the 4-color digital printed label, or it makes them look bad side by side. That is a question most flexo printers dreamed of hearing 10 years ago, but today it is a reality every day.

Should brands be looking at 4-color process for all their printing?

So as an industry should the brands look more at 4-color process instead of 7 colors in the future for flexo? We have already seen major retailers make the shift in the private label products to 4 colors. Can we get G7 to work for flexo using the same standard as for offset using 4-color process in flexo, without watering down the target density values? The answer is yes, there are printers doing it every day today.

There are great printers out there doing 7-color process printing in flexo. Printers need to be dedicated to the process and have significant knowledge in file separation and best practices. Those who embrace 7-color stand out as great examples for the industry for what can be done.

But for the brand owner, as their versions increase and run lengths decrease, use of digital printing increases, there are definite benefits in the flexo 4-color process. The latest flexo plate and ink technologies outweigh the additional costs of needing 10-color presses, 25% more plates, tape, ink, dryer energy, etc. And the challenge of matching digital print is driving brands back toward the 4-color process.

Flexo can match the other print processes economically

The flexo process can excel or match today almost every competing print process day in and day out, with 7-color process or 4-color process. The question for the brand owners is why don’t you use more flexo printing instead of the other print processes?  Flexo offers high-speed printing, conversion inline for cartons and labels, and quicker turnaround than most gravure printing. Economically and for your shelf impact, flexo should be your process of choice today—and you choose if you want the capabilities of 4-color or 7-color process.

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
john.anderson3@kodak.com
Tel: +1 412 531 6209

 

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Dr. John Writes – Why in the World of Flexo? Introducing a New Series

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