4 Mistakes To Avoid When Buying Flexographic Printing Machinery

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By David Lee, Focus Label Machinery Ltd

4 Mistakes To Avoid When Buying Flexographic Printing MachineryYou may think that, once you’ve decided to purchase a flexographic press in principle, that your work is done. However, getting  to the point of making a purchase decision – lengthy as this may be – is only part of the process. There are several common errors which can occur, both during and after purchase, that can make your new press more of a challenge to work with than it needs to be. This article will cover four of these commonly-made mistakes.

1) Choosing Surplus Features | Not Choosing The Right Functions

Modern flexo presses have many new technological options to choose from. From automation and colours to efficient drive systems and optional add-ons, you will likely be tempted by many features, but do you really need them? You will need to look at your current budget and needs, as well as into your business’s future growth plans for the answer.

What kinds of jobs do you currently complete for your customers? Do you expect the types of jobs you do to change, and if so, how? Finally, will those changes require a particular drying system, automation level or one or more optional components? It may be that you have some extra capital to invest in a conveyor system, web cleaner or additional drying system, but if it won’t add value to what you offer or provide you with long-term ROI, it could be money wasted.

On the other hand, not having enough of the right features in your press can quickly set you behind the competition. If this is the case, you will need to think about how far this may put you behind, and whether there is a way for you to make the additional investment and obtain those needed elements.

The process of choosing the right press can be frustrating. For many businesses, it can lead to choosing a press that has a lot of advanced features, but that won’t be used to its full potential. In order to choose the best press for you, you should match your features with your plans for growth and expansion over the next five years, and choose a press that can grow with you to maximise your production potential.

2) Not Choosing A Machine That Works With You

Many businesses will purchase a modern flexo press, and then modify their processes according to the capabilities of that press. This is a common error. The press chosen should be the one that’s most suited to your current process. The way to determine suitability is to test the press before you buy. A top priority when purchasing any flexo press should be to ensure that it can print at the level of quality you require for the substrates you will be printing on.

3) Going For A Bargain Press

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to save money, especially on an investment as large as a new printing machine. However, where it comes to buying a flexo press, going solely for the lowest possible cost is not advisable. Whether a machine is cheaper because it is used, was made in the Far East, or doesn’t have many features, not considering the long-term benefits of spending more will be to your detriment. As well, a lower-cost press may also not be as easy to set up, be able to complete jobs as quickly or be as energy efficient as a more expensive machine. You need to think in terms of total cost/benefit over the lifetime of the machine, and not simply about your initial investment.

4) Putting It Into Service Too Soon

Today’s flexo presses are impressive pieces of machinery, able to produce high-quality at incredibly high speeds and allow for many functions to be carried out automatically. Even so, they do require some time to master. Placing a press into service before your operators have had the chance to fully understand how it works can have many negative results, including inadvertent damage being done to the machine. Enough time must be given to ensure not only that proper training has taken place, but that what was learned was correctly retained.

In being sure you avoid the above errors, you can greatly reduce the cost of your flexo press without having to worry that you’ll be sacrificing the timeliness or print quality of your jobs. Improve your knowledge of the latest flexo-printing technology – and it’s investment benefits – by reading our new Ultimate Guide To Flexo-Printing. Download your copy for free by clicking here.

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Increase Press Speed!

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What’s Required to Increase Press Speed?

In order to understand what is necessary to improve press speed, it is helpful to step back and remember the big picture. If you look at print growth over the years, the real issue with press speed has simply been a lack of technology. As knowledge and machinery abilities have increased, so has press speed. The machines coming out now are not as gear-driven as the presses that came out in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

Press Speed

Colour printing is not what it seems, nor is it simple. To obtain full colour, the three processes (letterpress, lithography, and gravure) all depend upon printing only the primary colours (yellow, red, and blue, plus black), and precisely superimposing them so that all the other colours of the spectrum (orange, green, purple, etc.) seem to appear. Black adds the type, and some crisper ‘modelling’ to the colours. The final apparent printed colour is therefore a tone made up of one or more primary colours, where the tone ranges from the palest (highlight) tones to the darkest (shadow) tones.

The challenge with that growth has been finding ways to get more scientific data with the numbers that involve line screen and volume.

Along with the improved ability to harvest this data, the increase in press speeds can also be attributed to the advancement of plate technology, pre-press, and higher quality inks. Press speeds in the past were less than 800 feet, but now they’re close to 3,000 feet. Some CI presses are averaging speeds of 1,200 to 1,400 feet, and still looking to increase, and a few are even running 2,000 feet already.

I believe that these increased speeds are a result of five areas in which there has been great improvement over the years:

  1. Enhanced art work
  2. Thinner plates with better ratios of anilox cell to dot-on-plate
  3. High line-screens with more volume due to higher-wattage lasers
  4. Servo drive machines instead of chain driven – tailor made for the customer
  5. Cad cam designs from press to anilox with tighter tolerances

While growth in any of these five areas nearly guarantees improved speed and quality, it is impossible to get repeatability without correct and consistent equipment. Are you using the optimal gear for what you want to print? Do you have the proper anilox roll engravings for the volume you need? Take the time to find out what works for you.

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The angle of the cells, the carrying capacity of the cell and the number of cells per linear inch.

I think banded roll testing is important to increase press speed because it will help you find exactly the right anilox roll for what you want to print. The anilox is known as the “heart of the press” for good reason. Choosing the right roll helps to create a good foundation for a variety of printing challenges. When it comes to increasing press speed and maintaining quality, finding the right anilox is a critical step.

Banded-Roll-Testing-_-Increase-Press-Speed

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Tools of the Trade: Plate QC

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by Catherine Green, All Printing Resources
Plates are an essential part of the flexographic printing process. The plate delivers a precise amount of ink to the substrate exactly where it is needed. Such a critical piece of the printing process must be measured and controlled to deliver consistent results. Selecting the correct plate measurement tool and implementing plate QC is essential to success in the pressroom. Let’s take a look into what tools are needed for accurate platemaking:

plate QCPlate Imaging QC Tools:

  • Transmission Densitometer: used to measure digital plate mask stain, analog film density, dot size on both digital mask and film. (ex: Techkon DENS)
  • 100x Microscope: used to inspect laser focus test results, general image sharpness. (ex: Optical Stand Microscope)

Platemaking QC Tools:

  • Micrometer: used to measure plate gauge, relief depth, and check for plate swelling. (ex: Bench or Handheld Micrometer)
  • 100x Microscope: used to visually check dot formation and fine image elements. (ex: Optical Stand Microscope or Digital USB Microscope)
  • Plate Measurement Device: used to measure screened dot size. (ex: Troika P2P Device)
  • 3D Plate Measurement Device: used to measure relief between dots, screened dot size, and quantify plate wear for used plates. (ex: Troika AniCam)
  • UVA Light Meter: used to measure exposure lamp intensity/lamp life. (ex: Kunhast UVA Meter)

What are the proper procedures for plate making quality control? How are these tools implemented in the plate room? APR’s Tim Reece explains in the following information from his document, Photopolymer Platemaking Quality Control Procedures:

FIRST QC CHECK

Tools: Transmission Densitometer & Optical Microscope

Conventional Analog Platemaking

  • Inspect film negative for scratches or pinholes
  • Check copy and verify surface or reverse print
  • Using a B/W Transmissive Densitometer check Dmax and Dmin

Digital Platemaking

  • Inspect mask for scratches or pinholes
  • Using a B/W Transmissive Densitometer perform a stain test once a month or with every new batch, as well as a focus test.

SECOND QC CHECK

Tool: Micrometer

  • Using a micrometer, measure and record raw material thickness of the sheet photopolymer

THIRD QC CHECK

Visual Check

Conventional Analog Platemaking

  • Verify the film negative is wrong reading on the emulsion side of the film negative for reverse print. Verify the film negative is right reading on the emulsion side of the film negative for surface print. Clean film negative and vacuum coversheet of all debris. (Digital Platemaking)
  • Verify the black mask (face up) is wrong reading for surface print. Verify the black mask (face up) is right reading for reverse print. Clean plate surface of all debris prior to main exposure.

FOURTH QC CHECK

Tool: Micrometer

  • After the drying stage is complete, once again measure the plate thickness (micrometer) to insure the material is completely dry before moving on to post exposure and light finishing (detack). The plate should be swollen .0015” or less. At this point if “tiger stripes” are apparent, clean them off prior to post exposure and detach.

FIFTH QC CHECK

Tool: Micrometer

  • Once the plate is finished verify that correct relief has been established using a micrometer.
  • Example (.067 material); Line copy – relief .023” – .025”
  • Example (.067 material); Screen copy – relief .020” – .022”

SIXTH QC CHECK

Visual Check

  • Perform a paper test to ensure the plate has been adequately detacked (a sheet of paper should release easily from the print surface).
  • Bend plate to ensure the plate has no cracking as a result of over exposing to UV-C.

In addition to the procedures above, printers controlling process color will also benefit from measuring dot size on the finished plate. A control patch should be placed on each sheet of photopolymer coming out of the plateroom so that the dot size can be checked and recorded to prevent any possible exposure or curve issues from making it to press. The target must contain known dot sizes, at least a 100%, 50%, and highlight. Both the ablated mask and the finished plate can be measured using a plate measuring device to confirm the platemaking conditions are correct. The image below is an example of this type of plate control target.

plate QC

With a little training and the right quality control procedures in place, platemaking can be a reliable, predictable, and fully controllable part of your printing process.

About the Author:

Catherine-Green_200Catherine Green – Catherine has over 12 years experience in graphic arts. An honors graduate of Clemson University’s Graphic Communications program, she has held positions in prepress, platemaking, and technical support. Before joining APR’s Technical Solutions Group, Catherine worked for Asahi Photoproducts as their Technical Specialist for North America. She brings expertise in digital platemaking, prepress, and process improvement to the TSG. She is an active member of the FTA, serving on both the Excellence in Flexography judging panel and FQC groups.

About 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.

If you have any questions about the contents of this article or flexographic platemaking, contact Catherine Green of APR’s Technical Solutions Group at c.green@teamflexo.com.

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Better Medicine Labels: Get It Right The First Time

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By Michael De Bari, Technical Account Manager, Schawk, Australia

Australia’s medicine labels are clearer with the new better medicine labelling requirements.

Prescription dispensing has gone unchanged for decades in Australia. The Australian Federal Government, through its Therapeutic Goods Authority (TGA), is drastically changing the way medicines and other health care products are to be labelled for sale in the region. The changes are in force for labels of non-prescription medicines, and labels of prescription and related medicines.

While the government has provided for a four-year transition period, astute brands and healthcare suppliers should start to make the changes early and in a managed way.

With the global pharmaceutical space undergoing drastic change, current and new healthcare brands will need to achieve both accuracy and efficiency with the new labelling changes. Brands owners who embrace these changes will benefit from the mandated transparency to help ensure consumer safety and patient compliance – patients who understand timing and dosage will ultimately take their prescribed treatments.

READ: Seamless Pharmaceutical Packaging Compliance

The changes regulated by the TGA are significant. They are designed to increase accessibility to information for consumers, especially when purchasing prescription and over-the-counter medicine, supplements, sunscreens and other healthcare products.

Major changes include:

  • Larger fonts displaying active ingredients and consistent placements
  • Critical information in distinctive and regularly placed tables
  • Mandatory allergen information prominently highlighted
  • More space for dispensing labels
  • Clearer product storage instruction, “Use By” date, batch numbering and company contact information

Studies have found that packaging that reminds people whether they have taken their medication, e.g. certain antibiotics, steroids and hormone replacement, increases compliance significantly among the elderly.

Clearer labels will improve consumer safety and healthcare outcomes. The mandatory changes also provide opportunities for brands to improve shelf appeal. There are risks however, if the changes are not done well and are not correct the first time. Design, pre-press, on-pack and technical capabilities must evolve to assist clients with managing the required changes.

It is in the best interest of the drug manufacturers and their brands to create packaging that facilitates compliance to ensure a positive brand experience. Affected businesses hence need to strategise early and intelligently to avoid costly and time-consuming delays in the TGA approval process. Key products in the client portfolio are being identified and created as a master to support the TGA submissions and approval, an integral part of the new legislation.

Management of regulatory compliant labelling is a specialism and requires methodology, expertise and processes that are purpose-built for the healthcare industry. SGK has designed a 4-tier solution that is modular, scalable and auditable, helping local and multinational healthcare companies to reduce costs, increase speed to market, whilst adhering to stringent quality compliance.

The new laws bring Australian medicine labels up to date with international best practice. They will help Australians to make more informed choices about their medicines and use them more safely.

The new labelling rules took effect 31 August 2016. With a four-year transition period, it is crucial for clients to get it right the first time and ahead of industry competitors.

For more information about the new medicine and healthcare labelling laws for Australia and New Zealand contact Michael De Bari, Technical Account Manager, on +612 9463 6708 or Michael.Debari@schawk.com

Schawk! produces brand assets and protects brand equities to drive brand profitability. Leveraging its 60+ years of industry leadership, Schawk! identifies and deploys scalable solutions to address a brand’s complex production and delivery needs through proven expertise in workflow, resourcing, colour management and imaging. Schawk! is part of the brand deployment group of SGK, which is a division of Matthews International Corporation (NASDAQ GSM: MATW). For more information visit: http://www.schawk.com/ and http://www.sgkinc.com

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A Revolutionary Reinvention of Anilox Ink Transfer

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By Jeanine Graat, Apex International

In flexographic printing, the anilox surface where ink meets plate has always been one of the prime limiting factors in print quality, press speed, and workflow. “Apex has met that challenge head-on by reinventing the very concept of ink-to-plate transfer”, says Nick Harvey, Technical Applications Director at Apex, describing the continual improvement and growing success of GTT since its introduction in 2007. “We have established well over 20,000 installations worldwide so far. Anilox manufacturers are paying Apex the ultimate compliment now by actually trying to emulate our patented Open Slalom Ink Channel anilox surface geometry by coming up with (semi-) open cell engravings and all variations of cells with removed walls.”

But GTT cannot be copied, explains Harvey: “GTT is about much more than its unique open cell structure. We have been constantly enhancing and fine tuning GTT over the last ten years, both internally and together with partners in projects like REVO, where packaging industry leaders have joined forces to optimize the flexo process. As a result, the GTT rolls and sleeves produced today are actually already the next generation GTT.”

Revolutionary technical innovations

During the conceptual development of GTT, Apex investigated all possible engraving structures, both cellular and open cells, to weigh every benefit and disadvantage. Harvey: “By combining three revolutionary technical innovations, Apex has been able to reinvent ink transfer. GTT’s low-porosity hybrid ceramic composition provides the highest-density, hardest and most ink-repellent ceramic surface layer available. Instead of a pulse laser, we use a constant beam laser to create smooth and precise channel walls for our Open Slalom Ink Channel geometry that lets the ink flow uniformly and calmly onto plate – thus reducing pinholing, mottling, haloing  that occur in print.

GTT is the industry’s only guaranteed anilox solution against spitting, which is a major advantage for the label industry in particular.”

Anilox Ink Transfer

Repeatability and consistency

GTT has three basic benefits over any other anilox engraving. 1-It ensures high repeatability in manufacturing – from roll to roll, month after month.

2-GTT significantly reduces cliché wear. And it provides a better controlled print performance and guarantees print consistency for over 100,000 meters (see images “Consistency” and “AniloxWear” accompanying this article). 3-GTT is the ultimate technology to be used in HD Flexo and Fixed palette printing from four up to seven colors. Harvey states: “Fixed palette printing should be truly ‘fixed’: no ink changes, no anilox changes, no ink adjustments – just plate sleeves out and plate sleeves in.

My question to printers is always: ‘What is your press uptime?’ – meaning the time their press is producing saleable product. The industry standard is only 35% to 40%, because most printers still have to adjust, modify and set up their presses for each job. GTT facilitates true Fixed Palette printing and enhances press productivity improvements, that enable uptimes of 65% to even 70%”

Continuous improvement

Apex’ continuous improvement project has enabled the development of the GTT 2.0 next-generation technology. It also allows Apex to constantly re-evaluate our production of all conventional engravings as well. This ensures that a conventional hexagonal cell or any other market trends in engravings are also continuously optimized and improved .

Therefore if a printer determines that the benefits of GTT exceed his production requirements, Apex is in the position to offer any conventional cell form engravings to a world class gold standard”, concludes Harvey. “Every printer can count on Apex quality, precision and reliability for all his anilox requirements.”

Apex offers solutions for the concerns outlined in this article. Its Accora glue roll and doctor roll are made from stainless steel and ceramic, respectively, and provide benefits that include glue savings, easy cleanup, faster speeds and longer roll life. Its GTT laser-engraved anilox is known for its ability to achieve consistent ink-to-plate transfer. Thanks to its patented open slalom ink channel geometry, it allows a precise volume of ink onto the plate, rotation after rotation and job after job. Learn more at www.apex-groupofcompanies.com.

JGBioABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanine Graat is the Marketing Manager for Apex Europe, specializing in cooperative marketing strategies and is an 18 year veteran of the anilox industry.

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Mind Your Graphics: Labeling Requirements & Regulations for Package Printing (Part 2:2)

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by Catherine Haynes, All Printing Resources

Labeling RequirementsAre you ready for more fun with regulatory compliance?  Actually this part is pretty cool and a little more fun. In the first part of this discussion I talked about where labeling regulations are derived, the types of package/labeling elements that are regulated and how prepress providers can use software to aide in meeting many government labeling requirements. Remember, my focus in this article is regulations related more specifically to the graphics, for things like font specifications, barcodes, ingredients panels and nutritional panels. These are especially important considerations to Flexo prepress and packaging prepress. As an example, I mentioned the recent Nutritional Panel change that introduced the most significant change to this type of information in many years.

If you did not see the first part of this article, you should click this link to learn more about the FDA Proposed Nutrition Fact Changes. I also talked about the first layer of defense everyone should use when opening an art file – preflighting. Some solutions are very intuitive and act as a guide allowing the user to move through the file and correct elements as needed. But preflight is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to most graphic related regulations. I now would like to discuss using dynamic content to build things like intelligent barcodes and nutritional panels.

How Smart is your Barcode Builder?

Barcode generating programs have been around forever and are essential to successfully creating a barcode with the correct bars and spaces, size, magnification, bar width reduction and height. There are a variety of applications you can purchase and use to build a barcode, which can then be placed into Adobe Illustrator®. Since you are creating a [raster-based] image file a change to that barcode requires going back to the barcode application to generate a new code. The bad barcode must then be deleted from the Illustrator® file and the corrected code placed and repositioned where needed within the design. Though a bit tedious, this is a familiar process to most prepress artists.

One well-known software developer is Esko. They have a barcode solution that is unique for three main reasons:

  1. 04-UPC-Settings-243x300

    Image 4: Barcode Generator

    Image 4: Barcode Generator

    It is a tool you can use within Adobe Illustrator®. No more jumping in and out of different software solutions to create, import, and make changes. The artist works within Illustrator® to create and/or make changes.

  2. What really sets it apart, is that the barcode generated is not an raster image file, but rather vector art that is automatically placed in a separate non-destructive art layer. Since it is vector art it is easy to change things, like the barcode’s color for example, similar to how other vector art is manipulated using native Illustrator® tools.
  3. But even more impressive is the barcode panel, which allows the user to dynamically create or update a barcode. Using this panel, the operator can conveniently edit the barcode’s color, size, magnification, number, etc.. They can even customize the font and placement of the human readable characters (see image 4).

Let me reiterate, all of this is accomplished without ever leaving Illustrator® and is built on a non-destructive art layer. Every change made in this panel is immediately reflected by the barcode within the art file.

Pretty nice, but you may be thinking that it would be even better if the prepress artist didn’t have to enter the UPC code at all. It would be great if the art could be dynamically linked to a code provided by the CPC, right? With Esko’s suite of tools, this too is possible, by creating a vector barcode as a placeholder using their dynamic tools. This can then be linked to a customer provided XML file with the correct code information, which usually comes from the brand manager (see image 5). As you can see, each part of this dynamic tool set allows the artist flexibility and yet builds in layers of protection to minimize errors and maintain regulatory compliance.

DynamicUPC-01

Image 5: Linking Barcode to XML Data

Consumed With What We Eat

So I have already mentioned, a couple times now, the recent nutritional panel changes. This marks the first major change since 1993, if you don’t count the 2006 change to add trans fat to the nutrients. Now released, our industry will have two years (26 July 2018) to make sure labels and packaging are in compliance. As CPC’s start to define changes for their product lines, we can certainly expect a to see a gradual escalation in urgency to adopt the new regulations and ensure all product labels conform.

For those of us in packaging who actually generate these tables the thought of changing ALL the nutritional panels for ALL the products we manage may be a daunting and tedious task to face. These changes will involve the shifting, adding, removing and rekeying of a lot of information, not to mention potentially having to adjust positioning of text and other art elements that surround the nutrition facts. …Ugh!

Are there options to automate this too? Well, YES there are! …

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 Image 6: U.S. Linear (embedded) format

If you have been building these tables manually, this would be a good time to consider investing in a solution that will allow you to dynamically build and populate this information. Many of you may already be using a cloud-based solution or other software specifically developed for building nutritional panels. Once again, Esko offers a unique tool for easily building and changing nutritional panels in a non-destructive art layer. This dynamic tool is another Adobe Illustrator® plug-in and includes access to all types of panel formats for which you can manually type in the desired values or link the table with XML data to automatically populate the information. Since all the tools reside within Illustrator® the operator can effortlessly move between tools and does not need to open other applications or go through the process of placing images and then repositioning the art.

Image 6 shows the U.S. Linear nutritional panel format. It is easily dynamically customized to remove the cholesterol measurement field or convert it to the U.S. Standard Full format (see Image 7). While the nutrition data stays the same you can see the style in which it is displayed is very different. Similar to Esko’s barcode tool, the changes are made via the panel and the art immediately reflects the changes so the artist never has to leave Illustrator®, thus making the art itself dynamic.

06d-Nutrition-Changes-720x277Images 7: Changes to Linear format to remove Cholesterol data. Also a change from the Linear format to the Standard Full format.

My Art is Smarter then Your Art

Image 8: Quickly tag the placeholder type objects, table objects and barcodes that are created in an Illustrator® design. These can later be linked to the final content.

Image 8: Quickly tag the placeholder type objects, table objects and barcodes that are created in an Illustrator® design. These can later be linked to the final content.

I get the feeling you’d rather consider governmental regulations and the implementation of all these standards as “opportunities”, but to do that, you need to be able to manage your frustration, confusion and fear so that it is as simplified a process as it can be. While the brand colors and images are definitely important, as this is what grabs the consumer’s attention from the shelf, errors with simple line art (like barcodes, ingredients, nutritional info, etc.) can sting way more then any color shift. There are plenty of resources you can research and purchase or use online, but removing as many touch points as possible is the ultimate key to success. This is why dynamic content makes so much sense. The ability to draw XML data from other systems and then link the XML data to placeholders within your file helps to eliminate additional touch points. That is one less thing the operator has to key-in and that means one more chance to make a mistake is averted.

I have already touched on this briefly with barcodes, but any art can be made intelligent and dynamic. By tagging the art element as dynamic, it becomes a placeholder (see image 8). This placeholder then acts as a bridge linking it with intelligent content (XML data created by a CPC’s content management system) to the file. In essence the design is made “smart”, triggered by dynamically linked art elements. A placeholder barcode (made of all zeros) becomes a live barcode. A nutritional panel or ingredients list is populated with content. An image element is replaced with the correct or updated art. Multiple versions of a product are dynamicically adapted (see image 9).

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Image 9: Dynamic links can be used for product versioning.

 

But wait! It gets even better! The next stepping stone is to connect this to a web-portal to make this a cloud-based solution. Combining a web-portal with dynamic art, the operator can invite and collaborate directly with the CPC and others. This especially makes good sense when it comes to governmentally regulated art for things like barcodes, nutritional panels and ingredients list. Lawyers, brand managers, marketing groups, these are the people in the know and why not try to streamline this process and allow them direct access to help mange specific content.

Wrapping Things Up

Here are a few key things to consider when selecting your ideal solution:

  • Tools reside within Adobe Illustrator®
  • Art is built on a non-destructive art layer
  • Content is locked so it is protected from accidental, non-deliberate changes
  • Changes are instantly mirrored within the art file via dynamic links
  • Elements can be linked to XML data provided by the brand owner/manager
  • A window can be opened allowing the prepress supplier to link other key individuals and decision makers as the package/label is being created

These things will all go a long way to improving efficiencies. Think of the time an operator can save by not having to jump back and forth between applications, removing the old and then adding and repositioning new art. Hopefully these solutions not only provide a little piece of mind, but also make the prepress supplier an even more valuable asset to the CPC. Regulations are going to continue to change as these groups (like the FDA, USDA, GS1, EPA, etc) work to improve and adapt packaging to our evolving understanding of business needs, consumer health and the products being packaged. Most software developers are doing their part to stay in the loop and keep their solutions relevant. What helps protect you as the prepress supplier is having solutions and tools that make it simple and keeping those systems current so you have access to new formats and requirements based on the latest and greatest regulations.

CatHaynes2About the Author:

Catherine Haynes is a member of the Technical Solutions Group for All Printing Resources. She has more than 18 years of experience in the printing industry and has been a certified G7 Expert for more than six years. At APR she assists sales technicians as a technical representative for various customer projects related to training, characterizations, prepress and pressroom assessments, color management, digital workflows, platemaking and implementation or expansion of in house prepress capabilities.

About 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.

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A New Direction with SteppedHex Engraving

zecher-logo

by Klemens Ehrlitzer

Innovative SteppedHex technology and a new direction in sales give Zecher GmbH an extra spurt of growth

Things are going well at Zecher GmbH. Sales figures are up, and the newly developed SteppedHex engraving, which the Paderborn (Germany)-based supplier presented at last year’s Drupa trade fair, is creating more and more interest. Specialisation in the company’s core product of anilox rollers and consistent implementation of a proactive sales strategy form the basis of this current success. This is reflected in, for example, the company’s sales for the past year of 2016, which grew by 12% in the twelve months concerned. In this article, Jörg Rohde, who is Zecher’s Head of Application Technology, explains what lies behind the development of the company’s new SteppedHex technology, while Head of Sales Thomas Reinking tells us more about the context of the current success in sales.

SteppedHex

Fig. 1: Zecher’s main plant in Paderborn (Germany) is equipped with a total of seventeen laser-engraving machines and ten further mechanical units, which between them produce twelve thousand anilox rollers every year.

The foundations of today’s success can be traced back to 1948, when Kurt Zecher originally founded the firm. Operating as what would nowadays be termed a start-up entrepreneur, he ran a small workshop specialised in hard chrome plating. Enquiries from the printing sector ignited his pioneering spirit, and by 1950 he had produced the first regularly engraved anilox roller. Since then, the firm’s development has been based wholly on anilox rollers, of which the Paderborn-based company produces approximately twelve thousand units annually. All production takes place in Paderborn, where the company employs a workforce of 170 persons.

Production defined by state-of-the-art laser technology

Ever since the Zecher Company launched its first laser-engraved anilox roller in 1989, this technology has become widely recognised as standard. Engraving with a diamond-tipped tool nevertheless remains in use for certain applications. As a result of all this, the company’s production facilities now include a total of seventeen laser-engraving machines, along with ten mechanical units.

When ceramic anilox rollers first came into use, cells tended to be aligned at an angle of 45°, as was the practice with chrome rollers. The hexagonal format, which works with an angle of 60°, has nevertheless become more common over time. One advantage of this type of engraving is that it minimises the risk of moiré patterns forming during halftone printing. There were also repeated attempts to make use of cross-hatching, particularly known in the area of coating techniques, for the printing of flexible packaging items.

Laser engraving paves the way for alternative cell geometries

As cross-hatching entails both benefits and disadvantages, there have been long-standing efforts in the sector to apply the possibilities of laser engraving to alternative cell geometries, and several relevant suppliers market corresponding products with a variety of designations.

The development of a new engraving presents an important challenge, given the multiple factors and various physical requirements that need to be taken into account. These may include:

  • ink transfer, which is normally determined by the filling and emptying characteristics of the cell,
  • the mechanical stability of the engraving, which is for example needed to guide the doctor blade,
  • the geometric arrangement of the cells, which must correspond to the various screen angles arising from reproduction,
  • the suitability of the cell’s shape for engraving onto a cylindrical object in an endless and seamless way,
  • the use of all commonly employed types of ink, such as those based on water and solvents and those designed for UV-dried inking systems,
  • along with all common printing machine configurations,
  • and compatibility with any type of printing where the tendency to use ever-finer screening and pattern details demands special requirements in terms of the ink-transfer performance of anilox rollers.

Zecher GmbH has developed, with SteppedHex, a free-standing cell geometry that fulfils all the requirements in the list. The name of the product reflects the stepped arrangement of the cells, which are organised in groups of three (see fig. 2). The “omission” of the adjoining walls of three cells lying on a given radial line creates the open engraving and typical offset of SteppedHex technology, with its German registered-design status.

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Fig. 2: 3D model of SteppedHex engraving (right) with special cell geometry and typical offset arrangement, compared to Trihelical engraving (left) and Hexa 60° (centre).

SteppedHex expands the possibilities of conventional engraving

The company has invested several years of intensive work in the development of its new SteppedHex technology. This has involved cooperation both with industrial partners and selected users of the firm’s products. The latter, in their role as “beta users” put the anilox rollers through their paces over a long period of actual day-to-day operation. One of the initial test markets was the field of narrow-web UV flexo printing. It is for this reason that some of the label printers involved have now been using this anilox roller technology successfully for more than three years. The project then went on to cover the market for flexible packaging and other segments, such as pre-printed corrugated cardboard.

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Fig. 3: Most anilox rollers are supplied in the form of anilox sleeves.

The lengthy test phase ensures that printers can work with SteppedHex as part of a proven existing system that has fulfilled previous requirements without problem, but which is now open to new opportunities. These include such benefit as better-quality flexo printing, often involving anilox rollers of a higher resolution. The challenge in this case is to transfer the same volume of ink, despite the finer quality of the engraving. This balancing act succeeds thanks to the open engraving of SteppedHex technology. “The increased fineness of the line resolution is compensated for by the open nature of the cells”, explains Jörg Rohde. “This permits the use, depending on line configuration, of SteppedHex anilox rollers that increase resolution by 80 to 120 – and sometimes even 180 lines per centimetre – without any of the loss of volume typical of hexagonal engravings.”

Jörg Rohde uses the example of a conventional roller with a resolution of 160 L/cm to illustrate these effects. The maximum volume of this engraving is comparable to that of a SteppedHex roller with a resolution of 240 L/cm. This increase of 80 lines in terms of screen resolution has the advantage of homogeneous ink transfer, and therefore of uniform colouring of the printed item. This improves the representation of fine detail, but still makes available the volume required for the printing of the surfaces concerned.

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Fig. 4: Conventional anilox rollers remain in use in many areas of application.

Improved emptying and cleaning performance

The afore-mentioned is also supported by an open engraving structure; with fewer cell-walls, adhesion powers which usually retain a proportion of the ink in the cell, are diminished. The cell geometry, consisting of groups of three cells that each form a shape reminiscent of a bathtub, is beneficial in terms of cleaning performance. This aspect is of increasing importance, given that most modern printing machines are equipped with automatic cleaning equipment.

The fine resolution of SteppedHex engraving lets it deliver yet another benefit: in the shape of its high basic stability, which ensures smooth and efficient application of the doctor blade.

SteppedHex creates a growing interest on the market

Anilox rollers have raised quality standards right across the flexo printing sector in recent years. The products offered in this respect were largely similar. The Zecher Company has managed, with the development of its new SteppedHex technology, to offer technical product advantages to users of anilox rollers. This gives its worldwide sales organisation, which includes 60 representatives, a valuable unique selling point. The product’s attractiveness is enhanced even more by the fact that the price-to-performance characteristics of this new engraving technology are comparable to those of conventional anilox rollers.

Market interest in SteppedHex is therefore correspondingly high. Ever since it was first launched at the Drupa trade fair in May 2016, the level of demand has grown in parallel with the number of items delivered. Special test rollers are being made available to manufacturers of printing machines and printing companies alike, and an OEM customer has already completed an extensive range of test prints with SteppedHex rollers. All this has shown that, among other things, the typical worries about open engraving possibly leading to the transfer of excessive quantities of ink, along with the concerns of many print works regarding inefficient drying, are unfounded.

An up-to-the-minute approach to sales based on key success factors

The development of this new engraving technology is however not the only reason for celebrating the recent successes of Zecher GmbH in terms of sales. During the past eighteen months, the company has applied targeted efficiency measures across departmental boundaries, which have optimised both its production processes as well as sales and distribution procedures.

Thomas Reinking, who has been in charge of Sales and Marketing at the Paderborn-based company since May 2015, describes these changes in detail: “Customer requirements were previously focused on technical advice. Before the purchase of an anilox roller, a printing company normally had to consider which specifications would be suitable for a particular application. Zecher has been able, as a company wholly specialised in anilox rollers, to use its expertise and long experience in the field to create a strong market position. There has meanwhile also been a fundamental shift in the nature of the flexo printing sector, which now demands a new, customised approach to sales.”

Many flexo printing companies have over time developed a profound knowledge of everything to do with printing technology, which often renders superfluous any advice that might be available on the specifications of the anilox rollers that they require. Purchasing decisions are nowadays seldom based on such technical parameters as line resolution, pick-up volume or cell geometry, but tend rather to depend on investment budgets. Thomas Reinking continues: “It therefore follows, in the context of this newly aligned approach to sales, that today’s decision-makers occupy commercial posts in the companies of our main target group.” This point applies in particular in the case of OEM customers. The new approach likewise offers several advantages. On one hand, concentrating on a single channel of distribution means that quotations can be issued considerably faster; and on the other, the Sales team is able to react more quickly to customer demands, as increased proximity to customers is associated with earlier involvement in investment and decision-making processes.

Implementation of all the above measures has already had a considerable impact on business development. In the previous four quarters of 2016, for example, Zecher GmbH has reported a 12% growth in orders compared to the twelve-month period before. This in turn creates significant scope for future investments. New hirings and staff-qualification measures in the area of human resources, coupled with further progress in the field of production technology, promise to secure this success in the long term.

Communications between Application Technology and the printer

The estimated 90% of orders that are now handled directly via the sales organisation likewise translates into a considerable advantage for the department of Application Technology. “The streamlining of our sales procedures has permanently taken the pressure off our specialists in the field of application technology”, explains Thomas Reinking. “They only have to go into action nowadays if customer requirements exceed the expertise of our colleagues in Sales; a scenario that applies in just one out of ten cases.”

This means that the valuable resources of the Application Technology team can be significantly better-targeted, which in turn translates into a jump in the quality of advice regarding their field of expertise.

A helpful pyramid guide in a jungle of specifications

This new approach means that the Sales team must be able, to a certain extent, to provide technical advice and support – a truly demanding task, given the wide variety of uses that anilox rollers can be put to. This is made easier by the “specifications pyramid” that the Zecher Company first made public at the 2012 Drupa trade fair. This tool developed by the company in-house has since become a proven and coherent way of matching an individual application to the right kind of engraving.

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Fig. 5: The “specifications pyramid”, which Zecher first presented at the 2012 Drupa trade fair, provides a line-resolution comparison between SteppedHex (right) and conventional engraving (left).

This new SteppedHex technology is a star addition to the catalogue of Zecher GmbH. While previous products were normally anilox rollers designed for specific purposes, SteppedHex is an alternative concept that breaks the bounds of individual applications. What this means in practice is that users can cover all their needs with a single system, should they wish to do so. As SteppedHex is not restricted to individual fields of application, it can be used to deliver benefits to printers dedicated to high-quality halftone work, those dealing with line-halftone combinations and even those producing white blanks.

Zecher GmbH has managed to convert its SteppedHex technology and new sales concept into the foundation stone of healthy growth, and is now set to break into new markets. One example is North and South America, where the company spent the autumn of 2016 acquiring new partners for its distribution network.

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Fig. 6: Laser machines used for the engraving of ceramic anilox rollers at Zecher’s plant in Paderborn.

To learn more about Zecher, visit www.zecher.com

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Ten Things to Know About Flexo End Seals

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Flexo End Seals1. When installing your seals, make sure the face of the seal fits squarely against the chamber with no gaps or distortion.

2. The condition of the anilox roll can also play a role in chamber leaks. If the roll lacks a dead band, ink will build up there and contribute to end seal failure. Chips on the ends of the anilox rolls can also create ink buildup and compromise the integrity of the end seals.

3. Make sure to use an end seal material that is compatible with the type of ink or coating being used, the length of the run, and the press speed. Today there are a number of end seal material options for all types of inks that can offer very long life. However, these solutions are often more expensive so you need to match the material specific to your criteria.

WandH-chamber-end-seals-800x585-300x2194. There a number of new end seal coatings and multiple material combinations (two part and three part) on the market today. Most of these are designed to increase end seal life. When combined with today’s longer lasting blade options they can significantly reduce the need to shut down the press just to change seals or blades.

5. It is important to know that not all felts are created equal. Higher quality felts (F1, F3) will offer longer life and higher vibration absorption. Lower quality felt seals will usually have more thickness variations. It is important the felt seals are properly lubricated. The right amount of a food grade lubrication can extend the life of the seal by reducing the friction as well as, the possibility of ink build-up. Food-grade petrolatum is more effective than oils, as oil flows away (down) from the top of the seal as it is heated. Conversely, petrolatum stays cooler at the base of the seal and “wicks” toward the top of the seal as friction heat is generated.

6. Foam end seals are still a very popular and cost effective solution. Some new foams, especially those with coatings, have proven to last as long as many felt seals. Longer life makes them more cost effective.

DuraSeal-800x500-300x1887. Flexo end seal materials are available with different durometers or compression ratios. This is important as the doctor blade needs to have some upward pressure from the end seal to ensure an adequate seal is made between the shoulder of the end seal and the underside of the blade. It is important that the seal is sized properly and does not apply too much upward pressure that it causes the blade to “flare” (the end is lifted upwards beyond a degree or two from anilox parallel). Too much flare on the blade will require excessive pressure to ensure even blade pressure to the anilox and will cause uneven wear.

8. Good seal design for a proper fit is critical to minimize chamber leaking from gaps. This is especially true on older presses where alterations may have been made or vendors for end seals have changed and you are working with “copies of copies”. This is the most critical in the radius of the seal. If you are considering looking at new end seal options it is important to also supply the diameter of the anilox roll to make sure that the end seal radius is correct.

9. Doctor blades that are too short or too long can be another source of leaks. When changing a doctor blade, it’s important to make sure that the new blade is the right size for the chamber and installed correctly. Typically the blade should come to about halfway across the tops of the end seals when placed in the chamber. If the blade does not reach the seals, then the seals can actually prevent contact between the doctor blade and the anilox roll. If the blade extends beyond the outer edge of the end seal, it may create a small opening between the underside of the blade and the end seal which creates a path for ink to flow out of the chamber. If it’s too long, the blade may also become wavy and not lay flush with the roll, causing uneven metering and leaking.

10. Many new chambers come with special molded rubber seals. These can be very effective but also very expensive. Sometimes more traditional seals can be substituted with good success.

All Printing Resources makes and sells a wide variety of end seals for all types of presses and coaters. Click here to Learn more about APR’s Flexo End Seals.

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Beyond Best Practices: How to Win in a Dynamic Market

best practices

by Michael Leeds, SVP Client Engagement, Americas, SGK

Market leaders and innovators have been talking about “next practices” for at least 10 years, but it can be difficult for many in their audience to know what steps to take or how to identify the results of successful next-practice campaigns. That’s because next practices, when they prove to be successful, are quickly and unconsciously redefined as best practices. What was once a deliberate exploration beyond the status quo (a next practice) becomes a recognized benchmark of the current state (a best practice). The “next” next practice, by definition, is hard to imagine.

The truth is, many of today’s best-practice-led innovations and processes could have been described as next practices when they were first proposed. Consider a few examples:

  • A PROTOTYPE OF THE FIRST SMARTPHONE, designed by IBM, made its public debut in 1992. The Simon Personal Communicator went on sale in 1994 but was pulled from the market six months later having sold only 50,000 units.[i] Fifteen years after that prototype, Apple introduced the iPhone, now considered the best-practice example of what a smartphone should be.
  • CARRIAGES FOR HIRE PREDATE THE AUTOMOBILE, but for more than a century, hailing a taxi was only possible on the street or through a dispatcher. Then, Uber saw an opportunity to provide a better ride-hailing experience using mobile technology, leaving traditional cab companies scrambling to compete with a next practice that is quickly becoming a best practice.
  • FOR THE RIO 2016 OLYMPIC GAMES, Kellogg departed from the traditional, highly polished TV-led campaign and instead launched with a campaign driven primarily by social media and PR. CGO Clive Sirkin remarked, “the reach and earned media was unprecedented and we’re on track to have the most effective Olympic sponsorship that we’ve ever had.”[ii] Expect to see many brands incorporating this social-led marketing into their own campaigns, transforming a next practice into a best practice.

Next practices require a new vision and a leap of faith. If they succeed — and once we understand the cause-and-effect relationships underlying their success — they become best practices. But in a world of rapid, often unpredictable social and market transformations, brands can’t always afford to wait until a competitor has blazed the path.

While established best practices will always have a place, we all need to engage in next-practice thinking and planning in order to keep pushing our brands — even the most traditional and established brands — forward in a dynamic marketplace. The risks of next-practice marketing are high, but they can be controlled. The risks of sticking only with yesterday’s best practices and getting left behind are unacceptable.

Best and next practices can and should coexist, but the two must be managed in different ways, which can be distilled into three paradigms.

1 — WHAT’S WORKED IN THE PAST VERSUS WHAT COULD WORK BETTER IN THE FUTURE

Best practices are inherently conservative, looking back in an attempt to re-create past successes. They follow well-established paths to help avoid potential issues and deliver relatively predictable results. But they are subject to diminishing returns as cultures, markets and technologies change.

Next practices acknowledge ongoing change, generating innovation and transformation by looking for new opportunities, identifying emerging needs and moving quickly to stake out a unique new position. The emphasis is on exploring new territories in real time to achieve a potentially profitable future state that best-practices management may be blind to.

Edwin Land, inventor of instant photography, said the camera should “go beyond amusement and record-making to become a continuous partner of most human beings.”[iii] For decades, Polaroid’s best practices focused on continuous improvement in chemicals and films. But now Instagram has fulfilled Land’s vision with a next-practices model that marries ubiquitous digital photography with social media, attracting more than half a billion users.

2 — CHANGE MANAGEMENT VERSUS ADOPTION ENGINEERING

Best practices manage change from the top down — instructing teams in their roles and goals, providing a rationale based on known past successes, and delivering performance metrics to gauge future success by comparison. This tends to channel teams into familiar pathways.

Adoption engineering reverses the familiar change-management model. Instead of mandating change, teams are given the autonomy, tools and support they need to collaborate and change organically. Adoption of change is motivated by innate social impulses, and the team is freed to respond to dynamic market and technology developments with unfettered agility and creativity.

Through Project Aristotle, Google has studied hundreds of its teams to learn how they function together socially. The most successful teams provide individuals with a sense of psychological safety, dependability, structure, personal meaning and group impact.[iv] Google is also famous for allowing engineers to spend much of their workday pursuing whatever project interests them.[v] Is it any coincidence that the company is known, above all, for its total commitment to next practices?

3 — STRATEGY DEFINED BY THE CHALLENGE VERSUS THE CHALLENGE DEFINED BY THE STRATEGY

Traditional budgeting and planning revisits brand strategy on a yearly basis, fine-tunes the strategic direction for the coming year, and establishes goals and budgets accordingly. This long horizon is still an appropriate way to handle projects — such as a new product launch or package redesign — that require an extended development time, with results that will take months to evaluate.

But in the new worlds of digital marketing, social media, branded content and whatever may come next, the horizon is much shorter. You may be getting feedback within hours or even instantly. You need the ability to change direction on the fly. To update the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again — but do it right now!” As more of your marketing focus moves to these new channels, where everyday change is the norm, you need to do more budgeting and planning on a rolling basis.

The pathway to purchase used to be linear: See an ad on TV or in a magazine, then drive to the store. Now there are thousands of pathways, and they’re always evolving. Procter & Gamble is one company that has been adept at opening these pathways, and marketers often turn to P&G to learn best practices. But remember, best practices begin as next practices, and a closer look reveals a company that’s always ready to take a calculated risk by trying something new — then trying again. Right now.

Identify your business need. Employ situational analysis. Create and empower collaborative cross-functional teams. Be vigilant to the marketplace reception and agile in your response.

In other words, free your people to imagine the future. What’s next for your brand?

Michael_LeedsAbout the Author:

Michael Leeds, Senior Vice President Client Engagement, Americas, with SGK, has been deploying brands and brand processes for more than 25 years. He evaluates brand programs through KPIs, which provide insights into the effectiveness and efficiency of the program’s tools, workflows, and resources. For company information, visit www.sgkinc.com.

[i] Ira Sager, “Before iPhone and Android Came Simon, the First Smartphone,” Bloomberg, June 29, 2012. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-06-29/before-iphone-and-android-came-simon-the-first-smartphone

 

[ii] “Barclays Global Consumer Staples Conference,” Bloomberg Transcript, September 7, 2016. http://investor.kelloggs.com/~/media/Files/K/Kellogg-IR/reports-and-presentations/2016/barclays-2016-global-consumer-staples-conference-transcript.pdf

 

[iii] Andrea Nagy Smith, “What Was Polaroid Thinking,” Yale Insights, November 2009. http://nexus.som.yale.edu/qn/content/what-was-polaroid-thinking

 

[iv] Leigh Buchanan, “The Most Productive Teams at Google Have These 5 Dynamics,” Inc., April 12, 2016. http://www.inc.com/leigh-buchanan/most-productive-teams-at-google.html

 

[v] Laura He, “Google’s Secrets of Innovation: Empowering Its Employees,” Forbes, March 29, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurahe/2013/03/29/googles-secrets-of-innovation-empowering-its-employees

 

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The Corrugated Climate – Where the Industry Is Innovating

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By Nick Harvey, Apex International

At the mercy of changing consumer preferences, brand owner demands, industry trends and a whole litany of other factors, the corrugated packaging market has morphed and evolved quite a bit over the past decade. And as outlined in a new Smithers Pira report, The Future of Global Corrugated Packaging to 2021, things show no sign of standing still.

Being in the anilox and glue roll business, and having supported the corrugated industry for the last three decades, Apex stays on the cusp of what’s new and exciting. Here are some of the innovations we’re noticing and paying attention to.

Board Production

The paper reels used in the manufacture of corrugated board exist in a dry state. During production, moisture is added by the application of starch glue. That moisture needs to be removed, because the finished product needs to also be dry.

But while it may seem like a simple thing to get the glue on the paper, both the doctor roll and glue roll can heavily influence the manufacturing process. If the doctor roll has score lines—which can be created by anything from over impression, to adjusting the dams for accommodating different board widths, to cleaning with the wrong materials—extra and unnecessary glue will be picked up and transferred. If the glue roll has corrosion or chrome flaking, it will apply the glue unevenly. These problems will result in increased starch consumption, an uneven board, and washboarding and warping effects.

The solution is to use rolls that are not only free of scoring and corrosion/chrome flaking concerns, but also actively better the process by improving total indicated runout (TIR)—specifically ceramic doctor rolls and welded, stainless steel glue rolls. A glue set with rolls made from these materials promotes faster speeds, reduced glue consumption, easier cleanup, job repeatability and longer roll life.

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Consistent and equal glue transfer is important when discussing board production and also relevant when examining corrugated industry trends:

  • The market for E-flutes and micro-flutes, which is growing fast
  • A demand for a reduction in starch costs, energy usage and board consumption
  • The increasing use of thinner and weaker paper
  • The proliferation of short-run orders

The need for an efficient glue set really comes into focus here. The surge in E-flutes and micro-flutes means more flutes per sheet, more starch consumption, more moisture in the board and a need for either slower speeds or a higher drying capacity. Better control of the glue application process is essential to deliver the best and most cost-effective results.

Simply put, board quality is the foundation for corrugated excellence, and that is regardless of which printing process is applied.

Digital & 4-Color Flexo

Pre-print and post-print corrugated’s benefits are already well known—they are established processes, they enable long runs at high speeds and their quality is accepted by the industry—but they are not without their disadvantages—changeover times can be slow, there is excess waste and short-run costs are high.

One of the storylines to come out of drupa 2016 was press manufacturers answering the call for corrugated packaging printed digitally. As we’ve seen in the narrow web market, digital printing has its own benefits. Changeover time is minimal and there is little to no waste, making short runs one of its strengths. That plays into CPCs’ hands, as they look for cost-effective ways to produce small jobs for retailers’ private brands, keep reduced inventories, cater to consumers’ desire for personalized and customized packaging, and go from concept to shelf as quickly as possible.

That’s not to say digital has no drawbacks; in reality, there are quite a few. Being a new print process, it requires a large investment—monetary and manpower—along with a different workflow and path through a plant. It has fixed parameters and no flexibility, meaning value-added coatings are not an option. There are inherent limitations in its Pantone capabilities. Specific to corrugated, the high-quality paper that is necessary is more expensive. And speed is a fraction of what’s possible with flexography.

So, we have discussed the pros and cons of pre-printed, post-printed and digitally printed corrugated, but there is a fourth option: 4-color corrugated. As its name implies, 4-color corrugated builds colors using the familiar cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink set. Think of it as a simplified, user-friendly version of expanded gamut printing.

Why choose 4-color over digital? Because it is based on flexography—an established process—there is no upfront investment or drastic workflow modifications to make. And it enables one of the crucial benefits of flexographically vs. digitally printed boxes: The ability to apply a range of coatings and special effects, like glossed or textured lacquers, inline.

It’s at this point some printers might raise one of four objections:

  • “My customer won’t accept 4-color!” Digital is already 4-color, so if they accept that, they will accept this
  • “My customer has a strict brand color!” Because we are only talking about four colors, there is still room for one or more spot colors in the press’ other units
  • “We have trapping issues!” Trapping issues can be caused by the use of an anti-foam agent, so the solution here is to use an anilox that enables you to remove that additive
  • “We have registration issues!” Aside from printing on better board, fading out the edges can trick the human eye and allow for some movement of register

The fact is, on a six- or seven-unit press, a corrugated job run with 4-color flexo can achieve 100 percent of the Pantone book. With four decks occupied by cyan, magenta, yellow and black, and the final unit used for a lacquer, there is room for one or two spot colors—Coca-Cola red, Pampers green, Cadbury purple, etc.

But what about variation in board quality from batch to batch? With digital printing, a primer needs to be applied first. That’s not the case with 4-color flexo. Regardless of whether the board quality is good, just average or even poor, no primer is required.

On the plate front, there are many brands, types and variations to choose from. What is essential is the plate hold a high-resolution; its screen must be a minumum 175 lpi. At that number, we are on the cusp of where the human eye can discern individual dots; past that point, the eye only sees a solid color. As the plate’s lpi drops below that minimum, halftone dots become more visible and optical ink coverage appears grainy and flat.

The Anilox’s Role

When considering what a great anilox needs to bring to the table, three things should come to mind:

  • Predictable and consistent ink release. This is essential for color simulation printing
  • Reducing or outright eliminating ink aeration. As mentioned previously, this enables the removal of any anti-foam additive in the formulation, which helps in eliminating trapping issues
  • Color simulation predictability with replacement rolls. This ensures the design remains valid for color month after month, year after year

Genetic transfer technology, or GTT, is the hallmark of Apex’s aniloxes. It uses a patented, open slalom geometry. Whether we are talking about cell structures like 30-degree, 60-degree or elongated hexagonal, or open structures like trihelical, channellox or positive engraving, there is no comparison. This is not a sales pitch and that is not hyperbole—it is based on science.

There are two key areas of benefit we can qualify with science: Applied forces within the ink transfer, and aeration.

Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Rotation gave us an understanding of how acceleration and rotation cause angular changes. If we visualize how ink transfer plays out with different cell shapes, in both conventional and long cells, some uplift occurs. With GTT, because there is no back wall, uplift is kept to a minimum.

Looking at ink aeration, recall it is possible to compress air, but not liquid. When there is positive pressure within the doctor blade chamber, which is caused by the speed of the anilox rotating, it can lead to a micro-bubble effect and an uneven ink layer. Oftentimes the solution is to add an anti-foam, but this can create trapping issues. Because GTT’s design encourages a smooth transfer of ink, there is no bubbling effect and no need for an anti-foam agent. That leaves an even surface to make contact with the plate.

Can It Be Done?

To recap, in order to utilize 4-color corrugated, we need good registration or creative gripping, predictable and consistent ink transfer, accurate color simulation predictability and a high plate resolution of 175 lpi or more, and reduced ink aeration to enable little or no anti-foam additive use.

Is this all feasible? Can a printer achieve all of these goals? Consider that in 1969—nearly 50 years ago—the U.S. successfully put a man on the moon. Then consider that was done using less technology than what is inside the smartphone sitting in your pocket or on your desk. There is no reason—apart from a lack of focus, failure of innovative thinking or inability of industry technologies to work together that we cannot print 4-color consistently.

About the Author

Nick Harvey-1Nick Harvey is the technical director at Apex. Apex International is the world’s largest anilox and metering roll manufacturer. Based in The Netherlands, it has production facilities on four continents, with 120 sales professionals around the world servicing 8,000 customers.

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