ORLANDO, FL—In staging a VIP Flexo Technology Summit Oct. 17-18, FTA member Kodak insisted that CPCs, graphic designers, prepress trade shops, printers and their supplier partners are banding together to strengthen quality, enhance efficiencies and guarantee consistency. The common challenge: “Continually push barriers.”
“Transforming Flexo” served as both mantra and theme for the event. It recognized the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the FLEXCEL NX plate making system, and introduced a small cadre of journalists and industry analysts to work in progress at three beta test sites for the line’s latest expansion—FLEXCEL NX Ultra, a volatile organic compound- (VOC) free aqueous solution targeted at high production environments.
Chris Payne, president, Kodak Flexographic Packaging Division (FPD), opened the proceedings and maintained, “Flexo and package printing offer tremendous opportunities going forward several decades.” He decreed, “This industry is moving in unison at this moment in time to drive efficiency. That will help flexo.” Several factors were cited as emphasizing the point:
- Brands are looking for efficiency on an ongoing basis
- Modern presses are much more efficient and driving up packaging capacity
- Printers recapitalized and adopted automated manufacturing processes
“Together, we’re making printing easier, more automated and faster; as a result, we’re benefiting from more accuracy and greater productivity,” Chris said. “Best practices and process optimization are responsible for today’s advanced flexo print capabilities. Our best printers today take jobs from offset and gravure every day of the week. That’s the new face of flexo. We’re consistent and predictable.”
Chris admitted to viewing these moves as a migration—One that will continue for years and years. He pledged Kodak will do what it can to serve as both enabler and catalyst for further improving quality. The mission: “Make a better product for the brand.”
“Advance, collaborate, drive, invest.” According to Chris, those precepts are required of leaders, pioneers and innovators. He counts flexographers of every form among that group. He described package printing as “a healthy sector” and proclaimed, “There are very few losers in this business.”
Statistics were offered to support the claim. PRIMIR research has placed the size of the worldwide packaging market at $244 billion in 2016, assigned it a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.1 percent for the next several years and concluded that volume will grow to $286 billion in 2020.
By segment, corrugated was pegged as being responsible for a 36 percent share of the total; flexibles, 25 percent; folding carton, 20 percent; labels, 12 percent; and all other packaging, 7 percent.
Emma Schlotthauer, director marketing and communication, FPD, also credited ongoing progress with having “raised flexo to industry-setting levels.” She said practitioners now “revel in a level of design freedom new to flexo and have succeeded in transferring a craft to a manufacturing process. The focus is on improving consistency. Quality is raised every single day.”
She insisted, “Together, we must drive change to support the move to a standardized manufacturing process. Brand owners stress packaging that is print process agnostic. Our charge is to unlock innovation. Quality and productivity are not mutually exclusive. We must be systemic in securing global adoption of standardization on a real scale.”
Emma commented, “Today’s printing plate is more than a commodity. The technology in use makes a difference.” Noting that “there is untapped capacity out there,” she called on printers to “optimize the production chain to get significantly more out of the press.”
Zaki Ali, chief technical officer, vice president, FPD, spoke to Advanced Edge Definition, a characteristic of both FLEXCEL NX and FLEXCEL NX Ultra plates. “Don’t sacrifice productivity! Don’t sacrifice consistency! Deliver improved solid cleanliness, bright, clean colors, smooth transitions, wide tonal range and impressive print contrast.”
He contended that Kodak’s latest advancement was “engineered to broaden horizons.” Specifically, he pointed out that the FLEXCEL NX Ultra 35 processing unit includes exposure unit, aqueous washout system, drying and finishing. “It’s built for production and represents an optimized, end-to-end digital plate making solution that can produce up to 25 plates in a shift—the first, in less than one hour, followed by others in just 15 minutes apiece.”
Benefits Zaki credited with resulting from deployment of the aqueous system included: faster setup, longer plate life, fewer press stops, minimum impression, faster press speeds and greater press yields. He deemed it “hassle and hazard free.”
Bill Schweinfurth, worldwide product manager, FPD, cited tighter process control and faster job turnaround as “bankable benefits.” He contended, “Optimum ink laydown unlocks cleaner, brighter colors and enables deployment of both a wider color gamut and simplified prepress inventories.” He also shared, “FLEXCEL plate volumes are growing four times the market rate—16 percent in 2016, 17 percent in 2017.”
Bill was tapped to offer journalists a brief overview of work in progress at three beta test sites, one specializing in labels; the second, flexible packaging; and the third, specialty print. Respectively, all FTA members, they were: G3 of Modesto, CA; Temkin International of Payson, UT; and IGT of Lakeland, FL.
Bill explained that G3 engages in 11-color flexo printing, produces 30,000 plates annually, operates five flexo presses and prints 8,000 production label jobs per year. Among its more specialized applications offered: foiling, embossing and texturized screens. The plant, specializing in wine labels, runs three shifts 24/5 and runs both Mark Andy Inc and Nilpeter presses. From a plate and plate making standpoint, it utilized thermal imaging from 2004-2009, FLEXCEL NX from 2009-2017 and FLEXCEL NX Ultra beginning in 2017.
Temkin International, established in 1980, is nearly 40 years old and employs 600. This former thermal imaging shop adopted FLEXCEL NX technology in 2011, complemented it with Advanced Edge Definition in 2015 and then became a FLEXCEL NX Ultra alpha site in 2017.
Chris summed up all moves. “Kodak has established a track record of technical innovation in the flexo space that drives growth and business success for our customers.” He noted, “Kodak FLEXCEL NX systems number well over 500 globally and are deployed in some 70 countries. Half are sold and serviced on a direct basis; half through dealers. In the U.S., customers are split fairly evenly between printers and trade shops; while in Europe, 90 percent of demand comes from trade shops. Latin American customers are largely printers.”
At present, he noted, “Labels and flexibles are the primary business, with a small part being corrugated. Also new is folding carton.” Chris continued, “Ultra Clean technology has solved the fundamental challenge of ‘inconsistency’ traditionally associated with aqueous processed flexo, without the hassle of solvent processing.”
Finally, he reported, “The FLEXCEL NX Ultra 35 Solution is the first product to be commercialized from the Ultra NX technology demonstration that we previewed at drupa two years ago. It has undergone extensive customer beta trials in demanding production environments.” It can produce plates up to 35-in. x 48-in. in size. Set for availability in early 2019, shipments will initially be exclusive to the North American market, where they are expected to facilitate better quality print at much more efficient rates.”
In November, after the event, Kodak announced it reached an agreement with Montagu to sell its Flexographic Packaging Division. The business will operate as a new standalone company that will develop, manufacture and sell flexographic products, including the flagship Kodak Flexcel NX System, to the packaging print segment.