Digital Series Hybrid Press Unifies Flexo & Digital in One Inline Machine
There was a time when people carried a flip phone, a digital camera, a GPS and an MP3 player. Now, most everyone carries one device—a smartphone—which can make calls, take photos, get directions and play music. By innovating and uniting all of those once separate tasks into a single piece of technology, smartphone manufacturers were able to provide a seamless and more efficient experience to users.
This is the same goal which drove Mark Andy Inc. to develop its Digital Series Hybrid Press, which combines the strengths of flexography and UV inkjet, leaning on each to do what it does best, and results in a machine the company says can double productivity while reducing waste. The 13-in. pressure sensitive label press offers a unified platform with nearly endless customization and, as owners of the machine attest, has made good on its promises.
For marrying the many into one, the Digital Series Hybrid Press was awarded the FTA 2017 Technical Innovation Award in the Heavy Equipment category.
Commenting on the Technical Innovation Award win, Ray Dickinson, Mark Andy Inc.’s VP of marketing and business development, digital solutions, said, “This award is significant for the entire organization. It is validation to our engineering team for the superior work they have done, and continue to do to advance this product. But more than that, it validates the ability for a 70 year strong company to evolve as technology evolves. Understanding how the evolution of flexo can integrate with the newest digital technologies has been especially rewarding.”
Nuts & Bolts & ROI of the Technical Innovation Award Winner
It was a long road from idea to in the flesh for the Digital Series Hybrid Press. Ray points to the early 1990s as when the idea of a hybrid machine bearing the Mark Andy Inc. name first came up. In 2012, the company decided the technology was “there” to begin investing in unifying flexography and digital printing. From the world of flexography come fast change/single minute exchange of die, servo motors, converting and decorating; digital brings UV inkjet, full color and opaque white.
The Digital Series Hybrid Press uses Mark Andy Inc.’s Performance Series platform as a starting point before integrating a digital module (one which uses piezo print heads arranged in a redundant configuration and a computer vision system to align the print heads through software) into the press. “We knew a hybrid flexo/digital solution could not be a mismatched collection of technologies,” Ray stated, adding that a seamless experience was paramount.
From there, every example of the Technical Innovation Award winning press is customized according to converter requirements. Some of those choices include print station options like peristaltic ink pumps ;and enclosed chamber doctor blades, different unwinds (cantilevered, roll lift, ultrasonic web sensor) and rewinds (dual frame, rider roll, bowed rolls), varieties of die cutting and additions like hot foil cassette, waste windup and web viewing.
“Just because our customers were looking to integrate digital printing capabilities into their workflows, it didn’t mean they should be constrained to a single type of label output,” observed Ray. “Our research indicated it was important the Digital Series be customizable like traditional flexo presses—and honestly, each Digital Series shipped has been configured differently. We have had specifications to split webs, turn webs, laminate, sheet, foil before and after the digital print module—the list is endless.”
That customization breeds benefits: Mark Andy Inc. says productivity is seven times higher than a standard digital label press, and two or three shifts of flexo work can be compressed to a single shift on the Digital Series Hybrid Press. Crunching all the numbers, the press yields a 26 percent reduction in production costs per job. Converters can expect ROI of between 11 and 14 months.
The Proof Is in the Printing
The unification of flexo and digital in one machine offers a number of benefits on paper, but it’s in the real world where the Technical Innovation Award winner needs to prove itself. One Digital Series Hybrid Press owner had three scenarios where the machine earned a “win” for the printer.
The first such win came before training on the press was even completed. While in the machine trials phase, the printer ran its first production order—a large label with CMYK, with text reversed out of the CMYK and embellishments. “Once we showed the client the press proof, they wanted it,” the printer recalled.
Win No. 2 involved opaque ink, which allowed the company to convert other clients from costly screen print to digital. The brand owner “could not tell the difference between screen and digital white.”
The third win was especially notable because it brought new business, a reason manufacturers like to use to entice printers to add digital to their flexo operations. The client had a large number of SKUs, each too low volume to warrant printing flexographically. In addition, its brand color was a fluorescent and could not be built using CMYK. The solution—afforded by the Digital Series Hybrid Press—was to run the brand color in one flexo station and print the rest of the label digitally.
“Never thought we could get a high end, 4-color process job on and off press in 15 minutes, but I now know that we can,” the printer remarked. “Simply put, this press allows brand owners to do now, what they could never afford to do before.”