Two prominent sales and marketing executives recently took time to speak with FLEXO Magazine on the evolution, pending future developments and impact to date of automated plate mounting systems on plant operations. Allstein’s Tim Fox and SOMA’s Garrett Taylor shared their views on register accuracy, holding color, efficiencies automated plate mounters bring to the pressroom, interconnectivity with the press, effect on a plant’s workflow, simplified human machine interface, and robotics and their influence.
Ten rapid-fire questions were presented. Responses spoke to faster makereadies, quicker changeovers, increased output and other efficiency enhancements attributed to adoption of the technology.
Here is a look at the discussion as it transpired.
FLEXO Magazine: How does an automatic plate mounter contribute to holding color on a wide web flexographic job?
TIM FOX: As more and more customers switch over to fixed color pallet (expanded gamut or EG) printing, the register accuracy on the plates becomes essential to match the color precisely in both separate plates and single-plate mounting. The use of modern technology, like Allstein’s ARun plate mounting system, stabilizes and makes the impression setting consistent. As a result, characterized impression settings that were used in the color separation process, then reproduced accurately, are not dependent on operator settings and drying characteristics at setup speed.
GARRETT TAYLOR: An automatic plate mounter contributes to perfect registration on press, pretty much every time. Those who have been involved with EG know that printing with additional process colors is not even possible without exceptional registration. Thus, an automatic plate mounter can help to assure that a press can hold every color to registration, even before the job goes to the press. And it can do it faster, with less labor required.
FLEXO: Speak to time savings, labor savings, and other efficiency enhancements it affords.
TAYLOR: Plate mounting itself is a critical offline activity for the flexographic printing process. Automation delivers exceptional mounting precision and elimination of human error while mounting plates. Since it defines excellent mounting precision, it reduces the time needed to mount plates and assures repeatable jobs.
An automatic mounter offers two different types of efficiencies. While with a manual mounter it might take 20 minutes, per color, to place a plate on a sleeve, with an automatic mounter, it takes about five minutes, or even less. It is not unusual to hear of people who have installed automatic plate mounters and have doubled output of sleeves. One automatic mounter can replace two or three manual mounters.
The efficiencies of an automatic mounter are also found on the press. Because an automatic mounter places every plate in register, there are faster makereadies.
FOX: An automatic plate mounting will only save time in the mounting process if the mounting operator carries out other tasks while the plate is mounted. These may be tape application, stripping old plates or preparing the next plates. A well-organized mounting department that plans its workflow around the advantages of an automatic mounter will not only save the time and labor, but will also reap the benefits of accuracy and consistency in the mounting process. Efficiencies of changeover times and waste saving are further increased when the job arrives at the machine. For example, the ARun system allows the complete impression and register adjustment process to be eliminated, whether this is manual or automated. The resultant savings in terms of waste, labor and machine time are enormous.
FLEXO: What’s its impact on bounce, tension and other critical variables of the flexographic printing process?
FOX: Having the correct impression setting helps to improve stability on the machine once the job is run, but these issues are more machine related than mounter related. The finest mounted plate in the world will not run well on a printing machine that lacks quality, performance and uses dated technology.
TAYLOR: Most of the bounce, tension and other variables of the flexographic process are directly related to the stability of the press. However, because automatic mounting is more efficient and faster, printers may be able to mount and print in lanes, staggering graphics to eliminate bounce. Instead of imaging one full sheet of photopolymer, the efficiency and speed of an automatic mounter can allow converters to place the graphics in lanes. By mounting in lanes, there is a plate savings to think about as well.
FLEXO: Why would a converter embrace the technology and how would it go about implementation? What applications are best suited for adoption?
TAYLOR: We all know that there is greater demand for shorter run lengths in flexography. This drives the need for accuracy and efficiency upstream. The converter wants to eliminate human interaction and mistakes in mounting—doing it quicker and more efficiently.
Those who install an automatic mounter do so to compete against others, who are constantly faster and more accurate. That is it—the “why.” The best applications are jobs with tighter registration, short run lengths and those which utilize EG. Automatic plate mounters typically utilize tables to feed plates, making it easier to mount larger plates without harming them.
FOX: A print shop looking to make savings in time, labor and later press time will need to evaluate its whole workflow process, before identifying the best areas to start. An automatic mounter will have one of the best ROIs. As it is positioned toward the start of the process chain, later implementations of technology through the organization would be easier to achieve. If a mounter, equipped with ARun, was specified, this could later be combined with press technology to create further advantage.
FLEXO: Can you address the interconnectivity between the automatic plate mounter, the press, the plateroom and other relevant areas?
FOX: Interconnection between the plate mounter and the machine is vital to ensure changeovers can be carried out quickly and without error. The use of RFID technology helps to achieve this and reduce operator errors press side. Emerging new technologies are further able to close the loop, beginning with the plate handling process using QR code scanning to track the plate through origination, manufacture, mounting, printing and even roll slitting. This ensures complete traceability from the designer through to the packet. The automatic mounting machine plays its part in this process, checking the code on the plate against the organization’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) data, so it is able to stop costly mistakes—e.g., utilizing the wrong UPC, type change or even rewind direction.
TAYLOR: There are different ways to connect all of the different areas in the plant—for example, moving job and registration data from step and repeat prepress systems to the mounter—and, ultimately, other information to the press. Key parameters, such as changeover information, plate topography measurements, register measurements and press energy consumption are just some of the data being communicated. And, we are finding that there are even more “intelligent” flexographic process features coming soon.
Meanwhile, press companies are creating their own cloud-based networks—for example, SOMA’s S-Cloud—to share an impressive amount of data between prepress, mounting, printing, and soon, slitters and laminators.