Maximum productivity at minimum cost! Mid web and wide web flexographers want it all from any new press that gets installed in their plants. High on their lists of demands: quick-change features, waste management assets, open access to print decks and all componentry they hold. “Compact and capable” is the mantra. The mission: control, control, control.
Another three Cs—“connectivity, customization and color”—are carefully evaluated in pursuit of peak performance. Energy efficiency is seen as desirable; ease of materials handling, attractive. Automated features are built into the design and are directly linked to press uptime, quality output and customer satisfaction. They impact registration, impression, tension, washup, temperature control, defect detection, etc.
Recognizing flexography as a highly sensitive process, today’s converters pride themselves on efficiency and versatility and they expect the same from their presses. They calibrate or fingerprint machinery, yet stand ready to adapt at a moment’s notice and compensate for every variable that arises.
Business partners are acutely familiar with these printers’ daily challenges and tribulations. Engineers dedicate hour after hour to addressing new needs as they are identified. FLEXO Magazine set out to learn more about those evolving needs, so the magazine recently approached representatives from major original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and asked each to list out 10 features every flexographer should consider when evaluating the purchase of a mid web or wide web central impression (CI) press.
Responses indicate similar positions hold across the supplier community. Participating in the poll: Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp., Uteco North America, Paper Converting Machine Co., KYMC (Kuen Yuh Machinery Engineering Co.), KBA-Flexotecnica, FlexoExpert, Bobst and Allstein GmbH.
Prior to presenting each firm’s analysis, it is interesting to note:
- 100 percent stress automation
- 100 percent focus on control
- 88 percent embrace quick change tooling
- 88 percent emphasize waste reduction
- 88 percent insist on offering operator-friendly man/machine interfaces
- 88 percent assign ergonomics/modularity importance
- 63 percent appreciate drying efficiencies
- 63 percent see ease of maintenance as a decision impact point
“Every press manufacturer offers technologies for impression setting, automatic registration, color matching and monitoring, defect detection, etc.,” notes Mike Reinhardt, sales manager, Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp. “These technologies can offer significant waste reduction and improved productivity.”
Mike stresses that, “Modern flexo machines are complex and require regular maintenance for peak performance.” His list of essential considerations encapsulates those points and more. It lists out as follows:
- Colors/web-print width/min-max repeat/press speed requirements—one should size the press for the business being done. A smaller press is faster and easier to change over than a larger machine
- Materials to be run on press (substrates and inks)—anything special? It is very important to configure the machine with the capabilities to run all necessary materials. Some inks can be corrosive and some materials require either very high (or low) tensions; these must be considered
- Need for inline stations (flexo, gravure, UV, etc.)—inline stations are sometimes required for backside printing or application of coatings (UV, etc.). It can be very expensive to retrofit these capabilities once the machine has been built
- Manufacturer’s press options/return on investment (ROI)—the purchaser needs to consider each one and determine their impact on operations
- Does the machine fit into the space or are modifications required?
- Service and support—does the company provide adequate training and have enough service technicians to support the equipment?
- Run a trial on the machine (a difficult job) and evaluate how the machine performs—trust but verify!
- Total cost including shipping, freight, duties, taxes, installation, etc.—know specifically what is and is not included
- Lead time, payment terms, contractual requirements
- Call references
“The machine is the heart of the company,” Mike maintains. “If it fails to meet expectations, that can have a negative effect on performance.”
Time savings, cost reduction, overall efficiencies and versatility are driving development of new press concepts at Uteco, according to Tom Hatzilambros, sales associate for North America. He says automation is critical to expanding capabilities and controlling the process.
The rationale is rooted in the firm’s list of essential considerations when buying a press:
- Material waste—for automatic impression setting systems, energy consumption and ink usage features, does the press offer to reduce each? All are important for controlling costs of jobs
- Quick changeover capabilities—time savings and higher production per shift is the objective
- Holding registration—while press ramps up and down
- Washup tolerances—for solvent-based, water-based and UV inks, reduce cleaning time and foster ability to set up quicker for the next job
- Access to print group—critical for cleaning and maintenance, plus access for between dryers for nozzle inspection/cleaning
- Uncompromised dot quality—features must specify or lock in print tolerances with low dot gain
- Drying capabilities when running high coverage jobs—this is important, especially when running water-based jobs. Does the press have the ability to adjust airflow depending on speed with high efficiency motors and inverters, contributing to noise reduction and energy savings?
- Roll handling and profile—are there robotic capabilities offered?
- Tension control—particularly for stretchable films
- Adaptability—to run different materials from paper to films, capability to switch from water based to solvent if desired, print front and backside, or application of coatings, lacquers, varnish
Tom contends, “All of these points allow for shorter run jobs and makes them profitable at all speeds, regardless of consumables entailed in the job.”