Flexographic Press Technologies Responding to Package Printing’s Challenges

With continued pressures from digital on one side and gravure on the other, flexographic press manufacturers are intent on upping their game.

New developments are having positive impacts on print quality, cost effectiveness, and the ability to quickly respond to out-of-the-ordinary occurrences on both long- and short-run jobs. Progress continues. Advancements are planned.

It’s no surprise to any of us that brands have geared themselves to shorter runs. There are a couple reasons for this. Management teams do not want to keep any packaging on the shelf. They do not want to tie up available capital on printed packaging. And, if product forecasts change, they do not want to be held with unwanted product. The entire dynamic of packaging has been geared toward shorter runs. Brands are ordering only what they need and ordering more stock as required.

That prompts a near-universal reaction—the call for faster makereadies. You’re only making money when the press is running. Printers are far more aware of that today, especially when dealing with competitive pricing. The more uptime, the better.

SOMA Taylor Petr Blasko, Marketing Director of SOMA, introduces Intelligent Automation concept
SOMA has developed S-Cloud, a communications platform to provide data between Optima2 presses and service sources. “Intelligent Automation,” connecting service, supervision and other facets, is used to streamline the entire print process. Petr Blasko, marketing director, demonstrates the concept.
All photos courtesy of SOMA

As we all know, with shorter runs, you can’t waste time spending hours to get presses going. Some companies complete a pressrun in 20 minutes. You’re not going to be profitable if the press is idle—during makereadies—more than it is running a job. Shorter runs require faster makereadies—you have to keep up!

Efficient makereadies reduce costs for both the printer and the brand, by trimming costs allocated to labor and wasted materials. You have to continuously look at ways to become more efficient, to stay ahead of your competition.

The prominent strategy is standardization. Probably the most publicized trend toward standardization is expanded gamut (EG) printing, or a move to standardized inks. Of course, many are experimenting with CMYK plus combinations of orange, green and violet. But you are not limited to that. We know of customers who run CMYK plus white. The opportunity here is to accelerate job changes and assure fast starts between jobs. Streamlining such processes affects multiple resources—people, raw materials, etc. Eliminating printing errors adds to the bottom line. The challenge is to have the prepress software and expertise to manipulate artwork correctly, and never change inks.

Technologies like those offered by SOMA ensure faster makereadies and exceptional quality. They can set registration and impression automatically, and tune the drive motors to minimize the bouncing effect. The setting of registration and impression can use a communication system between the press and an automatic plate mounter that eliminates operator errors and mis-registration during plate mounting. It assures very quick—and accurate—registration and impression settings with no operator interaction and almost zero waste.

Addressing bouncing on a press starts with a solid foundation. The Optima press is built with a solid and thick cast iron frame. The housing for the print and anilox decks sits on a “slideway” guide directly on the frame, and not a separate rail, to ensure there are minimum vibrations in the printing decks.

Flexographic presses are also very intelligent. Drive mechanisms already analyze performance. During job setup—and taking less than one minute—we can automatically tune the press with specially designed algorithms that can minimize the bouncing effect and ensure accurate registration for each particular design. It takes into consideration the dynamic effects of the bridge, the sleeve, the tape and the design itself.

SOMA Taylor Optima2 in operation
The Optima press is built with a solid and thick cast iron frame. Housing for the print and anilox decks sits on a “slideway” guide and not a separate rail. It ensures minimum vibration in the printing deck.

This lets each specific piece of artwork achieve its ideal drive setting on the press. It’s quite a revolutionary technology that can bring control of printing stability to new levels of precision. By eliminating the majority of concerns for bounce, printers can assure exceptional quality—at extremely fast speeds.

Innovation & Ingenuity

Smaller footprints, of course, require less space in a facility. However, there are also operational benefits to a compact, modular design. For example, the unwind and rewind face each other, which makes it easy for the operator to keep an eye on both.

A compact design can also be ergonomic, as it is easier to reach the top deck and add new print sleeves. No ladder is needed. On larger presses, a hydraulic device can be used to reduce heavy lifting for print sleeves and roll stock.

We have offered a few more additions, including significant changes to the design of doctor blade chambers. Ink distribution has been partially integrated into the massive support frame. This solution significantly reduces the weight of the body of the doctor blade chamber, while increasing the stability of the entire system.

SOMA’s unique ink cartridge system offers printers a means of reducing ink costs on printing jobs where expensive spot colors, special effects and metallic formulations are required. These high-pigment inks are expensive consumables. Reducing ink volumes and residual waste lets printers maintain profit margins while meeting end-user price demands.

Customer Demand

Historically, there have been three major requirements from a brand: print quality, cost efficiencies and, of course, timely delivery. Another that has been very significant over the past decade is sustainability.

With greater demands for exceptional packaging (including high definition), the requirements for tight registration are extremely urgent. It requires a mounting/press system that can quickly mount plates in register and a bounce control system that will prevent any banding.

Cost efficiencies do not only pertain to the press and our abilities to accrue savings on labor and film. They also apply to packaging systems downstream. Packagers are always looking for new materials that are easier to work with and substrates that are safe for food products. These require ink systems that can effectively print on them.

“You’re not going to be profitable if the press is idle—during makereadies—more than it is running a job. Shorter runs require faster makereadies—you have to keep up!”

Many times, this requires the implementation of a UV drying system to cure inks before they leave the press. UV inks offer tremendous density that makes design graphics pop out from the package. Fluorescents are brighter and don’t fade, and metallics look truer. There are variants of UV ink that are glossier and highly durable—resistant to smears, eliminating the need for lamination.

Some of the same dynamics that have driven the interest in new substrates and ink systems are responsible for the trend toward sustainable packaging. Construction of packaging—particularly as it relates to the use of sustainable laminates—is driving innovations in presses, to print effectively on a new generation of materials.