Flint Group Executive Summit Offers Industry Assessment, Hands-On Demonstrations

Promising what it described as a “roadmap to higher resolution,” Flint Group invited approximately 40 printers and prepress professionals to an April 3 Executive Summit, staged to coincide with the formal grand opening of its new Technology Center.

The facility, now triple its former size, serves as the hub of the plate business, as well as a resource for the industry. It houses marketing, customer service, tech support and customer training.

Flint summit 1
Flint Group Executive Summit attendees examine the nyloflex Xpress thermal plate processor.

Over the course of one day, briefings offered insight into the development of:

  • A new thermal plate processor—nyloflex Xpress FV
  • A newly launched flexible packaging plate—nyloflex NExT Exposure Digital FV
  • Ultra-fine screening technology—ThermoflexX Woodpecker Nano
  • The latest advanced designs in plate sleeves adapters and bridges

Formal presentations on the benefits of incorporating the processor, plates, screening platform and sleeves into a flexo plant transitioned into hands-on demonstrations of all devices in action.

Flint Group also seized the opportunity to expand the agenda to offer an assessment of the industry from the prepress perspective, while providing a glimpse into the rationale behind ongoing corporate restructuring initiatives.

Market Metrics

headshot Aryan Moelker

Aryan Moelker, president of Image Transfer Solutions, offered a short take on current market trends.

In America, flexo is projected to experience 2.9 percent annual sales growth through 2022, according to Moelker, whereas global flexo printing is expected to increase 3.5 percent. This packaging growth translates well into flexo plate volumes. Moelker credited that to increasing SKUs in the marketplace which requires more plates. This increase is mitigated by factors like higher plate making efficiency, reduction of back-up plates and multiple use plates, according to Moelker.

He observed, “Solvent is the dominant plate technology globally. Thermal is No. 2 in North America.” The forecast points to both thermal and water-wash plates experiencing high growth, which Moelker pegged at nearly 6 percent annually. Specifically, he said, “Our view holds that thermal is the technology for the future. Additionally, flat top dot plates are becoming the industry standard—Flat top dot will represent 67 percent of plate volume by the year 2022. Plate volume is growing strongly across the board. Flat top is the wave of the future. Thermal, too, is the wave of the future!”

Moelker decreed that Flint Group is committed to strengthening the building blocks of its business—“Expertise, location-proximity and innovation.” He described the company as “customer centric,” then pledged to continually “innovate, automate, simplify, integrate, collaborate and drive value in making the organization’s products better, faster and easier to use.”

Flint summit 2
Flint Group’s nyloflex Xpress FV thermal processor in action

Noting that today, Flint Group consists of 200 sites in 45 countries and can trace its history back 246 years, Moelker reported that it is morphing into separate parts: “One part focused on packaging; one on commercial sheetfed.” The packaging firm will encompass Narrow Web Inks, Packaging Inks, Digital Solutions, Image Transfer Solutions—Flexo and Image Transfer Solutions—Offset. The commercial enterprise will join Web News Ink and Heatset Plus Sheetfed Commercial—in other words, publication sheetfed.

“Flint touches all key elements of packaging—prepress, preproduction, print and embellishment, converting and delivery,” Moelker noted. Its current focus is multifaceted:

  • Make it easier to work with the company
  • Ignite value creation
  • Accelerate product development and collaboration
  • Look to continue the wave of innovation, automation, simplification and integration of processes
  • Ensure consistency
  • Improve sustainability and the health safety environment
  • Enhance efficiencies

PDF Workflow

Mike Rottenborn, CEO of Hybrid Software, a Flint Group partner, offered, “Digital’s impact on printing plates is positive.” He added, “PDF file format for packaging of any kind is all you need.” Elaborating on the point, he said, “PDF files can include spot colors, transparencies, file security for the future, etc. It’s closest to universal format. It’s got the fonts, the images, etc.”

“Cloud flow enterprise workflow systems are modern and based on PDF,” according to Rottenborn. “They integrate with the internal plant environment and support file management, asset management, automation, preflight and all open standards. Data-driven workflow equates to lower cost, fewer errors and faster turnaround.”

Optimized Resolution

Uwe Stebani, general manager, Flint Group’s Xeikon Prepress, described ThermoflexX plate processors as an open technology with new advancements reflected in automated plate thickness detection and automated resolution—both credited with improving productivity.

Flint summit 5
Felipe Garcia discusses sleeve, adapter and bridge technologies with AJ Grome of E.C. Shaw.

He then announced development of a new Woodpecker Nano Screen technology, crediting it with resulting in super fine structure and real resolution of 2,000 dpi. Promotional literature associated with the launch stated, “Woodpecker Nano utilizes the high resolution ThermoFlexX optics, usually used to output 5,080 dpi image files. Careful and accurate laser beam control allows repeatable and stable implementation of these fine screens.”

It continues, “Woodpecker Nano Surface Micro Structures are applied by the imaging engine at the output stage, meaning expensive RIP options are not required. No additional RIP step is necessary and patterns do not need to be decided or controlled at the studio artwork stage. Inherently finer, achievable surface patterns certainly improve solid ink density and smoothness compared with standard plates, or even other lower frequency structures. In addition to SID improvements, halftone dot screens are greatly enhanced by reducing or even eliminating dot-bridging effects that further limit flexo print quality.”

Stebani proclaimed, “Don’t compromise productivity!” and promoted “real addressability.” Woodpecker Nano incorporates 1-bit TIFF files. Output is moiré free, due to a surface pattern that covers the entire plate—not just spot color portions. It affords small job file steps, accommodates highest imaging speed and results in less ink consumption. Trail edge voids are also reduced. Targeted applications stretch from high-quality flexible packaging to low-cost corrugated board.

Speed Without Sacrifice

PJ Fronczkiewicz, product manager, addressed the unveiling of the new nyloflex Xpress FV thermal plate processor. “No solvents! No waiting! No worries!” he professed. Benefits associated with the device: reduced operating cost, excellent print quality and, of course, improved productivity. Fronczkiewicz also credited the processor with presenting “a compelling argument for sustainability.”

“Better. Faster. Easier to use,” were labels he assigned to the new machine. Speaking to the launch of the 5080 Xpress FV unit, he indicated that it utilizes short wavelengths for infrared preheating, akin to “instant on.” The purpose: “It does not overheat backing, does not require a chill plate, generates less volatile organic compound (VOC) waste—nearly none—and lowers energy and electricity costs—down almost 90 percent from competitive machines.”

Fronczkiewicz explained, “Mid-wavelength technology, traditional in other systems, heats photopolymer and backing pretty well, making it easy to overheat—and that equates to distortion. Plus, fixing a chiller on the machine wastes energy and consumes time.”

He maintained that, “The devil is in the details,” then credited the Xpress processor with “naturally resisting impression of non-woven material, thereby avoiding texturization and affording cleaner print through full dots.”

Fronczkiewicz called it “speed without sacrifice,” noting, “It takes less than 22 minutes to develop a full-size plate.” Also on his list of attributes: “No condensation to clean and handle.”

Noteworthy characteristics include: solvent quality cleanout between dots, 50 percent less highlight gain, 50 percent less swell and 88 percent less energy utilized than typical competitors.

Promoting sustainable aspects, Fronczkiewicz calculated that the Xpress processor using 94 percent less electricity than solvent plate processors can save anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 annually. Specifically, he said, “It translates to savings of 4-g. of gasoline per job and generates VOCs of just 3 ppm.” One last statistic offered: “Each developer roll is 33 percent lighter than standard.”
Flint summit 3
Worthy of note is the fact that days after the Executive Summit, the newest member of Flint Group’s family of flat top dot plates—the nyloflex FTH Digital Plate—was unveiled. Said to provide greater versatility for meeting the highest standards in flexible packaging printing, it was described as “a solvent-processed plate with a smooth surface designed for use with surface screening.” Benefits listed out included: high solid ink density and superb highlight performance for ultimate overall print results. First showing to the industry was set for INFOFLEX 2019.

According to Flint Group, “The nyloflex FTH Digital plate prints with extremely sharp highlight detail due to the very hard durometer of the plate. Its optimized formulation imparts special characteristics, including anti-ink fill (AIF) properties, which allow for cleaner running plates with increased press uptime and excellent solvent resistance for longer lasting plates and consistent print. Extended printruns, fewer stops, plus the ability to reuse plates and decrease waste, offer additional cost-saving advantages to printers.”

Plates are commercially available in 0.045-in. and 0.067-in. standard thicknesses and in 35-in. x 47-in., 42-in. x 60-in. and 50-in. x 80-in. sizes.

Smart Sleeves

Higher print quality, superior dimensional stability, quick setup, easy handling and cost savings were also touted by Felipe Garcia, project manager at Rotec, in describing the benefits of new Smart Sleeves, Premium Lightweight Sleeves and High-Performance Sleeves.

Garcia noted that these “light and robust” tools are considered the benchmark in conventional plate mounting. Advancements in resolution and quality of print output were said to stem from incorporation of compressible surfaces that greatly aid bounce reduction. Ultra-lightweight bridges, coupled with easy mount technology, assist in getting a job up and running on press, providing yet another potential boost to plant productivity.

nyloflex and rotec are registered trademarks of Flint Group.