It’s no secret flexography has come a long way since its inception—there is a reason it is the dominant print process, after all. But far from standing still, flexo is not only continuing to evolve—it is doing so at a faster pace than at any point in its history. Forum 2018’s “New Capabilities: Look at Flexo Now!” session, chaired by Keith Nagle of Nilpeter USA Inc and Doug Weiss of Kodak, took a closer look at what the print process is capable of in 2018, spotlighted some of the latest technologies powering its growth and offered a glimpse at what continued innovation will enable in the future.
Michael Weyermann of MPS Systems North America Inc was the first speaker and gave an overview of hybrid technology and the benefits of hybrid presses. Hybrid presses themselves are not a new concept, he explained, with a photo of an inline press containing flexo, offset, gravure and screen behind him. What has changed is the technologies chosen for hybrid presses.
“Flexo is quickly becoming the highest quality print available,” said Michael.
Digital hybrid presses are the “wave of the future,” Michael said. He pointed out there are many different digital hybrid solutions available—the configuration projected on the screen depicted a machine with two flexo decks, CMYK+OV+W as digital, another pair of flexo heads, die cutting, a web turn, cold foil and lamination. Because of that, it is crucial to know the differences in the equipment and understand the added value each can provide.
The true benefit of digital printing is the ability to move from one job to the next with no downtime, he explained, adding that conventional flexo is known for its longer changeovers. “If you do not pair a digital asset with an automated flexo press, you will be stuck with the worst of both worlds,” he admitted. It’s also essential to educate customers on the benefits are and how to properly utilize the equipment.
On the back of modern laser technologies, “Flexo is quickly becoming the highest quality print available by decreasing the gap of image quality between other processes like offset and gravure,” Michael said. “Both plate and anilox manufacturers are capable of doing things in flexo never thought imaginable.”
He then drew attention to Kodak’s Advanced Edge Definition, which enables better positive text and bar codes, smaller reverse text use, tonal range, increases contrast, protects against ink spread, ensures clean printing, maximizes productivity and is automatically applied.
Another Michael—Michael Reinhardt, North American flexo press product manager at Windmoeller & Hoelscher—followed. “It is a great time to be in the package printing industry,” he said.
Michael began his presentation by offering a look back at flexographic press technology and how it has evolved, from the first patented press in 1890 to the technological advances of today that allow things like:
- Press speeds faster than 2,000 fpm
- Web widths from 24-in. to more than 88-in.
- Eight, 10 and even 12 colors
- Water/solvent/UV/EB inks
- Inline station capability
What’s driving these technologies? Michael said it is a combination of more SKUs/shorter runs/frequent changeovers, increased production uptime/a drive for less waste, higher print quality requirements, operator skill level decreasing/employee turnover—all while costs are being reduced.
Michael went on to describe the elements of Packaging 4.0, reviewing the important steps for press automation, winder advancements, inking and washup systems, drum cleaning, impression/register settings, automated color matching, changover automation, process monitoring/control, energy monitoring, fully integrated web/inspection systems, and maintence/support. Packaging 4.0 involves intelligent machinery with integrated data workflow along the value chain.
Moving outside machinery advancements, Michael discussed the future of Packaging 4.0. From that advanced machinery, data is centrally collected, analyzed and processed to increase efficiency. This data is then made available to members of the value chain; information that includes raw material specifications, defects, machine parameters, color settings, etc.
“Utilizing technology is making the impossible possible,” he concluded.