The Picture Perfect Anilox Roller: From Material to Engraving

In this strange time of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have a new take on the words written by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Worst of Times: The world economy has been crippled. People are dying from an unseen enemy. State and federal governments are at odds about how to proceed. Do we open back up business? Do we keep everything closed? We now have social distancing, stay-at-home orders, debates on constitutional rights and the media fanning the flames. It is utter chaos.

Best of Times: Our fast-lane lives have slowed down. I am not walking in from work in the evenings, grabbing a bite to eat, and kissing my wife goodbye as I leave again to pick up my son from his afterschool activities. My daughter, a sophomore in college, is upstairs taking courses online instead of miles away on campus. My wife, who works in mental health, can do some of her work from home. My family is together. We are as safe as we can be at this time. We can actually have a dinner together and discuss the day. It is quality time with my loved ones that we have not had in a while. Now, I know that my children do not see it that way. Maybe even my wife is starting to feel the same as the kids. Boredom seems to be the keyword in a lot of conversations at my household. My son asked me the other day: “So Dad, what would you say to me shaving my head?”

My first response was, “Why?”

He answered, “Because I am bored.”

My wife’s response was, “How about a puzzle?”

Puzzles can be an interesting pastime as they help us develop a way of problem solving that can be applied to other situations, say: selection, specification, maintenance and storage of an anilox roll or sleeve. (My son, by the way, still has his hair.)

Today’s printers have so many options available—different types of plate materials, mounting tapes, inks, substrates, anilox configurations and volumes. It is a puzzle they need to put together. How? Here are a few recommendations, based on my experience.

  • Have a clear picture of your goal. If you have ever tried to put a puzzle together without a picture or the box to use as a reference, you understand—knowing and visualizing the goal you want to achieve helps everyone involved
  • Make sure you have all the pieces you need to achieve the goal. How many of you have put together 499 pieces of a 500-piece puzzle? Given so much effort, you need a finished product
  • Plan to keep the finished product going long term. Think in terms of the glue that holds the puzzle together

Let’s now break down each step and assign ownership.

“I always recommend to keep the cell as large as possible to meet the specifications of your plate and as shallow as possible to meet your volume needs.”

Clear Picture

Samples of what you are trying to print are essential at this stage. Ownership should be handled by the printer and/or printer’s sales team. You know the abilities of your equipment and your team better than anyone. You should get with all the lead personnel of each department and troubleshoot internally. Examining the sample, ask each group to address the following:

  • Is it possible? Can this be done with the equipment and personnel we have?
  • Is it easy to reproduce? Once we make it, can we consistently make it over a long run? If not, what do we need to do to be able to achieve the result?
  • Is it feasible? If we require additional equipment and/or personnel, is there still room for profitability?
  • How does the bottom-line look?

Once you have determined you want to proceed, it is time to count the pieces of the puzzle.

Checking Pieces

Ownership of this falls on your suppliers. It is important that you work with the suppliers as a group. Just like you did internally, you can have all the key suppliers working together. Each has expertise in its own product, but does not know the issues that another supplier can have. If they all get together as one, then they can understand each other’s issues and may even have some suggestions to assist. This will make a huge difference on the timing and success of the project.

My expertise is on anilox engravings. Here, I will cover some of the basics of anilox rolls and touch on the base materials used for rolls and sleeves, and coverings/coatings, as well as engraving formations and volume.

“The shallower the cell, the more efficient it will be. The engraving angle will change based on the amount of elongation.”

Anilox Sleeve & Roll Materials

The wide web anilox sleeve has become the most widely used in our industry. This lightweight alternative to the heavier roll counterpart has enabled printers to streamline their process. They:

  • Afford much quicker changeover to allow them to bid on short-run jobs
  • Allow the changing of the anilox without the need for overhead cranes and hoist systems
  • Are gearless, for less waste
  • Require less storage space in inventory

But these benefits do not come without a few drawbacks:

  • The normal base material is aluminum
  • Wall thickness of the aluminum reduces the number of reworks that can be performed
  • Aluminum does not stand up well to harsh chemicals with high and low pH
  • Aluminum is much softer than steel and is prone to damage
  • Handling increases the chances of damage

Most wide web anilox rolls are made with steel journals, headers and bodies. These are much heavier than the sleeves. Benefits are:

  • Steel will stand up better to some of the harsher chemicals used in the printing industry
  • Bases are much more durable and repairable
  • Wall thickness allows for more reworks
  • Rolls are usually less expensive than sleeves

Issues are:

  • The need for a hoist or crane system to install and remove from press
  • Increased turnaround time on most systems
  • Additional waste generated during changeover
  • More storage for inventory