Dahbura groups the exposure technology and processing technology together to get a more realistic comparison between options. “You don’t have to have LED plate exposure to use thermal plate processing, but to get the quality our customers demand, it’s all but required. We consider LED plate exposure an enabler to get maximum quality from thermal plate processing.”
To maximize print quality, Hub Labels implemented two FTA Technical Innovation Award-winning technologies (see FLEXO Magazine, September 2020). In addition to XPS Crystal LED plate exposure (a 2017 FTA Technical Innovation Award recipient), Hub also implemented Esko’s Crystal Screening via the Print Control Wizard (a 2019 FTA Technical Innovation Award recipient). QC Director Jesse Hood reveals, “Having the right hardware and software is one thing, but getting peak performance out of it is another.”
“We have greater predictability on press and a better proof-to-press match today than ever before,” states Hood. “And we have the numbers to prove it.” Looking beyond the numbers, Hood recalls a story from setup week. The original 4-color pressrun using Crystal Screening exposed on the LED plate exposure unit was a curves chart that contained images separated for offset printing (meaning drop-outs everywhere). It printed the job—drop-outs and all—and it truly looked like high-end offset printing. “We could tell, just by looks, that we had entered a whole new era of quality,” recalls Hood.
Syracuse Label’s Solution
While the previous examples are companies using LED plate exposure on a daily basis in production, Syracuse Label is in the process of implementing LED plate exposure as this article goes to press.
Its research into flexographic plate solutions occurred during the COVID-19 period when it set out to replace old 25-in. x 30-in. plate making equipment. “We wanted greater throughput and higher quality, and were open to considering any solution that met our needs,” recalls Vice President of Graphic Services Mark Howard. The search culminated in the purchase of 35-in. x 48-in. plate imager paired with a 35-in. x 48-in. LED plate exposure unit.
“We printed production work exposed on the LED plate exposure unit before we made our purchase decision,” reveals Howard, who recalled the process of working with Jim Schultz and Tom Vietry of Mark Andy to optimize Esko’s Crystal Screening for Syracuse Label. “It wasn’t as risky as it sounds,” says Howard. “We had already run single-color optimization charts to determine our optimum Crystal Screen, min dot and starting point curve.”
Jim Schultz then applied these parameters to the production test job, screened the file, and sent the screened files to DuPont for plate imaging, exposure and processing. “In testing, we used the same workflow that was being proposed for production (screened with Crystal Screening, imaged on a CDI, exposed on an XPS Crystal, processed through a thermal plate processor). We wanted to be sure we controlled all the variables,” says Howard. “We imaged the same job through our current system and performed the two pressruns back-to-back. There was a night-and-day difference. The LED-exposed plate with Crystal screening was far better than our current system.”
Syracuse Label had been growing and expanding outside of the traditional pressure-sensitive label market for years. In addition to labels, it now offers shrink sleeves, flexible packaging, cartons and tags. To meet the demands of increased print volume, Syracuse Label needed increased plate making capacity. Howard likes to assess plate making productivity according to two attributes: process time per plate and throughput capacity per shift.
Thermal plate processing is critical to reducing process time per plate. “With the new equipment, we’re in the range of 30 to 40 minutes per plate,” reveals Howard “If a plate goes bad in press, we don’t pull the job and change press schedules, we just make a new plate. That’s not an option with the three-hour process time typical of solvent systems.”
In terms of capacity per shift, Syracuse Label needed a system that can keep up with the pressroom. “We did some calculations that showed that moving from our 25-in. x 30-in. system up to the 35-in. x 48-in. would increase throughput capacity and decrease plate waste. You simply have more options for arranging plates on the CDI as you go larger in size.”
The world is in the midst of a lighting revolution. It’s based on LED. The flexographic printing process will benefit greatly in terms of quality, productivity and sustainability. The world we live in will benefit as well.
The four label printers featured in the article are widely considered to be leaders in North America. FLEXO Magazine would like to thank these printers, as well as SGS, for sharing their information with readers. In addition to their pledge to adhere to quality and cost containment, all voiced a commitment to sustainability as being among their top priorities. Of special note is the 2020 FTA Sustainability Excellence Award received by Hub Labels.