Editor’s Note: Given their nature, FLEXO Magazine’s non-commercialism policy was relaxed for all Technical Innovation Award-winning articles. The articles utilize and expand upon information submitted and considered in their receipt of the award.
As converter demands continue to evolve, Mark Andy is proud to be 70 years strong helping converters in the label and packaging industry grow their businesses. To achieve this longevity and success, we have had to be proactive in developing pressroom solutions to approach label and package printing in new and innovative ways, always with the converter at the top of mind. This has driven us to develop a number of award winning technologies to further the printing and converting industry, making converters more productive and more profitable.
The 2017 honor marks Mark Andy’s fourth win of an FTA Technical Innovation Award, and this win for the Mark Andy Digital Series hybrid press platform is extremely gratifying, as the development has been a long time coming and it is a product that we see truly transforming the label and packaging industry.
Hybrid – What & Why?
Hybrid technology combines the unique strengths of flexography and digital printing, advancing both technologies into the future. The unified platform focuses on productivity, bringing high speed, high quality, single pass label production to converters around the globe. The availability of a single platform to support high speed digital printing and converting had previously been an unaddressed area of the market. Converters had been enjoying the benefits of digital label printing for some time, but until the hybrid concept was raised and perfected, time, material and labor were being wasted by splitting label production into two separate workflows—printing and offline or near line finishing.
By bringing all components of label production—prepress, ink management, web and material management, printing, decorating, specialty inks and colors, die cutting and converting—together into a hybrid platform, converters are seeing real productivity results. In fact, 98 percent of Mark Andy Digital Series customers report:
- Two times the revenue by bringing two shifts of traditional flexo down to a single shift with digital hybrid
- 50 percent time savings as they are producing jobs in half the time of traditional flexo
- 20 percent waste savings by reducing substrate, plate and ink costs versus traditional flexo
- If the job mix is right and the book of business is there, the question shouldn’t be “Why?” any longer, but rather, “Why not?”
How the Hybrid Concept Began
The concept of Mark Andy’s hybrid press solution began more than a decade ago, in the earliest days of full color, single pass digital printing for use in industrial production. Unfortunately, at that time the necessary technologies to work in concert and perform to Mark Andy standards needed to be further developed.
It was not until around 2012 when the right combination of technologies was sufficiently developed, commercially available and viably supported. At that time, Mark Andy began to heavily invest in the concept, building on a base of the proven award winning Performance Series flexo platform, and seamlessly integrating a digital module consisting of advanced piezo inkjet technology to offer a fully integrated system with a single controls architecture.
In addition to the print and web management components, further developments needed to be made, including a solution wide controls infrastructure; an ink delivery system to store, condition and circulate the UV inkjet ink; a RIP for color and job management; and coordination of interstation LED pinning and UV curing to achieve “quality at speed.”
To engineer the complete system, many different raw components, including print heads, electronics, firmware, software, inks, lamps and primers, were analyzed and crafted to create a complete workflow. Considerable analysis was required to perfect how an ink dot would behave when it hits a high speed traveling substrate, and digital components needed to be modified to hold web accuracy to a new standard of ± a fraction of a pixel.
Once the Digital Series prototype had been developed, it was time to share with the target audience—flexo label printers looking for increased productivity, flexibility and capability not achievable from standalone digital or traditional flexo assets. The response was encouraging, and provided further insight into how best to optimize the technology to fulfill converter needs. Additional work was done to support this optimization, and the beta installation was completed shortly thereafter. Through further development with the beta site, R&D, engineering and service teams, the Digital Series hybrid press platform became commercially available in 2016. Not only does the FTA Technical Innovation Award confirm the hybrid platform is a solution that has a place in the future of label and package printing, but a second press was purchased by the beta site converter after just 12 months of production with the profitable technology.
Flexibility & Modularity Offer Long Life Technology
Technology at Mark Andy starts with our vision—to be responsive to converters’ needs by developing solutions that are superior in quality, highly productive and increase profitability. From the early days of Mark Andrews sending out tape printers on consignment to help get businesses off the ground, to our current offering of highly technical equipment to print LED screens, anti counterfeiting packaging and multilayer constructions, Mark Andy has always kept the converter’s success top of mind. Providing flexible and fit for use solutions is in our DNA. The makeup of the Digital Series is no different.
The modular design and solid construction of the Digital Series allow for customization at purchase, and future reconfiguration. Retrofits can be made to incorporate technology updates and support a full range of high value converting options (i.e. extended content and RFID constructions). A typical base configuration uses traditional flexography to manage and condition the web prior to entering the digital module, with subsequent flexographic stations to varnish, then convert inline. More sophisticated configurations add additional flexographic stations before and after the digital module to support decoration features, such as specialty ink or spot color printing, cold foil, laminations, etc. Converting and finishing is completed inline with various die cutting, scoring, slitting and sheeting options for single pass productivity. With its flexibility and configurability, the solution truly is futureproof.
What Early Adopters Are Saying
Printers who have installed a Mark Andy Digital Series in their plants have had good things to say about the new machine:
- “We had a client who, like most companies, had many SKUs that did not have the volume to support large runs on flexo. Their company brand color was a fluorescent you cannot make with CMYK. We were able to bridge the gap by running the brand color in one of the flexo stations and the rest of the label for all of the slow movers digitally. This could never have been done before. Simply put, this press allows brand owners to do now, what they could never afford to do before.”
- “It is a complete and very versatile, one pass production tool, and opens all types of new possibilities.”
- “We were looking for a solution to support our developing book of business, while refreshing our existing pressroom lineup at the same time. We expect the Digital Series to support that effort with high speed UV inkjet digital printing combined with high productivity flexo printing and decorating. This new inline hybrid workflow affords us the option of shifting work from other equipment, resulting in productivity gains.”
- “I never thought we could get a high end, 4-color process job on and off press in 15 minutes, but now I know we can.”
- “The press is really customizable to the types of materials you are running and the fact that you have the corona treater and the flexo stations if you need to prime. It gives you the opportunity to be flexible with the condition of materials you are running, or which suppliers you are using to mitigate some of the variability that can take place.”
Hybrid Solutions for Any Market, Any Converter, Every Job
Based on the acceptance and converter success with hybrid technology as a viable solution for label printing, Mark Andy continues to focus on developing digital hybrid solutions for any converter and every job. We introduced the Digital One label press at Labelexpo Americas 2016. Digital One is an entry level digital prime label press designed to free up capacity on high output flexo presses, and bring greater efficiency to fast turnaround work.
Mark Andy has also introduced its Digital Plus program—retrofit solutions that add digital capability to legacy and newer flexo equipment. Digital +3600, an aqueous inkjet solution that mounts to a legacy flexo press, is the initial product launched in this program, and additional products are planned for rollout later this year and into 2018.
What Does the Future Hold?
By leveraging synergies between flexography and UV inkjet, Mark Andy is advancing both technologies into the future. This customizable platform can be installed on most any production floor and operated by most any press operator. The unified hybrid platform addresses numerous technical and competitive opportunities of current standalone digital and flexo printing technologies, in an easy to use, highly customizable, productive solution.
The future of the label and package printing market is strong. With the combination of flexo and digital technologies, and the drive to push hybrid platforms even further, Mark Andy looks forward to showing the industry what else we have up our sleeves.
Learn more about Mark Andy’s digital offerings at digital.markandy.com.