There is no love loss between flexography and digital printing. But to printers, the enemy of one printing process is not the other; the enemy is subpar printing. In that light, flexo and digital are not foes but allies—as the saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
That mindset—utilizing the best aspects of flexo and digital—is the strength behind Digital Flexo Excellence, a technology system from FTA member Nuova GIDUE S.r.L. It aims to digitize and automate the workflow, setup and running of a flexo press with digital efficiencies. The results are high productivity, lower costs, production flexibility, consistent quality and an ease of operation.
For its accomplishment marrying digital’s best attributes to flexography, GIDUE has won FTA’s 2015 Technical Innovation Award in the Heavy Metal category.
Checking off the Boxes
GIDUE says the concept that led to Digital Flexo Excellence was to “optimize the flexo print process… to make it the leading print process for the next generation of label and packaging converters.” With that in mind, the press manufacturer went about selecting specific technologies, each one adding an element of control and efficiency.
Rattling off a checklist of benefits brought about by Digital Flexo Excellence reads like a press operator or printer’s dream come true:
- Setup waste of less than 33-ft. (10-m.)
- Setup time of less than 1 minute
- Consistent quality
- A largely digitized workflow and less reliance on operators
- A more easily predictable cost/profit model for each job
- Multi substrate handling
- Lowered operating costs
- Improved sustainability
The Excellent Eight
The technologies in Digital Flexo Excellence include:
- Flower: First introduced in 1999, the print unit design of Flower enables it to limit the fine tuning necessary, with no adjustments to the meter roller, doctor blade or when the print cylinder repeat is changed. Its design also allows for quick and easy setup that’s less dependent on an operator’s skills
- PrintTutor: By placing a digital camera and seven servo motors on each print unit, PrintTutor performs pressure and register adjustments automatically. It compares pixels marked on the web’s edges to the PDF file and alters the pressure and register as needed, further reducing reliance on an operator. GIDUE reports that productivity at sites using PrintTutor is higher than those not using the technology
- ExcelPrint: Job changeover time is brought to near zero with ExcelPrint. During a printrun, press operators prepare each print unit for the next job in the “park” position of the Flower head. When ready, the press slows to an idle speed and all print cylinders are exchanged, automatically and without human interaction. The idea of prepping for another job without stopping the press permeates through many of Digital Flexo Excellence’s technologies. These swaps are done sequentially, which allows the old job to finish printing as the new job is being readied, taking less than a minute (for two 7-color jobs) and wasting less than 33-ft. (10-m.) of substrate. And with 7-color and expanded gamut (EG) jobs, there’s less of a chance that inks will need to be switched out. ExcelPrint takes advantage of EG and, according to GIDUE, “waste and setup times are comparable to digital presses”
- DigiGap: Independent adjustors on either side of the substrate work in tandem to tweak the die cutting pressure. With three servo motors on each die cutting unit, DigiGap disengages the die cutting cylinder from the substrate, rotates it for pre register positioning, engages it to the substrate, reads the substrate’s thickness, adjusts pressure accordingly and continues readjusting as speed and thickness change. The technology is also able to discriminate between the substrate and the backing paper
- ExcelDie: ExcelDie provides operator independent die cutting unit exchanging, without stopping the press. As the current job is being printed, an operator preps the free die cutting units with new cylinders. In the same manner as ExcelPrint, when the current job is finished, the new die cutting units are swapped in. DigiGap again makes any necessary pressure and register adjustments
- ExcelCut: Much like ExcelPrint and ExcelDie, ExcelCut offers automated flexible die change while the press is printing. Using Metronome—a semi rotary die cutting unit—an operator once again loads flexible dies for the next job in what GIDUE describes as a “‘park in’ storage position.” As the various technolo-gies swap other components, ExcelCut removes the old dies and replaces them with the new dies
- QuickCut: Continuing the theme of keeping the press running while performing changeover tasks, QuickCut allows the waste matrix to be removed without stopping the machine. The system implements a vacuum roller and matrix rewinder, each driven by its own servo motors
- DigiMount: The eighth and final piece of technology in Digital Flexo Excellence, DigiMount is an automated plate mounter with digitally assisted operations, ensuring position accuracy to less than 30-μm.
GIDUE has ambitious claims as to what Digital Flexo Excellence equipped presses are capable of doing. The company says the profit point for such a unit is 820-ft. (250-m.) for a repeated job and 1,148-ft. (350-m.) for a first run job. That’s enabled by its suite of technologies. It’s likely that any one piece of the eight advancements, bundled into the Technical Innovation Award winner, would not generate a noticeable savings in time, cost or variability. But taken together, they are greater than the sum of their parts.
All GIDUE’s claims have not been empty promises. Adare Advantage Technical Director Daragh Whelan, who has used the combination of technologies with his client printers for two years, says that, “There is no doubt that it took time for our printers to adapt to the new technologies, but once they saw the benefits of automatic pressure and register control, they have never looked back.” Whelan cites advantages like cylinder change and the “non stop” nature of the system. He specifically cites the ability to change the die and matrix strip without stopping the press, calling it “a revolution on its own.”
GIDUE is not shy in its claims about what Digital Flexo Excellence can do for the world of flexographic printing: The company believes that it “changes the industry” by giving flexographers access to new markets, a viable path into the future of package printing and many other benefits, all built on a foundation of proven technologies and a process favored by the majority of brands. By usurping many of the benefits routinely assigned to digital printing, GIDUE is placing a stake in the ground for flexography, and pledging to “use all its advantages and take the industry to excellence.”