Optimized Flexographic Print Production, Enabled by Plates, Plate Processors, Screening Software and More

FLEXO Magazine: FLEXO’s recent Printer Flash Poll concluded that optimization of production is a driving force in the package printing and converting community. The clear consensus: “Innovation is necessary to create new product offerings… Without change, there is no forward drive… Those that innovate to adapt quickly will survive and prevail!”

The audience expressed intentions to continuously improve (58 percent), get better and less wasteful (19 percent), work harder and smarter (9 percent), automate (7 percent), streamline and simplify (5 percent), and establish higher standards (2 percent). They all indicated that emphasis is to be placed on faster makeready, short runs, greater efficiencies, streamlining procedures and speeding time to market.

  • How are that resolve and active strategy plan being supported by the plate, processor, workflow and related equipment manufacturing community? Specifically, what needs does your firm believe should be prioritized and why?

“We believe the entire supplier network within the flexographic industry must be focused on innovations within their product segment to help printers and converters innovate and survive.”

Flexo Wash

XSYS Global: We understand the need to adapt with the ever-changing conditions of the industry. We have worked to prioritize and tackle many key focuses such as automation, flexibility, sustainability and quality.

  • Optimization of production through workflow automation is at the heart of the Catena line of plate making equipment. The equipment was designed with the ability to be linked together—for example, the Catena WDLS combines into a simple washer-dryer-light finisher configuration
  • XSYS offers a variety of plates, both for solvent and Xpress thermal processing systems, which feature anti-ink fill (AIF) additive for improved ink transfer and fewer stops to clean plates during pressruns, leading to more up-time and higher productivity on press
  • Inherently flat top dot plates (for which XSYS’ nyloflex FTF received an FTA Technical Innovation Award) eliminate the need for extra steps in the workflow, such as membrane or film lamination or waiting for oxygen to be purged from the exposure environment
  • Plate optimization for faster LED exposure is one of the ways XSYS delivers time savings to customers. Products like the nyloflex NEF plate are designed to aid the plate maker in attaining shorter exposure times
  • Woodpecker surface screening helps printers increase quality and efficiency while reducing costs. Since surface micro-structures are introduced during the imaging stage, finer structures can be applied. This can boost solid ink density where the printer most needs it. Production can achieve the following: target solid ink density with a lower-volume anilox, dot gain can be more closely controlled, finer halftones and expanded gamut (EG) can be achieved, combination plates with solids and tonal values can be more prevalent—all leading to saving plate and press costs

In response to the 58 percent of responders who have intentions of improving and being less wasteful, many plate solution providers offer training and technical support options to help printers meet their plateroom goals. For example, XSYS offers the Flexo Expert Certification Program, which is a three-step process created to standardize a customer’s plate making, implementing best-practice procedures. Additionally, we have our technical service teams available for support locally and remote to resolve issues quickly.

Innovation is a very important part of the rotec DNA. In the last 10 years, rotec has launched products that directly contribute to health and safety, faster makeready, short runs, greater efficiencies and print quality.

Scott Thompson, SGS & Co: In the simplest of terms, the plate material, imaging, screening and LED exposure systems are all designed to raise the bar in all of the areas of improvement in the flexographic print production process.

“PQM tools allow us to collect data straight into a database that then allows the creation of live dashboards to monitor, trend and act on what’s happening—short and long term—in our plants.”

Kevin Bourquin, Cyber Graphics

SGS & Co has made it a priority to invest heavily in the innovations to make these goals reality. SGS & Co not only focuses on process image reproduction, but also on solutions for enhanced white ink performance, corrugated solid ink transfer and overall plate performance. Prioritizing these objectives can become difficult, but it’s clear that the key for a high-performance plate is the ability to come up to color faster, with a higher tonal range and exceptional ink density. This points directly to lower waste and smarter execution.

Rick Mix, Fujifilm Graphic Systems: Flenex matches with the concept “to get better and less wasteful.” The ability to produce a flexographic plate with water and to have a finished plate in less than an hour meets the growing industry needs of faster makeready, short runs, greater efficiencies, streamlining procedures and speeding time to market. Excellent dot reproduction and solid ink density make Flenex an excellent plate choice for labels and packaging substrates.

Reduction of waste from packaging and plate production is the common goal. In addition, we need to continue to look for better methods to recycle packaging and plate material.

Tim Reece, All Printing Resources: Implementing automation in areas such as plate cleaning is often the first step converters take toward this goal. It is relatively inexpensive to start up, a very fast ROI and offers benefits like better cleaning ability, more consistency, less damage to plates and less wear on the employee—who typically is not thrilled to be cleaning plates.

As a supplier of such equipment, you also have a responsibility to educate the buyer on the effects of this innovation or automation on other areas of the process. Does this shift a bottleneck? Who has responsibility to maintain and service this technology?

PJ Fronczkiewicz, DuPont Cyrel Solutions: The good news is that from the perspective of plates and plate making, most if not all of these ambitions can be addressed by a very short list of technologies. For instance, the topics of faster makeready, short runs and simplification are the target issues addressed by Cyrel FAST thermal plate making technology. Having successfully pioneered thermal plate making more than 20 years ago, the latest generation of FAST technology offers a step change in plate quality, consistency, reduced maintenance and improved sustainability.

Plate Sleeve Processor Guide 2 - Optimized Production Cyrel FAST 2000 TD - Equipment Picture
The DuPont Cyrel FAST thermal developer is the most popular and reliable thermal flexographic plate processing system in the world, with more than 1,000 Cyrel FAST systems installed globally. The Cyrel FAST 2000 TD system uses dry, thermal technology to process high-quality Cyrel photopolymer plates, eliminating the need for solvent. The system is highly efficient, easy to operate and extremely reliable.
Photo courtesy of DuPont Cyrel Solutions

Where trade shop and graphics hub customers are concerned, it could be that needs such as streamlining and automation are better addressed by the freedom of solvent plates and plate making. Here, plate making automation has become quite common, with several reliable options.

But regardless of whether solvent or thermal plate making is the best solution, the two areas of plate technology that we see as the most powerful contributors for optimizing flexographic print production for customers are plate screening technology and LED exposure.

Screening technology—both surface screening (also called surface patterning or surface texturization) and advanced highlight screening—raises the print quality achievable while also helping to hide variation stemming from other print consumables. This makes the whole system more forgiving and thus easier to achieve print targets. And LED exposure of plates makes the screening technology more consistent plate to plate, and therefore more consistent on press. It truly is a one-two punch that makes life on press a lot easier.

“…it’s clear that the key for a high-performance plate is the ability to come up to color faster, with a higher tonal range and exceptional ink density. This points directly to lower waste and smarter execution.”

Scott Thompson, SGS & Co

Flexo Wash: We believe the entire supplier network within the flexographic industry must be focused on innovations within their product segment to help printers and converters innovate and survive. For example, Flexo Wash has always focused on successfully developing innovative and high-quality cleaning equipment to satisfy the needs of flexographic and gravure printers. We want to contribute to improving print quality, high productivity and a healthy environment.

Automation has become front and center during all these supply chain and labor shortage issues. However, with our focus on sustainability, we can do both—automation and sustainability can work hand in hand, in the most innovative of cleaning systems.

AV Flexologic: Prioritization of continuous improvement is the core mission and belief of AV Flexologic as a company. We are on a lean journey and as an organization we strive to identify waste in all processes, products, etc. and eliminate it for our customers. Automation in the packaging environment is an absolute necessity for long-term vitality of any printing company. Innovation is priority No. 1; automation is priority No. 2.

Plate Sleeve Processor Guide 2 - Optimized Production SAMM 2.0 transparent
AV Flexologic’s SAMM 2.0 is billed as the world’s fastest and most accurate automatic flexographic plate mounter with unmatched repeatability and speed. The next-generation SAMM is the solution to common trends in the flexographic printing industry, such as higher quality demands, and shorter and more frequent job runs. These challenges are easily tackled with third-generation automatic mounting that eliminates press downtime due to mounting mistakes, issues PDF quality reports, is operator independent and delivers ROI in less than 12 months.
Photo courtesy of AV Flexologic

At the same time, being less wasteful is just as important as sustainability is becoming more and more important for all businesses and individuals. We believe in the implementation of automated solutions to eliminate waste and increase productivity and working conditions. Following those principles promotes employee happiness.

MacDermid Graphics Solutions: The key is to keep a clear eye on forward-looking innovation, not just responding to what the industry is seeing today, but what we foresee in the market on a global scale. Clients are looking for ever-improving print qualities. The stakes are higher these days.

Plate Sleeve Processor Guide 2 - Optimized Production MGS PROCESSOR
MacDermid Graphics Solutions’ new LAVA 2.0 Thermal Processor is the newest innovation in thermal plate making technology. The LAVA 2.0 was designed with automation and efficiency in mind. Key features:

  • Increased systems monitoring and diagnostics for easier serviceability
  • Integrated chiller design reduces overall footprint
  • New clamping system simplifies plate mounting for operators
  • Cameras and sensors strategically located to monitor plate making and quality

Photo courtesy of MacDermid Graphics Solutions

We must keep quality at the front of our focus, while simultaneously keeping a pulse on all pieces of this puzzle. It’s not a matter of which plate is best and then sell, sell, sell. We have an obligation to do our due diligence in establishing how we improve print quality, efficiency, automation, repeatability, simplicity and standards in every material, and with every customer.

There is a synergy element to all of this. We need to work together to prioritize each of these, because they all matter. Another key is not developing in a vacuum. Collaboration and communication across the industry network are key to addressing new technologies geared toward solving customer pains, while simultaneously advancing industry capabilities. It is crucial that the practical implementation of new technologies be a factor in the development and testing processes.

Mike Agness, HYBRID Software: Workflow software is involved in the quality of graphics and production efficiencies from graphic file import to delivery of files to the press. As such, it has tremendous influence over what goes on in the plant, and any innovation software can bring is welcomed.

Plate Sleeve Processor Guide 2 - Optimized Production CLOUDFLOW Preflight profile tuning
HYBRID Software’s CLOUDFLOW is a modular production workflow suite for file processing, asset management, soft proofing and workflow automation. The web-based application has support for PDF, color separation, trapping, screening, proofing and much more. CLOUDFLOW is web-based from the start (HTML5), and completely uses PDF and XML.

Users can add and combine a variety of functional modules for soft proofing, prepress automation, RIPing, screening, job and order lifecycle management, and more.

Workspace, the foundation for any CLOUDFLOW configuration, indexes file repositories, automatically extracts relevant metadata and creates accurate thumbnails. It stores all its information in a database, making it available and searchable, and allowing for centralized configuration and backup. The web API connects to surrounding IT equipment and databases to retrieve parameters and other production instructions to automate production and eliminate double entry.

With its ability to run completely in the cloud, CLOUDFLOW offers a reliable platform to master digital transformation and Industry 4.0 for labels and packaging. The Orchestrator module integrates and interoperates with all contributors, IT services and equipment of the entire value chain, from initial order to final delivery. DATALINK provides connection to MIS/ERP and other data sources, generating and reading XML or JDF files. It offers data manipulation, such as XSLT translation (XML processing).

Photo courtesy of HYBRID Software

We have come a long way to match any process—digital or gravure—in quality and even efficiency. What may be important for future direction? Perhaps it’s reducing waste and implementing quality controls throughout the entire process.

Incidentally, these initiatives are both computer and human based. Where is the innovation coming from? Certainly, color consistency is important as it maintains brand identity and reduces waste. Tight integration is a great area for innovation. Why develop technology on your own, when you can communicate with other systems with expertise that play to your strengths? This could be importing the right data from MIS and ERP and checking that it is correct. Or, it could be creating systems that tightly integrate with the strengths of a plate imager, or color management, or 3D product development and proofing.

Miraclon: Miraclon has a long-term innovation strategy that is designed to address industry challenges and customer needs. With flexography now a viable print quality alternative to gravure and offset printing, our innovation focus lies on enabling customers to maximize efficiency across the production process, with more uptime, less waste and better consistency to help customers achieve their sustainability goals and raise the bottom line.

Plate Sleeve Processor Guide 2 - Optimized Production FLEXCEL NX Central - plate optimized
KODAK FLEXCEL Solutions from Miraclon include the KODAK FLEXCEL NX System as well as the KODAK FLEXCEL NX Ultra aqueous plate processing solution. Together they bring a wide range of efficiency, consistency, repeatability, increased plate life and overall sustainability benefits to the pressroom, benefiting the whole packaging production value chain. With the FLEXCEL NX Ultra Solution, KODAK Ultra Clean technology solves the fundamental challenge of inconsistency traditionally associated with aqueous-processed flexographic plates. The system:

  • Allows flexographic presses to run more efficiently and at higher speeds
  • Offers consistent, repeatable and reliable plate making, with longer plate life and pressrun lengths
  • Is both VOC- and solvent-free (FLEXCEL NX Ultra Solution)
  • Can produce press-ready plates in less than an hour (FLEXCEL NX Ultra Solution)

Photo courtesy of Miraclon

We have a new product roadmap for equipment, applications and consumable media, all designed to expand customer capabilities. The innovations are built on the same core technologies of the FLEXCEL NX System that was introduced in 2008, and are designed for backward and forward compatibility, so a customer with an older system can benefit from the upgrades and additional capabilities of our latest launches without having to invest in a new system. This allows for quick and cost-effective implementation for both trade shops and converters.

Kevin Bourquin, Cyber Graphics: The largest impact on continuously improving is understanding what you are currently doing and setting goals that break down that ultimate BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) into smaller, manageable pieces.

In today’s connecting world, we have access to a wealth of data that we need to assemble in a better way to tell a story, like SGK’s Robb Frimming did when he presented at this year’s FTA FORUM. PQM (print quality management) tools allow us to collect data straight into a database that then allows the creation of live dashboards to monitor, trend and act on what’s happening—short and long term—in our plants.

Producing photopolymer plates that have digital surface screens helps deliver consistently smooth ink film that in turn helps optimize color gamut on the wealth of substrates CPCs are using.