Purchasing a Flexo Press: Installation and Initial Runs

FLEXO Magazine’s 11th Annual Press Buyer’s Guide looks at the path to purchase from multiple steps:

In this article, focusing on install and initial runs, find out what to expect for getting a new press built and producing sellable print after signing on the dotted line.

FLEXO’s Questions: With the press ordered, what can printers expect from contract to delivery? Can you outline the rough timeline—shipping to site, the install process itself, review and acceptance—as well as the OEM’s role and the converter’s role? Can you also address initial runs—first up, jobs, early tests, initial production, on-site press crew training—and what to expect? How can a converter draw the greatest benefit from what is being offered?

Consensus: Investment in your staff helps to get the best performance from them and the best utilization of the press. Installation can take weeks, when factoring in shipment, delivery, assembly and commissioning. The key to success is early and consistent communication between the customer and equipment manufacturer:

  • Take complexity of the press into consideration
  • Schedule a site review by the manufacturer
  • Prioritize hands-on/heads-up indoctrination to the press at the manufacturer’s site prior to delivery
  • Allocate sufficient space
  • Ready utility connections
  • Delineate responsibilities between operators, engineers, technicians and the install crew
  • First-up jobs should reflect daily production
  • Have material and tooling on hand to test all the features of the new machine

Offering Commentary: Rodney Pennings, director of sales, Paper Converting Machine Co (PCMC); Tom Hatzilambros, sales associate, North America, Uteco; Pavla Kusa, commercial director, SOMA; Preston Neetzel, technical sales manager—flexo, Koenig & Bauer (US); Kurt Flathmann, North American sales manager, Allstein GmbH; Perry Lichon, president, Retroflex Inc; Vikrant Tandon, product manager, printing and Mike Reinhardt, project manager, printing presses, Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp; Curtis McQuade, COO, CEI; Jeff Cowan, director of business development, Mark Andy Inc; Mike Weyermann, vice president, sales and marketing, MPS North America; and Kregg Albrecht, sales manager, label market, Matik Inc.

Pennings: Prior to the equipment’s arrival, the converter needs to have the space ready for the press. This includes adequate space per the floor plan requirements, as well as power, water and compressed air supplies, and the necessary ducting completed.

Allstein’s 10-color, 67-in. web width press with robotic sleeve change
Photo courtesy of Allstein GmbH

The OEM is responsible for shipping, offloading, installation of the equipment and startup services. During the install process, installation crews should be optically aligning key components in the equipment to ensure it is installed correctly and to avoid nagging issues once production starts.

The startup of the machine will include an initial print trial to make sure all alignments and calibrations are correct, along with ensuring proper functioning of key aspects of the press. Prepare for initial print trials well in advance of first-up printruns to ensure all aspects of the jobs are available. Additionally, it is good to run first-up jobs that represent the range of print jobs the machine is expected to run on a day-to-day basis.

The OEM should always provide at least one mechanical and one electrical technician for the installation and initial print trials. It is fair to expect daily updates from the startup team, allowing for good communication and the most efficient resolution to those inevitable day-to-day challenges.

Hatzilambros: If we analyze the installation of a “standard” central drum flexo machine, for example, Uteco usually makes two mechanical technicians, one electronic operator, and one printer—flanked by a special operator sent by the customer—available during the installation period. Installation lasts about two weeks, after which we proceed with the startup and the first production tests. Total time from the first set of delivered crates to the machine being put into production is approximately four weeks. That is then followed with two weeks of training with an electronic technician and mechanical technician which support the operators by providing a complete training program on the various aspects of the press. Items covered are maintenance training, operator training and process improvement during the operation of the machine at the customer site.

One of the main objectives from the first tests to the start of production is to avoid downtime and recalls. All machines are built in our plant in Verona, Italy and are tested with a specific set of criteria set by the customer for the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT), which when completed, sees the machine prepared for disassembly and shipping. This process significantly cuts down on installation time at the customer site, and ensures for a smooth and successful installation and acceptance.

Our technicians provide all the information possible to ensure the converter independently solves all the problems that arise for proper production, with great benefit for both parties. At the end of the guarantee period, Uteco is certain to have transmitted to the customer all procedures for proper routine maintenance of the equipment.

Kusa: You have two directions. One is that the printer sees the machine and approves it before it is shipped. If there is an issue with the press, it is certainly easier to resolve it on the vendor’s manufacturing floor than at the printer’s facility. This is more expensive and takes more time, because the press has to be assembled at the vendor’s plant, then broken down and re-assembled when it arrives at the printer’s floor.

“Today’s flexo presses are impressive pieces of machinery, able to produce high quality at incredibly high speeds, and allow for many functions to be carried out automatically. Our goal is to give your press operators the time and proper training to run your press at full production speeds.”

Preston Neetzel, technical sales manager—flexo, Koenig & Bauer (US)

The second option is that the approval test is done from a demo machine, not the machine that will be delivered. This process is certainly faster and less expensive. However, the risk is that the new press is delivered with a flaw that is not noticed until it arrives at the printer’s facility.

The printer should learn in advance how much time and effort will be taken to install the press. How and when will the parts arrive? The printer and press vendor should also work together to determine where to best place the press and to assure that all the utilities are ready to go. Where is the water source (and drain)? Is the electricity wired and ready to go? Is there enough room to install the press and is the floor strong enough to hold it without vibration?

I would specify in certain terms the press result I will accept upon implementation. No matter what you are negotiating, it is important to get concrete answers.

The vendor expects that there is a person—preferably more than one—who is involved in the testing and training process with enough experience in how to operate a flexo press. There should also be certain time allocated for real training. This should mean that a step-by-step training process has been prepared to explain as much as possible about the press.

The training period is not a time to run a job. It’s a time to check out all of the printer features, to test different inks, and assure that an 8-color job can, in fact, print well on a certain material. There should not be any pressure to push through real production.

Even with a 10-day training schedule on the printer’s floor, it always happens that the vendor tries to impart too much information in a short period of time. The customer should agree that after a certain period of time—usually about three months—there should be a second retraining program to test what the printer has retained and what the printer has learned independently. This training session should be with the same people—the press operator and maintenance engineer who were involved in the initial training. It’s to augment what they have already learned. Even in a small company, there should be a delineation of responsibility between the press operator—for example, how to best set up registration—and the service engineer.

Neetzel: The installation process is one of the most exciting and busiest parts of the entire process. At Koenig & Bauer Flexotecnica, we provide a clear plan of what to expect from the time you sign a sales agreement to the time of delivery.

A Gantt chart is one way a press manufacturer provides an approximate timeline of the press construction and delivery. These will typically include when the order was placed, construction time of the press, what the customer responsibilities are and when they should be completed (such as utilities installed, foundation work completed, etc.), FAT, shipping date of press and expected port arrival date. Our customers receive an installation process timeline and expected operator training date, and finally the anticipated date for the final sign-off and acceptance of the press by the customer.

The hybrid MPS EF SYMJET press with an exclusive Domino N617i unit and in a wider, 17-in. width.
Photo courtesy of MPS

The OEM responsibilities and purchaser’s responsibilities are usually listed in the purchase agreement. We’ve found that a total turnkey installation is one of the best options to make the installation process much easier.

Today’s flexo presses are impressive pieces of machinery, able to produce high quality at incredibly high speeds, and allow for many functions to be carried out automatically. Our goal is to give your press operators the time and proper training to run your press at full production speeds. We suggest you schedule reinforcement training 60 to 90 days after the trainer has left. This investment in your staff helps to get the best performance from them and the best utilization of the press.

Before you fingerprint the press, you need to optimize your process. Optimization of the press is very important. Selection of inks, anilox sleeves, plate sleeves, mounting tapes, plate material, doctor blades and substrates plays an important part in quality, consistency and production.

It is very important that a fingerprint is completed under normal, repeatable conditions. You need to be able to repeat the outcomes (densities and dot gains) every time you are on press. Anilox rollers need to be clean, the correct mounting tape used, and the inks in spec (pH and/or viscosity). Documenting the press setup is very important in order to assure repeatability. The more detail the better; serialize anilox sleeves so you are using the same sleeve for a specific color and print station for a job. Many times, you will have a number of anilox sleeves with the same linescreen and bcm, but they can vary slightly and wear differently, creating slightly different results in color.

We recommend you consider scheduling a medium-length job first in order for your press operators to get used to the machine operations, tensions, splicing and run speeds. Then, schedule jobs that include a variety of the substrate materials (different types, web width and gauge) to check tensions and roll-winding profiles. Schedule a job with a high percentage of ink coverage to ensure the press drying capabilities are at full capacity. Operators and their assistants should be comfortable operating the press prior to the trainer’s departure. Always stress safety first!