Purchasing a Flexo Press: How to Maximize a Wide Web Machine’s Production Potential

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

In this article, find out how to be positive your imminent wide web purchase is fulfilling business needs and can deliver a return on investment.

FLEXO’s Questions: What demands and conditions prompt people to consider buying a new press? Given today’s operating environment, what options should buyers explore—conventional, hybrid, multi-substrate, short web path, most appropriate widths for planned use, etc.? How should they assemble and populate the wish list and issue a call for proposals? How can state-of-the-art machinery bring new efficiencies to the plant, lower costs, speed output and revolutionize or re-energize production?

Consensus: Presses and machinery are major investments that printers expect to last for years, if not decades:

  • Overspending on features may not achieve the desired return on investment
  • One size does not fit all needs
  • Define needs, not desires
  • Press speeds range from slower than 1,000 fpm to faster than 2,600 fpm
  • Designs speak to ergonomics, accessibility, speed and performance
  • An idle press is not productive
  • Consider sustainability objectives—your own and your customers’

Offering Commentary: Preston Neetzel, technical sales manager—flexo, Koenig & Bauer (US); Kurt Flathmann, North American sales manager, Allstein GmbH; Tom Hatzilambros, sales associate, North America, Uteco; Miquel Girones, area manager, Comexi; Pavla Kusa, commercial director, SOMA; Rodney Pennings, director of sales, Paper Converting Machine Co (PCMC); and Perry Lichon, president, Retroflex Inc.

Flexible packaging running through the Koenig & Bauer EVO XG press.
Photo courtesy of Koenig & Bauer

Neetzel: Deciding to purchase a new flexographic press is an exciting time for any printer. Perhaps it is prompted by a need from a new customer or entering a new market niche; perhaps it is to improve throughput and productivity. No matter what has prompted this important decision, the process of choosing the right press should be a thoughtful time to assess your market and ensure that its new advanced features will match your plans for growth and expansion for at least the next five years.

In order to choose the best press for your company, take the time to consider which press can grow with you to maximize your production potential. The best press chosen should be one that’s most suited to your current process and able to support new markets you may be entering.

Maximum productivity is always high on the list when considering a new press, along with automation, quick change tooling, waste reduction and operator-friendly interfaces. When purchasing a flexo press, take into consideration the long-term benefits you’ll realize, as well as the ease of setting a job up in a timely manner and energy efficiencies. One should think in terms of total cost/benefit over the lifetime of the press, and not simply about the initial investment. Look downstream and upstream of the purchase and consider how a new, more productive press could affect your converting capacity or film extrusion capacity.

What are some other considerations to make? Review any potential new environmental regulations in your state. Does your Air Quality Management District have new regulations? This can determine what type of burner may be required for the drying system. Some states require an Ultra Low NOx burner for natural gas drying, while others require just a Low NOx burner.

There are a number of operating environments and options to consider before making your final decision. What will be the number of colors/web print width/min and max print repeat requirements for current and future business? What size does the press need to be for current business as well as potential future business?

“Obviously, different presses have different technologies that are influential in bringing new efficiencies to the plant, lowering costs, accelerating output and re-energizing production. These usually affect press speeds and minimize makeready.”

Pavla Kusa, commercial director, SOMA

Discuss with your press manufacturer the materials to be run on the press (substrates and ink). This is an important conversation to have.

Special options like inline downstream units for backside printing (flexo, gravure, UV, etc.) or the application of special coatings (UV, etc.) or an in-setter should be considered prior to the press being built to reduce costs later.

Does the press fit into the space you are considering or are modifications required? Is the space for the press climate controlled? If you are in a climate that can reach 100 degrees or more during certain periods of the year, you should discuss this with the press manufacturer. You might want to consider the option of temperature control for the ink pump system. With the flexographic process achieving higher linescreen counts, it is important to reduce every variable possible to maintain constant print quality. I firmly believe that controlling the temperature of the inks helps reduce print issues, which will give you better press utilization and less downtime washing plates.

Service and support, along with parts availability—how many trained technicians does the press manufacturer have in the US to support the equipment? Are parts stocked in the US by the press manufacturer? What are the warranties not only by the press manufacturer but also by the OEMs supplying parts? Will you be able to get electronic parts in 10 or 15 years?

Does the press manufacturer have a print specialist on staff to help review your current business and future business to help you be more successful?

While making your decision, review access for maintenance staff to be able to service the press (servo motors, drives, etc.) and dryers for nozzle inspection and cleaning.

Does your company have maintenance staff with the experience level needed to work on these new presses or should you be considering a service package?

Made to order—construction of a Uteco Onyx CI press
Photo courtesy of Uteco

Flathmann: Typically, the decision to purchase a new press relates to either replacing existing non-competitive equipment, supported by the hope of adding additional capacity, or the addition of new business, which dictates additional capacity requirements and/or additional—usually higher—graphic demands or capabilities.

With this in mind, the buyer would do well to clearly define exactly what the business being targeted is and what it requires. Don’t generate a wild wish list of components before you know exactly what you want to accomplish—no more and no less. Define your needs, not your desires. With that information, you can go to a supplier that will help you to meet those needs at a minimum, and offer additional items targeted toward your desired business. Then you can review those items and see if they can be cost-justified in your business plan for that equipment.

Hatzilambros: Uteco makes an offer with key aspects, such as final product and printing technology, spending potential and geographical location in mind. It asks the customer for a very strict set of details and specifications to configure the machine suitable for the type of work required. Uteco seeks to focus more of the customer’s attention on the supply of increasingly automated machines that minimize the operator’s intervention and possible errors, which help the customer in all phases of the process, always keeping in mind total safety and the availability of 24-hour service for immediate interventions.

In recent years, Uteco has seen an increase in demand for short-run machines, quick changeover and low waste, which can be achieved with options such as automatic impression setting (Kiss & Go), automatic washup system (Sprint Wash), automatic viscosity control and FDMR (gives operator the ability to set up decks not in use while the machine is running to reduce setup times). Other features to reduce setup times include toolless doctor blade chambers, which allow the operator to change the doctor blades and end seals without using dedicated tools. There are also OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) modules that can be specifically tailored to customer needs that monitor items, such as ink consumption, energy consumption, analysis of shift operation (downtime, number of jobs ran, etc.) and more. Most common widths are 53-in. to 57-in. wide. Uteco has the capability to go as wide as 100-in. and in special cases even wider. Common speeds are approximately 1,300 fpm with the capability of going as high 2,600 fpm. Approximately 1,300 fpm currently covers a good portion of current production.