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

Comexi: Every printer/converter should prioritize identification of opportunities to showcase state-of-the-art solutions and innovations. Cutting-edge technology starts with the press, carries through to finishing components and is enhanced though interconnectivity between the plant and its OEMs, thanks to modern day automated workflow and press diagnostic tools.

The digital revolution has changed the entire world and is now shaking up our industry as well. Comexi, along with many other capital goods manufacturers, is immersed in digital services, in order to give extra value to customers, allowing them to make the most of the amazing opportunities that the new digital era brings to the flexible packaging sector. Cloud-based interconnectivity is a holistic approach for complete processes that will enrich a new era of continuous improvements throughout the entire value chain.

Tom Industries press operators at the controls of the printer’s new Comexi F2 ML press.
Photo courtesy of Comexi

At Comexi, we believe the ultimate digital platform offers private, secure and real-time machine information, integrating quickly and easily, as well as seamlessly exchanging data with existing management tools. The platform is comprised of production analytics, job costing, online ordering, maintenance assistance, technical documentation and data export.

Today’s advanced presses, for example the F2 MB, are advanced machines, designed to satisfy the print needs of medium runs in the flexible packaging sector. Focal points of the design speak to ergonomics, robustness, accessibility, speed and performance.

Miguel Girones, area manager, points to their purpose—high productivity. His advice to printer customers: “Always run to capacity. Gain a competitive edge. Win numerous prestigious awards that assist in showcasing the high quality achieved.”

Kusa: Printers need to look at the ROI, which is based upon a number of factors, including the cost of the press, its productivity, and expected revenues from the new machine. While quality is a determinant, it really is different for each printer, depending upon the applications, the kinds of customers and where the printer operates. In some aspects, it is also the quality of the vendor and maintenance requirements, and problems that will be resolved by replacing a machine. If the current machine is in repair all the time, it will influence quality and speed of delivery.

The decision could be a static one. A converter could be happy with an existing press but may have a need for a new press to satisfy certain qualifications of print buyers; for example, an 8- or 10-color press to cover a new requirement.

Or, very simply, they just may need additional capacity.

Much of the decision of what is required in a new machine is connected to the business of the printer. If it needs to stay in the mainstream, with the ability to print on the wide spectrum of substrates and different inks, the press to buy is probably exclusively flexo. If the printer wishes to be more specialized with greater flexibility—perhaps doing some variable data printing—then a hybrid press is the answer. The decision is connected to business and the print buyers’ needs. Specialization is an interesting trend, but every printer’s needs could be different. It could be better to have one solution to offer a wider spectrum of flexo capabilities to handle the chaos of different requests.

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. An idle press is not productive.

For example, controlling bounce on a Soma OPTIMA2 press maintains job consistency at high press speeds—particularly when using HD plates. It can assure that the press can hold stable highlight dots with exceptional registration. This opens the door for new print process ideas, such as expanded gamut (EG) printing.

SOMA Optima 2 central impression (CI) sleeve press
Photo courtesy of SOMA

A few other press technologies that can improve quality are:

  • AC motors can provide fast acceleration/deceleration with low working tension—important for thin films
  • Offline solutions for register and impression settings combine the functions of a plate mounter along with a fully automated device for plate topography and registration measurement. This results in faster makereadies
  • An efficient ink cartridge system can offer major savings on ink costs
  • Motorized threading is an efficient way to help operators save time during job changes or web breaks
  • Automatic drum cleaning efficiently eliminates ink, dust and chemical agents that may affect print quality and minimize operator intervention

Printers should not underestimate the importance of the decision point. They should invest more time and money on this rather than regretting a decision made on a specific press and realizing they needed something different. In fact, part of this research should include customer and prospect visits. Market research that includes the print buyers’ wish lists of needs is invaluable.

One thing some printers do not do is to find a consultant or sales rep to help out. These people are trained to help the customer define the ideal press. Understand that reps will be subjective in their recommendations, but they also offer a lot of experience and expertise.

Pennings: When you are in a position to consider buying a flexographic press, there are questions that you should ask yourself and your team before making a capital investment. Flexo presses are not “one size fits all.” By asking these questions, you will be armed with the knowledge needed to make an educated decision.

When you are getting ready to buy a new press for your business, you will want to take a look at several factors. If you are getting started with a press for the first time or looking to upgrade an existing press, it’s important to consider the following questions:

What are my production needs? What is my maximum web width? What type of substrates do I plan on running? How long will my run lengths be? Do I need production increases? What is my expected return on investment? How much money will my money make? Will this press provide an adequate return on my investment? How long will it last? What types of features do I want? Do I need to run multiple processes? What features can help me achieve higher sustainability? What kind of floor space do I have available for a new press?

With so many options, it can be overwhelming to consider where to begin. We recommend facility managers review the waste streams within the plant and follow them back to the sources. What areas of your operation are producing the most waste? Which equipment is utilizing the most energy? By locating the source, you can identify key areas to implement changes.

Flexographic printers should also consider the sustainability efforts their customers are currently implementing and work to proactively integrate the proper machinery into their facilities. As customers begin to adopt films composed of recycled scrap materials or lower gauge films that reduce the amount of plastic used, it becomes that much more critical that machinery is manufactured to exact tolerances. As the material becomes thinner, it becomes more difficult to convert, which requires precision machinery to prevent waste.

Presses and machinery are major investments that printers expect to last for years, if not decades, and upgrading for the sole purpose of enhancing sustainability may not seem realistic. There are options, however, that have significantly smaller price tags and still take a step in the “green” direction.

Printed web on the cooling rolls of a 52-in. PCMC Fusion board press.
Photo courtesy of Paper Converting Machine Co (PCMC)

Work with your equipment manufacturer to identify pieces of machinery that can be upgraded through retrofitted components and controls. Facilities can also kickstart their sustainability initiatives without blowing the budget by upgrading smaller pieces of equipment, such as dryers and anilox cleaners, rather than presses.

Lichon: There are many reasons that prompt a buyer to make an equipment purchase, specifically a new flexo press. They can range from increased production volume, need for higher-quality print images, job change frequency, higher throughput, existing presses wearing out or simply a change in product mix, just to name a few.

Retroflex would like to work with the potential buyer to perform an analysis of existing equipment. Then the buyer should determine the exact reason for considering a purchase. This should be an open and realistic discussion involving many factors, such as existing as well as future needs and wants. Does existing equipment meet these needs and wants? Can the existing equipment be upgraded and retrofit to accommodate those needs and wants? In many cases upgrades and retrofits—such as new doctor blade systems, increased drying/curing capacity, additional downstream print/coat stations—drive upgrades. These may be the most cost-effective ways for the buyer to meet its needs and wants.

If a new press is the most cost-effective way of reaching the needs and wants, then we can work with them to help determine if a full servo press with on-press sleeve changes, full auto unwinds and rewinds, auto washup and many other whistles and bells is required, or if there is a lesser-equipped press that will allow the buyer to achieve the same goals at a lower cost. Having the potential buyer and supplier working together at a very early stage is a much more effective approach that will allow the customer to achieve all its wants and needs without overspending on features that may not result in the target ROI.