Sandon Global Engraving Technology Ltd was founded in 2004. Its mission, then and now: Put an unrivaled understanding of print to work in filling the gap and developing high-quality, high-definition anilox rolls. Based in Runcorn, Cheshire, U.K., the firm’s employees collectively possess 250+ years’ experience. Soon to turn 15, Sandon Global’s early, regional presence has gone international, as has its affiliations with Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) and linked organizations.
Since 2010, it’s been operating out of a 20,000 sq. ft. site that includes an isolated engineering department and laser-engraving facility, with six state-of-the-art, high-definition thermal optic lasers.
Being fairly new to FTA, having enrolled as a member in 2017, FLEXO Magazine recently seized the opportunity to talk with two Sandon Global executives—John Millington, managing director and Stuart Mitchell, director business development and export sales—on the continuing evolution of anilox technology. Brief and to the point, the interview covered 10 specific questions.
FLEXO Magazine: Sandon Global often talks about a Smart Anilox System (SAS). Can you tell us about its different components and how they work together to boost quality and efficiency?
John Millington & Stuart Mitchell: The smart anilox system uses hybrid engraving formats, which are designed to build in “standardization” for each printer. We build a closed system of measurement and control around the optimization of the anilox with a reduced inventory, saving customers thousands of dollars. We use hybrid engraving formats which have been proven to offer process and print performance enhancements compared to the old classic hexagonal engraving formats. Enhanced volume control also ensures the reduction of needless specifications due to inaccurate manufacture.
FLEXO: As a follow-up—Can you give an example or two of a hybrid anilox configuration and comment on how and where it is used?
Millington & Mitchell: Yes, our Xpro specification has been developed specifically for HD process work, providing excellent release values enabling the printer to hold a fine HD dot. Its robust high cell wall peaks provide resistance to score lines.
Our patent-pending GMX product has been developed for specialized and tactile coatings. The complex nature and variety of coating applications in today’s market have led to the development of an anilox cell with a flat and shallow profile in order to cope with particle sizes of up to 30-µ. Increased polish reduces vibration/friction when in contact with the doctor blade, therefore improving varnish/coating transfer.
FLEXO: How have anilox rolls evolved to accommodate faster print speeds now associated with flexo?
Millington & Mitchell: Our iPro and HVP formats are now almost 10 years old (third generation) developments. They were originally designed to meet the demand of high-speed flexographic printing in Europe (speeds up to and faster than 1,800 fpm), but we have now supplied this technology to some 53 different countries, including the U.S.
FLEXO: Can you comment on the anilox roll/sleeve-driven technical advancements that have given rise to HD flexo print?
Millington & Mitchell: In many market segments, the iPro and HVP are still performing extremely well. However, our continued research & development program at Sandon has evolved these formats into the FLUID and xPro range for ultra-high-resolution flexo. The technology and associated print jobs to date have won 31 internationally recognized (FTA, FTA Europe, EFIA, FlexoTech) awards. It can be used with water-, solvent- and ultraviolet- (UV) based inks.
FLEXO: To elaborate on your point—can you describe the characteristics and attributes of a UHD flexo anilox roll? What benefits does it deliver in terms of quality, consistency and productivity?
Millington & Mitchell: Line counts are increased to cope with the high-resolution plates. Our stable engraving process delivers fine cell walls less prone to score lines. The basis of any good laser-engraved ceramic anilox is a high-quality coating, which allows the laser to create strong cell walls that stand up to the constant demands of wear over a sustained period of continual use with a doctor blade. A substandard coating will cause cell break-up, premature wear and scoring as the weak coating is significantly more vulnerable to abrasion. Our state-of-the-art Triplex T-Coat Hydrogen Plasma Coating System allows us to respond to our customers’ requests with speed.
In addition to Triplex T-Coat, we developed an Enhanced Densification Pre-Laser Treatment (EDT). EDT is a post-coating specialized treatment procedure that is performed prior to laser engraving, making the chromium oxide ceramic coating impervious to any liquid. EDT promotes a more efficient and consistent evacuation of the engraved cells, leading to a higher transfer percentage.
Since the surfaces of a laser-engraved anilox roll are abrasive at first, we use GEM polishing equipment with precision settings in order to finish and smooth the cell walls evenly.
Polishing allows the blade to bed into the anilox a lot quicker, allowing the engraving to be working at full capacity as soon as possible. Finishing has most pertinence in the narrow web sector, where a poorly finished anilox will damage and even split the doctor blade, just because of the heavily pigmented nature of UV inks used.
FLEXO: Would you also describe the characteristics of: High Volume Process, High Opacity Color, High Opacity Whites, High Volume Solids and Fluid Engraving anilox rolls?
Millington & Mitchell: Here again, we have developed formats to create a “standard.” Using a specific anilox, ink, tape and plate, we know the customer can replicate and match a known standard. High Opacity White (HOW) is designed as a rotary screen alternative with four options. High Opacity Color (HOC) offers an opaque color without the need for a base white. High Volume Solids (HVS) has been superseded by our patented “GMX” format, and it is currently giving excellent results for tactile printing “paper feel” varnish effect on film.
FLEXO: Can you outline each of the four “HOW” options?
Millington & Mitchell: The typical application breakdown is as follows and is focused on controlling/improving opacity when printing whites. HOW 1-3 deliver stepped cell volumes and have been designed to close the gap with screen printing, while HOW 4 is predominantly used with a coating roller.
FLEXO: What’s next? How do you see anilox technology evolving to meet ever-changing demands?
Millington & Mitchell: Our next developments are currently well underway. We are looking at enhancing the coating itself by improving wear resistance to extend the life of the anilox and studying potential methods to reduce the impact of mechanical fracture.
FLEXO: What prompted Sandon Global to join FTA? What do you consider critical benefits of membership?
Millington & Mitchell: As an international business, we export to 53 countries throughout the world. We see FTA as one of the leading trade bodies in the world. As a member, we benefit from access to FLEXO Magazine and the industry insight it and the association offer. The North American market is of great interest, as we see an opportunity to introduce product innovation and impart industry knowledge supported by our reputation for excellent customer service. Five back-to-back European Flexographic Industry Association (EFIA) Supplier of the Year Awards illustrate this point. We see FTA, FLEXO and INFOFLEX playing an important role in assisting us in achieving our objectives in this region.
FLEXO: Can you comment on your and the company’s INFOFLEX experience to date—both in 2017 and 2018?
Millington & Mitchell: The show has generated some significant interest and our strategic partner Steve Wilkinson from The Flexo Factor will be following up with great gusto!