Streamlining Narrow Web Production

If there is one thing we have all come to understand, it is that change in our industry is endless and shows no signs of slowing.

There is no one person in our operations that can keep up with the rapid pace of new innovations, technologies and trends. One thing is for certain—We must rely on our partners to continue to present new innovations and technologies that will drive our efficiency and profitability. So, how do we future proof our pressrooms when we continue to see such rapid change?

No doubt, we continue to see consumer trends drive packaging requirements, and they have a big influence on how and where we invest in new innovations and technologies. It used to be: “If it is cost effective to go green, we will.” This is no longer a choice. Brand owners are now aligning themselves with converters who provide sustainable solutions. This includes creative package designs that offer thinner, compostable, biodegradable substrates that are more environmentally friendly.

Narrow web tag and label converters are taking steps to become landfill-free operations by managing their liner and matrix waste in new and creative ways. The push for sustainability is no longer a fad; it should be considered a key factor in any investment decision that drives your future. The goal is to become as efficient as possible and to provide the most sustainable, highest quality, cost-effective solutions to your customer.

Calibrated proofing systems that simulate on-press results.
All photos courtesy of Anderson & Vreeland Inc

Big Data

There are so many variables to manage in our operations. Obviously, it can be quite challenging to decide on where to start. We have all been down the road of lean manufacturing and the opportunities it brings. Anything you can do to reduce material movement and human activity will bring value. Now the big push is to automate our operations.

But that also brings a new set of variables. Automation can be implemented at so many different levels. Through IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things), we can now automate and manage everything in our facility from digital storefronts to logistics and fulfillment. This information highway allows us to capture all big data analytics for future decision making and forecasting, and all can be managed on cloud-based software.

In short, automation is the new lean; it is the digitalization of manufacturing, adapting to the generation of automation will help us overcome workforce challenges and provide a predictable and repeatable process that ultimately increases profitability. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that 60 percent of human production activity can be automated, resulting in fewer errors and a higher quality product. If it is a predictable or repeatable task, performed by either human or machine, it can be automated.

Clockwise, from left: ThermoFlexX 30 digital plate maker, AV Xpose 2530 Exposure Unit, Flint nyloflex Xpress Thermal Processing System, Ovit plate washer

Examples of an automated workflow managed through IIOT cloud-based systems include:

  • Customer web portal (digital storefront)
  • Online order entry (file transfer)
  • Estimating
  • Preflight and approvals
  • Production planning
  • Supply chain management (driving raw materials)
  • Vendor management inventory (VMI)
  • Production scheduling
  • Printing and finishing
  • Logistics and fulfillment
  • Invoicing and receivables

Some of the most common first steps we see are converters reinvesting in the plateroom and the pressroom. These two areas are at the heart of what we do. Taking them on can help make immediate impacts to the operation.

Prepress & Plating

In the plateroom, we continue to see the advantages of automation in prepress, from software to color management, proofing and throughout the plate making process. The continued implementation of Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) methodology, from initial design to press, also allows us to calibrate and optimize workflow characterizations and processes for the most efficient results on press. These practices allow us to have a repeatable and predictable result in production.

Advantages of digital imaging and thermal processing have continued to drive the process forward. These innovations allow the modern workflow technologies of flat top dot and surface screening polymers to provide a higher quality, sharper image and improved opacities. Digital thermal processing is also much more sustainable than in the past. Power consumption is much lower, as there is no longer the requirement of chiller systems or catalytic oxidizers to manage excessive heat or vapors. This can provide up to 80 percent in power savings over traditional systems.

Thermal plate processor

Vice President Jason Hynes and the ATL Corp team in Menomonee Falls, WI, knew what they needed to do. “We recognized that to take our flexographic label printing business to the next level, we needed to invest in the latest technology—for us, the first step was to upgrade to a digital plate making system.” Internally, ATL saw quicker turnarounds for plate production. With ThermoFlexX and its automatic plate loading and auto-feed, ATL was producing plates in less than half the time it originally took. In addition, its new plate making process required less human handling and, thus, made the entire process easily scalable, which was an important component to ATL’s growth.