Suppliers Speak Out, Urge Print Partners to React & Adapt

FLEXO Magazine recently invited comment on critical topics now being faced by the package printing and converting community. Senior executives from the targeted supplier sector complied, offering brief analysis on the state of the industry.

Specifically speaking to many topics, beginning with the FORUM 2021 and INFOFLEX 2021 themes of “Prosper Through Efficiency” and “Game Changing Technologies,” insights addressed the post-pandemic operating environment; top priorities like cost control, waste reduction, run length, makeready, workforce development and retention; and competitive posturing. Common strategies recommended focused on:

  • Optimizing the production floor
  • Automating workflows
  • Process controls, standards and specifications
  • Embracing a circular economy—sustainability, energy efficiency

Fewer touchpoints, smaller carbon footprints, less waste, higher profits, faster cycle times and shorter runs served to forge the thought process. The resounding stance: “There is no room for error in optimizing production. Complex needs demand best-in-class output. Realization of that objective is reliant on automation, energy savings, tighter registration, ever-increasing run speeds and increased efficiencies.”

What follows simply serves as the opening salvo in the extensive, ongoing conversation.

Justifiable Costs

Bill Warner, VP, Allison Systems Corp

This time last year, the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up and the uncertainty of its effects on business was changing almost every day. Certainly, I am not alone when I reflect that at that time, I never imagined the magnitude or duration of the impact COVID-19 would have on the business environment. While other sectors of the economy were being shut down, printing as an industry was recognized as being essential because packaging and labels were needed to support the demand for products.

Today, we are beginning to see light at the end of the COVID tunnel, but the way business is conducted has changed, perhaps forever. Meetings and conferences have become virtual, some employees are still working from home, and the number of essential employees on-site that keep the presses running has possibly been reduced.

As a result, reduced press downtime, increased efficiency and waste reduction are needed more now than ever. The doctor blade is a small but critical part of overall press performance. Improper application of the doctor blade is often the cause for poor blade performance or early blade failure, leading to waste and press downtime.

Modern presses may incorporate technology to automate or minimize the adjustments needed for proper doctor blade application on press. Other presses will require operator training to ensure procedures are being utilized to properly apply the doctor blade. In either case, choosing the correct blade material and edge shape for the application is also necessary. Long-life blade materials are recommended in high wear applications and choosing the correct edge shape can mean the difference between a successful run or excessive printed waste.

In any case, stopping a press during a run to change an underperforming doctor blade will cost significantly more than the price of the blade. When this is understood, the additional cost for an upgraded doctor blade is easily justifiable. Allison Systems’ representatives can work with the customer to evaluate their current blade setup and help determine alternative blade choices to achieve their goals.

Packaging’s Ideal Technology

Dieter Niederstadt, technical marketing manager, Asahi Photoproducts

In flexography, a number of important trends have continued to evolve over recent years. These perhaps have been accelerated due to the effects of the pandemic. Key among them: the need to increase automation and take advantage of Industry 4.0 technologies designed to reduce operator touch points to a minimum and drive increased standardization.

It is also important that significant progress is being made to improve flexography’s sustainability footprint. This includes the growing move away from solvent-based plate making systems and, in line with the automation theme, reduction of waste on press and improved overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), which helps get work out faster, with less waste and more profit.

While offset and rotogravure still represent a significant percentage of packaging production, with all of the developments in flexography, it is becoming clear that the process offers many benefits over these technologies. Namely: better quality, more flexibility and, especially with gravure and the demand for shorter runs, much less costly and more sustainable prepress-to-pressroom setup costs and makeready—all with no compromise in quality.

The bottom line is this: the package printing and converting community continues to face an ongoing shift to faster cycle times, smaller lot sizes and more variability. Brands want high-quality imagery on both primary and secondary packaging. They increasingly want to use photo-realistic imaging and a wide range of type sizes. And printer/converters often face smaller margins that leave no room for error.

Flexography, and the systems around it, have made huge leaps in terms of quality, efficiency and flexibility. It’s the ideal technology to meet these ever-changing needs, while also delivering exceptional OEE and a sustainable process that uses fewer chemicals, less energy and generates less waste. The process from plate material to press-ready plates continues to evolve and become more automated, removing potential for costly errors. At Asahi Photoproducts, we see a bright future for the technology across many packaging types and industries.

Shaping Reality

Marco Carrara, VP, sales and marketing / Americas and South Europe, Bobst

Flexography is the most cost-effective solution for short-, mid- and long-run printed output.

To support the increased needs of short-run and compete with the growth of digital printing solutions, flexographic press manufacturers have increased their efforts in digitizing their equipment with more automation.

New developments will continue to provide flexographic equipment to support faster changeover, quicker makeready and clearly less waste. Automation on flexographic machines is not only helping and reducing waste and working time, but is also solving a problem that the industry has been encountering for many years that is the knowledge of the flexographic process. Print shops are finding internal skill to be a big problem. As a manufacturer, we are taking it seriously and trying to simplify the lives of our customers with new automatic features on machines.

Thanks to automation and digitalization ,we have been able to reduce both material waste and ink consumption. Energy saving are required by the market and by the community. Sustainability of the products is the key for a green future.

As a machine manufacturer, we are paying close attention to new materials and processes. Materials are easy to focus on because they are a visible part of the package. The processes are less obvious. Both areas are getting the attention of the consumer and governments.

Our vision is shaping a new reality. Connectivity, digitalization, automation and sustainability are the cornerstones of packaging production. We will continue to deliver best-in-class machines by adding intelligence, software capabilities and cloud-based platforms that will help to make packaging production better than ever.