With so many stories of digital press launches and installations dominating the label industry news feed, to some, flexog-raphy has become an afterthought. However, despite the inroads digital printing has made in recent years--and they are indeed significant--the majority ot PS labels and packaging printed around the world are done so via flexography. In fact, it's really not even close.
There are several reasons why the tried and true flexo print method has been the backbone of the label industry for decades. As the name ot the process suggests, flexo is flexible. Its versatility plays a pivotal role in its adoption and success. Flexo attributes that set it apart from competing technologies such as offset, litho, gravure and digital, include high press speeds, low equipment and maintenance costs, low cost of consumables, suitability for medium to long runs and ease of integration with other printing processes.This ease of integration is paramount to what many experts believe is the future of label printing - the "hybrid" approach. But that's a whole article unto itself. (For a converter's take on hybrid printing in the future, see sidebar on page 62.)
Furthermore, flexo's flexibility allows the process to continue to evolve, with suppliers responsible tor every element in the process working in lockstep to keep moving forward into the future.
Flexo plate technology in general is playing a significant role in fueling a lot of the advancements, says Rory Marsoun, director Deployment COE--Prepress and Platemaking, Esko."The introduction of flat-top dots, produced in different ways by a number of vendors, has helped improve print consistency and overall quality significantly, he says. "This, combined with advancements in press, ink and anilox technologies, has brought flexo printing to a level that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago."
Due to the trend of shorter print runs, Marsoun notices innovations that are reducing make-ready and changeover times to maintain profitability and to compete with digital printing. He explains,"Many presses now include technologies that enable the printer to move very quickly between jobs. For the companies that have decided to move to an expanded gamut process that enables them to print with a fixed ink set, they are also seeing drastic reductions in press make-ready."
Esko offers a wide range ot products for the flexo market. Most recently is the new Esko Automation Engine QtuckStart for Labels. This is a turnkey solution for label converters that enables them to automate their prepress in five days. "It is a simple solution that comes preloaded with proven workflows for label production," Marsoun says. "It automates routine tasks such as trapping, step and repeat, and job card creation. It has integrated packaging preflight and quality control. With it, errors are reduced, there is reduced production time, and prepress operators can work on the tasks that are far more demanding."
Esko was recently honored with FTA Technical Innovation and InterTech Technology Awards for its XPS Crystal 4835 exposure unit. The XPS Crystal 4835 combines UV main and back exposure in a single operation. "It further contributes to the HD Flexo and Full HD Flexo quality by offering great plate consistency," Marsoun explains. "Plate consistency is one of the key drivers in achieving and maintaining optimal print quality. UV frames using lightbulbs cannot deliver the necessary control needed for the best result. Research has shown that a simultaneous and optimally controlled UV main and UV back exposure by using UV LEDs produces highest consistent digital flexo plates. The new CDI Crystal 4835 flexo plate imager contains a glass plate table. This is used to transfer flexo plates onto the imaging drum and to transport the plate after imaging to the XPS device--thus combining plate imaging and exposing into a single operation.
"This new flexo platemaking solution delivers a 68% reduction in operator time for platemaking, a 50% reduction in operator training time; and 74% faster time to plate.The new CDI and XPS devices are simple to use and require less operator training and service intervention," Marsoun says.
Addressing extended gamut printing, another FTA Technical Innovation and InterTech Technology Award winner...