As digital technologies progressed in offset, the printing industry saw a rapid migration of plate making from outside resources to on-site production.
The same thing is positioned to occur in flexography, as technology has evolved to streamline and simplify the plate making process. Flexographic converters in the labels and packaging space are in a growth business. Still, they face a number of challenges in a highly competitive marketplace. At the same time, they confront challenges from alternative technologies such as offset and gravure printing. Customers are increasingly looking for shorter and more varied runs, faster delivery times, and, of course, a competitive cost structure. Plus, the interest in a more sustainable environmental footprint on the part of brands and consumers is growing.
There are a number of technological developments underway in flexography that will help flexographic printers meet these tests and retain existing customers while also acquiring new ones. One such development is being demonstrated through the Turnkey Project, hosted by Comexi, in which Asahi Photoproducts is a partner. The Turnkey Project is designed to demonstrate the value of bringing flexographic plate making in-house to flexible packaging converters. Today’s technology makes it easy.
For the flexographic printing operation, bringing plate making in-house is one way to improve operational efficiency by providing more control over the cost, scheduling and timeframes for making plates. It also makes it faster for replacement plates to be made when required, reducing press downtime and keeping jobs running through the plant more efficiently. But in the past, making high-quality flexographic plates could be tricky, deterring many printers from bringing the operation in-house. This project demonstrates how that is changing.
Beyond this project, our industry is focused on bringing even more automation and operational efficiency to the flexographic prepress process, adding to the contributions already made to improved quality, profitability and sustainability.
The faster and more efficiently a press-ready print form can be generated, the more flexibility a plant will have in what it can produce. But as always, quality is a key consideration and must be balanced with efficiency for a holistic approach to the process of producing press-ready print forms.
By removing even more manual touches from the flexographic plate making process, we will be able to deliver a more efficient and profitable prepress process, as well as a high level of standardization through automation, thereby reducing the skill level required for operators in an environment where skilled prepress operators are often hard to find.
Among the resulting benefits, the process speeds production times, allowing companies to produce more jobs in a day with the same or less labor, while simultaneously reducing the opportunity for costly errors along the way. That’s the vision the next generation of flexographic prepress solutions will be about.
An important milestone on the route toward this vision for Asahi and several other industry partners is our participation in the Comexi Turnkey Project at its Manel Xifra Boada Technology Center in Girona, Spain. The project features water wash equipment and water washable plates with CleanPrint technology. Water wash processors are generally considered to be more in harmony with the environment than conventional solvent systems. Many, in fact, credit them with producing plates that achieve the highest level of quality in flexographic printing.
In addition, the water wash process is much faster than solvent. While it may take up to two hours for solvent-based plates to dry, Asahi’s complete AWP plate making process, serving as one example, delivers a plate to the mounting department in less than one hour. That same example plate is specifically engineered to transfer all remaining ink to the printed substrate, reducing makeready time and press cleaning stops.
The Manel Xifra Boada Technology Center—Comexi CTec—specializes in training, advice and technical process support for the printing and converting sectors of the flexible packaging industry. It has incorporated into its portfolio this new service, whose objective is to help flexographic printing operations integrate the prepress process, from ground zero, into their own facilities.
The project culminates once the client independently completes the prepress process while adhering to all defined quality standards. The estimated time to complete the project is approximately six months.
In any industry, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a measurement of the performance of a machine. It’s a calculation—OEE = Availability x Performance x Quality—that delivers a percentage. OEE is a fact-based way to measure the efficiency of your operation and identify ways to continuously improve it over time.
Print production inefficiencies can occur due to a combination of elements, such as printing shift length, press makeready time, press stop downtimes, actual press speed, run lengths and total material waste.
The OEE calculation provides focus and simplicity to decision making, in respect to availability, performance and quality produced. Having measured all three elements, a focus for improvement in the OEE percentage figure can be established. The higher the OEE percentage is, the more effective your printing shop becomes. The higher the OEE, the better the impact is to the bottom line. Plus, inherent in a higher OEE is an increase in customer satisfaction and retention.
Calculating OEE is not rocket science; it’s easy to understand and involves calculating press availability, performance and quality. For more information on the calculation of OEE, request an easy-to-use OEE calculator by contacting CTGA today.