Home' FLEXO Magazine : October 2016 Contents ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Even with all these advancements, there is a sense that production
could be better still. A considerable part of the solution involved
rethinking the flexo plate making process, a complex and manual
procedure often involving up to seven different hardware devices.
In order to better understand requirements and needs for the future,
an in depth Kaizen study was undertaken to determine the user
experience of the current process. Kaizen is the practice of continuous
improvement. By implementing standardized activities and processes,
often f rom automated systems, the objective of Kaizen is to reduce
waste (called “muda”). The ultimate aim is to enhance user satisfac-
tion by improving usability, accessibility—even pleasure—provided
in the interaction between the operator and the product. The results
suggested the following guiding principles for product development:
• Full productivity
• Improved consistency
• Increased quality
• Process integration
• Better ease of use
The result was that, at drupa, a new flexo plate making imaging sys-
tem was introduced. It is truly a system, comprised of two parts. One
is an updated version of the traditional ablation imaging system, with
a few new wrinkles. The other is a matching plate exposure unit.
The imaging system is similar to its predecessors, with some very new
features. Its improved ergonomics and user interface include an arm
that can take a plate and move it from the top of the imager’s glass
surface into the imager itself. When the plate is imaged, it is returned
to the glass surface.
The second piece, fitting right next to the imager, is a digital UV ex-
posure unit. It provides both main and back, digitally controlled, UV
LED exposure, supporting all flexo plates. Plates are pulled onto the
glass surface, where the back and main exposures are done simulta-
Together, the integrated automated system of imager and exposure
units automatically loads plates, images the plate, transfers the plate to
the exposure unit and provides the correct front and back exposures,
while the imager concurrently images the next flexo plate, in parallel.
Now there is an automated solution as an integrated part of the plate
making process. Parallel imaging to main and back UV exposure was
seen as critical to improved productivity in time pressured environ-
ments. It cuts the number of manual handling steps in half, making
flexo plates finally becomes a coordinated, linear process.
NEW SYSTEM VALUE PROPOSITION
We are finding plateroom operators—just like everyone else in the
production—are facing the challenge of being responsible for several
different parts of the process. With an automatic imaging and UV
exposure process, the operator uses much less time manually moving
plates and operating equipment. By connecting plate imaging directly
and automatically to plate exposure, there are 50 percent fewer
manual steps, 50 percent fewer errors and waste, and 50 percent less
operator training. Compared to the most involved processes, there are
no lamination, delamination and loading/unloading steps on different
devices—which require the operators’ full attention and can lead to
There is a lot of time spent prepping plates on repetitive, and
sometimes uncoordinated tasks. As a result, it is almost impossible
to achieve the optimum performance of staff. According to studies,
this results in up to 73 percent less operator time required for plate
handling. Automated plate imaging can coordinate the process and
free up valuable operator time.
Operating a separate device that is linked to the imager but not
“blocking” it has improved productivity, producing as many as 30 per-
cent more plates per hour compared to a traditional digital imaging
When using a solvent workflow process, there are several different
time consuming steps to finish the plate. The main bottlenecks are
the washers and dryers which, combined, can take up to 185 minutes.
Because the new system can produce thermal plates with comparable
quality as solvent plates, facilities using thermal plates can decrease
the time to complete a plate by up to 74 percent (because thermal
processing takes only 20 minutes per plate instead of up to two hours
for solvent plates).
CONSISTENT HIGH PLATE QUALITY
The system further contributes to the high definition quality by of-
fering exceptional plate consistency, one of the key drivers to achieve
and maintain optimal print quality. Digital UV exposure has several
advantages in terms of plate quality and consistency.
For example, UV LEDs don’t need warmup time and always emit
consistent radiation. UV frames using light bulbs cannot deliver the
necessary control needed for an optimal result. This was one of the
key objectives in the development of this device. It enables exceptional
control to deliver consistent plates, every time. The technology was
continuously analyzed and improved to further enhance the plate
quality in terms of highlights and solid ink laydown.
58 FLEXO | OCTOBER 2016
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