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FLEXO Magazine : August 2009
PLANTS & PROCESSES PRESS BUYER’S GUIDE Top 20% of Print Quality Demand Offset Lithography Remaining 80% of Folding Carton Market can be served by Flexography Productivity, Effi ciency, Added-Value and Sustainability Web-fed Flexo’s Fab Four Carton Benefi ts By Michael R. Pfaff F or years, I have advocated in-line web-fed fl exography as the premier method for productive and effi cient folding carton converting. As the industry gradually begins to adopt this way of producing cartons, it’s becoming apparent that easy value-adding and sustainability contributions give in-line fl exo even more advantages, when compared to producing cartons in the traditional sheetfed way. First, let’s make one thing clear: Sheetfed offset printing has been instrumental in shaping the folding carton industry as we know it today. The outstanding graphics produced by lithography on a wide variety of board surfaces made possible the use of cartons as billboards, jumping off of store shelves as the eye-catching graphics screamed, “Take me!” to consumers in that all-important fraction of a second. Not only that, today’s machinery manufacturers have developed equipment to print individual sheets, handing off from one color station to the next with incredible accuracy. • Assuming paperboard is 70 percent of total production costs, a 10 percent reduction yields a 7 percent boost to the bottom line. • Productivity of in-line fl exo cartons is 50 percent to 150 percent greater than sheetfed. • Using less paper requires fewer trees. Fewer trees means less fuel used for transportation of trees from the forest to the paper mill. This puts less exhaust into the atmosphere and reduces wear and tear on our roads. 62 FLEXO AUGUST It’s also clear that there exists a good deal of inertia in the status quo. The infrastructure of sheetfed supports the technology exceedingly well—from prepress through consumables and equipment, an offset printer can get most anything he needs easily and quickly, making the notion of changing to an unfamiliar process uncomfortable, at best. Naturally, the know-how is quite widespread, so qualifi ed printers and press operators are easier to fi nd. These days, with consolidations everywhere, the pool of capable labor may be deeper than ever. Having said all that, and acknowledging that some portion of folding cartons—those upper-upper end packages that demand near-perfection—will continue in the offset domain, one important fact remains. Carton producers have to produce more for less. The in-line platform gives a converter the ability to attract business that he might be priced out of, if he had only sheetfed. By the same token, the offset equipment keeps one in the game for the ultra-high end work. In other words, fl exo makes possible the capturing of offset business and vice-versa. The two processes complement one another ideally. I’ll try to establish the “where each process fi ts” guidelines in the remainder of this article. This seems to be an important question on the minds of many carton houses as they grapple with the interrelated questions of quality, price and now, sustainability. OFFSET’S SPACE I’ve already established that offset will continue as the dominant process in the ultra-high print quality segment of the carton business. Super-fi ne screens, the tightest traps, 2009 www.flexography.org