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FLEXO Magazine : October 2009
32 FLEXO OCTOBER 2009 www.flexography.org • The issues of supply timeline and current cost struc- ture of the available ITR products were noted as the two major barriers to a more widespread implemen- tation of this product in North America. • On average, the cost of the ITR with a compressible bridge and non-cushioned print sleeves was 10 per- cent higher than the cost of the standard bridge with the cushion built into the print sleeve. • ITR sleeves allowed a carton printer to reduce the repeat by 1/4in---the savings in material was more than $2 million per year! • When will ITR plates be a better value for a significant percentage of the flexographic printing workflow? ITR Platemaking: A Question of When By Dan Heller In-the-round (ITR) photopolymer sleeves for flexo have been available for more than 20 years. But many in the industry still consider this an emerging technology because of the slow integration into mainstream flexo package printing. An article in the April 2008 edition of FLEXO defines the dif- ferences between rubber and photopolymer ITR manufactur- ing and applications. That article also discusses the benefits of ITR versus mounted plates. And the significant differences between the European and the North American adaptation of this flexo image carrier. The issues of supply timeline and current cost structure of the available ITR products were noted as the two major barriers to a more widespread implementation of this product in North America. The overall message from 18 months ago--- the " values of ITR seldom get the opportunity to be factored into the cost equation. And increased demand has to drive the push for lower costs and faster lead times. Otherwise, for most flexo printers, ITR will be used for continuous print only. And only when all other options (gap plates, special nesting, hiding the background gap under another color, etc) have been ruled out. Some new materials and equipment have been introduced for photopolymer ITR in the last 12 months---but nothing that has caused a sea change in the cost parameters or the time- lines for any version of this ITR plate products. The pre-made blanks are still made outside North America on an as-needed basis; and limited inventories of the custom made blanks and base sleeves are authorized so that the delivery times remain about 3 weeks (starting from scratch). Currently, custom made still equates to a premium price. RECAP OF AVAILABLE PRODUCTS An article in FLEXO's Nov. 2008 issue describes these pre- made blanks that are available from the major polymer sup- pliers. No cushion layer is built into the product. Any cushion required must be part of the bridge (Figure 1). ITR sleeves with a cushion layer can be ordered from a couple of trade shops that currently manufacture their own blanks. These can be thin ITR sleeves mounted on flow-through bridges (Figure 2) or thick ITR sleeves (Figure 3). The photopolymer materi- als available for ITR are limited so any required variation in durometer must come from the different cushions that are available. Gary Hilliard of Hood Packaging (Arden Hills, MN) asked an interesting question during a recent conference call for FTA's Wide Web Leadership Council (WWLC): "How effective is the cushion of a compressible bridge if it has a sleeve be- tween it and the polymer? Several printers have expressed interest in testing the comparison of the image carrier No. 1 versus No. 2 in a real world print trial, but I am not aware of this being done anywhere yet. (Anyone with data from such a comparison project is encouraged to contact the WWLC). Figure 1 Figure 2 TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES
Sustainable Fall 2009