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FLEXO Magazine : October 2009
www.flexography.org OCTOBER 2009 FLEXO 33 In this same conference call, several WWLC members asked about the cost comparison of the three different ITR products shown in Figure 1, 2 and 3. The costs depend on the size of the sleeve (thickness and length) and the print width if it is significantly different. I did a cost comparison for several applications that were suggested. This comparison included the cost of the bridges that would be incurred with the first order of a particular repeat. On average, the cost of the ITR with a compressible bridge and non-cushioned print sleeves was 10 percent higher than the cost of the standard bridge with the cushion built into the print sleeve. The actual image carrier sleeve without cushion is less than the sleeve with cushion. After the third set of print sleeves was purchased for this repeat, the total cost of the bridges and all three sets of print sleeves were equal (system shown in Figure 1 was equal in cost to system shown in Figure 2). The thick sleeves with no bridge are difficult to incorporate into this comparison because the sleeves are normally reused after the image is worn or obsolete. In my opinion, any print quality difference would have more impact on which of these ITR products are implemented at a flexo plant. I am aware of several on-press comparisons that are scheduled in next three to four months. The cost comparison between these two products will not determine overall implementation of ITR---it will be whatever product can get closer to the cost of mounted plates. When members of the WWLC were polled for the perceived value (what would they pay compared to the average cost of 20 to 30 cents for plates, stickyback and mounting time), the answers varied from same as mounted plates" to as much as 45 cents. (These costs do not include bridges or sleeves). Printers who accept and value the ITR benefits of faster press speeds, less makeready time before and during the pressrun, less material waste and higher quality print are the ones who will pay a small up-charge for the ITR advantages. According to Greg Collins of CP Flexible Packaging, At current pricing, usage of ITR at CPFP is still limited to special- ty applications (continuous print and extremely tight registra- tions) or frequent running designs that do not normally have design changes. This could equate to 40 jobs per year. As ITR costs drop, expected usage increases dramatically." Collins further states, that to become mainstream, This product would need to have a timeline of one week or less." Several of the members of the WWLC believe the imaging of ITR sleeves would need to be done at the printing location. They expressed many of the same reasons that some facilities expressed when bringing plate production in-house---cost (markup and freight) and time (replacements and freight). With the current equipment and production processes avail- able, this is not currently practical. Based on industry discus- sions at FFTA Forums and conferences, as well as in industry publications, flexo will not be ready in the next several years for widespread implementation at the plant level. But as a printer, you can get ready by testing the process to determine the print advantages and value savings. According to one printer I consulted with for this article, he sees an ad- vantage of 65 percent more impressions from a set of sleeves versus mounted plates (plates were mounted on cushioned sleeves so this difference had nothing to do with stickyback fatigue). Both image carriers were run at the same speed on this press, even though several other printers have said that they run their ITR sleeves an average of 10 to 20 percent faster. It was also confirmed that the press downtime (during setup and during the run) was reduced by up to 10 percent. If the print runs are long or the graphics are not changed frequently, these savings can offset the higher cost of ITR. One other point that a carton board printer mentioned was that ITR sleeves allowed them to reduce the repeat by 1/4in. That did not sound like much until he said that the savings in mate- rial was more than $2 million per year. The cost per square inch for ITR sleeves is only one part of the equation. THE FUTURE OF ITR In the flexo industry, we have been able to take days out of the ITR timeline---not the weeks that the printers and CPCs (consumer product companies) say that they must have eliminated. Production lead times of less than one week from graphics approval to the sleeves on press is attainable with extensive coordination and communication between the ma- terials manufacturers, ITR imaging facility, printers and CPC customers. Most manufactures are willing to inventory the materials that will be used in a reasonable timeframe. And supply partners have been able to have a minor impact on costs. Again, this is not the significant reduction that printers say must happen. But the costs will never be the same because ITR and mounted plates are not the same. The true question should be, When will ITR plates be a better value for a significant percentage of the flexographic printing workflow?" Increased demand will drive down the cost. More printers need to negotiate the price of ITR to the proper level with a promised volume that makes the manufacturers more ag- gressive in their process and pricing. Eventually, photopoly- mer ITR will move from the status of emerging technology to proven technology like it has in the European market. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Heller is the national sales man- ager for 360 Imaging Inc. He is a retired FTA and FFTA Board Member. Heller can be contacted with comments or questions at 330-607-1025 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Figure 3 TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES
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