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FLEXO Magazine : October 2009
34 FLEXO OCTOBER 2009 www.flexography.org An early complete solvent ITR system could easily top $1 million. Due to the high finished sleeve price, many printers only use sleeves when jobs contain continuous print, critical register or tightly nested designs. Sleeve handling is simplified in the thermal workflow. The key difference with the thermal process system is its accessibility. The on-press benefits of continuous polymer sleeves are clearly understood and appreciated by flexographers around the world. Examples of improved print qual- ity, perfect register, higher press speeds, faster changeover and extended run length have been demonstrated over and over, yet the rate of adoption in North America has been slow. Solvent process polymer sleeve workflows are costly and complicated, so the supply of press-ready print sleeves has remained a niche business. However, the planned introduc- tion of rapid-access, thermally processed sleeves will likely overcome the remaining impediments to adoption. A LONG TIME COMING The concept of continuous print polymer sleeves is by no means new. Since the late 1980s, North American flexo print- ers have been able to buy laser-engraved rubber sleeves from several sources, and, although not capable of providing the high resolution and fine detail of a flat photopolymer plate, laser-engraved rubber sleeves did provide a solution when the need was for continuous print, solid color backgrounds, tightly nested designs and so on. In the early 1990s, the use of polymer sleeves was pio- neered in North America by OEC Graphics with the introduc- tion of the Seamex® continuous print photopolymer sleeve. First as an analog version and later digital, it raised the qual- ity bar for continuous print sleeves in flexo, allowing printers to incorporate higher screen rulings and finer linework than had been possible with laser engraved rubber. (Seamex is a registered trademark of OEC Graphics Inc.) Plate manufacturers did not sit idle through the 1990s when it came to polymer sleeves. Drupa 2000 witnessed technology demonstrations from DuPont and other manufacturers. Tech- nologies shown included a liquid photopolymer sleeve mak- ing system, next generation laser-engraved rubber and in-line solvent polymer sleeve washout systems. In addition, two plate manufacturers announced the intention to supply ready- to-image sleeves sometimes referred to as blanks for on-site imaging and processing by either tradeshops or print- ers. Field trials of the MacDermid CITRUS system began soon after drupa, and DuPont introduced the Cyrel®round offering in late 2001. Although the introduction of a polymer sleeve consum- able was the logical next step in the evolution of continuous print polymer sleeves, the flexo world in North America did Continuous Print Polymer Sleeves Thermal Processing Overcomes Hurdles By Ray Bodwell The thermal sleeve processor is significantly smaller and simpler to operate than its solvent coun- terpart. All art courtesy DuPont Packaging Graphics. TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES
Sustainable Fall 2009