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FLEXO Magazine : October 2009
www.flexography.org OCTOBER 2009 FLEXO 35 not exactly beat a path to manufacturers' doors to embrace sleeve offerings. The total cost of a complete solvent round sleeve system---including a sleeve-compatible digital imager, a specialized polymer sleeve processing system and the out- sized solvent recovery system necessary to handle the large quantities of chemicals required---could easily top $1 million. With long lead-times and other supply challenges that later became apparent, coupled with the fact that North American printers were just beginning to adopt the cantilevered presses that are well-suited to sleeves, the obstacles to rapid adoption were plain to see. In addition, there was the question of return on investment for polymer sleeve systems: Where did this technology fit? Who was the target market? Printers servicing the confection- ery or tissue and towel segments had need of the continuous print capability, and any printer with frequent repeats of the same job would certainly have high interest in sleeves. But with a $1 million price tag and a big footprint, few printers were willing to take on the risk of bringing a new and unprov- en solvent polymer sleeve workflow in-house. Tradeshops, on the other hand, had historically taken the lead when a new image carrier technology was introduced and a few did just that when solvent-based sleeve systems were commercialized. However, the investment in terms of both capital and human resources was high, and the "street price" of their finished sleeves reflected these costs. Due to the high finished sleeve price, many printers only used sleeves when the job contained continuous print, critical register or tightly nested designs; choosing not to use sleeves on all colors of a job. That situation remains much the same to this day, with most printers only choosing to use continuous print sleeves when they have no choice. A CONVERGENCE OF TECHNOLOGIES In addition to being the launch site for a number of new polymer technologies, drupa 2000 was also showcase to the world's first thermal process photopolymer plate--- Cyrel®FAST from DuPont. This technology held the promise of rapid-access platemaking in a dry, thermal workflow, and although the system shown in Germany was a small format, flat plate analog version, it was clear even then that combin- ing the capabilities of digital imaging and thermal processing with polymer sleeves had enormous potential. By the end of 2003, the thermal system had been fully com- mercialized in both analog and digital workflows, and several hundred systems were in operation in tag and label shops around the world. With the introduction of a 42in. by 60in. for- mat at drupa 2004, the system was ready to supply the needs of flexible packaging printers and it was clear to the industry that thermal plate processing was here to stay. During this same period, the solvent polymer sleeve workflow firmly took hold in the European flexo community. Al- though DuPont was the only plate manufacturer still supplying digital polymer sleeve blanks, more than 20 solvent polymer sleeve processing systems had been installed by 2006, and a large number of mid and wide web printers were regularly us- ing continuous print polymer sleeves. An attempt was made to establish a North American operation for the manufacture of digital polymer sleeve blanks, but it soon became apparent that this market was not quite ready, and manufacturing of thermal round polymer sleeves was consolidated in Europe. All the elements finally came together at drupa 2008, with the introduction of the Cyrel®FAST round. The system incor- porated the benefits of rapid-access thermal plate process- ing with the quality and consistency of digital imaging in a polymer sleeve processing workflow. A SMALLER, FASTER AND SIMPLER WORKFLOW As was noted earlier, the size, cost and complexity of solvent polymer sleeves limited their acceptance in North America. The thermal in-the-round system was designed to minimize those objections. To start, the footprint of the thermal processor measures only about 6ft. by 12ft.; about one quarter the size of its solvent process equivalent. The matching UV exposure unit is also smaller than its counterpart, and when The loose fit system automatically adjusts to sleeve diameter without the need for special processor tooling The thermal sleeve system provides rapid access to the first sleeve and will pro- duce more sleeves per shift than solvent process workflows. TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES
Sustainable Fall 2009