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FLEXO Magazine : October 2009
40 FLEXO OCTOBER 2009 www.flexography.org While .030in. plates print well, their quality is not so drastically different as to require new separations. Complete solvent processing of thin plates from exposure through detack takes a little less than an hour. When switching from .067in. to .030in. plates, one eliminates about half of the finished plate weight. Less polymer material results in less absorption of solvents in the wash, a shorter drying cycle, less packaging, and of course, less waste disposal at the end of the product lifecycle. Occasionally, new technologies are ahead of their time. For example, take into account electric vehicles. They've actually been around since the 1800's, albeit with limitations. But until recently, the relative price and avail- ability of gasoline just made the concept of electric cars im- practical due to limitations and costs. In other words, the eco- nomics just weren't there. Today, several leading auto makers have all-electric vehicles planned for commercial introduction within the next 24 months. And, they will probably sell well, because consumer priorities and costs have changed. For flexography, a technical advancement that was first studied as a sanctioned project of the FTA in 1994 was eventually validated by the Association's FQC (Flexo Quality Consortium) program in 1999. The plate construction proj- ect, titled, Taming the Flexo Process Volume IV," concluded, Plate thickness had the largest main effect on highlights and midtones, with thinner plates significantly reducing dot gain." For the study, .027in. plates were tested alongside .047in. and .067in. plates. Along with the proven print benefits, there are many workflow benefits; however, 15 years ago the benefits were not of significant interest to the prepress market. Also, there were production challenges due to tech- nology limitations of the day. As we approach 2010, a lot has changed. Plates are now digital with improved image quality. Processing equipment is better, and faster plate production with higher eco-efficiency is desired. But what are the benefits of switching to ultra-thin plates, i.e., plates of gauges less than .045in.? In short, using .030in. plates, as opposed to the most prevalent .067in. or even .045in. gauge has a compelling number of benefits. Along with lower dot gain, the processing of such plates is faster (only about an hour), the weight is significantly lower, there are lower shipping costs, and the energy consumption and waste produced with .030in. plates are better for the environ- ment. In addition, thinner plates exhibit excellent relief control and less cupping. There are just so many compelling reasons to go thin; we owe it to the industry to take another look. PRINT QUALITY As concluded by the FQC in the 1990s, dot gain is equal, or usually better with .030in. plates as opposed to .067in. plates. The same rule holds true in most flexo plate com- parisons---thin plates print higher quality. As far as cushion tapes are concerned, recent print studies continue to show the best combination of dot gain and solid ink density are displayed when using firm or medium-firm cushion tapes. The good news is that, while .030in. plates print well, their quality is not so drastically different as to require new sepa- rations. In most cases, print jobs can be transitioned from Thin is In .03in. Plates for All the Right Reasons By Dan Rosen FIGURE 1. Studies have shown that thinner plates result in better print results. All photos courtesy Flint Group Flexographic Products. TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES
Sustainable Fall 2009