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FLEXO Magazine : October 2010
Technologies & Techniques facing EOL with Machinery while the plate material through- put loads are increasing. The EOL scenario in the corrugated platemaking business today is focused on manufacturing systems reaching EOL substantively before the product joins the party. In thick plate markets, there are three major vendors. Some offer in-line systems, others have various free-standing components, which are fine for lower-volume processing. Years ago, there were large service organizations within the major vendors. The robust support groups have disappeared across the board. Spare parts availability is getting to be an intimidating conversation with suppliers. By contrast, the plate material offering has improved sig- nificantly. All the photopolymer vendors have improved their products to the point of excellence beyond expectation. The chemistry and manufacturing of the plate is producing excel- lent print, while the hardware producing it is going the other direction. Here are some examples: simple ordering of ex- posure lamps is often a back-order process; mission-critical sub-systems are rarely carried in inventory for solvent wash devices; the availability of seasoned tech support profession- als are also EOL, and the younger generation in the print industry are not exactly jumping at the opportunity. The corrugated printing plate consumer has an appetite for I-plates and thick digital sheet plates—to the point where, in five years, there could be two lines: I-plates and digital solvent. The thick plate sheet market is also experiencing an EOL innovation with new imaging platforms showing up that promise better impression latitude and a flat-top dot that is touted to reduce fluting in many corrugated applications But the most significant innovation has turned out to be the MacDermid I-plate solution. There are real EOL threats associated, such as EOL film processing. But dry film/ink jet solutions are popping up everywhere too. In short, there is no shortage of innovation for film setters, processors, inkjet nega- tives—and some very interesting I-plate solutions/enhance- ments coming from the prepress providers. ExtEnding LifE with innovation Time just flies by. EOL is only EOL when system updates and enhancements or process support fades and the mate- rial throughput forecast increases. Or an alternate technology emerges. The corrugated trade shop industry often deploys diverse technology solutions to satisfy changing print ap- plications. A good example would be the wide spread (and relatively new) tactic of running the maximum print layouts across a 120in. print cylinder. In the good ole days (pre-2005), these prints would be four-out (2X2) or abound 50 percent of the “useable” print window on a die cutter or flexo folder gluer. This would allow the best register and optimum running parameters like anilox and plate impression settings. Today, some of the same copy is pushed out to the maximum printing dimensions. We are seeing four-color, multiple-out prints that can tax the capability of the print equipment. Does this result in twice as much output, thus lower unit cost? Perhaps. Convertors are pushing their capability to meet the demanding consumer product company ’s (CPC’s) needs. One could argue the corrugated print supply chain may be approaching EOL as well. The major changes in this environment were the digital flexo plate concept, thermal flexo development and the ana- log product called I-plate. The I-plate was not so much EOL, just dormant. That’s the good news: I-plates have changed everything too. It is one of two diverse technologies converg- ing upon the corrugated print environment with a vengeance. Both I-plates and Digital Sheet products are growing ahead of the curve and produced on automatic and semi-automatic equipment that meets the EOL criteria. I am convinced its in- novation that makes EOL just a word and not a place. working togEthEr The corrugated terrain is changing all the time. EOL is pri- marily affecting automatic or in-line systems. We understand a new in-line solvent sheet processing system is testing in Europe and should migrate to the U.S. next year. Beautiful! This is a small marketplace we practice in. In the U.S ., there are about 30 in-line sheet systems running, and about the same in large-format liquid systems, and only one 50in. by 110in. liquid system. The latter was EOL by about 15 years when it was purchased two years ago. And risk was involved there. However, when buyer and seller collaborate to innovate EOL—that is a positive. How can one be successful in such a situation? The answer is through strategic partnership. It is important to recognize upfront that the machine you are purchasing is either one- of-a-kind or a last-of-its-kind. In either case, parts are likely scarce. It is also important to know the track record of a system’s performance in its original location. Work closely with the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to establish maintenance contracts to shift as much burden to the provider. It’s also a good idea to stay with the marketshare leader where possible. They may be more ex- pensive, but often have the best resources. An estimated 70 percent of all solvent sheet material runs through automatic or in-line systems. With only one known certified parts supplier and nearly all parts coming over from Europe, it can get dicey. It is somewhat similar with the liquid systems. Most of this equipment was built in the U.S. , s o parts are not isolated to one vendor source. It is possible to get re- lays, switches, and components through a web search, or other alternatives. Motors and pumps can be serviced locally. An alarming amount of application know-how seems to be disap- pearing through corporate reductions and other factors. For film processors and film setters still in place we are seeing growing alternatives or modified solutions for order- ing complex and critical parts. Innovators are appearing with after-market solutions and seem to have a good story to tell. But, how long can this go on? Maybe five to seven years. The paradox here is, when done correctly, this EOL process delivers some of the finest products available at a competitive price. The print buyer will be happy. The aging manufacturing platforms seem to be reliable, but analog solutions are grow- ing ahead of the digital ones with respect to the corrugated market. The burden of researching and testing the innovations falls on the technical managers at the plant level to determine and build resources to long term support relationships. EOL is not a popular topic, nor a lively discussion in a supply chain meeting. Nevertheless our segment membership continues to grow. n ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The author of this article has request- ed anonymity. Inquires regarding additional information can be submitted to email@example.com. 38 FLeXO october 2010 www.flexography.org From the First Print Run to the Last – Always Consistent First 4.0 gives you the tools you need to: • Optimize your processes • Improve color consistency • Minimize waste and downtime • Increase throughput and productivity First 4.0 has expanded coverage on: • Methodology for print optimization, fingerprinting, characterization, and process control • Process color calibration • Process control test elements • Near-Neutral Calibration (G7TM) • Color management • Color measurement and tolerancing • Substrate attributes and testing • Specialty inks and coatings FTA Members: $99.00 | Non-members: $198.00 (Quantity discounts available. Call F TA at 631-737-6020 for more information) Order your copy today at www.ftastore.com New features of First 4.0 include: • Updated best practices & technical information – nearly double the size of the 3rd Edition • Improved organization with tabbed section dividers and individual table of contents for each section • A 1,200 word Index • Enhanced graphics and images throughout the book • A CD with many new process control test elements and tools FIRST_ad_PostForum_mech2010.indd 1 7/15/10 11:14 AM FLX_Oct10_mech.indd 38 10/15/10 9:27 AM
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