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FLEXO Magazine : Sustainable Fall 2010
only does using fewer plates reduce the impact from the manufacture of the photopolymer itself, but one less plate used is one less plate processed. And every plate that is elimi- nated reduces: • Mounting tape • Mounting time • Cylinder / Sleeve cleaning • Disposal costs • Ink • Setup waste So if the plate technol- ogy you choose has the power to reduce the actual number of plates you make per job, it has the power to make a far bigger impact on sustainability than sim- ply choosing one processing method over another. WHAT ABOUT PLATE PROCESSING? From the data above and the observations read in pub- lished studies, it can be seen that the whole plate and plate- making element contributes less than 1 percent of the total non-renewable energy used in the flexo printing process; and only about one quarter of that 1 percent is the plate process- ing element. So, while every impact counts, it is important to put into perspective that The Great Plate Debate between solvent and thermal processing is focused on making small changes to one quarter of 1 percent of the total impact. Let’s compare that to the impact that you could make by re- ducing on-press waste by 25 percent. The earlier referenced LCA quotes a figure of 8 percent scrap for flexo printing. That scrap comprises both substrate and ink. If we study Figure 1 again it would be reasonable to con- clude that: • Overall ink and substrate accounts for about 75 percent of the non-renewable energy produced in the flexo print- ing process. • If 8 percent of that is scrap, then scrap ink and substrate must contribute about 6 percent of the non-renewable energy used. • If you can reduce that scrap by 25 percent you can logi- cally impact 1.5 percent of the total Compare the 1.5 percent that can be impacted by waste reduction to the fraction of one quarter of 1 percent that can be impacted by plate processing choice, and you can start to see the benefit of considering the big picture. REDUCE ON-PRESS WASTE Today ’s digital flat-top plates are designed with maximum print production efficiency in mind. Through unique imag- ing technology and patented platemaking processes, these plates have finished characteristics that are in a class of their own. Even-height flat-top dots go all the way down the tonal scale, providing unparalleled impression latitude, superior plate robustness and expanded color gamut. As a result, they: • Come to color faster • Last longer on press • Can be re-used more often • Enable the reduction of spot colors through better four color process performance • Eliminate the need to split line and tone work Indeed, it is common with wide web flexible packaging users to eliminate the practice of splitting the solids and tone and have all on one combination plate. They reduce the num- ber of spot colors and make greater use of process printing and report that plate life compared to comparable traditional digital flexo plates for like jobs, increases two to five times. And these plates really do come to color faster—just ask any press operator that works with them. In fact, on average, printers that use digital flat-top dots claim: • They have reduced setup waste on press by 25 percent • They have reduced the total number of plates they use by 20 percent This puts them in a position where they can make a signifi- cant impact on their sustainability goals. By the way, reducing waste and using less plates is not a bad thing when it comes to those all-important cost control goals as well. MAKE AN INFORMED CHOICE Making decisions for maximum impact on sustainability is all about looking at the big picture—that’s what all the environmental gurus tell us. Making a flexo plate choice is no different. Consider the flexo plate as a tool that has the power to make a significant impact on sustainability improvement in the pressroom. If maximizing sustainability is important to you, we have learnt that you should look first to the factors that have the greatest impact. Make it your priority to choose a plate that can help you reduce on-press waste and use fewer plates, irrespective of processing method. Take a new perspective on The Great Plate Debate and consider the big picture. n ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This article was submitted by Eastman Kodak Co. www.flexomag.com FALL 2010 Sustainable FLEXO 15