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FLEXO Magazine : November 2010
The Great Plate Debate - September 2010 1 Background There can be no doubt that environmental impact is a hot topic in the packaging industry today. All players in the supply chain are continually challenged to take action to improve their sustainability scorecard, and flexographic printing is no exception; attention to environmental issues has been steadily increasing over the last decade as the flexographic printing process has grown in importance in the packaging market. A large portion of that attention has been focused on the flexographic plates themselves and, more specifically, the processing methods associated with imaged plate production. The Great Plate Debate, which has been running for the last couple of years between some of the key long term plate suppliers*, has been squarely focused on the merits of solvent vs. thermal processing for flexographic plates, with both camps declaring their preferred technology victorious; an outcome that has left the market somewhat confused. This paper o ers a new perspective on the debate and discusses how Kodak believes that making a plate choice for maximum impact on sustainability should consider the bigger picture for the overall flexographic printing process, and how other factors can easily dwarf the single element that is plate processing. A New Perspective The impact of the plate on printing performance cannot be ignored A great danger exists in considering plate making (imaging and processing) as an isolated element from a sustainability perspective. The simple fact is that the product of that plate making process, the imaged plate itself, has the power, through its unique characteristics, to impact the printing performance and thus the contribution that the printing operation itself makes to the sustainability picture; rest assured, it's a large contribution. In its Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), DuPont specifically stated that their study assumed that "imaged plates perform equivalently in printing, regardless of which process was used for plate processing and imaging," thus eliminating the impact that di erent plates might have on the overall sustainability 'big picture.' Kodak's position is that while this is a convenient assumption to make to enable a direct comparison between plate processing technologies, it actually, by design, ignores the greatest impact that a plate technology can have on sustainability: how it performs on press. Reduction of ink and substrate waste is the single biggest contribution that a flexo plate can make to improve sustainability. Figure 1: The Big Picture It's time to stop focusing on one small part of the picture and consider the big picture. Explaining the Big Picture The truly significant factors When reviewing the flexographic printing process, it is important that we consider all of the key contributors to environmental impact. FIGURE 1, based on data published as part of the DuPont LCA in 2008, illustrates the significant components involved, and indicates that substrate, ink, electricity, etc. used in the printing process, are all far more significant than the plate in the overall picture. The plate is shown as being typically 1% or less of the overall impact. This is no great surprise, of course, when we stand back and think about it. Presses are great energy consumers and every print run utilizes considerable volumes of ink and substrate. But what this chart reveals is that in order to have the maximum positive impact on the sustainability of the flexo printing process, we really need to focus on those 'big ticket' items. It tells us that if our plate has the power to drive optimum performance and reduce the Plate Ink and Solvent Electricity Substrate Non-renewble Energy & Greenhouse Gases Dryer Credits and Recycling substrate and ink waste on press, it has the power to have a much larger impact beyond the plate component itself. *Flint Group Eco-E ciency-Analysis (EEA) report, 2008; DuPont Life Cycle Assessment: Flexographic and Rotogravure Printing Comparison & Flexographic Plate Imaging Technologies, 2008.
Sustainable Fall 2010