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FLEXO Magazine : January 2011
TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES ToBuyorNottoBuy Manufacturers Offer Advice on When a Digital Press is Appropriate For a Flexo Environment Digital versus flexo—the competition is fierce, with both sides struggling to prove their product superior. There is no room for compromise; only one can come out on top. That, of course, is a fairy tale. None of the above state- ments are remotely true. Both printers/converters and press manufacturers alike agree on one thing: there is room in a flexographic printing operation for digital printing. The market demand is there, and the benefits are known. However, flexo continues to enjoy steady, stalwart growth and shows no sign of giving up its mantle as the dominant staple in the packag- ing and label printing arena. The question then becomes where and how does digital fit alongside flexo? FLEXO posed that question to several manufacturers of digital presses in search of honest answers. Responding to the call: Natalie Gilbert, managing director, CSAT; Per Frost, vice president of strategic development and CEO, Durst Canada; and David Riley, international sales manager, Primera Technology Inc. Q: What are the benefits of installing a digital press in a traditional flexo pressroom? Gilbert: No printing plates, shorter setup times. Frost: A traditional flexo pressroom will in almost all cases benefit greatly from adding a digital press. In some areas it will enable cost savings and in others it will represent new business opportunities. Bottom line: it makes good financial sense to do so. Riley: The biggest benefit is being able to serve customers who only need 500 or 1,000 labels. There is a lot more setup and cleanup on a flexo press, and of course, then there are plate charges. On a digital, press, there’s no setup or cleanup. You can print as many labels as you want, pull it off and finish it without dies. Q: Can you please describe how the two technologies complement/supplement one another? Gilbert: Digital allows for improved flexo efficiency by removing short runs thus improving turnaround. Riley: With digital, some associated software can give you a cost per label estimate. When you get that estimate—let’s say it’s $.04 per label—you know that every label coming off that press will cost that much. But with a flexo press, most of the time the cost per label will go down as the run increases. After about 8,000 labels, you’re usually better off putting a job on a flexo press. Frost: Digital technologies offer tremendous benefits— from a cost and service point of view—when it comes to short run jobs and jobs that need to be turned around quickly. Different jobs have different profiles and different manufacturers will have different break- even points. But it is very realistic to expect that runs of 50,000 labels or more can be produced cheaper on a digital press than on a conventional flexo press. In a world of increased customization and increased product differentiation, the demand for shorter runs continues to grow, and those jobs have to be turned around at an even faster pace. Without the right pro- duction equipment this can be seen as a threat but with the right equipment it is an opportunity, and often an op- portunity with a greater profit potential. The possibility of mixing technologies is also becoming more realistic, in particular with inkjet-based systems that utilize liquid UV inks in a similar nature to flexo UV inks. The main job may be produced on a flexo press, but what if the customer is short a few thousand labels? Then it would be ideal to print the shortfall on the digital press. And, for example, using a press that has the capability of matching more than 90 percent of the Pantone range, this is now a very realistic possibility. Q: Can the digital press be integrated into a traditional flexo plant’s automated workflow? How? Will any MIS/ERP interfaces need to be orchestrated? If so, what needs to be done? Frost: Absolutely. Job costing using an inkjet press is very simple. It is an ink-only cost model and you can pretty much use any existing costing models simply by eliminating all the parameters that are not relevant for the digital press, e .g. plate preparation and changes. From a workflow perspective, the digital press offers great simplification because you can do the proof on the press itself—there is no need for a prepress output device. Of course, this means that any potential errors between prepress and the pressroom are eliminated. When it comes to repeat jobs, again the advantage is on the digital system. All parameters associated with the job are stored digitally and repeat jobs are literally done by a push of a button—no tweaking here and there—and the result is the same. Gilbert: Yes, digital printing takes away responsibility from the operators. In flexo printing, operators have 44 FLEXO JANUARY 2011 www.flexography.org • The decision to go digital depends on one’s business model and customer demands. • Overruns/extras, ultra-fast turnaround and shorter runs are a strength of digital. • New flexo technology offers competitive advantages without having to learn a new process.
Sustainable Winter 2011