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FLEXO Magazine : January 2011
TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES of labels. A lot of shops, including wineries, chemical companies, trophy companies, etc. are bringing print- ing in-house. This momentum is picking up. Frost: Digital dominates many sectors of the print market. Non-professional sectors like SOHO and of- fice printing are all digital. The transpromo market is totally dominated by digital. Photography has all gone digital and the signage/wide format market has, over the last 10 years, gone from being 10 percent digital and 90 percent conventional (primarily screen and offset) to now being 90 percent digital (all inkjet) and 10 percent conventional. Thanks to certain offerings, the ceramic industry (tiles) is currently going through a rapid transformation from analog to digital printing. And in the sheetfed market, digital penetration contin- ues to grow. This is happening everywhere. In many ways, labels is a latecomer to this transforma- tion but it is understandable, because it is really only now, that the technology is reaching a point of maturity where it really makes economic sense for the label printer to adopt this technology. However, the labels market will go through the same transformation as we have seen in the wide format industry, and so will other segments of the packaging industry. The question is really not “if ” but rather “ when”. T he development over the next 10 years could be quite explosive and if label printers want to survive, they really only have one choice: embrace and adapt. Q: Where do we stand today in terms of integration of the two processes—flexo and digital? Where do you see things going five years out? Ten years out? Riley: There are some things out there that would open up the business, including wider formats and white toner. There will always be a bit of blending, and there are advantages to both, but if a design could somehow utilize the best features of both worlds, the question would simply become: what is your price point? Gilbert: With workflow reconsideration the integration phase has just begun. People are beginning to under- stand what a digital press can do. Frost: First of all we need to recognize that digital is really several very different technologies. Dry toner and liquid toner have different strengths and weaknesses 48 FLEXO JANUARY 2011 www.flexography.org Flexo Press Manufacturer’s Rebuttal Jeff Feltz, Mark Andy Inc. Digital equipment does provide benefits for short run work. The necessary questions to ask are: 1. What is the break-even point between digital and new flexo technology; and 2. Does the converter have enough business below this break-even point to support the additional capital and operating expense of a digital solution? Digital technology comes with additional expense and workflow considerations. In many cases, special environ- ments need to be established to house the digital equip- ment. New prepress software may have to be installed and learned. Specialized digital finishing equipment must be purchased to add over-varnish, lamination, or other high end processes. The primary driver for a digital purchase is to economi- cally produce short-run work. New flexo technology is shifting the break-even point between flexo and digital—in some cases, this point can be a small as 800ft. There is definitely a fit for digital in the ultra-short run work, but a converter needs to understand if he has enough volume of such work to justify the capital expense associated with a digital solution. Many converters have performed this analysis, and have determined that the economics do not make sense. With new flexo technology, converters have found that they can make one capital expenditure that provides an economic solution for their short run work, while significant- ly improving margins on their everyday work—at a lower overall capital expense than a digital solution. In addition, digital can add complexity to the overall process; you now have two different workflows and tech- nologies to manage. Digital may provide advantages in fast response. But at what cost? Converters need to make certain they have the right equipment to meet their busi- ness needs. With digital, we are talking about training on an entirely new workflow. Some digital manufacturers have admitted that it take several weeks before an operator can run real production. Plus, converters have to obtain new finishing equipment to work in conjunction with their digital solution, adding additional training complexity and time. For converters who are integrating new flexo technol- ogy, the training curve is significantly shorter. All the tribal knowledge that has been gained over the years is still valid. Operators only have to learn the nuances of the newer equipment—not understand a completely different printing and finishing process. Training on a new flexo press can be accomplished in a few days, with operators running full production following that training. In the end, short runs are about economics. Convert- ers need to educate themselves on all solutions, so they can pick the best fit for their business. Flexo is capable of variable data printing with the addition of inkjet systems. Depending on the type of variable data work required, it is quite possible that a simple monochrome solution added to a flexo press would satisfy this need. The flexibility of the flexo process is one of its strongest advantages. Converters can do a wide variety of applica- tions on the single, in-line press, including booklets, cold or hot foil, lamination, die-cutting, etc. All of these functions are items that are easily done with flexo technology, but require additional equipment when using digital.
Sustainable Winter 2011