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FLEXO Magazine : July 2011
www.flexography.org July 2011 FLEXO 63 DRIVING DIRECTIONS In talking to literally hundreds of flexo printers over the years about why they need to go in-house with their prepress, I have only been given six responses. 1. We need quick turnaround. Few flexo printers plan to produce a printed product within 48 hours of receiving a PO from a client. Most of the com- panies who turn around product in less time, especially in the label market, are now using digital printing technolo- gy. The only time a printer should need a quick internal response is if a plate is damaged on the press or color is not correct. This indeed could warrant an in-house prepress department, but at what cost? Typically a trade shop ships plates overnight, so at the very most a plate can be in the printer’s hand within 24 hours. The minimal delay may not warrant the spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars on setting up in-house. During this delay another project could be printed on the press, so actual printing downtime could be as little as 1 hour. 2. We need to control our system. In every industry there is justification and a need to control your internal production systems. Having your own inter- nal prepress may be a big part of this, but it is most imperative that the printer has the knowledge of the other ele- ments that are needed to control the system. Such elements could be densitometers and spectrophotometers. Both are critical to color matching and standardization; as are micrometers for checking plate relief, as different reliefs can easily alter dot gain and plate life. These are simple tools that can help avoid major problems. 3. It’s a simple all-digital workflow. Manufacturers may tout a total digital workflow, but less than 50 percent of shops are set up this way, using a mixture of analog and digital equipment. Should you decide to go in-house with your prepress, I would suggest that you adapt a totally digital workflow. Avoid purchasing older analog technology that is still available, as conflicting technology produces conflicting results. Keep in mind that, the most modern systems are very reliable and precise, but require a great deal of training on the functionality of the software to obtain optimum results, and it is advisable to always have at least two full time employees trained, who must use the software as it is designed to be used. 4. We need to control our prepress costs. Controlling costs is a priority in running any profitable business. However, without cost being understood, you have a recipe for disaster looming. When you purchase your flexo plates from a qualified trade shop, the price is nor- mally agreed upon before any work is undertaken. So there is a known cost for this service that can be built into the overall cost of the printing process. Many printers who have gone in-house have not been able to understand this cost. At least 70 percent of the companies interviewed, felt that their prepress department operated at a loss, this demonstrates a lack of control of costs. It’s the hidden costs within the process that actually cost the most. 5. Poor trade shop experiences. There are numerous flexo trade shops out there. Some still operate with older systems; others are completely state- of-the-art and can guarantee overnight turnover of plates. In searching for a quality house, communicate with your industry partners--anilox, ink and press manufacturers, who have knowledge of who the good trade shops are. A good trade shop should be able to provide you with printing assistance for problems that may arise. Fingerprinting of your prepress should be done at no cost, and a representative of the trade shop should be press side when it is performed. Generally trade shops concentrate on their own certain niche market be it corrugated, folding carton, flexible packaging or tag and label. Finding the right trade shop with the correct core competence is critical when sourcing a good partner. 6. We are using a significant volume of plates. When someone mentions this to me, I always need to get a thorough understanding of what their idea of significant is. must be addressed in conducting an analysis—history, costs and experience with established trade shops among them. HISTORICAL REVIEW In 1984, Apple brought to the world the first computer dedicated to being an affordable graphics capable machine. Although the original 128k model was indeed a failure, it was the first stepping stone toward the change of the traditional prepress industry. By the late 1980s, Apple had improved its products; but not until the early 1990s, did it hit the mark with a worthy machine, the Power Macintosh. This new machine was now able to deal with the large graphics files, and with help from other dedicated graphics software giants, a road was being paved for faster and more precise output. At this time, few flexo printers operated internal flexo prepress departments, but there were a handful of excep- tions, who had invested in high-end systems, such as Barco (now EskoArtwork) and Purup. Such systems were incredibly expensive and initially operated using their own proprietary software systems. A few other printers, who had the real estate and expertise, ventured down what now seems an archaic path--purchasing cameras, distortion devices, light tables, solvent wash-out platemaking systems, proofing devices, step-and-repeat