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FLEXO Magazine : February 2008
PLANTS & PROCESSES www.flexography.org FEBRUARY 2008 FLEXO 45 industry and the net result is creating a firm boost in efficiency among printers. Confronted by day-to-day tough print buyers and by numerous orders placed through internet auctions, this has been an effective catalyst to stimulate printers to strive for intelligent cost leadership in there respective market niches. INFLUENCE OF DIGITAL PRINT Many would say that drupa 2000 was, for short-run labels, the opening of the "digital printing floodgate." This landmark show was followed quickly by Labelexpo 2000, which exposed the label industry to digital label printing. Ipex 2002 empha- sized launching dates from Xeikon and HP Indigo for new digital label printing developments. Since then, we have seen digital print- ing engines becoming a major contributor in Europe for short run print solutions. Digital print quality and its adaptation to a wide range of substrates impressed European label printers and the end result has been numerous installations of these digital presses in the West European mar- ket. However, when label printers supply digital-printed quality to their short run customers, a quandary can develop (and some might say there is no way back). If the label needs to be produced in longer run print orders, should the printer use a different printing technology? The printer can be trapped---conventional print tech- nologies do not achieve the same quality as high-end digital. One could say, in practice, this creates pressure on short run label printing to remain digital printers, even when the runlength exceeds the practical cost expec- tation of digital printing. Responding to what can be and unprofitable bottleneck, European label printers have favored transitioning these digital label orders to web offset printing. This explains the much larger installed base of hybrid web offset presses being used for label produc- tion in Europe when com- pared to other markets such as North America. Offset has the lowest pre- press cost and has a reputa- tion for predictable quality results. But everyone knows that offset has one Achilles- heel: less color-power in solids compared to UV-flexo. Thus, Europe learned that every printing technology has its quality and efficiency reach in package printing. PRESSURE ON QUALITY In summarizing the above mentioned trends, one can say that the success of digi- tal short run label printing is putting pres- sure on label print quality in Europe. This explains the rise of interest in offset print- ing among European label printers. The only hesitation to apply standard offset is the necessity to combine dampening water and ink in the printing process, which can become a factor of color instability, in- crease of waste and less color-power in the solids. Obviously, the dampening water can be avoided through waterless offset. There is little doubt about the fine quality of waterless, but this technology demands additional cooling equipment to maintain a stable temperature profile in the inking system of the press. These tight physical conditions on top of expensive printing plate prices are limiting the tech- nology to a very narrow niche. The challenge today is to find a ma- chine that fits without restrictions into the label and packaging market allowing the printer to change rapidly from one order to another with acceptable change over waste figures and acceptable press control. UV FLEXO MEETS NEEDS European printing marketeers recog- nized the aforementioned trends from the beginning and the technology response to the challenge can be seen in the tremen- dous quality achievements possible via servo-driven UV flexo printing. UV flexo has surpassed letterpress in both print quality and in machine optimization, and has for years been a strong rival to offset. Today, UV flexo prints and maintains even the finest 1-percent dots, which had been the domain of traditional letterpress and offset printers. This has lead UV flexo printing to be perceived as an excellent print process for packaging and label printing on the most substrates. Turning UV flexo perception into reality is the contribution servo driven UV-flexo presses have made with their ease of operation, predictable print quality and manageable waste control. HYBRID STEPS UPS The all-over European trend for cost leadership in printing affects most all re- gions of the printing market. Only a few printers escape from these trends thanks to their ability to offer spe- cial services and/or special qualities. In a way the word A typical UV-offset press line. If necessary, it can be combined with hot foil/cold foil stamping, flexo, silkscreen, gravure or other insert-units. Striking labels are part of today's competition in the shelf.