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FLEXO Magazine : October 2012
the digital workflow itself. Variables relating to the imaging, processing and handling of analog film were eliminated. Cut-back curves and the use of different sets of "final film" for proofing and platemaking were a thing of the past. Platemak- ers no longer worried about vacuum drawdown, screen "hot spots" or plate waste due to dust and dirt. The simplicity of the digital workflow resulted in a high quality and very consistent digital plate, which allowed flexo to close the quality gap with both offset and gravure. A QUALITY PLATEAU Quality and productivity improvements linked to digital plates gave the early adopters a competitive advantage in the market. Packaging buyers saw the improvement in print quality and consistency, and began to specify digital plates. Once that happened, the rest of the industry followed suit, and by the mid- 2000s, the majority of the flexible packaging and tag and label segments had gone digital. The carton industry soon followed and the corrugated segment is undergoing that change now. Although this conversion to digital brought the industry to a new quality plateau, buyers and printers continued to look for new ways to maintain their advantage by raising the bar still further. They did not expect the quantum leap that had been seen when moving from analog to digital, but there were still specific areas that could be improved. Could the highlights and vignettes be improved? Could we go to higher screen rulings? Could we improve solid ink den- sity or reduce paper mottle? And could we do all this while maintaining the simplicity and consistency of the LAMs based digital workflow? Manufacturers and suppliers to the industry took up the challenge, and by 2008 new advancements to the standard digital workflow were beginning to appear in the areas of digital workflow, digital imaging and in the digital plates themselves. As these new products and processes rolled out, it became apparent that each addressed areas of perceived weakness, but few, if any, were broadly applicable to all seg- ments and substrates. WORKFLOW MODIFICATIONS In 2008, DuPont introduced DigiCorr; a modified digital workflow where the UV main exposure of the digital plate oc- curred in an inert (oxygen free) atmosphere, resulting in a flat- topped digital dot well suited to the needs of the corrugated market. This was soon followed by the Kodak Flexcel system; a radically new approach to the production of a flat-topped digital dot through the use of a digital film laminate, rather than the traditional LAMs based digital plate. On their own, flat-topped dots demonstrated few measure- able advantages outside of the corrugated segment, regard- less of whether they were made via modified atmosphere exposure or a digital film laminate. However, these "oxygen free" workflows did allow for an exact 1:1 reproduction between the image carrier (LAMs or laminate) and the plate, which in turn created opportunities for improvement when combined with some of the screening and imaging enhance- ments that will be reviewed in the next section. Today all the primary plate suppliers to the North American flexo market have a flat-topped workflow available. • DuPont DigiCorr has evolved into DigiFlow: a modified atmosphere exposure system that is compatible with all plate gauges, processing systems and printing segments • Kodak has continued to evolve the Flexcel workflow • MacDermid introduced its own variation on lamination with the LUX system; a clear film laminate designed to create an oxygen free exposure environment with stan- dard LAMs based plates Flint took a different approach with the introduction of the NExT exposure unit; a high intensity exposure unit designed 34 FLEXO OCTOBER 2012 www.flexography.org