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FLEXO Magazine : October 2012
Elastomer customization is possible through the chemi- cal and physical processes of sleeve manufacturing itself. “It is now possible to create a special elastomer compound specifically for your press to get the absolute best from your fingerprint,” says Moravcik. “Because elastomers have no photographic layer, which is the time consuming part of new polymer development, customized materials for your specific needs can be developed in weeks and not years. ” He contin- ues, “Slight changes in elastomeric compounds can increase ink transfer for specific inks and substrates where polymers have hit a dead end.” A wide variety of elastomer materials with different durom- eters and ink lay down characteristics are now available. Higher ink densities allow printers to achieve higher press speeds and maintain print contrast. At a test run with a set of custom laser-engraved elastomer sleeves, a customer was amazed at an unprecedented printing event, “The density was so high we had to cut it... That’s a good thing!” Quality control is another area where elastomer sleeve manufacturing and imaging have grown leaps and bounds. Kodak has developed a system (Flexcel Direct) whereby all sleeves are quickly pre-scanned on the engraver to check for a flawless surface and rejected before imaging if any imper- fections are detected. Laser-engraved sleeves also have an inherent quality con- trol advantage over photopolymer. Laser-engraved sleeves have three steps to imaging: file prep, engraving, and rins- ing. This means that the sleeve only has to be mounted one time, engraved, rinsed, and shipped. Photopolymer sleeves have many more steps: file prep, mask ablation, exposure, development, wash-out, and several options for drying, post exposure, etc. , and then shipment. This adds several more variables to the imaging process, each of which adds more analog steps and points of failure in the imaging process. “By increasing the market volume and bringing in multiple suppliers from around the world, we have created a competi- tive atmosphere in the USA manufacturing infrastructure: increasing the quality, reducing the supply time, and reducing the raw material unit cost of elastomer sleeves,” says Moravcik. Left to right: Dr. Douglas J. Edwards, president, digital packaging & functional printing, Kodak; Gary Moravcik, president and CEO, Carey Color Inc. Variable sleeve wall thicknesses of elastomer sleeves. 54 FLEXO OCtObEr 2012 www.flexography.org