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FLEXO Magazine : March 2008
PLANTS & PROCESSES Presses also allow more flexibility than ever before. Multiple processes on the same machine, for example, allow the printer the ability to adjust systems for films that are better suited to or for one process more than another. In-line op- tions can be purchased with the machine or easily retrofitted later as product mix or film requirements change. This gives the printer more flexibility to adapt to chang- ing technologies and market trends that include film variations. Not always is a film modification the best solution that meets the needs of a particular product. Ink, adhesive, coating and application changes are sometimes the most cost effective solution to the problems that face the printer. Press manufacturers are focused on these challenges and work closely with the various suppliers in the in- dustry as well as the printer to find a solution that meets the need. In addition to a staff of printers, the press manufactures typically have demonstration equipment they of- fer for testing purposes. Projects involving the printer and various suppliers working at the press manu- facturer's facility are commonplace and have resulted in solutions to various problems and challenges the industry faces. Many printers today don't realize the partnership with the press manufacture goes beyond the supplying of equipment. The press manufacturer can help them resolve pro- cess issues as well as machine issues. Manufactures have also focused a great deal on the Lean Manufacturing tech- niques utilized by the world-class com- panies of today. Not only do they employ the techniques in their own facilities for the production of the presses; they de- sign, engineer and build equipment with the same goal in mind. The presses are designed and built to reduce the number of steps in the manufacturing process. In-line laminations and coatings allow the product to be manufactured in less time with smaller batch sizes and less waste in the process. In-line gravure adds flex- ibility to provide the most cost effective quickest time to press solution for many jobs where a combination of processes is best. This combined with the reduction of setup times and plate costs due to smaller repeats and widths provide solutions that meet the Lean Manufacturing needs. GET INVOLVED For flexographic printers/converters looking to get into flexible packaging, understanding the characteristics of each film used is imperative. Not only do they need to know the properties of the film as it relates to the performance of the final product, they must know how it reacts in the manufacturing process. Is it effected by heat, does the dyne level need to be adjusted on press, do special coatings need to be applied in-line, what tension is proper? These are but a few questions the printer needs to ask the film supplier. The decision on film types is consistent whether you are using a narrow-, mid- or wide-web press. Films are chosen based on many factors but can be run on any of the above mentioned press widths. Pouches, for example, are made with films and/or foil that are typically laminated. Each film layer provides some functional property. An outer layer of clear printed film pro- vides protection for the graphics as well as enhancing the overall appearance of the pouch for shelf appeal. Under that may be a film or foil with barrier properties that will keep unwanted items in, or even out of, the pouch. Sometimes a heat-seal coating has been applied to this film for sealing. If a heat seal coating is not used, a third layer that has a low melt temperature may be required as an inner layer for seal- ing properties. This example is only one of hundreds of possibilities and combinations that could be used for a product. In addition to this, a very good un- derstanding of the press' capabilities is necessary. Understanding what can be accomplished on the equipment available will help in the decision of which products can be produced. Dialog with the press manufacturer can help you understand the possibilities and limitations of the equip- ment you have. Even if the capability for a specific application is not practical with the current configuration, the press manu- facturer can suggest modifications or upgrades that may allow a printer to move into markets he/she is seeking. When a narrow- or mid-web press is configured properly, the problems encountered will be similar to those on the wide-web side. With in-line laminations, which are more the norm in mid- and narrow-web printing, un- derstanding of the lamination process is critical for the operator. Film struc- tures, adhesives, ink systems and dry- ing/curing techniques become a criti- cal part of the printer's responsibilities. Additional training for the pressman is required to understand the impor- tance of these systems and how they interact with each other to produce the proper appearance and performance needed for the various markets and products. There are various sources to help print- ers understand and produce products in the markets where films are needed. Most of the co-suppliers for equipment and materials have technical specialists or personnel within their organization that have the experience to assist the printer as he/she enters these markets. Also, several industry consultants can provide years of experience and contacts that will shorten your learning curve and hold the hand of the printer as he tests these products and moves into production. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jerry Henson is sales manager for flexible packaging with Mark Andy Inc. He has more than 25 years in the printing industry, and has spent the past 10 with Mark Andy as director of print technologies. 42 FLEXO MARCH 2008 www.flexography.org