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FLEXO Magazine : February 2013
required for a particular job, and the lead-times on sleeve orders has historically been very lengthy in North America. Similarly, the printer that is using flat plates simply mounts his plates to the cylinders or mounting sleeves with a two- sided mounting tape, and will often have a variety of these “stickybacks” on hand in different gauges or levels of com- pressibility. However, when using the thin-walled sleeves that are typically associated with high quality process printing, compressible adapters are required. These adapters are reusable tools that provide the compressibility that would be provided by stickyback tape with flat plates, and like the sleeve they support, are specific to the printing repeat in use. For many years, the primary manufacturing locations for both sleeves and adapters were in Germany. The problem of a lengthy manufacturing lead-time was then compounded by a long-distance supply chain, which resulted in a delivery time for sleeves or adapters that was incompatible with the service levels that brand owners in the American flexible packaging market had come to expect. Understanding that dramatically improved delivery times were a requirement if continuous print photopolymer sleeves were to be accepted, DuPont began the construction of a dedicated North American sleeve manufacturing facility in Towanda, PA in 2009. The site has the ability to produce both solvent washout and Cyrel® FAST thermal process sleeves, and the first products were in field trial by early 2011. Hav- ing local manufacturing has dramatically reduced lead and delivery times, and sleeve demand has begun rising, now that industry expectations are being met. DuPont was not the only company to see the need and make major investments in a North American manufacturing site. Founded in Germany in 1990, Inometa Flexo Systems manufactures a wide range of precision press cylinders, mounting sleeves and compressible adapters. Seeing that there was a strong growth potential for both sleeves and adapters in the American market, Inometa built a dedicated manufacturing facility in Appleton, WI. That site began ship- ping mounting sleeves in 2011 and started shipping com- pressible adapters in commercial quantities in 2012. NICHE FIT According to Wikipedia, a value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered and a belief from the customer that the value will be delivered. The stated value proposition associ- ated with round print forms is outlined in the first two para- graphs of this article, and the fact that a number of European and North American flexible packaging printers have already adopted or are considering round workflows suggests that the proposition is valid (see sidebar). Continuous print sleeves are a niche fit and are not for every company or every job. The question is: “What were the criteria that successful sleeve users employed to determine which jobs were well suited to round and which were better kept on flat plates?” Since round print forms can cost several times what a flat plate does and require an investment in compressible adapt- ers, it’s imperative that the printer can clearly identify the right mix of work for round print forms if there is to be a positive return on investment. Although the decision-making process varies from printer to printer, several common themes have emerged for those printers who have begun using significant volumes of round image carriers. Frequent Repeats—Once the same job goes to press three or more times, Round economics generally win out over flat plates. This is especially true if flat plates need to be de- mounted or replaced, or the stickyback needs to be replaced between runs. Long Press Runs—Sleeves will last for millions of impres- sions, so a move to sleeves can eliminate the need for a sec- ond (or more) set of plates as well as the press changeover time associated with a plate change. High Speed Presses—Because of the bounce and imbal- ance often associated with flat plates, the newest high speed presses usually require a continuous print form to achieve their maximum rated speed. The Laser Ablation Mask (LAMs) layer is the last manufacturing step prior to trimming and final quality inspection A technician collects LAMs coated sleeves ready for inspection. 26 FLEXO februAry 2013 www.flexography.org