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FLEXO Magazine : April 2008
TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES ø z - ø c CJ :: III ..... III - >< III ..... II. ITR: What Does it Take To Become a Mainstream Solution? W here does ITR (in the round) fit in flexible packaging prepress? Will it ever take on the significant role in the u.s. market that it has in the global markets? What is the current usage in Europe? Why the difference in acceptance? When discussing ITR, you are talking about two distinctly different elements. The coated sleeve and the imaging of that sleeve. Two material options are currently available for the printing surface: thermal polymer (rubber and synthetic blends) or photopolymer. With each material you have advantages. The photopolymer material can be utilized with fiberglass or urethane sleeves, and the construction can include a cushion layer. The rubber coat- ing cannot because of the high vulcaniza- tion temperatures used in the manufac- ture of this product. Currently these two material types split the NA flexible packaging marker fairly evenly. The thermal polymer (rubber) has a longer history in this market, but print- ers are trending toward photopolymer for the higher end graphics and more critical applications. The Flint Group is one of the material suppliers involved in the ITR market in both Europe and North America. According to Dan Rosen, Sales Director, ttl n the past years, technically it has been easier to provide seamless rubber sleeves and laser engrave them than it has been to provide ITR photopolymer that is photo imaged or engraved. That is now changing with recent improvements in the photo- polymer sleeve media in terms of both availability and cost." Rosen further states ttboth materials can be used in the same applications but photopolymer sleeves tend to perform better with high-end process color and 7 -color EGC graphics." - FLEXO APRI L By Dan Heller There are two imaging and processing workflows available as well: Laser engrav- ing (sometimes referred to as direct abla- tion), which involves the removal of the material using a high powered laser. In this approach, the laser removes all of the non-printing material leaving the raised image. Laser imaging on the other hand, involves the imaging of an integral mask (typically black) which then allows the photopolymer to be exposed, solvent pro- cessed, dried and finished (same process as digital solvent plates). According to Ray Bodwell, North American marketing manager for DuPont Cyrel, ttDuPont will be doing a technology demonstration of our thermal photopoly- mer in-the-round workflow at drupa 2008. As with all of our thermal photopolymer products, the ITR version would require no processing chemistries and would elimi- nate the need for drying; thereby greatly reducing the processing time." Although the sleeve processing time for this product will be quicker, that factor alone will probably not have a significant impact on the overall supply timeline for delivered sleeves. According to Bodwell, price points for the ITR version of this product have not yet been established. Rosen feels their new product and manu- facturing process uprovides more efficient manufacturing methods for ITR media than previously available systems. The up-front equipment investment is higher but the ROI is a significant improvement." Most of the early participants of this tech- nology remain committed to advancing ITR to the mainstream with significant investments of time and capital-but the North American flexible packaging indus- try is very slow to embrace it. 2008 www.f I exog ra p hy.o rg Photo polymer ITR completed, imaged, and raw material blank. All art courtesy DuPont Cyre!. Previous articles in FLEXO magazine have been dedicated to the techniques of manufacturing of the ITR products-both laser imaged (Feb. 2006) and laser engraved (Feb. and June 2006). These articles also mentioned the advantages of ITR I want to discuss why these advantages have not been implemented at the majority of packaging printers. Are the advantages of ITR overstat- ed or are there other inhibiting factors? On a square inch basis, the cost of ITR is considerably higher than the cost of digital flat plates. Currently the majority of North American flexible packaging printers use ITR only for continuous print applications when their customer will not accept a bump plate. The most prevalent use of ITR has one or two continuous print sleeves, mixed on press with mounted plates be- cause the printers are focused on the cost per square inch of prepress and plates. This decision to eliminate most of the advan- tages of ITR comes from a singular focus on a matrix developed with their customers (e.g., they can charge X per color).