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FLEXO Magazine : July 2013
Technologies & Techniques Laser Engraved Elastomeric Printing Media A new Approach & An Alternative to Photopolymer By David Atkinson Ahigh resolution, direct engraving process harnesses the latest fiber optic laser technology, brings it to- gether with state-of-the-art elastomeric materials and produces flexographic printing plates that deliver precise reg- istration, high quality print results and other unique benefits. The best news: the process requires just two simple steps. It’s a true computer-to-plate operation. Elastomeric materials have intrinsically good ink transfer and ink laydown properties and this process enhances per- formance by optimizing the surface tension and roughness adjustment of the material. This eliminates the need to micro pattern the surface to achieve a good ink laydown, as is the case with photopolymer. Conventional manufacture of elastomeric materials for flexo typically uses solvents to liquidize the raw material, which is then coated in multiple thin layers onto a base mate- rial until the desired thickness is achieved. Today, calendering technology—previously exclusive to production of blankets for offset presses—produces sheet material for laser engraved flexo plates, is less time consuming and, as no solvents are used during the process, it is also much more environmen- tally friendly. Manufacturers partnering in the process have dubbed it “PremiumFlexo.” During manufacture, the raw material is first mixed with various additives before being heated up in readiness for very high pressure calendering. That is used to turn it into a sheet, which is then ground to a thickness tolerance of +/- 0 .015 mm in height. This produces a homogeneous, high resolution, PRINTABILITY & DURABILITY • Elastomeric materials have intrinsically good ink transfer and ink laydown properties • Using calendering technology--previously exclusive to production of blankets for offset presses--to produce sheet material for laser engraved plates, is less time consuming than traditional photopolymer platemaking methods and, as no solvents are used during the process, it is also much more environmentally friendly • Black synthetic EPDM is not sensitive to UV light or ozone and is universally resistant to all flexo ink systems. It does not swell during printing • Elastomer does not shrink and is stable in all dimensions, so exact and repeatable reproduction of the image can be achieved • The undercut requirement, first profile step, and the shoulder angle can all be set improving the printability and durability of fine highlight dots eco-friendly manufacturing of elastomer printing plates: calendering technology in the ContiTech plant in northeim, germany. 50 FLeXO July 2013 www.flexography.org