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FLEXO Magazine : October 2013
beyond relief The What, When, Why & How of Platemaking Control By PJ Fronczkiewicz The No. 1 goal for any flexo platemaking operation is to impart properties into every plate that exactly match those of the fingerprint plate that was used to charac- terize the press and generate predictive print data. In simpler terms, consistency from plate to plate. A lot is riding on this. If the plate properties deviate—pri- marily dot size, hardness and gauge—and no longer fit into the equation used to build and predict print results based on the fingerprint’s data, then the ability to ensure the outcome of subsequent print goes out the window. At that point, the strat- egy turns into hope and a lot of finger crossing (and probably some cursing, too). Flexo plates are a unique part of the printing process. For starters, each plate in each job set is somewhat “one of a kind” in that the images on that plate will be different from any other plate in the set or, generally, any other job. Yet at the same time, we want to handle the platemaking process with as much standardization and the least amount of subjectivity as possible in an assembly line style. So this tailor-made, yet cookie-cutter approach can sometimes be at odds with itself. Wanting each plate different, yet the same is a bit of an oxymoron. Another complication of making consistent plates is the sheer variety and combination of plate types and customer desires requested by plate shops. Logically, a platemaking operation only making one plate for one application may have an easier time with consistency than an operation mak- ing 30 different plate types for label, flexible packaging and corrugated printers. consistencY quotient? Is the proper quality control (QC) method the same in both cases? Better question: Are there some universal QC practices that can apply to any operation that will guarantee improvement of the consistency of its flexo plates? Surely somewhere in between measuring and QC-ing nothing on plates and the platemaking process to QC-ing everything lies the answer. The balance between “too much” and “not enough” can often be more delicate than expected. So how best is this balance struck? What do successful trade shops and platemaking operations of all sizes and complexities do to ensure they are providing a plate today that matched a plate made six months ago and will match a plate they will make one year from now? And more specifi- cally, what data do they follow and how do they use it to ensure consistency? coMMon cAuse Like many things in life, sometimes it is easiest to go to the source and ask, and that is the case here. Fifteen of the most successful platemaking operations in the U.S. were asked to participate in a survey, with a goal to understand the things they do that enable them to provide consistent plates to their end-users. The questions focused on the details of the QC procedures of each operation and included: • What do you measure? • What equipment and processes do you monitor? • What are the causes of your most common rejects? As expected, the answers were quite diversified and spread across a wide variety of subjects: • Approximately 60 percent measure dots on the finished plate, while 40 percent don’t PLATEMAKERS POLLED • 13 percent check incoming raw material for gauge accuracy; 40 percent check rarely; 47 percent never check • 73 percent record finished plate data; 13 percent analyze it • 60 percent measure dots on the finished plate; 40 percent don’t • 93 percent said their QC procedures were very effective; 7 percent said they should do more Figure 1 26 FLeXo OCTOBER 2013 www.flexography.org www.flexography.org OCTOBER 2013 FLeXo 27 FtA tODAY Author PJ Fronczkiewicz, speaking at this year’s FTA Forum in San Diego, CA Fall Conference Preview