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FLEXO Magazine : January 2014
PRINTING IS CHANGING So why is printing changing? It’s really a combination of many reasons and we don’t have to look any further than a visit to the grocery store to see it in action. Manufacturers of food, beverages and consumer goods products are continu- ally generating new flavors, colors, scents, varieties and sizes. The number of unique SKUs for a typical supermarket has increased over the last decade to nearly 40,000 individual items and the demand for innovative ways to differentiate products by their packaging and labels continues to grow in importance. Consumers have more choices today than ever before and grabbing and retaining customer mindshare is critical to the success of any brand. Some brand owners are using digital printing technology to connect with consumers by printing QR codes onto their product packaging, either for food safety track and trace purposes, or for marketing purposes to drive consum- ers to a Web page which provides information on that brands’ other products, or even promotional and gaming applications. The possibilities that digital printing offer are limitless. In parallel, brands and packaging buyers are adopting lean manufacturing and just in time manufacturing process- es. They want quicker turnaround, reduced inventory and reduced waste. In order to accomplish this, the production of those products and everything associated with those products (labels, packaging and, yes, printing) has to be in sync. Historically, analog printing, such as flexographic, screen, gravure and offset lithographic technologies have domi- nated package printing. However, over the last 10 years, digital printing and finishing technology manufacturers have greatly improved performance of their equipment in terms of speed, reliability, quality and the capability to print on various substrates—all of which has now enabled the technology to become suitable for an even wider range of production jobs by offering a much improved job length breakeven point. This, coupled with the demand from brand owners requiring more versions necessitating shorter run lengths, has caused makeready time to become a more critical factor, causing the supply chain to pause and think differently about digital printing. HYBRID TECHNOLOGY While digital may be the direction that business efficiencies are driving toward, there is a stop along the way for those not ready to take the full plunge. In the evolution of digital printing and its impact on flexo, some have adopted the two technolo- gies working in tandem to provide a complete printing solution. In fact, this combination offers a good first step for label printer/converters, flexible and rigid packaging manufac- turers and consumer product companies (CPCs) who have in plant printing capabilities and want to introduce digital to their process. It is referred to as a “hybrid” approach—com- bining analog and digital. There are three reasons to consid- er the hybrid approach: • Variable data printing: For applications that require bar codes, two dimensional (2-D) codes, QR codes, sequen- tial numbering or serialization, a digital printing system integrated on a flexographic label press is a great way to dip a toe in the digital water. Digital inkjet technolo- gy can support print resolutions of 600 dpi with print speeds up to 250 fpm. Even a resolution of 1200 dpi can be achieved at half that speed. And for those who are satisfied with 300 dpi, we are seeing speeds nearing 500 fpm. Additionally, digital technology can support smaller 2-D data matrix and QR codes, and alphanumeric type as small as 3 pt. This is especially relevant on labels where space is a premium • Reduce makeready, changeover time, material waste: By utilizing digital technology, multiple versions can be printed without stopping the press for changeover, ulti- mately saving time and material on each job printed. This translates to what may be significant cost savings based on the jobs run • Leverage existing assets: Integrating digital inkjet is like adding a “digital black plate” to existing flexo equipment, providing versatility to equipment already in place. By selecting a digital technology that can integrate into existing printing systems, a printer can take advantage of the infrastructure it already owns—including transports and systems like coating, die cutting and slitting, which add capacity to inline capability. In addition, integrating digital with existing flexo provides the capability to go after new business with print jobs previously undoable, specifically those that require variable data. The flexibili- “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” ~ John F. Kennedy www.flexography.org JANUARY 2014 FLEXO 49 Some digital systems can print at speeds up to 250 fpm at 600 dpi.