The direct laser engraving of flexo plates and sleeves is no longer restricted to wide web applications. Downsized systems that work within integrated prepress workflows have widened the application to include all sorts of labels and flexible packaging. That is the type of message that Lüscher Flexo wishes to spread. It recently opened new premises in Oxfordshire, 40 miles west of London, four months after it had acquired ZED Instruments and relocated the UK company.
The new venture confirms the group’s vote of confidence in flexo as part of its growth strategy. Lüscher AG is a privately owned Swiss company, founded in 1946, which has been involved in making screen printing stencil makers, step-and-repeat machines, large format laser scanners, and inkjet printers for the textile markets. It also manufactures Xpose thermal imaging CTP system for offset plates, as well as computer-to-screen systems.
Much is expected of FlexPose!direct, a second generation of modular laser engravers producing either plates or sleeves for flexo, letterpress and dry (indirect) offset from a single machine. The system can link up with 1 bit or 8 bit open digital workflows. With a maximum ablation length of 120cm and 300 Watt laser power, the FlexPose!direct 301 is best suited to engraving flexographic plates and sleeves for narrow or mid web flexo production of labels and flexible packaging.
According to managing director Bruce Knox, direct laser engraving has arrived. Unlike thermal ablative mask imaging methods, this direct-to-plate method requires just a simple water wash and dry processing after imaging. Furthermore, it offers negative or positive working options for both sleeves and plates. “It’s an ideal process, especially for making seamless, plates in the round within open digital workflow systems, which is sure to grow. In quality terms, it is possible to achieve 175 lines per inch with a wide tonal range and fine highlight dots.”
He says new types of elastomeric materials are now available that offer good ink/plate characteristics, especially in longer runs. Lüscher Flexo has a technical partnership with Ligum in the Czech Republic for elastomeric sleeve material. Fulflex Flexographic Systems of Greeneville, TN, — which represented ZED Industries in the USA and continues this role for Lüscher Flexo — supplies Laserflex DDF laser-engravable polymeric materials for plates and seamless sleeves.