Servo technology is usually more expensive than conventional drives, and servo driven presses for narrow web production, complete with electronic brains and memories, have been in the premium price bracket since they started to come into the marketplace in the late 1990s. Today, the F.L. Smithe Machine Co., of Duncansville, PA, USA, has introduced the Aquaflex ELS 1000 (ELS = Electronic Line Shaft) which “sells for the same price as comparable ‘mechanical’ presses,” says Smithe VP Mac Rosenbaum.
Ron Nagy agrees. Nagy is president of Label Tec, of Wadsworth, OH, USA, the owner of the first Aquaflex ELS. “It’s pretty close to the price of a conventional press,” he says. And he’s pleased with the machine: “It was in service within 48 hours of being installed. And whether you run at 50 feet per minute or 500, it doesn’t lose registration. It’s amazing.”
The eight-station 10" flexo press is equipped with servo drives on each of the plate cylinders. A computer controls all drives, and reconfigures the press for different uses electronically.
For Label Tec, a significant benefit of the new press is that it changes from a paper press to a film press at the push of a button. “With polypropylene or polyethylene, you get a certain amount of stretch. With a conventional press you have to have the machine designed for film, and the opposite for paper. With servo drives, the press is pre-programmed: You change the entire configuration of the press to work with poly instantly.”
Nagy’s choice of Aquaflex was made in one respect because the company has another press from Aquaflex, as well as several from Webtron. But the major reason had to do with F.L. Smithe Machine Co. and a relationship that went back 40 years.
In the 1960s, Nagy worked for Boise Cascade in its envelope division, and his job was to justify the purchase of manufacturing equipment to the corporate higher-ups. “We dealt with F.L. Smithe, one of the best manufacturers of envelope machinery, and for 11 years I got to know them, becoming familiar with how they operate.
“I got out of the envelope business eventually and into the label business, where I’ve been for about 25 years. We had Webtron presses, then bought an Aquaflex. We were so impressed with it and wanted to buy another.” Nagy says that he waited while the companies that owned the Aquaflex brand went through some difficult years, “then lo and behold, who buys Aquaflex but F.L. Smithe.
“They explained to me what they were doing with the ELS press,” Nagy recalls. “If it had been anyone else but F.L. Smithe I might have been wary, but I have a lot of confidence in them. They will emerge as one of the finest manufacturers of label equipment.”
The first ELS installation was completed in May, Nagy says, “but we have another one coming. The next one will have updates and revisions. It’s a developing press, so we are trying to take advantage of that and share the ideas that we think are important to have on the press.” The second ELS will have nine or 10 print stations, he adds.
Some of the features of the ELS include: no gears in the press are under load; lineal registration adjustments in .001 increments or high speed course adjustment with the touch of a button; 360° registration; PLC controlled; doctor roll system that carries ink to the anilox, designed to run at 750 fpm without slinging ink; high capacity dryer package for non-absorbent material, controlled separately at each station; closed loop unwind, infeed