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Inkjet/film development opens up printed memories
By Barry Hunt
One of the more intriguing developments involving industrial inkjet printheads is to team them with a thin-film substrate as a memory based image carrier. The project is taking shape following a technology partnership between Xaar plc, the Cambridge based manufacturer of inkjet printheads and Thin Film Electronics (TFE), a Swedish provider of non-volatile polymer memory technologies. A previous collaboration led to a demonstration, at Ipex 2006 in the UK, of the world’s first printed ferro-electric memory array. This current partnership represents another facet of the new industry of printed electronics. (The subject was described in some depth in the March 2007 issue of L&NW.)
Although at an embryonic stage, it is not hard to see the potential of printed electronics for industrial and commercial applications. One attraction is the low cost of materials compared with silicon chips and other types of semi-conductive materials, allowing the possibility of high volume applications. These could center around a high resolution printing process like inkjet, but flexo or screen could also be used. It is already possible to link printed electronics with some form of smart labeling and/or RFID tags and labels.
Xaar and TFE have agreed to jointly develop inkjet methods and film based processes for producing printed memory applications efficiently and in high volumes suitable for commercial applications. The deal centers on TFE’s intellectual property for printable memory materials, and Xaar’s intellectual property, equipment and systems for printing functional materials.
Printed electronics is described as a rapidly emerging industry that takes advantage of high-speed and low-cost printing technologies to manufacture electronics in various forms, including the use of thin and flexible substrates. Numerous opportunities are said to exist for these memory based products, which when manufactured efficiently in high volumes can offer significant cost-based advantages over traditional silicon chip methods.
European sales boost HP Indigo performance
After more than a dozen years of solid technical development and intense marketing activity, digital color printing of labels is taken more seriously. A few concerns about the true cost of ownership and consumable costs remain, but HP Indigo remains as bullish as ever, especially where its European sales are concerned. With its six-color liquid ink presses maintaining their 2006 momentum, HP claims to be one of the top three vendors of label presses worldwide. As a rough guide, the monthly number of digitally-printed pages increased to an equivalent of 90.1 million A4-format pages, with HP’s web-fed ws series presses accounting for 71.5 million pages in October 2006 (the final month of HP’s financial year).
Besides changing market trends, HP Indigo says a key reason for the popularity of the ws series is an ability to print PSA labels on many paper and film substrates, as well as film based shrink sleeves and flexible packaging. Repeat sales have certainly helped. For example, Geostick of Uithoorn in the Netherlands plans to install a further five HP presses to print flexible packaging and PSA labels. It already operates three HP Indigo presses, including the first European ws4050 installation in early 2005. It will install the new presses in a new extension. Geostick has nearly 100 employees and operates 11 flexo presses with full finishing facilities.
“Geostick’s investment in HP Indigo presses not only demonstrates the company’s commitment to digital label production, but also the market trend toward shorter runs, on-demand and variable data printing,” says Enric Martinez-Abarca, EMEA industrial business manager, Indigo Digital Press, HP. “Geostick also exemplifies the complementary relationship between conventional and digital technologies in fulfilling customer requirements.”
Other recent European installations of ws4050 presses include one at Jung Bonbonfabrik in Vaihingen, Germany, for producing flexible packaging for confectionary. Label Imprime, of Carros in France recently printed up to 45 jobs in a single day on its new press. Inotec Barcode Security of Neumuenster, Germany, uses a similar model to complement an existing variable data numbering and bar coding and print full-color logos. The first ws4500 in the UK went to Springfield Solutions in Hull for producing labels, shrink sleeve and flexible packaging. It also runs a ws4000. In Spain ws4050s have been installed by Barcelona based Aplicaciones del Papel y Etiquetajes and Etiquetas Macho in Seville. Eshuis of Dalfsen, the Netherlands, has a new ws4500, while nearby DIOSS of Ghent in Belgium installed the sheetfed s2000 to produce high-value speciality products.
Nissa Group, HP Indigo’s distributor in Russia, reports strong sales of its products, digital front ends, software, and finishing systems. Apparently, attitudes in the printing industries in Russia and its former satellites towards digital printing are less entrenched as they are in many other parts of Europe. This makes it easier for printers to adapt to the changes required for this form of production.
Omet and Asahi cooperate for standardized flexo
Omet, an Italian flexo press manufacturer, and Asahi Photoproducts, a supplier of photopolymer plates, have produced a series of controlled tests to “define all parameters that influence flexo printing”. At its Graphic Arts Center in Brussels, Asahi designed a test form incorporating full-color images that were retouched and separated specifically for flexo printing. Results were assessed using spectrophotometers and color management data rather than traditional densitometers. The information formed the basis for Asahi to produce a quantity of its latest AFP DSH 1.14 digital printing plates within a controlled environment.
The plates were shipped to Omet’s Lecco factory for use on a Varyflex narrow web press. The monitored trials also included Sun Chemical’s flexo inks and paper labelstocks from Burgo. An analysis of the printed samples was then undertaken at Asahi’s Graphic Arts Center to measure established print characteristics, such as dot gain curves, ink density and tonal contrasts. This generated a color profile of the Varyflex press, which according to Omet resulted in low dot gain, extremely fine highlights with first print dots at 4 percent, open screen reversals up to 96 percent, wide tonal range, high contrast and a broad color gamut. It was jointly concluded that flexo printing can be comparable to, if not better than, offset.
Solid base for Nilpeter’s FA-4 UV flexo press
According to Jakob Landberg, Nilpeter’s sales and marketing director, the 13" wide FA-3300 UV flexo press has proved to be one of the company’s best sellers in recent years. However, he has high hopes for the FA-4 modular UV flexo press in setting another company record. Apparently more than 50 have already been installed or ordered since the introduction of the four-model FA-Line series in late 2005. With an average of eight units per press, that represents 400 units. Interestingly, the FA-4 has a wider-than-normal web width of 16.5" (420mm) and as a servo driven press can hardly be described as entry level. In fact with a top speed of 575 feet per minute (175 meters per minute), it is a high performance press with multi-substrate capability.
Landberg explains that label printers are faced with shorter runs, shorter margins and shorter lead time demands: “Our sales success with the FA-Line clearly shows that by focusing on developing a ‘Lean Production Machine’ we have hit the trend. Nowadays you can make money between printing jobs by reducing setup times and minimizing waste, but first you must make the operator’s job easier by focusing on the job changeover functions. On our presses these not only help the operator, but also the financial department too.”
Recent European sales include an eight-color version to produce shrink sleeves and PSA labels at Sutermeister, near Milan. The first UK sale was to The Label Makers Ltd. in Bradford, West Yorkshire, which now owns two of them. The RAKO Group in Witzhave, Germany, installed 10-color and eight-color versions in October and November 2006. The first press combines flexo and screen printing, while the 10-unit version has automatic unwind and rewind units from Martin Automatic to allow non-stop operation for large print runs. Flexiket a/s in Risskov, Denmark, recently installed an eight-unit FA-4 as its first UV flexo press. APE Etiquettes of Neuville de Poitou in France installed an FA-4 fitted with a dual unwind, which allows it to print double laminated labels for motor oils.
Much further afield, the Norway based Skanem Group opened a new plant 34 miles south of Bangkok with two FA-4 presses, each with nine units and one with a gravure module. Etiprak of Santiago, Chile, installed the first FA-4 in South America — an eight-color version dedicated to shrink sleeve printing. It joins three FA-3300s, also with eight units each. Syracuse Labels of Liverpool in upper New York state has the first FA-4 in the USA. Group Lelys in Montreal, Quebec, runs Nilpeter’s first Canadian FA-4 with 10 UV flexo units. Finally, Admark Visual Imaging of Hamilton, New Zealand, runs a nine-unit version for multi-substrate production.
Laser engraving for US converters
Stork Prints, headquartered in Boxmeer in the Netherlands, has appointed Anderson & Vreeland of Bryan, OH, USA, as its US distributor. The main focus will be on direct laser engraving technology, especially the Helios 6010 for digitally engraving flexo, dry offset and letterpress plates and sleeves in a single system. It eliminates the need for film processing, exposing, chemical washing, masking, and drying. It is claimed to deliver good quality reproduction over long runs, with simple changeovers, reduced errors and fast turnarounds.
“With Stork, we now have the world’s most advanced, high-quality direct laser engraving systems to offer our customers. These systems complement our extensive line of platemaking equipment to create the broadest, most advanced selection of flexo plate processing equipment,” says CEO Howard Vreeland Jr.