Investment in a press is the single most significant equipment acquisition a label company will make. These machines are a major capital expense, and a converter’s success is directly tied to their capabilities. While digital printing has made significant inroads in its penetration of the market in the last decade, flexography, particularly in North America, is still the dominant and preferred print method for many label printers. For operations that are focusing on serious growth, and are looking to land and keep major customers with the longest of runs, flexo makes all the economic sense in the world.
Label and Narrow Web recently conducted a study to determine what press buyers are looking for in a press – what’s most important to them and what’s influencing their purchasing decisions. Participants of the study revealed that at the top of their list of wants and needs in a press are acquiring new capabilities, adding capacity and reducing waste and costs.
For converters, while it may be somewhat clear-cut regarding what they want in a machine, the purchasing decision is not an easy one. As with any technology, flexo printing continues to develop, and it continues to improve. But a press buyer has many factors to consider, and buyers are unique in terms of what’s most important to them. Above all, our study showed that print quality is of paramount importance, followed closely by a press having certain features, specifically, fast color changes and quick change capability for plates and sleeves. Also, a reliable after-sales support program and a familiarity with the manufacturer were also high on the list of priorities.
Our study found that converters want servo-driven print heads and inline die stations – and more than one survey respondent expressed keen interest in laser diecutting.
Flexo press manufacturers have done their own due diligence, and their machinery evolves to meet their customer’s demands. The following is a review of leading flexo press makers manufacturing philosophies and descriptions of the presses they offer the label industry.
At Mark Andy, St. Louis, MO, USA, the focus is on the evolving technology, and the company has rolled out new machinery to reflect these changes. “The first pressmen were artists, learning the press inside and out to get the highest quality results,” explains Jeff Feltz, director of business development. “It took time and experience to become adept at getting the most out of the press – setting perfect impression, the exact pressure of the doctor blade to the anilox hitting that sweet spot of perfect registration.”
Over the passing years, Feltz says, these specific skill sets have become less common, as these functions have become more automated. “This evolution of automation drives consistency and accuracy, making flexo one of the best processes to produce a high-quality, consistent, saleable product,” he says.
For Mark Andy, the key driver to its flexo press innovations and advancing technologies is the customer’s needs. “In our product development process it is critical to listen to the converter and the challenges they are facing, then build equipment that addresses those needs, Feltz says. “Reducing waste, decreasing run lengths, increasing material costs – those are issues heard from converters every day. It is important for press manufacturers to listen to their customers and let that drive product innovations.”
In 2009, Mark Andy introduced the Performance Series line of presses, with three models ranging in capability and cost. The P3 is at the introductory level. Driven by a precision-engineered direct drive train, the P3 is designed specifically for conventional label production.
The P5 model is a servo-driven machine, providing further machine control, registration management and productivity. The P5 has been demonstrated to support flexo’s strong argument against digital for short run label production. Finally the P7 is the most advanced model of the series. With dual servo controls and a fully-automated registration system, the P7 is a key machine for the most difficult and demanding label and packaging applications.
The Performance Series machines from Mark Andy offer a range of benefits that include the elimination of multiple adjustments with remaining adjustments having discrete, repeatable settings; the automatic positioning of all print head components; the elimination of time consuming adjustments for repeat changes; servo driven pre-registration systems (on the P5 and P7); and ultra-short web paths.
Gallus, with global headquarters in St. Gallen, Switzerland, has a range of label presses that feature multiple processes and extreme flexibility, and recently the company launched the Gallus ECS 340 flexo press. Gallus acknowledges the converter’s sustainability concerns, with machinery that produces less waste, thus translating to increased profits.
“If we consider the value chain from raw material, press, substrate, ink manufacturer, etc., to the brand owner and retailer, all of these players have sustainability not only on their strategic view, but also on top of their priority lists,” says Brian Bishop, president of Gallus, Inc., the company’s US operations in Philadelphia, PA.
Label printers have a multitude of opportunities to live and implement sustainability as a competitive advantage, and Gallus incorporates this into its manufacturing philosophy. “FMCG companies will pursue sustainability to reduce their costs, improve their customer experience, upgrade their marketing outreach and enhance the profile of their companies and our industry as a whole,” Bishop says.
Along with a leading energy curing system provider, Gallus has developed a Mercury UV lamp that doesn’t create any ozone during operation. Therefore, no ducting and no exhauster are required. According to Gallus, the volume of air which has to exhaust on a narrow web press is 2,400 – 3,500 CFM on an 8-color press, an amount that is higher than what a hot air balloon requires for flying. Bishop estimates that with the Mercury UV technology, savings between $7,000 and $10,000 per year can be achieved on an 8-color press with three shifts running. “Furthermore, there is no need to change the ozone filter (in some countries it is not allowed to blow the exhaust air without filtering out the ozone). With this solution it is possible to reduce the CO2 emission dramatically and at the same time it is a great contribution to the environment.”
In 2011, Gallus toured North America, going from city-to-city with the fanfare of an 18-wheeler truck showcasing the Gallus ECS 340, otherwise known as “The Rock Press.” Designed to be a cost-efficient, quiet and user-friendly flexo press for commodity labels, the Gallus ECS 340 has a configuration that focuses on what is essential, and can be expanded to meet individual needs. The press features a technical granite core, a short web path of just 1.1 meter between printing units, excellent substrate flexibility and minimal setup times due to full servo-drive integration. The press is ventilation-free, with a water-cooled UV drying system for climate-neutral production and low noise levels.
“The ECS 340 is perfect for high-quality commodity label production,” Bishop says. “It is exceptionally quiet and stable – with minimal waste and setup times. It’s simple, self-explanatory design makes for the ultimate in user and environmentally friendly operation.”
Nilpeter, with global headquarters in Slagelse, Denmark, offers an extensive flexo press program for high-performance printing. Responding to label converter’s desire for innovations in diecutting, the company has launched The Revolver, a (patent pending) new diecutting system designed to compliment the quick-change printing stations offered on all Nilpeter press lines.
The Revolver is a turret-style diecutting indexer holding three dies at a time, complemented with a shuttle deck for easy die loading and removal of dies. “This revolutionary technology is based on the SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die) concept, a longstanding principle of the Lean manufacturing initiative,” explains Jakob Landberg, sales director for Nilpeter. “The Revolver permits die changes in less than one minute and provides the ability to prepare dies for the next job while the press is still running, thus providing a significant reduction in traditional job changeover times and material waste.”
In addition to The Revolver, Nilpeter is also emphasizing the CleanInking system,, which provides a new clean and lean inking system for flexo and UV-flexo printing. It is based on a doctor chamber system with a design that enables both a low and a high degree of filling – for short and long runs, as well as ensuring a perfect, consistent inking at varying speeds. The inking chamber features simple cleaning, works with and without ink-pumps, thus reducing handling and setup time and waste. The CleanInking chamber is sealable, enabling storage of any leftover ink.
Nilpeter has two lines of presses targeting the label market, the FA-Line and FB-Line. The FA-Line is the premium flexo line for multi-substrate printing. All FA-Line presses are equipped with direct servo drives for the main operating functions. “Because there are no gears on the printing cylinders, it is possible to print on various film and paper-based substrates and free interchangeable screen units,” Landberg says.
The FB-Line is the company’s value flexo line, and its redesign focuses on versatility. Options include running with one or more interchangeable screen process modules and a hot foil module, both based on Nilpeter’s Drop-In technology to increase printing options at an affordable price. The FB-Line uses helical gears on the print cylinder drives for enhanced printing performance.
MPS, with global headquarters in Didam, the Netherlands, is a label press manufacturer that believes the market needs automation of print settings in order to reduce the cost price per 1,000 labels, especially for short runs. The company emphasizes its Automated Print Control (APC) system, where all relevant mechanical adjustments are replaced by 100 percent accurate and maintenance-free servo motors, resulting in cost savings for both initial job settings as well as repeat jobs.
APC’s advantages feature the automated loading of settings. “Thanks to APC, press settings can be loaded completely automatically. APC will recall not only print positional settings for plate sleeves and anilox rolls but will also recall all lateral and longitudinal register positions along with UV settings, corona level settings and tension values. This enables the operator to ensure that what was accepted by the customer is replicated time and time again. Servo motors play a key role with APC. “They need to be set to a starting point, or ,the calibration point. APC offers pressroom managers the unique possibility to calibrate the press themselves, explains, Eric Hoendervangers, managing director at MPS. It is now up to the pressroom manager to choose his or her calibration point, resulting in a perfect match to the desired working protocol.”
Hoendervangers acknowledges the concentration on waste and setup time reduction, but says that MPS places additional focus on eliminating all quality-related waste. He says, “At MPS, it’s of paramount importance to eliminate all waste that results from quality issues. This waste is often a byproduct of start-up waste. Our Crisp.Dot technology with guaranteed gear marking-free print results generates an enormous amount of quality throughputs.
“With APC, the well known Crisp.Dot flexo printing quality of MPS presses has even been improved. With the extreme accurate servo positioning motors, press operators report a further increase of print quality at all print speeds.”
UK-based Edale has been making presses for over 50 years, but the current product range has been designed and manufactured within the last ten. “We have certainly taken the markets demand on board to create a range of machinery that has high specification technology within it,” says Jessica Gong, marketing communications executive.
As Edale has developed and worked more closely with its customers on providing equipment to their printing requirements, Gong says the Edale range has almost become tailored to what printers require. “You could say ‘designed by printers, for printers.’ We have tried to cater to all gaps in the market from the standard label printer to the full scratch card lines and offline RFID insertion machines.”
The FL-350 is Edale’s newest product to the range and uses servo technology to provide pre-register, auto-register and print length control features to achieve the highest print quality while reducing job change times and setup waste. This press also features Edale’s Pit Stop Color Change system, which enables operators to complete a full color change in less than one and a half minutes per print station, Gong says.
The Gamma is Edale’s “flagship’ machine. It features servo drives on each print-head, for register and print length control, and, combined with a new print head design, ensures job change times and setup wastage are kept to a minimum with the ability to perform a print head color change in under one and a half minutes. The Gamma’s “Plug & Play” converting section allows the user to swap in and out of different converting, laminating, winding or printing options to facilitate the production of added-value products.
Propheteer International, Zurich, IL, USA, has been associated with narrow web flexo press making for over 40 years. Today, its press designs provide an easy-to-use platform for production. “The characteristics of our machines combine to allow all our presses to run more jobs, on more stock with more control,” says Ed LeVine, director of sales and marketing.
The company offers three types of presses. The Line Shaft model, redesigned in 2010, features improvements through incorporation of the latest gearbox and line shaft technology, and the elimination of wear parts such as open line shaft gears and oil lines. “The result is a press with improved registration and quieter operation,” LeVine says.
With a focus on servo technology, Propheteer offers its Intermediate Servo and Full Servo presses, which consists of Servo Infeed and Outfeed and a single servo driving each print head and die station. “This shares the many improvements made to our Line Shaft and adds auto register system and auto pre-register,” Levine says.
The Full Servo Press the SIL Series, is the same as the Intermediate but with dual servos in each print station (SIL) Series. The result is a multi-substrate production system for unsupported films to folding cartons, auto register system and auto pre-register, stepless printing repeat range and substrate flow control. All Propheteer presses are custom-made. “We build machines one at a time, thus providing a forum for unique customization and quality that is unsurpassed,” LeVine says.
“Today the flexographic press manufacturing companies are being threatened by digital printing and an abundant of used equipment. To compete in the global market, we at Propheteer are focused on more user friendly operation, waste minimization and faster setups.”