Flexo-Graphics' problem was that the anilox cleaning method “broke down too often and too fast.” Due to this unreliable cleaning system, Flexo-Graphics employees spent a few hours a day cleaning rolls by hand as well. Two employees were dedicated to the manual cleaning of not only the anilox rolls, but the trays and parts as well. They used a combination of solvents and other cleaners but were having a hard time getting everything truly clean.
Tim McDonough of Flexo-Graphics says, “Our eyes were really opened when an ink vendor showed us how dirty our ‘clean’ aniloxes were,” despite all the time and effort the company had put into cleaning them.
McDonough then turned to Flexo Wash. He began chatting with Mike and Patrick Potter prior to recent Labelexpo and TLMI Annual Meeting events. “They educated me about the Flexo Wash machine and what it could do.”
After measuring its cleaning space, McDonough realized he had the space to accomodate a Flexo Wash unit.
DIrty rolls and bad timing
Flexo-Graphics conducted a demo of its dirty anilox rolls in the Flexo Wash anilox cleaner and found the results to be “remarkable” and that their rolls “were not nearly as clean” as they thought they were, according to John Witmer, operations manager.
The company learned how just a slight change in the cleanliness of an anilox roll really affects the color. They also determined that “staying at color” was dependent on the cleanliness of the anilox roll. McDonough explains, “Much of our customer base was moving to tight color tolerances, and we felt the Flexo Wash solution would give us the cleanest rollers and best chance to regularly reproduce spot colors within the acceptable Delta.”
Time was also a huge factor in their decision. Before, determining the time to clean the anilox rolls took some planning, because it would mean the press was down for an hour. Finding time when the cleaning would take place during the day, between jobs and all while trying to keep up with an increased production schedule, was critical. Also, Flexo-Graphics could only clean two anilox rolls at a time in its ultrasonic cleaner and it would take one hour.
First purchase: Anilox Cleaner
In 2017, Flexo-Graphics purchased its first anilox cleaner, a Handy 2x2. It could clean four rolls at a time with a much shorter turnaround time of 15-20 minutes maximum (sometimes only 10 minutes using the Quick Wash).
In 2018, the company purchased a new press, which was a 17” press with 10 colors. This new press, with work that was much more in the “UV World,” taxed Flexo-Graphics' ability to keep everything clean. Flexo-Graphics went from a negligible use of UV Ink to using UV ink 50% of the time in just three short years.
The improvements in their system were evident. "We spent far less time at the sink, which resulted in more time running the press. In addition, clean rolls led to more repeatable color and tones, which is critical in a highly repetitive business. Our ability to easily hit color led to more press up time due to less time spent dialing in color or changing anilox rolls.”
McDonough adds, “We also improved press run time by not having to clean an anilox roll that was already in the press. Prior to Flexo Wash, it was not uncommon for us to run up a job with a 'clean' anilox only to see that color was lacking and that we need to give the anilox another cycle to try to get it cleaner. Now a roller is either clean or it is not. There no longer is almost clean."
Here are some of Flexo-Graphics' results:
- Flexo-Graphics prints 250 days a year.
- The company used to spend 10 minutes prepping each roll and then one hour cleaning in the old system. After the cleaning, they would rinse the roll again.
- Now Flexo-Graphics spends about five minutes to load and unload four rolls into the Flexo Wash unit. The cleaning process takes 15 to 20 minutes.
- Upgrading to the Flexo Wash system took them from two rolls per hour cleaning capacity to a potential of 12 to 16 rolls an hour.
- Cleaning supply cost was $1,720 a year. The first year with Flexo Wash system, the cost was $1,520, but they cleaned four times more anilox rolls.
- Cleaner rolls have improved their print quality.
“In 2019, we added our second UV converting line," McDonough says. "We had two helpers cleaning ink pans, blades, rollers per shift. Needless to say, this was becoming a bit time consuming and not a productive use of time in a tight labor market. I called several TLMI friends for references on parts washers, and the consensus was that the Flexo Wash parts washer did everything it was advertised to do.”
This expanded UV production also “tipped the scales in the way we cleaned our press parts.” For that reason, 18 months after Flexo-Graphics bought the Flexo Wash Anilox Cleaner, it purchased the Flexo Wash Parts Washer, a PK 200 WR. McDonough says, “Upon installation, we were able to free employees to perform more of the press helper role they were brought on to do rather than spending a shift cleaning pans. This led to more productivity on our servo presses and much faster cleaning of press parts.
"The amount of labor and machine time we have saved allowed us to easily realize a return on investment inside of 12 months on both the anilox cleaner and the parts washer," he adds.