Closing the Loop
Flexo plate sleeves are rounding out the process for higher quality, faster turnaround packaging.
by Terri McConnell, PrePress Editor
IN A MARKETING study recently conducted by the High Definition Flexo Consortium, end users across several consumer product industries were asked to identify the most important printing technology advancements over the past three to five years. The respondents were senior packaging engineers, packaging procurement managers, and senior designers from the food, beverage, pharmaceutical, chemical, and health and beauty segments.
These professionals, key to influencing and specifying packaging print methods, overwhelmingly agreed computer-to-plate imaging has made a substantial positive impact on print quality. They also consistently cited quick press changeover systems as a major economic facilitator to faster turnarounds and shorter runs.
In the ultra-fast growing flexible packaging segment, where promotional campaigns and test product migrations are driving quality requirements up, and run sizes down, a full 69 percent of the polled end users said CTP and quick-change—in particular the use of plate sleeves—were the two most significant breakthroughs. In this article we'll examine how those two technologies complement each other in the race to put cost-effective, graphically appealing packaging on the shelves faster.
The basics of sleeve technology
The use of sleeves as plate carriers first reached the North American shores from Europe in the early 1980s. Nickel, and then fiberglass and Kevlar composite sleeves, were accepted initially for their job storage and plate mounting convenience, and were found primarily in wider-web central impression pressrooms.
Over the next decade sleeves gradually became more popular as printers came to appreciate the cost-effectiveness of a sleeve workflow; press downtimes were reduced, and productivity improved. These benefits were especially apparent in situations where the printer had many jobs of the same repeat and needed faster access to plate cylinders for changeovers.
Recognizing the growing acceptance of sleeves, and seizing the opportunity to pare press downtimes even further, CI press manufacturer Windmoeller & Hoelscher introduced a cantilevered quick changeover press in 1993; according to Hans Deamer, W&H Corp. president, his company has sold more than 150 machines to date. Today, nearly every major CI press manufacturer offers a quick sleeve change system, and marketers estimate as much as 50 percent of presses sold into wider-web packaging applications are sleeve-dedicated with a cantilevered changeover feature.