In-the-Round Plate Imaging
VALIDATION OF AN idea comes with commitment. Creo (Bedford, Mass.) and Esko-Graphics (Vandalia, Ohio) are only two of the companies that demonstrated their commitment to packaging and flexo digital plating at CMM in April. Both announced enhancements to their flexo CTP devices. With several hundred machines out there now, and the assumption that CTP technology is here to stay, each company has focused on speed, automation, and improved sleeve, or in-the-round, imaging capabilities.
I had the opportunity to get a close-up as Creo unveiled its next generation ThermoFlex. The result of more than 18 months of engineering, the machine design seems to consider every move an operator would make in several distinct digital imaging scenarios: film, sheet photopolymer, rotary letterpress plates, and variable repeat flexo sleeves or imaging in-the-round.
The new ThermoFlex, which according Flexo Product Manager Bob Dalton began shipping the same time as the show, has an integral load/unload table for flat film and plates, eliminates the need for masking; and has a slick semi-automatic changeover system for switching from sheet mode to sleeve mode.
As it was demonstrated to me in Chicago, the machine de-couples and stores the sheet-imaging drum on board in about three minutes. It eliminates some of the capital expense here for new entrants because it doesn't require any heavy lifting equipment or an overhead gantry system.
Creo has thought out the entire in-the-round (ITR) workflow and shows the ThermoFlex in a production hub of auxiliary equipment, which includes a pre-mounter, cutting table, and pedestal loader. Sleeve mandrels, which consist of a universal arbor and multiple lightweight mandrel shells of different repeat sizes, are installed in the machine with the aid of an inexpensive lift. Successive sleeves are then loaded/unloaded onto the cantilevered mandrels directly in the machine. When the repeat size changes, a new mandrel shell can be installed in just a few minutes.