Laser engraved anilox rolls
As demands for higher anilox cell counts increase, manufacturers are developing new strategies for creating
the best anilox roll cell configurations.
While the printing industry as a whole waits for its flat line to break and begin an upward climb, one segment remains relatively healthy and competitive. Flexo, the once red-headed stepchild, continues to eke out market share as more consumer goods manufacturers elect to protect and decorate their products with the pouches, bags, sleeves, and shrink wraps that are especially well-suited to the flexo process.
Flexo's place at the packaging table has been hard won. Though the process has enticing economic advantages for many applications, it has battled quality issues for decades. Today, however, we no longer have to say flexo quality approaches that of offset and gravure printing. Flexo quality very often is that of offset and gravure—thanks to new presses, new ink formulations, digital imaging and plating technologies, and advances in the manufacturing and use of anilox rolls.
The anilox roll is often referred to as the heart of the flexo printing process. This cylinder, honeycombed with millions of miniscule cells, is used in combination with a fine wiping blade to ink the printing plate. Up until the early 1980s, few would say this delivery system was lovely, though. The cells were mechanically engraved on a chrome surface that wore and plugged easily, compromising ink transfer to the plate and subsequently making it difficult to achieve and control color densities.
Then came the advent of laser roll engraving. Manufacturers now used multi-gas CO2 lasers to vaporize inking cells into rolls fabricated with a new chromium oxide ceramic surface. The lasers were more accurate devices and could create sharper, more consistent cell structures. In addition, the ceramic was harder than chrome. Thinner steel doctor blades could be used to wipe excess ink from the cylinder face with less wear and cell volume loss.