What Price Plates?
Flexo plate costs aren't likely to decrease dramatically until platemaking production is made fully digital.
by Jessica Millward, Associate Editor
PLATE EVOLUTION WILL always set the stage for further development of flexographic printing. But with the invention and advancement of "newer, better" systems and materials, inevitably comes the demand for "cheaper." Unfortunately, as plate manufacturers and prepress providers alike testify, a dramatic decrease in flexo plate prices won't be feasible until processing and production become substantially more simplified.
Better conventional plate processing
There are various methods for improving efficiency within the flexo platemaking process as it exists today. A primary cost-reduction strategy involves finding a way to decrease time involved in plate production, either in the processing or drying phases.
James Kadlec, president, Advanced Prepress Graphics explains, "Two real-life solutions to making photopolymer platemaking more efficient are to simply reduce exposure times, or use a less-aggressive solvent, which penetrates the polymer during processing to reduce drying time."
Dynamic Dies' Product Development Manager Kevin Koelsch agrees that the first priority in prepress efficiency is reducing plate production time, but also sees opportunity for improvement in bigger equipment. "The size of the exposure and subsequent processing equipment needs to be larger. … Enlarging the processing equipment will allow the job shop to organize more jobs per exposure, thus improving the workflow in and through the platemaking department," he concludes.
To complement large-format processing equipment, printers and prepress specialists are now looking for enhanced processing materials to facilitate plate production. According to Brian Gormley, platemaking production manager at CSW, a better variety
of solvent-alternative processes designed for large-format, deep-relief flexo platemaking would be a great boon to platemakers' bottom lines.
Taking a pragmatic, analytical look at the printer's or trade shop's current production success rate might also yield long-term benefits. "The best way to ensure plate processing is optimized is to add control and standards to your process to avoid making bad plates," insists Bob Dalton, flexography product manager at Creo. Dalton counts the need to remake plates as a very significant strike against a platemaking department's time and cost economy. He adds, "Standards that should be in place include press characterization, plate control targets, regular maintenance of UV exposure bulbs, and processor chemistry."