Flexo plate production in times of crisis – part 3

09 June 2020
Uwe Stebani, General Manager Xeikon Prepress

In part 1, we introduced the three lessons that the Corona crisis taught the industry.  Part 2 elaborated on digital printing as a potential answer to these lessons. Now see the answer for flexo printing.

Long before the current crisis, Xeikon Prepress dealt with the question of improved automation and integration of flexographic plate processing in existing digital work environments. Building on many years of experience with automation in the offset sector, a vision was developed in cooperation with Flint Group Flexographic of what integrated, and fully automatic plate processing should look like, taking into account the diversity and special features of flexographic printing. In addition to the variety of applications, this also relates to the structure of the industry with small and large prepress service providers, as well as printers with their own plate production.

This created the basic requirement; it has to be a modular solution that allows a step-by-step investment up to fully automatic plate processing. In addition, it must be possible to process all flexographic plates in order to support all applications of flexo with all solutions available on the market and, thus, to maintain the innovative strength of flexographic printing. Furthermore, data from all suppliers of software prepress solutions must be usable without loss of quality. In return, data that is generated during the processing of flexo plates is made available at defined intervals in standard data formats, so that it can be further used as necessary.

Pict. 1: ThermoFlexX Catena full line

With the Catena product line, Xeikon Prepress now presents a solution that fulfills all of these  requirements.

Prepress data in TIFF or LEN format can be transferred on the ThermoFlexX imager with the highest quality and productivity to digital LAMS flexographic printing plates. Thanks to the Woodpecker software solution, surface microstructures can be created that achieve comparable results for all levels of quality known in printing on flexible packaging materials. After imaging, the flexo plate is automatically transferred to the Catena-E exposing unit, which thanks to the newly developed UV LED exposure enables excellent relief formation with a significantly reduced exposure time. This means that exposure does not become the bottleneck of processing. With the help of a robot arm, the exposed plate is transferred to the new Catena-W solvent washer with automatic punching. From there it is transported through a washing zone followed by drying and post-exposure sections. Thanks to an extremely compact design, the total length of the system could be limited to 13 meters (40 ft).

The Catena line is controlled via Catena Cockpit. This software solution enables an optimized processing sequence according to specified parameters. In conjunction with Flint Group flexographic printing plates, optimal plate processing is guaranteed. In addition, Catena Cockpit software allows a connection to existing prepress software workflows, but also a link to management reporting or ERP systems via defined APIs.

Great emphasis is put onto high availability of the entire plate processing line. For this purpose, the functions of all modules are externally accessible in order to be able to carry out an immediate error analysis and correction by remotely connecting service technicians. All serviceable components are also easily accessible and easily exchangeable by the user.

Very latest technology provides the possibility of using VR glasses with a virtual section through the modules to visually show any errors. Supported by videos or the direct connection to service technicians, it is also possible for in-house staff to carry out complex maintenance directly and immediately with only minimal training.

By feeding data into a database, Xeikon Prepress is also enabled to perform an AI-based analysis of machine data from all installations worldwide. In this way, minimal deviations from the norm can be detected and analyzed in real time, and appropriate predictive service activities can be initiated on site.

Pict. 2: Data flow scheme around the Catena flexo plate processing line

At the best of times no-one appreciates unscheduled down-time or the expense of a service visit. During the Corona crisis, where staff involved in the packaging industry were designated key-workers, such remote support technology becomes priceless.

Consequently, Catena modules open up new possibilities for differentiation and strategic (re-) positioning for all service providers in flexo pre-press operations.  With their extensive automation, the diverse options for software integration and an unprecedented level of operational security, Catena modules, in conjunction with ThermoFlexX imagers, will ensure that flexographic printing remains competitive in a difficult business environment in the future.

Thank you for reading – STAY BRAVE and STAY HEALTHY