Raúl El Fakdi  
Flexo Brand Manager
Comexi
10 years with the company
(+34) 972 477 744
www.comexi.com

Felip Ferrer
Offset Brand Manager
Comexi
11 years with the company
(+34) 972 477 744
www.comexi.com

Michael Reinhardt  
Product Manager, Printing
Windmoeller & Hoelscher
(401) 333-2770
www.whcorp.com

Todd Blumsack
Vice President, Business Web-Fed
Bobst North America
2 years with the company
(888) 226-8800
www.bobst.com

Brian Cook
Application Dev.Manager
MacDermid Graphics Solutions
More than 10 years with the company
(404) 696-4565
www.macdermid.com/graphics

Roy Oomen
Flexible Packaging Category Manager, HP Indigo N.A.
HP Indigo
More than 20 years with the company
(877) 811-1417
www.hp.com


Q: Please explain what type of printing presses or products your company supplies/offers?

Blumsack: Bobst’s range of equipment and solutions for the printing industry covers requirements in labels and in the flexible, folding carton and corrugated packaging sectors. More specifically to flexible material printing, the range is very comprehensive in term of processes and technologies. This includes CI flexo, inline flexo, gravure, digital and multi-process printing equipment with web widths ranging from narrow to super wide. Basically, we can deliver the best solution in terms of product quality and equipment operational efficiency to satisfy the user’s needs and for the different applications in any of the packaging segments of the industry.

Reinhardt: W&H manufactures mid/wide web flexographic and gravure printing presses.

Fakdi/Ferrer: Comexi, founded in 1954 by the Xifra family, has wide experience in manufacturing capital goods for the flexible packaging conversion industry. Comexi is made up of five product lines, each one specialized in a different conversion process. These are flexographic printing, web-offset printing, rotogravure printing, laminating, slitting and rewinding, as well as a wide range of equipment for logistic management. Each line provides a global solution to the demands of a market in constant development with competitive and personalized equipment, including the latest solutions in innovation, technology and sustainability. These three characteristics define Comexi’s spirit and have made the company a leader in machinery solutions for flexible packaging conversion.

Concretely in printing, flexographic print is Comexi’s core business. Also, Comexi has developed a revolutionary solution that adapts to the demanding time-to-market concept: offset printing with Central Impression Cylinder, which offers reduced costs per print and reduces the environmental impact thanks to the solventless EB offset inks.

Cook: If it's printed on paper, film, newsprint or corrugated, chances are that a MacDermid Graphics Solutions product was used to create the image. MacDermid's products are used to print everything from paper cups to aluminum cans, from labels to boxes and from envelopes to newspapers. Our photopolymer plates and newspaper plates provide exceptional solutions that deliver high-quality graphic capabilities to all types of packaging and newspaper printing applications.

Q: Are there any presses or equipment components you have recently released?

Oomen: Recently, HP announced and released the pack-ready coating solution for supporting retort, sterilized and some hot-fill applications with HP Indigo digital printing. This announcement significantly enhanced the range of eligible applications for digital printing. Pack-ready lamination was also announced with a pending beta release after Interpack 2017. Pack-ready lamination supports zero cure time lamination.

The pack-ready ecosystem of solutions, as well as PrintOS, will significantly build on digital process efficiency. In addition to end-to-end solution improvements, the HP Indigo 20000 digital press is also undergoing the upgrade enhancement two release, which introduces various options for white ink, substrate range and other new features that expand the flexible packaging application range addressable with digital printing. The upgrade enhancements improve ease of use for the HP Indigo 20000, and will be retrofitted and offered to the entire customer base of HP Indigo 20000 users.

Fakdi/Ferrer: Comexi is always developing new technologies, equipment and presses in order to answer industry demands, trends and possibilities. The involvement in reducing machine downtimes, increasing printing quality and improvement of working conditions in a disruptive way was the catalyst that triggered the development of the new Comexi F1 and its automatic device for sleeve changeover. It’s an innovative solution that incorporates a robot capable of automatically manipulating anilox, plate and intermediate sleeves. Improved ergonomics, a better access for maintenance and a high-performance electronic system enable printers to boost their production capacity by at least 25 percent and increase the number of jobs they manage by 30 percent.

Additionally, Comexi has released the latest and biggest member of the F2 family product line, the Comexi F2 ML. With this model, Comexi covers the demands for big repeat jobs in the flexible packaging market. While maintaining all the characteristics inherent to the F2 family: ergonomics and accessibility to allow for quick changeovers, robustness and accuracy to achieve great printing qualities at high speeds, and the availability of a wide range of peripherals and downstream units to satisfy the requirements of even the most demanding applications.

Last year, the Comexi CI8 improved in many fields, including reliability, repeatability and stability, automation and process as a whole.

Cook: ITP60 is our most recent award-winning innovative product that brought flat-top dots “in the plate” (ITP) to the marketplace first and forged a new product space for this line of products. With the ITP line of products, customers can make flat-top dots out of the box without lamination or inert gases to achieve this effect.

Reinhardt: At Drupa 2016, W&H introduced two new printing presses, including the MIRAFLE II CI press, a new generation of the existing MIRAFLEX range. W&H also now offers TURBOCLEAN ADVANCED E with its CI presses. This is a new inking and wash-up system that utilizes electric pulsation-free pumps that require very minimal maintenance and cut down on energy usage and ink consumption. This system has already won several awards, including the German Packaging Award in 2016. The system has received a very positive reception so far in the United States. Also introduced was the new DYNASTAR compact gravure press, designed for ultra-short runs and quick changeovers. The press comes equipped with a new push-cart design, allowing jobs to be prepared while the machine is running and therefore decreasing downtime.

Blumsack: Whether it is a brand-new development or an incremental step in the efficiency of existing functions, processes or equipment, there is always something in the pipeline for all the industries whose needs Bobst addresses. More specifically for web-fed equipment for printing flexible materials and labels, in 2016 we introduced new printing presses for flexible materials as well as a new HMI. Out of those, in CI flexo printing, the MW 85F and the MW 125F perfectly meet the market’s requirements for CI flexo presses in the medium- to wide-web width. The inking and drying systems of both models are designed to print solvent-based inks as well as water-based inks. Thanks to servo drives for impression setting and high-precision mechanical guides, the MW presses can handle impression adjustment with a resolution of 1 micron. This precision – in conjunction with the largest anilox roll diameter in their class and excellent register accuracy – makes the press print superior graphics delivered at all speeds.

In gravure printing, the new RS 6003 platform offers a wide range of printing and converting options through dedicated configurations that fulfill the needs of a broad spectrum of diverse production requirements. Utmost configuration flexibility, dedicated systems and functions for inking, ventilation, drying, onboard washing and trolley types make this platform the way forward in gravure printing, with more brand new efficiencies to be unveiled in May 2017.

The new HMI goes in the way of Bobst’s commitment to full integration of equipment. Easy to read and featuring intuitive pictograms, equipment operators are able to work on different lines with the same interface.

Q: What would you say has been the most popular product offering among your customer base?

Cook: Our most popular product within the MacDermid line of products is still LUX lamination. There are two reasons for this. First, LUX lamination allows our customers to use any flexographic plate product in our product line designed for round-top digital exposure to create flat-top dots with our unique compound dot structure with just this simple lamination step. LUX lamination also allows customers to choose whether they want to alter the surface of the plate for improved ink transfer with our LUX M200 membrane or keep the smooth surface of typical uncapped plates with the M100 membrane. We are aggressively moving to expand our award-winning line of LUX ITP products for this reason (in order) to allow our customer’s the same flexibility out of the box.

Reinhardt: The MIRAFLEX flexographic press, hands down. More than 500 have been sold worldwide since its launch in 2008. The MIRAFLEX is the most advanced press available, providing customers with quick changeovers and less machine downtime, and provides superior print quality.

Blumsack: There is no univocal answer, as it depends on the converting companies’ process of choice, and/or applications and market segments served. In the narrow- to mid-web equipment, the digital flexo process has certainly stirred the most interest in the industry. A unique technology and part of the Bobst Digital Automation program, it enables converters to digitally control every stage of the production cycle from prepress to output quality control. Because job changeovers are fully automatic and performed without stopping the machine, and the ink in the print unit does not need to be changed, the press runs nonstop with a one-minute job changeover and generates very little waste. The technology conforms to the REVO 7-color extended gamut technology and boosts the advantages of a production-driven, repeatable and controllable digital process for applications, serving the needs of labels, flexible packaging and folding carton packaging manufacturers. The requests for visits to see the Bobst M5 line with digital flexo technology, which is available for demonstration in the U.S., is rising steadily and so is the number of installations.

Fakdi/Ferrer: In the flexographic printing field, it would be the Comexi F4. We designed this machine to meet the requirements of the short runs in terms of profitability and superb quality printing at 300 mpm. This machine model excels in compactness and ergonomics. With a central drum of 1.5 meters, operators can access all decks without using ladders or platforms, allowing for quick changeovers (in less than) 20 minutes. Its minimum repeat and narrow printing width enable customers to benefit from the low production costs associated with the small and narrow plates. The shorter the runs, the more profit you can get with a machine of these characteristics.

Comexi’s offset technology has been awarded with EMAS in Europe and is a world-known and recognized solution for its commitment to the environment, its flexibility of production and its ability to adapt to the current demanding time to market. That is why our Comexi CI8 offset printing press has been one of the most demanded machines. The group has incorporated a robot into this press, which is fully integrated and able to handle all the sleeves involved in the printing process automatically. In this way, it is more efficient and reduces downtime of the process, (and) improves the ergonomics.

Oomen: HP Indigo 20000 digital users are expanding their business with standup pouches, and many sites are bringing bag-making capabilities in house close to the same time the digital solution is installed. In some cases, the formats and pouch styles are greatly diversified by expanding already existing bag-making capability, all taking place in tandem or almost simultaneously with the installation of digital printing. Besides standup pouches, digital adopters are also very active in offering customized packaging with variable imagery, authentication features for security and other creative uses of variable color palettes.

Q: Conserving resources, faster print runs, ink control and color consistency are some of the factors printers seem to be wanting in new presses. What are you doing to meet these demands? Are there any other requests you’re hearing?

Blumsack: The digital flexo technology goes in the way of all of the above and in the ability to deliver package printers and converters production tools that enable them to produce profitably the products that their brand owner wants, especially in terms of color consistency and repeatability. Digital automation is not new for Bobst CI flexo presses – with either technologies like the smartGPSTM offline impression and registration setting system – but now converters can also take advantage of the printing quality of digital flexo and extended color gamut printing. For instance, the technical features in terms of mechanical rigidity and control engineering of the Bobst MW presses make them especially suited for the ECG, a process that requires ultimate process consistency to fully exploit the potential of the color gamut.

Fakdi/Ferrer: Comexi has invested in developing a deep knowledge in color management for the flexible packaging market. Through the Technological Centre Manel Xifra Boada, Comexi has boosted and released new applications, consultancy and training services, becoming one of the premier reference centers in color management. Specifically, Comexi has developed the Cingular Match, which offers an automated adjustment of the color. This equipment integrates itself within the press to guarantee a reliable, fast and automated adjustment of spot colors. The system also allows calculating the precise quantity of ink necessary to complete a job, reducing the ink waste.

When offset printing is used, ink control is automatized. Offset technology uses CIP3 and CIP4 technology for presetting ink keys control. Offset technology can also modify the ink volume on each printing unit to adjust color densities by zones. At the same time, offset uses a dampening system and ink and water balance for a correct density in printed areas and cleanest non-printed areas. Printing offset requires standardization and stabilized printing parameters to achieve color consistency and production repeatability.

Oomen: The upgrade enhancement two addresses expanded range for color-consistency control. The feature was already available, but now can be used across a greater range of substrates, including new options for use with clear materials. The HP Indigo 20000 now also offers several new formats for calibration, which can be executed faster and with less material in between jobs. 3D color calibration and some of the newer features for media fingerprinting also make it easier to share color profiles more efficiently across multiple user sites. The digital process was already very effective with respect to color management, but the recent updates introduce other capabilities from other HP Indigo platforms to the mid-web HP Indigo 20000 width and B1 format, with 30-inch print width and 43-inch repeat along the web (740 mm by 1,100 mm). HP is leveraging capabilities for control from all of its products across the entire portfolio of presses.

The recent upgrade enhancement two also includes a new capability for low tension control for highly stretchable material, so all of the color improvements and benefits of digital print can be leveraged across a range of media that is unmatched by any digital offering in the market.

Cook: The demands of high-speed flexibles printing have definitely shaped our product development requirements for both current and future products. For example, our upcoming ITP-C product is aimed at doing more with less by allowing any printer to achieve better ink control through improved solid ink density and lower mottle. ITP-C achieves this as a flat-top plate with a specialized textured surface that will deliver the best ink transfer and color consistency in its market segment.

Reinhardt: We’ve all heard the buzz about Industry 4.0. W&H’s version of that is “Packaging 4.0: Intelligent, Integrated, Intuitive.” Every technology we develop has this in mind. Regarding faster print runs, some printers do want that ability, but not everyone is looking for that, especially customers with several job changeovers daily. On the flexographic side, our VISTAFLEX press offers large repeats and web widths, and can also run speeds up to 2,600 feet per minute, while the MIRAFLEX presses run anywhere between 1,300-2,000 feet per minute. We even offer a MIRAFLEX S, designed for smaller widths and repeats while still capable of running up to 1,300 feet per minute. On the gravure side, our HELIOSTAR can run between 1,300-2,000 feet per minute, and the DYNASTAR can run up to 1,000 feet per minute. 

When it comes to cutting waste and conserving resources, this is done through our “Easy Family” of features. We offer Easy Set and Easy Reg, which help find the correct impression and register, respectively. Both are offered in static or dynamic format and can help save hundreds of feet in waste. We also offer our Easy-Col color matching system, which measures ink amounts and helps operators find the ideal recipe to match a color sample (Delta E < 2). This can also include ink weighing to help track ink consumption and reduce ink loss. Operator skills are important, and we provide training services to all our customers, so that they can get the most out of their machine. Refresher training is available when needed. Instruction is given by a printing expert from W&H and can be offered on-site at the customer facility or at our lab in Lengerich, Germany.

Q: Looking ahead in 2017 and beyond, how do you see printing changing when it comes to flexible substrates?

Reinhardt: Many of our customers continue to push the envelope regarding substrates, inks and print quality. They continually offer their customers more flexibility and a better product all at a reduced cost. This trend will continue, and W&H is developing new technologies that support these innovations.

Cook: Many innovative packaging solutions continue to come to market, and most enable improved recyclability with the end result being a broader market for flexible substrates balanced with the needs of continued stewardship for the environment. The demands for higher printed quality and reduced cost will remain across this expanded market, so the key will be to ensure that we continue to print well on these new flexible substrates and market applications, and develop new innovative supply chain products as necessary.

Oomen: HP Indigo is looking forward to the opportunity to witness more digital use across 3- and 4-ply structures, which are suitable for retort and sterilized packaging. Additional value exists in the multi-layer film structures, so the process savings and reduction of waste are even more important for these higher value applications. In addition to the expanded application range, early signs are very clear that interactive and customized packaging – whether based on security needs or consumer engagement – will continue to grow rapidly. Each month, new uses of engagement are combined with the latest material options. Whether recyclable pouches with HDPE, retort packaging or new PE uses, the range of digital use is expanding quickly. Security and authentication are possibly the single-most important trends.

Fakdi/Ferrer: We have been experiencing an increasing demand for thinner materials. While this statement may not be true for elastic films such as polyethylene, we can confirm a trend in this direction for rigid materials like polyester and aluminum. This trend correlates perfectly with the hunt for profitability that the market is experiencing. Obviously, halving the thickness of the material also approximately halves the cost. Moreover, there is also a trend for recyclable substrates.

Another option to optimize substrates and process can be the replacement of some laminated structures for surface printing and coating on monofilms, co-extruded films or prelaminated materials. When reverse-printed material must be laminated afterwards, it means an extra process after printing and a longer delivery time.

Blumsack: We see flexible substrates changing, with the trends toward thinner mono-layer films with increasingly high-barrier protection to fulfill the requirement for material down gauging and to increase the rate of recyclability of flexible packaging. This poses a challenge to equipment manufacturers as new materials have different mechanical qualities and perform differently from conventional ones. Bobst is very active on this front, with a view to assisting converters facing process performance challenges. Bobst develops processes for production of high-barrier transparent films, such as AlOx, on our web-coating and -metallizing machine, and also solutions for their conversion and machinability even during the more complex conversion processes required by some flexible packaging applications. We also cooperate with leading suppliers to the film industry by carrying out joint tests in our competence centers. One example is a full PE laminate sample going in the direction of having a fully recyclable laminate. It showed the ability of Bobst gravure printing and laminating machines to process machine direction-oriented films at high speed. In particular, this showed the web-handling performance of Bobst gravure presses in printing onto thin PE-based films and highlighted the opportunities for Bobst customers to extend their gravure operations to include PE packaging applications.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about printing?

Fakdi/Ferrer: Flexible packaging printers and converters have to adapt quickly to the fourth industrial revolution with the development of innovative production control tools that help to improve plant efficiency through the analysis of historical production data and that allow the implementation of smart factories. Monitoring and analysis of data is the first step in the long, but quick-evolving motorway toward machine intelligence and autonomy. Data management in plants is the new challenge that the industry will face. The plants will be more efficient as long as production processes are well-known and can adapt better to customer demand needs.

Blumsack: We would like to offer a few words relating to the use of UV inks in flexible packaging applications for food. It is a topical issue about a technology that provides many advantages, but suffers from some misconception as to its safety for food packaging applications. This has no reason to be, as the combination of energy-curable inks and control systems delivers full compliance with even the most stringent regulations. The Bobst UVTrack system, for instance, measures the UV dose and tracks the safety of every printed meter of substrate, thus providing continuous safety checks, as opposed to conventional random safety traceability.

Reinhardt: W&H has been focusing on the integration of the entire printing process into the machine. The presses themselves are becoming more intelligent and building in self-monitoring and diagnostics. As technologies are introduced (e.g., computing power, cameras, artificial intelligence, etc.), W&H will evaluate and adapt them to make our machines more productive and efficient.

Oomen: In the case of digital print adoption, it is clear to everyone that print speeds are still lower than conventional printing, so digital technology use is largely a complimentary offering. However, in many cases, new use or first-time use of flexible packaging is facilitated by the adoption of a digital press. In many ways, the digital platform is adding new users of flexible packaging.

For digital printing where one deals with many options and a proliferation of SKUs, the end-to-end process efficiency is key. More and more software and converting solutions are coming to market to support digital process efficiency, and print needs to be analyzed on the basis of total process efficiency. Brands are quickly adopting the new possibilities for customer engagement, which digital printing provides, either via the use of unique photographic imagery and its variable imaging capabilities, or via increasing graphic customization, which can be regionalized or tailored to specific consumer groups.