We sat down and discussed printing equipment with Ryan Vest from MacDermid, Rodney Pennings from Paper Converting Machine Company (PCMC), and Tom Apple from Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation. What follows are the excerpts from that discussion.

Ryan VestRyan Vest
Global Director of Innovation
20 years with the company
(404) 696-4565

Rodney PenningsRodney Pennings
Sales Director
Paper Converting Machine Company (PCMC)
21 years with the company
(920) 494-5601

Tom AppleTom Apple
Regional Sales Manager, Printing, Midwest U.S.
Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp.
11 years with the company
(401) 333-2770

What type of printing technology or printing accessories does your company offer? Have you released anything new recently or do you plan to release anything new this year?

Vest: 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 for flexography. 

Our most recent development, LUX ITP EPIC, was commercialized in 2018 and expands upon our In-The-Plate (ITP) family of products providing flat-top-dots out of the box for customers. LUX ITP EPIC is a medium-hard durometer plate with a micro-rough cap layer that enables increased and smoother ink transfer on flexible packaging substrates. The EPIC cap builds from more than 30 years of capped plate development and nearly 20 years of digital capped plate technology from MacDermid. It is now combined with our market-first ITP technology to bring added values to the flexible packaging marketplace.

In the coming year, additional digital plate offerings are being planned that expand upon our clean print technology, enabling greater print efficiency by reducing plate cleanups during print runs. The clean print technology has already been used very successfully within our current ITP platform: LUX ITP 60, LUX ITP M and LUX ITP EPIC. The newer technology will be a standard digital plate offering, like our own Digital Rave or Digital MAX.

Pennings: PCMC offers a complete range of flexographic printing presses, serving the flexible packaging, prime label and carton converting industries. Our presses are designed to reduce energy costs and include fast make-ready, waste saving and quick changeover features. Our Meridian laser anilox cleaner provides printers and converters a solution for a one-pass cleaning that achieves like-new surface conditions at unprecedented speeds. Based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, all PCMC equipment and machines are designed, manufactured and serviced in the United States.

The latest innovation from PCMC, SteadyPrint, was created to significantly reduce the effects of bounce when printing graphics with hard edges. PCMC’s unique bearing arrangement is coupled with an algorithm that uses noise-cancelling technology to largely remove the impact of bounce in flexographic printing. With patents pending on all features, SteadyPrint is currently the only product on the market using this kind of technology to eliminate disturbances and monitor in real time. Launched in 2018, this feature is available on both new equipment and as a retrofit option.

We have begun manufacturing on our 52-inch Fusion C. The new 52-inch model will offer our customers more flexibility in choosing the Fusion C that works best for their needs. The press will be available in late spring for customer demonstrations. 

Apple: Windmoeller & Hoelscher serves the flexible packaging industry with CI flexographic, rotogravure, digital, and inline coating and laminating equipment. Over the past few years, our innovations have focused on making our equipment more integrated, automated, reliable and easy to use. For example, our latest inking and wash-up system, TURBOCLEAN ADVANCED E, is virtually maintenance-free. And we have introduced our own vision and defect detection system for both rotogravure and flexographic product lines. The result is greater productivity through faster set-ups and easier operation.    

Later this month we will introduce our latest CI flexographic press, NOVOFLEX II. It will set a new standard for print stability, operator accessibility and rapid changeovers. The machine will be available in March of this year for demonstrations and trials at our printing lab in Lengerich, Germany.

Looking a bit further into the future, W&H will introduce a digital press which will offer faster print speeds, wider web width and dramatically lower ink costs.

How can the printing technology that you offer stay competitive moving forward in the flexible packaging industry?

Pennings: Meeting the needs of the flexible packaging industry has always been one of our strengths, and we continue to work with customers, suppliers and other industry partners to innovate, while also helping our customers maintain and improve competitiveness. Ease of use, uptime and safety will remain paramount to our designs moving forward, and we will continue to enhance or add features that increase our customers’ bottom line.

Apple: As our machines become more integrated, they are also becoming more upgradable. For example, a host of modules can be added to our most recent generation presses after they have been installed. This can include upgrades to our vision/system, off-line job setup, data collection, insetters or the addition of inline stations for coating, laminating or printing.

W&H is on top of what’s going on in the industry and can see the potential directions based on what customers need and technological capabilities that become possible. So we are constantly turning the wheels in R&D. We make sure that new machinery or components that we bring to market truly have an added value for our customers. Examples of that include integrating machinery and components for more powerful production with excellent oversight. Another is making sure we find ways to use the minimum on materials and energy to help our customers with their profitability and also to be as kind as possible to our environment.

Vest: The flexo market is continuing to drive innovation through technology development at many levels of the supply chain. Our role as a plate manufacturer is to stay on top of those developments, align them with our own unique innovations and partnerships, and ensure that we provide the best plate technology for the changing needs of the market. A key to this is to work with our co-suppliers on collaborative aspects of new technology ahead of their launches, rather than simply reacting or adapting to their new technologies based on our end user feedback. Moving forward, flexo must continue to drive both efficiency and quality as digital printing continues to advance and find its place within traditional flexo printers.

With packaging differentiation becoming increasingly demanded by CPGs, in what ways can printing help accomplish this?

Apple: Printing can help provide differentiation by changing the appearance or feel of a product on the store shelf to help capture the consumer’s attention. A good example is the recent trend toward registered matte lacquers which gave marketers a new dimension in package design. Haptic and UV coatings also offer exciting possibilities, and as press technology develops, marketers will be able to print personalized messages to the consumer.

But differentiation comes at a cost of shorter jobs and highlights the need for a press that can change jobs quickly with minimal waste. Just this past year, the FTA shared the results from its “FIRST in Motion” study which showed that different package designs could be accurately produced at the same time. The press for that study was a 10-color MIRAFLEX located at Plastic Packaging Technologies (PPT) in Kansas City, Kansas.  

Vest: The first aspect is to have a strong relationship between the CPG demands and the graphic designers working on the next generation print images. Beyond that, as plate suppliers, our newer technology offerings build from several things to address demand. Newer plate offerings, such as our LUX ITP 60, have extremely high-resolution capabilities that allow for the ability to work with new screening packages being offered in the market today. These new technologies can enhance image reproduction, reduce the hard edge/fade to zero effects, and allow for tremendous improvements in age old defects such as dot bridging and quartertone “rivering” effects. The net result, in combination with surface screening or capped plate technologies to enhance solid ink laydown, are images that stand out with respect to not only color saturation, but also photorealistic detail that is well beyond the capabilities of earlier generations of flexo plates.

Pennings: As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to packaging, this is incredibly true. Most consumers only spend several seconds scanning the shelves, looking at all of their available options. Products with attractive printed packaging stand out and can differentiate a brand or product.

Automation and Industry 4.0 are buzz words that we’re hearing a lot in the industry right now. How has printing equipment become more automated and/or connected? Will things continue to trend in this direction?

Pennings: As the flexible packaging industry has continued to grow, the challenges of shorter run lengths, increased changeovers, higher quality and faster turnaround time has intensified the Industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence (AI) revolution. The latest generation of flexographic equipment includes AI features which have created machines capable of more consistent printing with less variability. AI technology, such as camera-based automatic impression and register systems, takes operator error and guess work out of the equation as presses adjust to address print inaccuracies without human intervention.

At PCMC, we offer proven Industry 4.0 solutions backed by a century of knowledge and expertise. Designed to minimize your downtime, our “SmartLINK” features take the guesswork out of maximizing the performance of your capital equipment. Inherent in our machine design, we can provide customers with production data, changeover wizards, remote connectivity, recipe control and so much more.

In the short term, since getting our arms around the broad concepts of artificial intelligence and complete connectivity will be difficult, their implementation is likely to be in the form of features. However, as interconnectedness increases, complete thinking platforms may become the norm.

Vest: Most certainly. The drive to automation should be seen not as a labor reduction practice if it is to be a truly sustainable trend, but rather as a drive to reduce variables and improve consistency and efficiency. The ability to reduce the number of touches, automate and standardize inspections, and drive down waste — these are all elements that will continue to enhance the value of flexo. These automation trends continue to drive themselves into other areas of flexo, such as platemaking, with the same positive benefits as the press advancements.

Apple: This is a major topic for us. A few years back, we introduced “Packaging 4.0,” our vision of Industry 4.0 for the flexible packaging industry. Since then, we’ve dedicated ourselves to pushing the interconnectivity of our machinery forward. With presses, an example is the VISION system, which we introduced three years ago. This video/camera system, designed in-house and fully integrated in the press gives the operator an incredible amount of support during and after a job.

What’s one thing about your company’s printing equipment that a lot of printers may not realize but should know?

Vest: MacDermid has been extremely aggressive in various aspects of flexographic innovation. We have been first to market with capped digital plate technology and inherently flat-top dot technology (ITP), while we continue to develop solutions that our customers desire. For example, we have more than 15 years of experience in thermal plate processing technology that includes a wide variety of patented equipment designs and formats. We developed, with a valued collaborative partner, the first focused approach (plate, prepress & print) to enhanced white ink printing technologies. We continue to build and develop relationships with many of our co-supplier partners on the equipment, prepress and print consumable markets to further advance flexographic printing for all our benefits.

Apple: W&H has a reputation of building innovative and long lasting equipment (heck, we still have presses in operation from the 1950s!). However, we want people to know that our equipment is affordable to converters of any size. Our smallest customer has 15 employees!

Pennings: Our mid-web inline ELS MAX press has the capability to print on unsupported polyethelene. Our advanced tensioning and drying systems make printing on the more complicated substrate possible.

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

Apple: 2019 marks W&H’s 150th anniversary. Since the company entered the flexographic printing market, it has made indisputably the most significant developments in flexographic printing. We introduced the first cylinder press, the first sleeve press, the first direct-drive CI press, the first inking and wash-up system, and the first impression setting system.

Pennings: Even in this digital age, the printing industry continues to expand. For now, printing is the standard method of message conveyance, so even as customization gains popularity, printing will remain an important part of getting a message to the market.

Vest: At MacDermid Graphics Solutions, we are passionate about flexography, and it is exciting to continue to see the rapid pace of innovative products that are being developed to move flexography into the future as the print method of choice for packaging.