The Added Value of Retroffiting Inkjet
Flexos Were Developed to be Additive Machines
If you go back to look at the advent of analog printing presses, you will see one common theme: They were developed to be additive machines. Developed initially as single-use, print-only machines, multiple print stations, die-cutting, and other finishing capabilities were eventually added. Bring digital into the fold, and mono-black digital printing has been added to flexo equipment for decades. So, why not add process color digital capabilities to flexos? I believe the answer to that question has multiple layers and, for the most part, time and experience have had to play out in order to dismiss the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt) factor of adding process color inkjet capabilities to flexographic machines.
Over the past decade, digital color labels and packaging have advanced greatly and so have the types of digital color print technologies available. Most, if not all, are standalone digital printers with their own web-handling systems (WHS) and off-line finishing systems. The idea of adding process color digital capabilities to flexos (also known as retrofitting) has been around for the past ten years. However, the full adoption of retrofitting a production-class digital engine to a flexo has been hindered primarily due to lack of knowledge, experience and, to a lesser degree, technology. Bring forward today’s print market and those incapabilities have been erased if not enhanced by color inkjet technology.
I have been an early advocate and inventor of taking color inkjet technology and adding it to analog presses for almost 15 years. It’s taken time for the label and packaging converter community to learn more and feel confident about this approach. It’s taken time to use digital technology to prove out various print applications and its Cost to Print (CTP) model. The standalone digital color printers have been instrumental in providing the education and market acceptance of digital printing with not only the label and packaging converters but also the user community.
Print quality and workflow platforms in digital print have improved over the years. Now, there is more effort being put into lowering printing costs and meeting an increase in the demand for micro-branding, seasonal promotions, and product extension branding (i.e. multiple variations of a product). The answer to meet these demands is using existing printing assets and adding digital inkjet capabilities to them.
Retrofitting Inkjet to Rejuvenate Existing Equipment
Adding a production-class inkjet engine to an existing flexo allows the converter to not only take advantage of their existing flexo and web-handling system, but also make use of the investment in the dies, foil, and other embellishments that are often found on flexo presses. Plus, the ability to add flexo spot colors and varnishes to digital production provides an instant hybrid approach to reduce ink costs. Using a flexo press as the base for integration, you can also add low-cost primers to lower-cost materials to enhance the print quality and adhesion of the inkjet inks. And last, the ability to run production jobs in-line without having to reload, retouch, and re-register digitally printed material on standalone printer and off-line finishing is a huge production cost advantage.
Another advantage of retrofitting a Colordyne inkjet engine onto a flexo is the lower cost of capital. Savings are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars versus the standalone digital printers. The flexibility of choosing print widths and the number of colors to start your digital print journey allows the converter to start at a lower price point. Then, as time goes on and production’s needs increase, the converter can easily add more printheads and/or colors (i.e., expand gamut, add white, etc.) as required.
How does it work?
Colordyne’s inkjet engine will fit on any flexo. The engine sits above the print stations, so the converter can still leverage the capabilities and functionality of the flexo press. Colordyne’s inkjet engine is not tied into any electronics of the flexo press, but rather it relies solely on the WHS of the flexo to move and register the label material through the printer. A high-resolution encoder tracks web speed and a top of form sensor mounted on the print cylinder is used to hold print-to-die-cut registration (assuming the flexo is already aligned).
Workflow and RIP technology have been progressing with digital as well. Adding extended gamut (up to 7 colors, spot, double white, etc.) has improved in recent years. Plus, Colordyne’s retrofit engine works off PDF files so if the converter is using another workflow and RIP system, they can still use that and feed the PDF into Colordyne’s system. Color Matching, ICC Color Profiling, and estimation tools are also available.
Last, the maintenance on Colordyne’s inkjet engines is minimal. There are few moving parts and the printheads are very durable with long life measured in years. Support contracts are substantially lower than you see with standalone digital printers as there are fewer complications with WHS and registration. In addition, engines are set up for the converter to do much of the servicing and replacement themselves, thus saving money on field service calls, but more importantly, allowing them to get the engine up and running much faster and without waiting on a service person to show up.
There are so many advantages to retrofitting an inkjet engine onto existing flexos and other printing machinery, and with digital printing now being a mainstream viable print technology, there is no reason to not seriously consider adding inkjet to your existing analog presses. If you want to extend the usefulness of your flexo investments and have the lowest cost of entry and a more effective CTP model, now is the time to invest in retrofitting.
How you can take advantage of inkjet technology while still leveraging the investments you already made on flexo? keep an eye on Colordyne’s upcoming communications to read the second part to this article. Or contact us directly today. Our team will be happy to chat with you!