Bright future for flexo and flexibles

The 2018 Flexible Packaging and Label Manufacturers Association (FPLMA) Forum took place in the Crown Promenade, Melbourne, August 30-31, bringing experts from around the world to share knowledge on the current and future trends of industry, and what Industry 4.0 means for packaging converters.
 
For the speakers at the forum, Industry 4.0 is about connecting all aspects of production through the internet and intranet, where real time and historical data is constantly being analysed to get the best result out of the presses.
 
Overwhelmingly, the shared message between the speakers was that improvements can be made with digitisation and data, and will be what separates the top tier packaging converters from everyone else.
 
In an increasingly automated workflow, prepress will be the champion, where every aspect of the job is accounted for before the presses start running.
 
Eric Hoendervangers, director, founder of MPS, gave a vision of the future of label manufacturing. In his words, “With the internet connecting all aspects of production, the prepress department will become the champion, across machine settings, ink mixing, plate mounting, and print unit settings.”
In a digitised workflow, every part of the system can be constantly measured against expected performance, and corrected when the numbers do not add up.
 
Hoendervangers explains, “The end result, can and will be that the prepress department, which is educated, and has a different experience and stress factor, will decide all the different elements which go on press in which order and why.
 
“Mass data connection and knowledge is transferring the knowledge in heads of people to cold, objective facts. The prepress operators will more be analysts at data management than experienced convertors.
 
“It will have real time connection, and no job tickets anytime whatsoever.
 
“It will not be possible that an operator puts up the wrong plate, an automated machine would not accept it.
 
“With ink mixing, technology can allow for perfect decisions to be made, with connected photospectrometres.
 
“The complete job will be set up through internet and intranet through the prepress department.
 
“The operator will not only rely on visuals, but also get objective feedback on the machine with tooling settings.
 
“RFID technology will tell the prepress department how old the sleeve is, or if it has had a narrow or an accident.
 
“When the operator picks up the wrong sleeve in the wrong colour for a specific job, the machine simply will not start.
 
“The system will know what work the anilox has been doing, and know whether or not it needs to be cleaned.
 
“Weighted ink buckets will tell the connected ink system how much ink will come back.
 
“Dynamic print control will mean that the operator does not need to worry about quality during a run.
 
“The rewinder knows, real time, where the faults are, and which kind of reel needs to be unwound. It will stop automatically when it needs to stop.
 
“When you connect pieces of machinery with each other and an MIS, you can connect with your press manufacturer. 
 
“With their knowledge and experience, looking at your data, they know what will break before it does. So you will know when to schedule engineers.
 
“It is all about trying to get the best cost price per thousand labels, drive cost down to participate in the dynamic world around us. The focus is to do more products with the same machine and the same operator.
 
“It is not only about dollar making, but reducing the carbon footprint, so not only reducing dollars, but removing waste.
 
“The print job of the future will be connected, but how is up for us to decide. Start with small steps and the trust of your people will get you very very far.”
 
For Sajid Malik, vice president sales, Asia Pacific, BST eltromat,  Industry 4.0 is all about data collection. 
 
In Malik’s view, the key point is, “We have to ask ourselves: what data do we want to store, how do we save it, and what do we do with what we have stored to improve production.”
 
One example covered a company in Germany that was looking to solve ink transfer issues. After consulting with BST eltromat, they realised that within a single batch of paper, there could be different moisture profiles between reels, meaning different ink control between them.
 
Malik explains, “Now they get information from the manufacturer, per reel, in the moisture profile. So they can keep the same settings for the reels which have the same moisture profile, to ensure the changes in the printing press are as small as possible.
 
“Our core business is detecting defects. Detection systems are state of the art, and can create quality protocols, giving the chance to eliminate press defects.
 
“Then there is creasing quality, if we have the data from the paper manufacturer beforehand, we can adjust our tools as needed.
 
“With blistering, sometimes the drying temperature of the paper does not match the ink. With cross linking inspection systems, and transferring data across process borders, we can overcome this.
 
“It is important that we as an industry define standards, we go step by step, and make the trek into Industry 4.0 very soon.”
 
Yoav Lotan, label business manager, HP Asia Pacific and Japan, discussed broader trends within packaging, and what they mean for the future of manufacturing sites.
 
He says, “If we narrow down to print, whether label or packaging, the trends are driving change. Demand for personalisation, limited editions and variety is increasing, while the lifecycle, batch sizes, and turnaround times are getting shorter.
 
“Long gone are the days where you prepare a gravure cylinder for weeks.
 
“Our mission is to implement a fully digital work style. In your next factory, the ability to get feedback and act on it, to hear from customers, suppliers, employees, is key.
 
“Just knowing that your equipment will operate in a certain way is a key factor in business planning. To take feedback and act on it with insightful decisions based on data is important.
 
“The factory is only a platform, the idea is to provide the right products and solutions to your customers, and know, before they know, what they will demand from the market.
 
“Technology is now allowing to create a family of images, automatically, by randomizing elements of the piece to create unique designs.
 
“This came out as a solution as we were working with customers, who worked with brands, who wanted to add benefit to product lines.
 
“What can we do with hybrid analogue/digital systems? We envision a different way of approaching this. Fully digital, one pass printing and embellishment, with a single automated view of the entire workflow, with one file, to create a finished product, without any need for tooling.
 
“For us, the change from workflow perspective is key. A single artwork which integrates all those elements in a digital way, will allow us to design everything in prepress, add every layer on embellishment, one file will rip it in the DFE, and have a digital label, ready to print with all the information around in. 
 
“In one pass you can do spot varnish, tactile effects, holograms, and foil.
 
“The benefit is not just saving costs in short runs, but the revolution around digitalisation of the embellishment capabilities.
 
“So what if we can create millions of different types of embellishments, by using one seed file, with the elements being randomised, and variable.
 
“Once this is available, it is only the beginning. We will see customers innovating around this, and pushing it to the market.”
 
Andy Thomas-Emans, strategic director, Tarsus Group, discussed the crossover between labels and flexible packaging, and a new potential sweet spot for press manufacturers, 26”, or 660mm, where both can be produced cost efficiently. 
 
He pointed to the new Mark Andy P9E, which has been launched at Labelexpo Americas, noting that what were previously narrow web are evolving into mid-web, multi-materials capable machines. 
 
Thomas-Emans says, “Label converters which have made the move into flexible packaging, like OPM Group, use a 584mm wide Nilpeter FA-6, with inline solvent/solventless lamination, and chill rolls.”

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