Automation will play a pivotal role in pre-media

These include graphic creation and adaptations, graphic production, approvals and data storage, says Sethunath Padmanabhan of Reproflex3

14 Nov 2023 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Many plate processors, including R3, utilise automation solutions to optimise the plate layout process

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): What are the potential areas of automation in the pre-media segment? 
Sethunath Padmanabhan (SP):
The pre-media segment has made significant strides in automation, and there are various potential areas for further advancement in this domain. Over the past decade, the adoption of workflows from companies like Esko has played a crucial role in automating pre-media processes.

RR: How so?
SP:
With the emergence of hybrid solutions, more options are becoming available for pre-media and pre-press organisations to enhance their efficiency and speed. Ongoing global developments are expected to drive a substantial increase in graphics reproduction speed.

RR: What about automation?
SP:
Automation will play a pivotal role in several stages of the pre-media process, such as graphic creation and adaptations, graphic production, approvals and data storage. Overall, further automation in the pre-media segment is poised to enhance speed, accuracy, and efficiency, leading to improved productivity and reduced time-to-market for brands and converters alike.

RR: Can pre-press work be automated by clients and brands using a software tool?
SP:
Esko Automation is a leader in automating pre-press workflows, and their software solutions play a significant role in this domain. The key lies in having skilled individuals who can harness the capabilities of these software tools and write scripts to further automate processes.

RR: How can clients and brands leverage the power of pre-press automation softwares like Esko?
SP:
Well, it can help in streamlining their workflows, reduce manual interventions, and improve efficiency. Automation can expedite tasks like file processing, trapping, imposition, colour management, and proofing, leading to faster turnaround times and increased accuracy.

RR: Is your plate layout process automated or manual?
SP:
Regarding plate layout, many plate processors, including R3, utilise automation solutions to optimise the plate layout process. Automated plate layout helps in minimising material wastage, maximising plate utilisation, and improving overall production efficiency.

RR: If you already have automation across one or many steps in your plate production, how much time-saving do you think it generates?
SP:
Automation in plate production can lead to significant time-savings and increased productivity. The amount of time saved depends on the specific tasks that are automated and the level of automation implemented. In some cases, automation has resulted in 80-90% time savings for certain tasks.

RR: How much additional productivity can you drive with all the automation across steps of production?
SP:
However, it is essential to consider the input quality of files and information received for the automation process. Inconsistent or non-standardised input files can create challenges and prevent full process automation. To fully realise the benefits of automation, it’s crucial to have standardised and high-quality input files that seamlessly integrate into the automated workflow.

RR: How is flexo competing with gravure on things like speed to market, sustainability?
SP:
The print tool development in flexo takes 24 to 48 hours, and the final product can be delivered to the client’s doorstep within that short timeframe. This rapid turnaround time makes flexo a clear winner in terms of speed.

RR: How much additional productivity can you drive with all the automation across steps of production?
SP:
Furthermore, the entire flexo process, from plate production to logistics and the actual printing process, is generally more streamlined and efficient compared to other print processes like gravure. This speed advantage allows brands and converters to respond quickly to market demands, changes in designs, or short lead time requirements.

RR: What’s the sustainability score?
SP:
In terms of sustainability, flexo has notable advantages. As a printing process, flexo is more environmentally friendly compared to gravure. Some of the flexo printing process uses water-based inks and produces less waste during plate production and printing compared to gravure, which relies on solvent-based inks and generates more waste.

RR: What about substrate compatibility?
SP:
Additionally, flexo is compatible with a range of recyclable substrates, making it a more sustainable choice for brands that are looking to adopt eco-friendly packaging solutions. The growing global emphasis on sustainability and eco-consciousness further strengthens flexo’s position as a competitive and sustainable printing method.

RR: Converters believe that, the finer the line screen, the better the image. In order to achieve high LPI, the press speed can be reduced, and does that not lead to a drop in efficiency? Your views…
SP:
The key is in the identification of lpi which is crucial for achieving the desired output quality in flexo printing. Traditionally, higher lpis were often associated with slower press speeds or increased material wastage. However, with the advent of advanced screening technologies like Vortex, converters now have the means to achieve high-quality output without compromising on press speed or increasing wastage.

RR: What more can Vortex achieve?
SP:
Vortex and similar advanced screening technologies optimise ink transfer, improve dot reproduction, and enhance image quality, enabling converters to achieve finer details, vibrant colours, and smoother gradients at faster press speeds. By using these cutting-edge screenings, converters can strike the right balance between image quality and production speed, resulting in improved efficiency and reduced material waste.

RR: How does screening impact the converters and what is Vortex doing for lower ink consumption? 
SP:
Screening technology, like Vortex, has a significant impact on converters by improving print quality and reducing ink consumption. Vortex, in particular, delivers remarkable results and is effective when using screen resolutions starting from 150-lpi and higher.

RR: Is 150-lpi is enough?
SP:
In India, many customers utilise 150-lpi screening along with corresponding anilox rolls. The screening technology is engineered to carry the precise amount of ink required to enhance image quality without overloading the substrate with excessive ink. This balanced ink transfer ensures a higher level of print quality while reducing the ink gsm.

RR: Additionally, with modern CI capable of 500-600-800-mpm speeds, what does a converter need to do in order to generate stable and predictable print without compromising on press productivity?
SP:
To achieve stable and predictable print at high press speeds without compromising on productivity, converters need to focus on process standardisation and strict adherence to SOPs.

RR: What about the pre-press firm?
SP:
Developing a strong partnership with the pre-press house is crucial for achieving predictable print results. Effective communication, collaboration, and a clear understanding of expectations between the converter and pre-press house can lead to better colour consistency and seamless transfer of print files.

RR: As operator skill is a challenge, what do you think can help improve on-press dynamics?
SP:
As printing machines continue to advance and become highly automated, operators should familiarise themselves with these sophisticated systems and approach their operation with a scientific mindset. Embracing this approach will lead to improved productivity and optimise the performance of the machines to achieve optimal results.

RR: We have been looking at some data. In India it’s fascinating that there is an explosion in packaging and the growth in flexo coming at the expense of gravure; whereas the share of offset stays steady. What is your assessment of the past few years (size of the Indian market; number of flexible packaging converters (gravure and flexo), etc?
SP:
The transition from gravure to flexo printing started approximately a decade ago, driven by several advantages associated with the latter. The label market, once dominated by offset printing, has also experienced a transition to flexo in the last couple of decades. This shift can be attributed to the flexibility and quality improvements that flexo brings to label printing. Additionally, offset machines are evolving to become more dynamic, with some integrating flexo stations, reflecting the growing demand for hybrid solutions. Furthermore, the mid-web flexo market is targeting packaging cartons, indicating the versatility of flexo printing in addressing various packaging requirements.

RR: How will the market evolve?
SP:
In a diverse country like India, different printing processes will continue to have their respective spaces based on specific applications and market demands. However, an interesting trend to watch is the emergence of converters with multiple printing technologies under one roof. These converters can strategically choose the most efficient conversion platform based on the specific requirements of each job.

RR: The Indian packaging market is dominated by PE - even during the pandemic years, the barrier film/sheet market ramped up significantly. How does flexo perform with BOPP, BOPET, polyethylene, cast polypropylene, polypropylene, polyamide, ethylene vinyl alcohol, polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene. As a pre-press house, what are you watching?
SP:
In the case of PE and PE-combination substrates, CI flexo provides great support, especially for stretchable films, resulting in high-quality reproduction. The use of advanced screening technologies like Vortex further enhances print quality on these substrates, ensuring vibrant colours and fine details.

RR: What about new, sustainable substrates and paper-based materials?
SP:
In recent times, there has been growing interest in sustainable substrates and paper-based materials due to increased environmental consciousness. Flexo printing is well-suited for sustainable substrates containing PE or combinations, as it can efficiently handle these materials while delivering consistent and high-quality prints. When considering sustainable substrates, factors like barrier properties, durability, and recyclability will become critical considerations.

Latest Poll

Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?

Results

Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?

Bagasse and biodegradable boxes

 

33.33%

Corrugated boxes

 

33.33%

Paper bags

 

33.33%

Recyclable plastic (bubble wraps, bio-plastic)

 

0%

Total Votes : 3

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