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The Irony of Manual Flexographic Plate Mounting in a Digital World

 

Through the use of digital technology, the flexographic industry has made great strides in accuracy of plate artwork, plate making and press control.  Computer artwork provides dot control and accuracy that could not be realized until recent years.  This dot control and accuracy is maintained in the workflow primarily via digital artwork, digitally controlled direct plate making and improvements in plate materials.  State of the art gearless presses use digital closed-loop servos and digital video registration, some claiming registration to within +/- .001".

 

Thus press accuracy has improved to meet digital plate quality and digital plate accuracy has improved to meet digital computer art quality.  Companies heavily invested in high tolerance presses are concerned about registration accuracy, so they invest in (or use outside sources with) digital art and direct digital plate making equipment.  Being left no choice by the flexographic plate mounter industry, these digitally accurate plates are then presented for hand mounting on a machine with tolerances that exceed the press and plate making equipment.  Yet there is the expectation, or hope, of meeting the accuracy of both.

 

In spite of great strides in plate making and press technology, the only significant change in flexographic plate mounters has been the addition of cameras to magnify the registration marks.  Thus plate mounting accuracy remains subject to hand/eye coordination and questionable tolerances.  Additionally, there is no conclusive prepress data for verifying mounted plate to plate deviation between colors.  These mounted cylinders then go to a high tolerance press where a color or two is rejected, and you realize that your press has just become an expensive proofing and registration checking system.

 

Does it not follow that if one is using and paying for high accuracy digital art, digital plate making and digitally controlled presses, that the plates ought to be digitally mounted, rather than by hand.  By accepting the status quo, the flexographic plate mounting industry has not been pushed to conform to digital work flow standards.  There is plenty of talk about gearless digital presses and digital direct to plate, but where is discussion on the missing link; digital plate mounting.

 

The only solution is an automated, and precision made, digital plate mounting/proofing system in the workflow, between plate making and the press.  It will serve six important functions.  The first function goes without saying ACCURACY.  Accuracy relates directly to print quality, and more importantly, customer satisfaction.  Second, digital measured proof serves as a diagnostic tool for checking artwork, checking plate making deviation and checking repeatability.  Third, digital proof data provides precise plate-to-plate and color-to-color deviation data, within the digital plate and press tolerances.  Actual mounted register locations can be measured to within +/- .0002", far more accurate than a subjective ink proof.  This is important for making intelligent decisions regarding remounts and avoiding costly premature press run.  While a certain percentage of returns from the press for remount has been deemed acceptable, what if this were instead a rare occurrence?  Fourth, a digital proof provides a computer generated graphical tool for press operators to see the actual color-to-color deviations, in order to make intelligent press settings.  It also provides a means of determining and measuring plate making deviations.  Since the data is stored in a database, it can be shared across the company network.  Fifth, is a significant reduction in mounting and proofing time, which means mounting becomes less of a bottleneck in the workflow.  Sixth, automated mounting removes subjective hand mounting and plate handling, and provides smooth plate application without air bubbles.  As plate size increases, this become more of a factor.

 

What is the value-add for an automated digital mounter/proofer in your digital world?  If you think you cannot afford it, then consider the cost of being without it.  The good news is that this technology exists today.  For more information contact us at sales@flexomounting.com .