Shorter runs and faster job changesThe web offset payoff for flexible packaging productionFor those who have never investigated web offset as a solution for their flexible packaging production, the suggestion that it can actually work out to be significantly more cost-effective than gravure and flexography is often greeted with surprise or disbelief. There are a number of reasons why the process is not readily associated with flexible packaging; some are simply the result of misunderstandings about the core technology, while others are based on outdated perceptions based on yesterday’s market.
With high productivity and fast, low-cost plate production and makereadies, web offset is far more capable than flexo to address short lead times and run lengthsAddressing the issues
The two major challenges in flexible
packaging printing and converting today are the demands for shorter runs
and faster job changes. These can be bottom-line killers. Previously,
such jobs were taken on by converters to retain regular, longer-run
business, but were rarely profitable. Today, those once-exceptional jobs
are becoming the norm, and are now beginning to threaten the ongoing
viability of some converting businesses.
In understanding why web
offset can be a solution to many production conundrums, it is helpful
to tackle one of the key confusions in the market: ‘short-run.’ The term
short-run is used to mean significantly different things by different
segments of the converting and general printing markets.
rise of digital presses for flexible packaging printing moved the term
‘short-run’ far below what conventional flexible packaging converters
have traditionally done. At present, the largest digital press on the
horizon has a one-meter web-width and a 4-color printing speed of 300
fpm. Flexo and web offset presses are clearly in a separate category
with speeds five times higher, or more, as well as wider web-widths and
more colors possible.
It is more useful to think of digital run
lengths as ‘micro runs.’ At present, the number of these micro runs and
the total percentage of digitally printed flexible packaging are very
small. Even the double-digit growth forecast for digitally printed
flexible packaging over the next decade will not materially change the
Losing micro runs to digital is not what’s putting
pressure on flexo and gravure printers. It is the runs that are too long
for digital, but too short for profitability — and their increasing
popularity — that are causing the real problem.