Afflatus – a flexible packaging prepress house committed to sustainability

Afflatus automates flexo with Esko and DuPont inline systems

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Arun Pandey, vice president Afflatus in front of the DuPont 3000 modular automated processing line for flexo plates Photo PSA
Arun Pandey, vice president Afflatus in front of the DuPont 3000 modular automated processing line for flexo plates Photo PSA

We first met Noida-headquartered Afflatus several years ago when it was a prepress house supplying high-quality gravure cylinders for the flexible packaging of the country’s leading brand owners. The company is the largest cylinder maker in India with plants in Noida, Chennai, Vapi, and Kolkata. It’s an organization that has always been in a growth mode while at the same time it seeks to achieve global standards in color management, automation, and sustainability.

When we wrote again about Afflatus in 2016 it was after it had installed the Think Labs robotic cylinder preparation and engraving system. The Think Labs FX2 is not only productive with its automation but a very high-quality engraving system for legible text in small sizes and high contrast in halftone images. At the same time, since it is capable of reducing cell depths to as little as 5 to 7 microns. It has achieved excellent results at cell depths of 12 microns with the benefit that the same color densities can be achieved using much less ink on the modern gravure presses running at 300 and 450 meters a minute and even higher. The sustainability of flexible packaging improves with the reduction of the ink layer by 20% and parallel reductions in the use of solvents and volatile organic compounds, while the curing or drying process requires less heat further lowering the carbon footprint of the entire process.

Afflatus enters flexo prepress

After our story about the FX2 robotic system, we wrote about Afflatus investing in its first flexo prepress system, the Esko CDI Crystal 5080 XPS imager just before the LabelExpo India event that took place in Greater Noida in 2018. This was purchased and installed not only with the full suite of Esko software but also with the fully automated DuPont Cyrel 3000 modular processing line. Only recently were we able to visit the Afflatus plant in Sector 68 in Noida where we saw what we can only describe as the most magnificent flexo prepress installation that we have ever seen.

Afflatus
The second Think Labs FX2 robotics cylinder preparation and engraving and plating system at the Afflatus plant in Noida Photo Packaging South Asia

Every aspect of the flexo prepress and plate making system is automated with cameras mounted within the DuPont 3000 processing line for visual monitoring on a giant monitor. The system with its highly automated Kongsberg table for cutting flexo plates is extremely productive and produces more than 120 photopolymer flexo plates daily.

Our conversations with Afflatus vice-president Arun Pandey are generally wide-ranging across technologies and industry concerns from sustainability to human resources and even the overly competitive pricing that has now come to the flexo plate market as well. While he says that flexo plate pricing could be better structured by the industry, it is clear that Pandey is looking quite far ahead in terms of global quality and sustainability issues for both gravure and flexo.

Automation, digital ERP, an app and AI are being put to use

Discussing the supply of cylinders and plates during the pandemic lockdowns and after, Pandey described in considerable detail the systems and infrastructure the company was able to put in place to combine work from home for skilled technicians in prepress with that of the strictly organized hands-on technicians who had to man or simply monitor the output devices and processing equipment. “The installation of the second Think Labs automated robotic system at the Noida plant, for cylinder prep and engraving and finishing certainly helped, as did the automated Esko and DuPont systems for flexo, as did many of our significant precautions and arrangements over the past 19 months. We were also fortunate to have a highly skilled and compact workforce,” he said.

Another achievement in the past couple of years is the integration of Afflatus’ production floor across its plants country-wide. Through its digital interface with all the production units there is better control on the consistency of the output and timely commitments to customers. This has been recently been taken a step further, with the company having its own app to keep clients and the management and production teams updated on every SKU’s status. The company has incorporated several innovations including chips embedded to identify and track and trace each cylinder. At our meeting, Pande explained his vision to take the automation concepts further by adding artificial intelligence to make the current system more productive and efficient.

This article is published in the November printed issue of Packaging South Asia to be mailed on 4 and 5 November 2021.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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