Faster, more precise and sustainable – Kodak Flexcel NX Ultra at IGT

“Flexo is better than gravure” – Zaki Ali, vice president, Kodak FPD

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Kodak
Hector Elias and Rob Anderson of IGT standing between the Tresu and Gallus flexo presses – each press has more than 20 print units. Photo IGT

Kodak announced its very fast water-wash Flexcel NX Ultra flexo plate system in September 2018. NX Ultra uses the same digitally exposed Thermal Imaging Layer as its Flexcel NX plates that have become a benchmark for quality flexo with their flat-top dots with engineered surfaces for good ink transfer. Hence, using the same Flexcel NX imager but with a new aqueous process plate and processor, Kodak has already placed its NX Ultra Solution at three beta sites in the United States. The system is due to be released first in North America in Q1 of 2019.

Kodak 9623
Flexible packaging produced on a CI
flexo press by Temkin International
in Utah – one of three initial beta
sites for the Kodak Flexcel NX Ultra
Solution

In mid-October, several trade journalists and analysts were given an opportunity to understand where Kodak’s flexo plate division is headed in terms of the overall packaging industry outlook and some first-hand insights to the company’s noteworthy flexo technology development. “I personally believe that flexo, especially in package printing, has a tremendous opportunity as we move forward,” said Chris Payne, president of Kodak’s flexographic packaging division in Orlando. “In a way we are still in the innovation phase and we need to continue to further transform flexo into a consistent, repeatable, predictable and sustainable process – in short, an industrial process that makes both packaging converters and brand owners happy.”

Kodak 9616
Wine label produced by G3 of
Modesto California using Flexcel NX
Ultra plates

Payne added that as brand owners continue to look for efficiency and sustainability, modern flexo presses producing high quality packaging at 175 lpi and running at 350 meters a minute are increasingly taking away flexible packaging printing from other processes. He spoke of continued investment in R&D and the doubling of the company’s flexo plate capacity. Kodak’s new line for its Thermal Imaging Layer and its Flexcel NX and Flexcel NX Ultra plates is to be commissioned in Oklahoma Q1 of 2019 to keep up with demand that is outpacing the industry.

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Scratch lottery cards produced by IGT at its Lakeland Florida plant. The company is one of the global leaders in the gaming and lottery segment finds the Flexcel NX Ultra solution not only fast and clean, but also key to achieving its sustainability agenda

Emma Schlotthauer, director marketing and communication at Kodak FPD, said that flexo has risen to industry-setting levels. She said that product managers and packaging designers now revel in a higher level of design freedom that is new to flexo. The process is transforming a craft to a standardized and optimized manufacturing process on a par with all other processes. “With the focus on improving consistency. . . Brand owners stress and want packaging that is print process agnostic.” “Nevertheless,” she added, “the new face of flexo requires an evolution in best practices.”

Hassle-free flexo

Kodak 8285
Chris Payne president of Kodak’s
Flexo Packaging Division speaking
at the Kodak VIP Flexo Summit in
Orlando

Kodak FPD’s vice president and chief technical officer Zaki Ali spoke of the ‘intimate contact’ that is at the heart of Kodak’s thermal imaging layer’s perfect image transfer to the Flexcel NX and NX Ultra plates and their in-built Advanced Edge Definition and expertly engineered flat-topped dots known as Advanced DIGiCAP and NX Patterning. Raising the stakes, he asserted, “Flexo is better than gravure. . . . The benefits that you get with the Flexcel NX Ultra are not measurable compared to the complexity of the process.”

Ali pointed to the simplicity of the new process—the new Flexcel NX Ultra 35 processing unit includes exposure unit,

Kodak 8304
Emma Schlotthauer director
Marketing and Communication at
Kodak FPD speaking at the Kodak
VIP Flexo Summit in Orlando

aqueous washout system, drying and finishing. “It’s built for production and represents an optimized, end-to-end digital plate making solution that can produce up to 25 plates in a shift—the first, in less than one hour, followed by others in just 15 minutes apiece. The entire process is hassle and hazard free.

The event was broadened by hearing out two experts at one of Kodak’s NX Ultra beta sites—the International Game Technology (IGT) plant in Lakeland, Florida. The IGT plant produces scratch lottery tickets on each of its more than 20-unit mid-web Tresu and Gallus flexo presses. Rob Anderson and Hector Elias at IGT explained and showed the extremely specialized, high security and totally artefact-free printing operations at the plant.

Zaki Ali Kodak FPD’s vice president and chief technical officer speaking at the Kodak VIP Flexo Summit in Orlando
Zaki Ali Kodak FPD’s vice president and chief technical officer speaking at the Kodak VIP Flexo Summit in Orlando

At IGT’s neat and odor-free platemaking unit, we saw the production of the new Flexcel NX Ultra plate using the same imager that the company used earlier to image Flexcel NX plates, to create the same mask (Thermal Imaging Layer) and the new integrated exposure and water-based processing unit. It is a good example of an easy upgrade where only the processing component needs to be changed to produce the same high quality plate as the Kodak Flexcel NX and where the NX Ultra process becomes as competitively quick as thermal systems while maintaining the quality of Flexcel NX—delivering a 1:1 image transfer right from the digital file up to the robust press-ready plate.

The IGT beta site in Lakeland

The new Flexcel NX Ultra 35 processing unit includes exposure unit, aqueous washout system, drying and finishing
The new Flexcel NX Ultra 35 processing unit includes exposure unit, aqueous washout system, drying and finishing

The added benefit for companies such as IGT (which lists sustainability as one of its primary goals) is the totally solvent-free processing of flexo plates that are not only of the best quality in terms of ink transfer and image contrast but can also be run on CI flexo presses with water-based inks that are increasingly becoming available. Our hosts at IGT said they were pleased at the results of the totally solvent-free, VOC-free, aqueous solution-based processing that delivers the first clean, consistent, press-ready plate in less than an hour. After the first plate, NX Ultra system can produce subsequent plates at 18 to 20 minute intervals or 25 plates in an 8-hour shift.

“We have a green initiative in our facility,” explained Rob

Kodak 8302
Bill Schweinfurth, worldwide
product manager of Kodak FPD
presented a brief overview of the
work in progress and some of the
benefits already visible at the three
current beta test sites running the
Felexcel NX Ultra solution. The
three sites include IGT in Florida,
G3 a wine label printer in California
and Temkin International a flexible
packaging printer in Utah.

Anderson, IGT’s director of Production and Planning. “So, knowing that NX Ultra was to be a water wash product and we wouldn’t have to deal with solvent-based processing, was very appealing to us. The operators of our flexo presses really appreciate the Kodak plates. They see the difference in the dots and how they print and how vignettes, our fine screens, how everything looks so much cleaner and essentially it has made their job much easier. The NX Ultra product itself has been all that has been promised. We can get plates much faster and we’ve accomplished our green initiative.”

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VIANaresh 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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