Flexography which has traditionally lagged behind gravure in South Asia, has started picking up in the last seven or eight years. While in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, wide web flexo is perhaps more popular than in other parts of the subcontinent, in India too, high quality wide web flexo presses are gradually increasing. However, in India it is the rapid increase of narrow web flexo presses that seems to be driving the growth of digital flexo.
There is a virtuous spiral of quality at work as higher specification labels are printed on servo driven label presses that can deliver a one per cent dot. To get the one per cent dot you need a digitally exposed flexo plate. Ultimately the quality level generated by the combination of servo driven Gallus, Omet, Nilpeter, GDS, and MPS presses forces all label printers to upgrade their quality levels in order to compete. In addition, the servo driven presses have quick makereadies and these too demand not only better flexo plates but also faster turnarounds from the prepress trade shops or in-house departments.
The first digital flexo imager in South Asia, a CDI Compact, was installed in 2000 by Packages Limited in Lahore, Pakistan. The second digital imager, again a CDI, was perhaps that of JDC Graphics in Colombo, Sri Lanka, one of the larger prepress trade-houses in the subcontinent. Numex Blocks of Mumbai in India installed its first CDI in 2002. Numex traded in or upgraded the device twice reaching a maximum size capability of 48 x 35 inch size in 2005. Then came the installation of a CDI at trade house Digital Process in Karachi, Pakistan in 2005. One of the incentives at Digital Process which is affiliated to the large packaging printer and converter Compass Packaging, was the need to image Flint’s new Double Gold plate for achieving high quality halftone flexo gold. Another CDI imager installation is imminent at another trade house in Karachi, Ashrafi Enterprises.
We really couldn’t understand why Numex in India remained the only supplier of digital flexo plates for so long. However, in end 2005 and in 2006 a number of digital imagers were ordered and installed. First came the Creo (Kodak) digital flexo imager that was announced at the Printpack in January in 2006 and eventually installed a few months later. Then at IPEX06 in Birmingham, both Color Dots Madras in Chennai and Veepee Graphic Solutions in Bangalore placed their orders for Esko CDI Spark 4835 imagers with a maximum plate size of 48 x 35 inches. These were both installed in 2006 and Veepee has been supplying digital flexo plates for the fingerprinting, colour management, and production that have been done so far on Pragati Flexo’s new servo driven MPS label press. Thus both Western and Southern India have multiple digital flexo plate suppliers.
CDM in Chennai, also installed the Cyrel Fast 1000TD solventless plate processor from DuPont. Cyrel Fast uses a dry thermal technology for plate development, completely eliminating conventional solvents and aqueous washout solutions. In addition to the obvious environmental and health gain, it also reduces the plate processing times by up to 300%. The new Cyrel Fast producing a high quality finished plate containing halftone, linework and solids in less than one hour. The thermal technology used in the process eliminates the need for solvents and waste polymer is collected on a non-woven fabric, making disposal simple and safe. Recently, Pinmark in Ahmedabad has also installed a Cyrel Fast processor.
In North India the first CDI flexo imager will be installed at the new EIH press plant that is coming up at Manesar about 20 kilometers south of the Indira Gandhi airport, on the Delhi-Jaipur road. This in-house facility is meant principally for providing plates for EIH’s new servo driven Gallus EM410S flexo label press although there is a possibility that they will image plates for other label printers as well. The press itself is quite a breakthrough since it is the first sleeve press in South Asia at least, with eight flexo units, hot foil, and screen printing units and three rotary die-cutting stations.
Digital flexo imagers are being driven by the increased complexity and quality on a variety of presses doing all kinds of work. In South Asia, the new wide web flexo presses from W&H and Fischer & Krecke are also changing over to digital plates as are the narrow web label presses led by the new servo driven machines. Of the twenty or so narrow web label presses that come into India each year about half are high quality machines with more than six units, rotary screen units and servo drives. In addition, the improvement of white goods corrugated packaging using white liner material is also creating demand for high quality flexo reproduction and thus, digital flexo plates.