Pragati Flexo ready for high value label production

Pragati Offset establishes separate packaging plants

Pragati Flexo

Pragati’s label project has been cooking since mid 2005 and the new plant’s centrepiece is a 16-inch wide EF 410 UV flexo label press from MPS Systems BV in the Netherlands. Flexography is a new technology for the company and it is proceeding very systematically to make its entry to the label industry as a high quality supplier, writes Naresh Khanna.

Pragati has become an international printing brand. It is a brand built by daily accomplishment and achievement although the publicity may come from the numerous awards that it wins at the international level. Moreover, Pragati also enters the major Indian competitions and as messy as some of these are
Pragati has become an international printing brand. It is a brand built by daily accomplishment and achievement although the publicity may come from the numerous awards that it wins at the international level. Moreover, Pragati also enters the major Indian competitions and as messy as some of these are, it gives every printer a chance to benchmark themselves against the best in the business.

The daily accomplishments of the Pragati organisation go beyond repeatedly delivering offset print to satisfied customers. In the last few years there has been the hard work of growing the group by establishing three new organisations that are focused on box making, for blister packaging and converting, and the newest, a label manufacturing plant with a brand new fully loaded narrow web flexo press — Pragati Flexo Private Limited.

The box making plant is called Unit No 2 of Pragati Offset itself and it manufactures all kinds of slipcases and boxes that inevitably require some manual labour. Although the plant in Kuktapally, outside Hyderabad, contains both semi-automated and fully automated machinery for box forming and pasting, it is inevitable that fancy boxes include manual steps such as those for incorporating magnetic strip closures.

It is well acknowledged that the Chinese are the masters of making small boxes, but Pragati’s unit is also intent to unravel and learn the secrets of neat handwork for small unique runs.  Without the mass production of high quality boxes, watches, jewellery, and other gift items cannot really be sold within the modern marketing paradigm.

Pragati Pack is also in Kukatpally, a board packaging plant that owns the licence for the Ecobliss blister packaging systems in India and which also produces folding cartons. Apart from being the supplier of environment friendly Ecobliss blister packaging and blister packaging systems, the company is a huge beneficiary of Pragati Offset’s skills in printing with metallic inks, and in the company’s mastery of coatings including UV coating. Pragati is able to uniquely process and print at a very high level on coated boards incorporating the latest offset techniques including full insterstage and end of press UV inks and coatings. These printed sheets are finished and converted at Pragati Pack using a Proteck rotary cylinder silkscreen press and various types of die-cutters including an Ijima and several folder gluers.

Pragati Pack was started in 2001-02 and has since won more than two-dozen India Star packaging awards. It also won the Ameristar award in 2005 for a pharmaceutical packaging job. A key technology for the company is the blister packaging systems that it provides for products that are visible through clear plastic molded to the shape of the product and sealed to a multicolour board that contains the branding and information. Ecobliss blister packaging is suitable for hanging on all kinds of retail display racks and self- service systems.

The environmental advantage is that for recycling, the board and plastic are completely separate and there is no adhesive or board residue on the plastic. The filling and sealing systems are also provided by Pragati to product manufacturers who opt for blister packing. The plant is looked after by AVPS Chakravarthi, a young veteran of the packaging industry, who proudly claims to be one of Pragati Offset’s leading customers.

The flexo label project
Pragati’s label project has been cooking since mid 2005 under the leadership of M Chenga Reddy, and although the new plant got ready last year and the machinery was also installed by the end of last year, considerable testing and planning has been taking place prior to launch in the beginning of February. The centrepiece of the new project is a 16-inch wide MPS EF 410 UV flexo label press from MPS Systems BV in the Netherlands. Pragati has opted for 8 print units that are entirely servo controlled and each unit has UV curing together in additional to several in-line decorating options. The web is transported independently of the printing and converting process.

The press options allow it to manufacture labels on different substrates with an immense variety of effects and with great economy since it has been bought with three complete sets of interchangeable cylinders that allow print-lengths of 12, 16 and 24 inches.

The print unit design of the EF 410 contains a solid lock feature by which the plate and impression cylinders are locked together in a cradle. Print pressure is adjusted by moving the entire assembly without unlocking the gears and this avoids gear marking. The inking assembly – anilox, doctor blade and meter rolls move together and automatically as the pressure changes. Consequently the anilox roller can be changed without losing its pressure and angle setting.

The press is ready for in-line cold foil decoration as well as in line die-cutting using both solid and magnetic rotary dies. Rotary screen and gravure units can also be inserted in the press in place of the flexo units. The press controls are common for all printing systems.

The MPS flexo press is an extremely high quality press capable of printing even one per cent dots at screen resolutions as fine as 200 lines per inch. This seems to be a breakthrough for flexo systems. The dot gain is minimal and Pragati claims that it has achieved lower dot gain on its MPS flexo label press than in its renowned offset plant. The MPS dot is described as a “crisp dot” that, surprisingly for flexo, preserves its round shape and the press is able to sharply reproduce small text and clean solids. This is largely made possible by a free running impression roller with a special soft rubber covering. Since the web infeeds and rewinder are both server driven and the web movement between print units is done with the minimal positive traction there is very little friction, slurr, or dot elongation of any kind. In fact thin flexible substrates are also not pulled or stretched. One might say that positive traction of the web is provided merely by the image areas of the flexo plate and to some extent also by the large diameter chilled transport rollers that are coated with a material that provides minimal but adequate traction.

When we visited the new flexo plant in January extensive trials and fingerprinting of the label press were continuing, although some sample jobs for customers had already been run. The press is capable of extremely efficient changeovers and hence small runs of very high value labels on all kinds of paper and film substrates. These include pressure sensitive label stock, thin films, foil, and board stock. The MPS EF 410 is capable of printing stock from 20 to 250 microns and thus could be used for small high value cartons with security features.

Pragati Flexo Private Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Pragati Offset and relies on Pragati for its prepress work done using a comprehensive solution from EskoGraphics. At the flexo plant there is an Orthotec 2-colour UV silkscreen machine and an Omega slitter rewinder for online numbering from reel to reel. There is also a shrink sleeve forming machine and a hot foil stamping and flatbed die punching machine.

Pragati seems to have gone about setting up this plant quite slowly and methodically. The company is very frank in saying that flexography is a new technology for them although they do bring their huge mastery of prepress, screening techniques, metallics, and UV inks and coatings from the offset realm. But they want to come into the label industry well-prepared and are spending a lot of time and energy in exploring new value additions and product development. Only a very systematic deployment can justify the kind of investment that Pragati has made in this new project. It is not simply a question of financial investment but of the Pragati brand. It is an important brand for the industry.

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.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Packaging South Asia’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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