Reducing the burden of in-attendance proofing — Part 1

Modernization of gravure prepress and short-runs

The First MULTI EX Gravure Proof press installed at Nissio Gravure

The Japanese flexible packaging converter Nissio Gravure Co., Ltd. has gone beyond simply converting plastic packaging materials and used its know-how to develop the GRAVO-PROOF MULTI, a labour and energy saving 8-color gravure proof press. Developed nearly 30 years ago, they have sold roughly 50 of the machines, but more recently received a manufacturing subsidiary with which they developed a new digital version — the MULTI EX. The new model released in 2015 is easier to set because it is digital, but more importantly produces color proofs that are similar in quality to those produced by actual gravureprinting machines, reduces the burden of in-attendance proofing, and can be used as a minimum run printing machine, all features they are pushing to expand sales. In the first part of this article we will introduce the background to the development of MULTI EX, and in the following article we will introduce the technical details of the system

The GRAVO-PROOF MULTI, which has a maximum of 8 printing cylinders set on the turret, is able to print on the same films and inks used during gravure production runs to provide near-production-quality proofs

In this way, these proof presses eliminate the need to use production printing machines when customers or designers attend proof printing. Additionally, this approach also significantly reduces the waste from films and leftover ink used during in-attendance proofing with production machines. Although production schedules can be delayed if there is a need to change the colors when using production machines during in-attendance proofing, changes can be made easily with the MULTI proof press because it only requires a tiny amount of film and ink. Moreover, a single operator can set the 8 printing cylinders and complete a proof printing in 50 minutes. If the cylinders are already set, 8-color printing only takes 15 minutes.

First full model change in 30 years
According to Masayuki Ako, president of Nissio Gravure, 30 years have passed since they first developed the MULTI proof press. Although he says they have made minor modifications during this time, they had not made any major model changes until recently. As such, after receiving a manufacturing grant, they decided to go ahead and digitalize the machine.

The development project for MULTI EX (EX is short for extra in the sense of special or exceptional) was undertaken in November 2013 by four members from Nissio — Shigeki Takayasu (printing operations department director) as leader, Yoshitaka Aoyagi (machine maintenance department chief) as subleader, Masato Yoshino (sales director), and Jun Ito (cylinder making department) — an advisor from outside; a head director from Nissio; and members for machine production and electrical systems. Their goals were to (1) nurture human resources for succeeding generations through the development of a next-generation gravure proof press, (2) pass on their innovative DNA for machine and equipment manufacturing, and (3) contribute to the growth of the industry through the further development of gravure proof press technology.

A human-friendly gravure proof press
To determine the needs of those actually using the machine, Nissio Gravure conducted a survey of 70 companies that had installed a MULTI proof press or a one-cylinder GRAVO-PROOF GN, to which they received 97 comments regarding 6 items from 20 companies. The top three items were quality (ink thickness, drying, larger printing areas, etc.), operability (automation, digital display), and safety (work environment improvements, injury prevention).

Nissio Gravure also uses the machines, and thus received 175 comments when they surveyed their own employees. The top concerns from the internal survey were safety (work environment improvements, injury prevention), quality (closer results to production machines, application of printing machine technology), and operability (work automation so that anyone can use the machine, addition of operational guidance). There were also ideas for increasing the speed of tone matching by adopting a computer color matching (CCM) type dispenser. Based on these comments, in August 2014 they settled on the development concept of a human-friendly proof press that was focussed on ecology and operability.

Food and automobile part producers as users
The users of MULTI proof presses typically include converters and printers that work with gravure printing, but recently the proof presses have come to be used in different ways. Mr. Ako explains that, for example, gravure cylinder making companies will purchase several MULTI proof presses to set themselves apart from their competitors by offering in-attendance proofing services as a substitute for converters and printers. When in-attendance proofing is made using production machines, the machines cannot be used for production runs at the same time, so this service is a major help for converters and printers, too.

According to Mr. Ako, globally minded companies are wary of data leakage before new products are released. As such, there are cases where food producers, for example, have confirmed the printed designs in-house instead.

Automobile part manufacturers have also purchased MULTI proof presses, which they lend out to printers. Mr. Ako explains that although parts for luxury automobiles are first made in high volumes, these volumes eventually drop off, with only one or two items being delivered at a time. With such small volumes, there is no need to use production run gravure printing machines. Moreover, many companies also need to produce samples, so the automobile part manufacturers lend their MULTI proof presses to printers who then print one or two copies on the machines. In this way, Mr. Ako says that their customers are coming up with uses that go beyond what even they had envisioned.

Masayuki Ako, president of Nissio Gravure

Increasing need for gravure proofing in Southeast Asia
In contrast to these new uses for MULTI proof presses in Japan, Southeast Asia — where the gravure printing market is primarily expanding in the packaging industry — is also seeing an emerging demand for MULTI proof presses. As such, Mr. Ako and Hideyuki Tochizawa, director of the machine department, travelled to Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Korea at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015 to promote the MULTI proof press. After returning to Japan in January 2015, they immediately began to receive orders.

Nissio Gravure’s orders from non-Japanese companies have thus far been limited to a single GN proof press exported to Korea. Mr. Ako explains, however, that Japanese companies that have used the MULTI proof press in Japan have found it convenient enough to use in their overseas plants as well. In this way, Japanese companies that are expanding globally have installed several of the machines already. In addition, Mr. Ako says that in Taiwan and Korea there is a shift to short-runs of many different high-quality products, so there is a growing demand for proof presses. In Thailand and Indonesia, where runs are long, these are used to see how printed proofs made using the actual cylinders match with the production runs on-site.

Mr. Ako goes on to say that the penetration of Japanese convenience stores into local markets is also having a major influence on the rapid ‘Japanization’ of packaging printing in Southeast Asia. For example, the packages for products sold in Japanese convenience stores in Thailand have the same print quality as those sold in Japan. In this way, when local people see these, they start to demand the same level of quality from other goods as well. He also says that there is a common feeling that Chinese gravure printing machines do not offer the same performance as Japanese machines, and that the Chinese machines become useless after two or three years. As such, local companies are starting to purchase Japanese gravure printing machines, even though these are expensive. Because the machines are more expensive, these companies naturally do not want to stop the machine for in-attendance proofing or printing, which has led to an increasing demand for proof presses.

For the time being, MULTI EX is only being sold in Japan until a global support system is in place, so they are focussing on sales of their other MULTI proof presses globally.

Reprinted by permission from Convertech & e-Print, July-August 2015.


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