ONE of Australia's leading privately-owned flexographic printers and converters, Finewrap Australia , is continuing to invest heavily in the top quality end of flexography with the recent installation of Australia's first wide-web 10-colour press and the adoption of new continuous-print photopolymer sleeves.
But it has not ignored the commodity end of the market, taking over Beaver Plastics in 2001 and Australian Challenge last year to give it a strong national presence and capabilities across the whole spectrum of flexographic printing.
Finewrap's annual turnover across its two plants in Melbourne and one each in Brisbane and the United States, is about $160 million a year.
Its latest initiatives, though, are clearly aimed at taking away more of the up-market flexible packaging printing from rotogravure. This includes the installation of an eight-colour gearless Fischer & Krecke press in 2001 and the new 10-colour press this year.
Finewrap national sales and marketing manager John Hetherton said that continual improvements in the flexographic process over the past 15 years had allowed flexo to take a great deal of work from the more expensive rotogravure process.
"However, there remains a tantalising amount of up-market work we haven't been able to win over to flexography, such as the best chocolate confectionery packaging and the like.
"One of the problems until now has been the gaps or joins between repeats which are inherent in flexo. We have now overcome this with the new plates-in-the-round supplied by Scanapak, and are keen to push on up into these new areas," he said.
The continuous print photopolymer sleeves produced by Scanapak were a revolutionary packaging solution.
"The photopolymer sleeves eliminate gaps or joins that were inherent in the flexo process and now allow for a continuous printed image around the print cylinder.
"The fact that there is no longer a join eliminates both butt joins and subsequent plate lifting that damages plates and requires costly remakes and manufacturing downtimes.
"The sleeve technology also allows for higher screen rulings improving the end print result. The need for customers to use a gravure process over flexo is now removed and the quality gap between these two processes continues to reduce."
Hetherton said the new technology had improved registration, minimised dot gain and eliminated mounting time and associated costs. Higher productivity and faster press speeds along with improved colour fidelity had also been achieved.
Expanding on the technology of the continuous-print sleeve, Scanapak's Cameron Wilson explained that a blank photopolymer sleeve was supplied by Dupont. The design was then mounted on a Rotec bridge sleeve and digitally imaged on an Esko Graphics CDI.
"The imaged blank is exposed in a Cyrel Round exposure unit and washed out in a Round Inline processor, which also dries and light finishes the photopolymer sleeve inline," he said.
"After quality control procedures are completed, the sleeve is then shipped to the customer."
At the customer's plant, a compressible bridge sleeve from Rotec was fitted over the printing machine mandrel. The photopolymer sleeve then slid over the bridge sleeve. This eliminated the need for mounting tape.
Wilson said the photopolymer sleeve was available in size from 300mm wide to 1750mm wide and a repeat of 280mm to 1200mm. The photopolymer sleeve had to be the full width of the printer's sleeve.
Hetherton said Finewrap's recently-commissioned 10-colour Fischer & Krecke flexographic press featured an inline gravure printing station capable of applying coldseal coatings.
The press incorporated all the latest features from the world's best flexographic press manufacturer including gearless drives that could facilitate any print repeat length, automatic register controls, video inspection units and automatic wash-up systems for quicker change-overs.
"With the extra print stations available we now have the flexibility to hone in on 'brand' identification colours while maintaining improved tonal and colour reproduction," Hetherton said.