SMI Labels and Packaging Materials

Friday, December 18, 2020

Flexography- Prepress and Photopolymer plates

 The author has already posted 2 Flexographic printing related articles on this blog. The first one was “Developments in flexo printing and label production technologies” https://www.labelsandpackagingworld.com/2020/10/developments-in-flexo-printing-and.html  and the second one was based on a successful entrepreneur Deepanshu Goel of Creative Graphic Solutions Private Limited who has established Prepress and Photopolymer plate making units around the country. https://www.labelsandpackagingworld.com/2020/11/creative-graphics-service-to.html . Deepanshu Goel has cooperated in putting together this article by providing necessary inputs on flexo prepress and Photopolymer plate making.

Flexographic printing has been around for many years, but the biggest advances came about in the 1990s with the development of photopolymer plates. In the last three decades, a lot of development has taken place bringing ease of use in this printing technology to print on a wide range of substrates and its subsequent adoption by diverse converters of labels and flexible packaging. Providing quick make ready, faster change overs and steadily improving processes to achieve high print quality has led to its fast proliferation. Since the prepress and photopolymer plate is the essence of achieving the right print we will dwell on the nuances and process involved from prepress to plate manufacture. Photo polymer printing plates for flexo are flexible polymer-based sheets on which raised images are created as described in process later in this article and they are mounted or wrapped around print cylinders. Ink is transferred to the raised images or characters to be transferred to the substrates. Aniloxes are the ink delivery system in flexo. The purpose of the anilox roller is to transfer ink from an ink tray after removal of excess with a doctor blade, metered and uniform amount ink to the printing plate, which in turn would transfer the image to the substrate.

 Pre-Press

Pre-press is a process or activity that needs to be undertaken before a plate is produced to achieve the graphic print result as close to the artwork of the intended design. To start with, the Prepress house gets a file that needs to be printed on different substrates from a brand owner, converter or printing company. Since the file so received may have been prepared for a different printing technology like offset or rotogravure, the prepress house has to convert it to be suitable for flexo printing specifically conforming to the particular printer’s equipment considering their limitations and capabilities. A good prepress house knows how the plates are going to be used to print, on which machines and which aniloxes, inks, substrates, etc., they must standardize the plates accordingly. The flexo prepress house will take care of all the variables. When the file is received colour separation is done using specialized software. Deepanshu Goel of Creative says, “we have the largest automation engine in the country”. Aniloxes are an important part of the prepress, if a customer comes before buying a machine then they are advised on the purchase of their anilox library in terms of brand names, number required and specifications. If a customer comes to them after having purchased the machine and aniloxes then the prepress house does the optimization as per the anilox library they already have. The resolution of the printed image is directly dependent on the aniloxes size and the dot size. There is direct correlation between the anilox cell size and the dot size. You cannot have a finer dot with a course anilox, so depending on the anilox library with the printer, the dot size is decided.

 

On receipt of an artwork the prepress house will, first do the finger printing of the printing press to assess how the press will print with different variables like aniloxes, inks, tapes, etc. that are available and intended to use. Fingerprinting is a process whereby the variables available are optimized so as to analyse the ink density they are getting on the different aniloxes, the dot gain, the trappings, the pressure settings they have, what are the number of colour limitations they have. Optimization is identifying the best set of variables to achieve your design requirements. In fact, the whole data of the machine is taken in fingerprinting process and then a profile of the machine is made by the prepress house in their system to study the limitations of the library and decide which LPI or Lines Per Inch of the plate will not go beyond a certain point and that the customer has capacity to print a particular LPI only. After analysing the fingerprinting, colour correction is done as per their capacity to manage colour and as per the substrate to finally move on to producing the photopolymer plate.

Plate making equipment is supplied by various companies that include Kodak, Dupont, Glunz & Jensen, Esko, Flint besides many more. The plate making equipment essentially include the following.

·      Processors

·      Exposure units

·       Dryers


The plates are supplied by Dupont, Flint, Kodak, McDermid, etc. In 1974, DuPont introduced the first elastomeric photopolymer printing plates under the Cyrel brand to the printing packaging industry along with the first solvent workflow equipment in 1974 and by the 1980s began developing automated inline platemaking and processing systems, recognizing the advantages of pairing plate and equipment to improve quality and productivity. Light finishing replaced chemical finishing and DuPont commercialized the first safer alternative plate processing solvents in 1990, which enhanced the sustainability of flexographic printing. Later DuPont introduced the DuPont Cyrel Digital Imager (CDI), the first digital Cyrel plate, and a fully digital prepress workflow at DRUPA in 1995. This enabled the industry to move away from film based prepress workflows and implement a distributed digital workflow, using laser ablatable masks (LAMs) to achieve compute to plate (CTP) output that allows design and production files to be easily shared by brand owners, trade shops, and printers prior to printing.  Prasenjit Das, Sales Manager - South Asia adds, “DuPont Advance Printing across four decades, has introduced a broad range of innovative Cyrel® flexographic platemaking equipment, plates and workflow solutions that enable printers and printer converters to optimize quality, productivity and sustainability. From solvent and thermal workflows to platemaking equipment, peripherals and more, we've raised the standard for flexo technology”.  According to Prasenjit, a full range of digital and analog Cyrel® flexo plates and sleeves are available from Dupont for both thermal and solvent workflows, the introduction of the thermal process Cyrel® FAST platemaking workflow has brought rapid access platemaking to a packaging industry where every minute counts. The elimination of solvents or the need for a drying step has cut down flexo plate processing time to as little as a half hour. Dupont’s Cyrel® FAST thermal workflow is a complete plate production system supported by complementary Cyrel® equipment, a workflow solution for a variety of printing applications, enabling fast processing, cost savings, sustainability and improved press performance

Esko offers specialized software for flexo and CDI machines i.e., Imaging machines or imaging engines and software which empower a digital file to be replicated on a flexo plate in terms of dot structure and the pixel size. According to
Karan Talwar Director Sales – South Asia, Esko’s business model comprises of Software, Hardware & Services integrated strongly with each other, driving optimized performance. Esko’s portfolio of software products performs a wide range of specific functions for packaging, labels, and sign and display applications:

  • structural design of boxes, flexible packaging or other specific shapes. 
  • integration of graphic and structural design. 
  • prepress functions: image retouching, color management, plate preparation, content  management and control, printing or finishing specific preparations like screening or registration marks;
  • process management functions: automation of prepress functions and the prepress workflow;

Esko’s portfolio encompasses digital flexo solutions from narrow-web label printing to wide format corrugated printing. The range of CDI computer-to-plate imagers offers high quality and productivity for digital flexo platemaking for all markets and applications. Karan further adds, “With complete portfolio of Packaging Management software, Packaging Design software, Packaging Prepress software & Automation software strongly integrated with Esko CDI Spark & Crystal range of Flexo plate imaging products, we can proudly state that over 80% of all digital Flexo plates worldwide are produced with Esko technology. Esko’s developed technologies like HD Flexo, Full HD Flexo, Crystal CDI, Crystal XPS UV LED Exposure are driving high level of quality and consistency in Flexo printing for various applications”. 

Miraclon is the new home of Kodak Flexcel Solutions. Miraclon is fully focused on the development, production and sale of Kodak Flexcel technology. This includes the Flexcel NX Imager and the Flexcel NX Laminator which form the equipment component, along with the consumables. Explaining their process Hersh Lulla Marketing Manager, Asia Pacific Region; The flexo plate-making process when utilizing Kodak Flexcel Solutions in pre-press includes:  


  • The 1-bit TIFF file is prepared, at which stage the pre-press operator selects the right Digicap NX pattern (proprietary Miraclon technology) which allows for higher densities and optimum ink laydown.
  • The file is then sent to the Flexcel NX System, which outputs the file on the Thermal Imaging Layer (TIL) utilizing Kodak SQUARESPOT imaging technology. The TIL is a uniquely designed film that provides rapid, high-resolution imaging for true 1:1 dot reproduction.
  • This Thermal Imaging Layer (TIL) is then laminated onto the Flexcel NXH photopolymer plate using the Flexcel NX Laminator. This lamination process eliminates oxygen from plate exposure and creates higher-performing plates that hold stable and consistent dots. This is a patented technology process.
  • The laminated TIL-NXH is then main-exposed with UVA light.
  • The exposed, delaminated NXH plate is then put through processing, drying and light finishing (under UVC lights) to complete the plate-making process.

Kodak Flexcel NX Solutions simplifies the overall plate-making process while offering significant productivity and image quality benefits. Consistent plate-making and accurate image reproduction mean fewer plate re-makes in pre-press, while also enabling a much higher level of sustainability on press by reducing start-up wastage and ink consumption through optimized ink laydown to achieve higher densities.

Deepanshu Goel
According to Deepanshu Goel of Creative graphic Solutions explaining the process employed by them, similar plate making equipment is offered by suppliers like Flint, Kodak and Dupont. First with help of special flexo prepress software from Esko one has to do all as mentioned above up to color management. Then with the special imaging engine they rip the file into pixels, then these pixels are imaged on a Dupont, Flint or kodak plate depending on the machine. There are different processes in use now to produce a photopolymer flexo plate. These are as follows:


  • Analog aqueous, or water wash: Plates using a negative to expose on the plate exposure and wash using a water system.
  • Analog solvent wash: Same as above but using a solvent wash.
  • Digital ablation aqueous: LAM (Laser Ablation mask) Plate is exposed with an electronic image sent through a laser ablation unit, which ablates a plate covered with an aluminum mask. Followed by UV exposure and water washing.
  • Digital ablation solvent: Same as above that the plate is covered with Carbon and washed with solvent.
  • Digital ablation thermal: Digitally ablating the masked plate, exposing to UV and finished in dry thermal processing unit.
  • Digital laser engraving: Laser engraves complete image into exposed plate or sleeve.

He further explains that the LAM plate is imaged in the CDI engine and this image is exposed on the plate and the exposed part is polymerized by UVA light action. While the exposed portion gets polymerized, the unexposed portion is washed off in washing equipment with different chemicals, dried then given de-tacking with UVC machines. One plate takes minimum 2-3 hours to make.  Plate has drying time of 90-120 minutes depending on plate thickness and plate size. From receipt of artwork to plate delivery is about 12 hours.

Evolution and changes keep coming to flexo printing like flat top dots, changing polymers for different surface tension enabling better transfer of different inks and different shore hardness. The plate manufacturers keep altering the chemistries of the plate materials to achieve improved printing. Improving imaging  is also an ongoing process, especially with small pixel size by altering  the shape of dots. Changes are taking place with RIP engines to achieve different dot shapes and angles to get a better transfer and get a sharper image. So, depending on the targeted quality of image different dot size and shapes are made.

Flexo has prospered due to ease of use and cannot be really compared to other technologies as all have their own advantages. It makes converting much easier with in line converting. With the advent of UV inks, quality of flexo has come closer to offset with higher LPI, however with lower consumption of ink, higher densities, printing half tones, offset still has a better edge. The constant evolution of flexo has enabled the gap to be narrowed and the print quality is now becoming the preferred one universally.

 Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman, Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi India December 2020

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Creative Graphics; Service to flexographic printers at their doorstep!

Digital Flexo Plates

Flexographic printing has evolved from being a basic printing technology to a technically advanced process that can turn out quality prints comparable to those produced by the best of printing processes. The credit of this advancement goes to the development of prepress and printing plates. Prepress is the term that we refer to as the process to make ready the press, the design layout and transforming the design into data files that will eventually lead to producing the photopolymer plates to print the files on to paper or other substrates. A technically strong prepress ensures success in producing the right kind of printing. Deepanshu Goel, an Alumnus of New Delhi’s prestigious Hindu College from where he completed his B.Sc. Electronics in 1994, joined his parental business of manufacturing communication cables that was started by his father 35 years ago. Having been a topper in studies, he was not comfortable in the cables business and wished to do something different and more to do with evolving technologies. In 1998, a friend who was having a stack type flexo press suggested that he start flexo plate making business. Even though he had no knowledge of flexography yet, Deepanshu quit the cable manufacturing business in 2001, to start a plate making business.

At that time in 2001, when he did not even know what was CMYK which stands for "Cyan Magenta Yellow Black" the four basic colors used for printing color images, with a meager investment of 35000 Rupees, two employees and himself to help, he started his polymer plate making business Creative Graphics in East Delhi’s Vishwas Nagar. Those were difficult days since Deepanshu had no previous knowledge of the process. He acquired literature to understand the nuances of plate making and got hands on learning as they progressed.  Soon he had to relocate due to property sealing initiated by the Municipal Corporation Delhi, for non-permissible commercial activity in residential colonies. They moved their operations to a 1000 square foot factory in Noida’s Sector 10 from where they later shifted to Sector 9 in Noida. Mistakes happen when you are indulging in a technology that is alien to you, he bought machines that were not ideally suited for flexography and instead were meant for offset printing. Since the mindset was clearly focused on to flexographic printing plate technology and not Offset printing, the machines were sold off and new equipment that was suited for flexo plate making was acquired. In an effort to further educate himself and enhance his knowledge of plate making Deepanshu acquired literature published by BASF printing systems Germany which in 2005 became a part of the Flint group. Technology for the process at that time was not freely available so he was able to sharpen his skill by reading and practically implementing what he learnt from the literature. No doubt he made mistakes but those were taken in his stride to learn the intricacies’ of producing the perfect plates for flexographic printing.

Until 2008 Creative was making plates manually with help of small basic machines. Those were struggling days. Learning and finetuning as they went along, they associated with Flint who supported them in gaining required knowledge. In 2008 they moved to their own 3000 square foot premises in sector 8 Noida. The same year they bought the “nyloflex® Combi F III” from Flint, a Compact all-in-one system for back, main and post exposure, washout, drying and light finishing of flexo plates that would produce consistent quality due to process automation. Deepanshu Goel’s very first customer was a small flexo printer followed by printers having small stack type presses making flexible packaging and catering mostly to snack producers.  The actual break came when he started to supply metal backed UV coating plates for calendar and brochure manufacturing to Rajesh Batra lead Surya Print Process New Delhi, this was their take off point. Creative Graphics’ first Narrow Web flexo label customer was Vijay Jain led A & A labels New Delhi, who were at that time producing labels for Modicare. After this there was no looking back and it was just sharpening and perfecting skills. They also started to diversify into other segments like corrugated board, flexible packaging, stationery, etc.  besides expanding their reach to other printers in the fast-growing label industry. The flexo plate business is such that no single customer is very big, realizing this fact, for Deepanshu expanding customer base was an imperative for growing his business.

In 2008 yet again Creative Graphics acquired another 3000 square feet premises also in Noida’s Sector 8 taking their total shopfloor area to 6000 square feet. Once the economic slowdown of 2008-2010 ended, label business which was growing even during the recessionary period started looking up furthermore. In 2012-13 there was a rush of flexo press installations and it proved beneficial for the photopolymer plate business and helped Creative Graphics to grow. Added to this there was a substantial shift within the pharma, liquor, lube oil and other FMCG industries from wet glue to self-adhesive labels. Then in 2009 they bought and installed Kodak ThermoFlex Mid II Platesetter that helps turn prepress into a controlled, digital manufacturing process and enhance the quality of flexographic printing, reduce cycle times, and improve process control by eliminating variables in the plate manufacturing process. Having firmly established themselves in narrow web flexo label business, in 2012 they bought the Esko Spark digital imager followed by installing yet another processing line and a series of equipment from Dupont.

Once he was fully settled and operational in the flexographic plate making business, Deepanshu Goel decided to drive growth into his business, both organic and inorganic. He brought his total business under one company that is Creative Graphic Solutions India Private Limited. In 2017 he went on an expansion and acquisition spree by first starting operations in Mumbai then starting the Hyderabad unit that he has put under management of his brother and then acquiring the Nagesh Bakshi lead Chennai based Colordot. In 2018 he started his Baddi (Himachal Pradesh) unit bringing the total number of manufacturing units to five. Being in a service industry where time is the essence for a printer to cater to needs of large customers, he tries to be multilocational and near his label printer customers. In 2019 he moved his main unit in Noida to an 800 square meter plot in Noida’s sector 58 with 24000 square foot shopfloor. In first week of December 2020, he will be commencing production at his 6th facility at Ahmedabad. Creative Graphics is presently working out of a total 50,000 square feet shop floor area across its five units in India employing 280 people. While in this pandemic year the growth has been flat yet in preceding times, they have continuously registered 15-20% annual growth. Since as mentioned earlier in this article that a large and ever-increasing customer base is an imperative in driving this business of photo polymer plates to higher levels, Creative Graphics has done quite well. Total number of customers has reached between 700-800 out of which 250-300 are from the narrow web labels industry which is the biggest segment of their business.



Deepanshu Goel’s wife Sarika is a home maker, his elder son Tanul is a budding cricketer studying in class 12 and the younger son Utsav is in class 6., both are studying at Pathways School. When asked whether his sons will join his business Deepanshu is clear in his mind and says, “I cannot say, they will decide for themselves as I did for myself. Times are such that decisions must emanate out of interest and passion to achieve success”.



Looking at future Creative is trying build capabilities to project themselves as solution providers. While upgrading themselves with timely investment in technology to enhance their capabilities, they are also trying support growth of flexo label industry by providing sponsorship to industry related knowledge delivering events. When asked how he sees himself in 5 years, he says “we strive to double our turnover in maybe 2 to 3 years with both organic and inorganic growth”.  On the evolution of different print technologies entering the label industry, he is not worried and insists that all will grow. Market share may get divided but by the natural growth in demand, volumes will still grow and there will be enough business for all.  In fact, he is confident that flexo is evolving as a substitute for other printing technologies. He does get a little pensive when we talk of sustainability and environmental concerns as most plates after being used up either go to landfills or are incinerated. For this he feels the larger producers of plate material who develop the chemistries are the right people to address this problem. 

Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi November 2020

Printing magazines are permitted to reproduce this article only by giving credit to the author and mentioning the blog address http://harveersahni.blogspot.com


Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Developments in flexo printing and label production technologies


Flexographic printing in India has undergone a sea change in the last few decades. My own experience dates back to the 1980s when as siliconiser I was selling silicone coated release paper sheets to screen printers manufacturing stickers. I was under pressure to brand my silicone sheets to get higher brand positioning, value and increase in demand. Since the reverse of the silicon sheets was blank, few other suppliers of release paper located in Mumbai started printing the same image of a diamond to differentiate the uncoated side from the coated side so that sticker manufacturers would know which side to use as a protective layer for the pressure sensitive adhesive on the sticker. It was this need to print that lead me to learn about flexographic printing process and print my own registered trademark. It was a very rudimentary process whereby a butanol based ink was picked up by a rubber roller and transferred through an intermediate roller to a rubber plate mounted on another roller and the image was then in a moving web transferred to the paper. The rubber printing plate was natural rubber based and made more like a rubber stamp after vulcanizing the patterned sheet. In fact, Ram Nagar in Paharganj area of Delhi was home to manufacturers of rubber stamps. I located a vendor who would make the sheets for flexo printing for me to print the backside of coated release paper by flexographic printing in a secondary process after siliconising. Nowadays the same back printing of release liners is done in line by roto gravure process while producing the silicone coated release paper or filmic liners.


Developments in flexographic printing process or Flexo as it is now referred to has made it a preferred printing technology in recent time. It is now being considered almost at par with offset printing and the last two decades of the new millennium 2000, have seen the rapid adoption of this technology in PSA or Self Adhesive Label production or narrow web printing may it be labels, shrink sleeves, lamitubes or flexible packaging. Biggest advances in flexographic printing came about in the 1990s with the development of photopolymer plates. These are synthetic plates made with light sensitive polymers that harden and cross link at exposed areas in design on exposure to light. Further developments in platemaking have made it possible by computer aided etching the images and designs on the plates. The factors that aided proliferation and use of flexo in label production include the whole gamut of printing, embellishing and converting. These are as follows and each process is a complete technology and warrants attending individually;

1.       pre-press

2.       plate making

3.       plate mounting

4.       Web movement controls

5.       Press design

·       Inks

·       Ink delivery system/Aniloxes and their cleaning system/doctor blades

·       Print head construction

·       Hot air/UV/LED UV

·       Web path

·       Tension controls

·       Auto Registration

·       Online inspection

·       Turn bar

·       Delam/Relam

·       Lamination/cold foiling/Hot foiling

·       Embossing/ die-cutting/ slitting/rewinding

·       Waste matrix handling

·       Higher production speeds

·       Other specialized processes

·       Automatic butt splicers/reel changers to achieve 24X7 production

·       Hybrid/combination

Plates:


Developments in prepress and plate making has provided the biggest impetus to the improvements in flexo and its implementation in label production. Most of the important development in flexographic printing is attributed to photopolymer printing plates, including improvements to the plate material and the method of plate creation. Digital computer to plate systems has done well for the industry. Companies like Asahi Photoproducts, AV Flexologic, Dupont, MacDermid, Kodak and Esko have pioneered the latest technologies, with advances in fast washout and the latest screening technology. In India, the credit for upgrading and bringing flexo printing to a quality almost similar to that of offset, goes largely to Dupont and Esko. A good plate can ensure good printing if and only if the plate has been mounted on the print cylinders accurately. Flexographic plate mounting is a critical step in achieving optimum print quality. Using correct mounting tape, proper techniques in preparation, mounting and plate removal will allow the optimum performance of the mounting tape through the entire flexographic printing process. From the manual mounting of plates in the 1990s we now have reached a level where automatic plate mounting machines are available for achieving perfection in print quality and registration. Mounting tapes play a crucial role in flexo. High print quality at high press speeds can be directly associated with the quality of the foam used in the plate mounting tapes, a wrong plate mounting tape can impact print quality adversely. Specialized soft plate mounting tapes that act as a shock absorber as they compress and return to the same thickness are now available. The tape adhesive is also an important part, these adhesives have been developed such that they stick firm to avoid edge lifting and also be cleanly removable for the reusability of plates. Plate thickness and tape thickness are matters of importance as they impact the circumference and repeatability, but technical support is now easily available on these parameters from the suppliers.

Inks and ink delivery:

UV Curing image: courtesy Labelsandlabeling

Flexo liquid inks have also undergone a lot of developments in the intervening period. From solvent based to water based hot air drying to UV cured and then LED UV cured inks. The evolving of the process into UV ink has brought in an era of high-speed printing and reproducibility with accuracy.  With water based flexo the color matching of each job (even when it was a repeat) used to be a challenge due to ever changing viscosity of the ink lying in store shelf or in the pan while running on the press or due to changing temperatures it affected the print quality. Availability of UV inks in the late 1990s and full UV flexo presses changed the flexo printing scenario. Subsequently operators could easily operate machines, handle the inks without any difficulty eliminating the need for measuring ink viscosity, ink pH, color variation, setting time to get the exact color with reduced wastages. Anilox rolls play an important role of measured ink delivery system. Anilox rollers are cylinders highly engineered metal and/or ceramic roll that are laser engraved with minute cells of a given angle, line screen, and volume to deliver the required amount of ink to achieve fineness of print. Higher line count aniloxes enable printers to go to higher plate screen line count, fine print and reduced ink consumption with higher speeds. Laser-etched ceramic anilox rolls also play an important part in the improvement of print quality due to their ability to control Ink volume transfer making full-color picture printing possible Further developments in introduction of LED UV is resulting in reduced energy consumption. The subject of print quality, flexo dot size, dot gain, distortion etc. and their impact on colours or tones is a full subject that we shall discuss separately in another writeup.

Printing station:


The printhead has had an interesting journey from the simple set of rollers driven by gears as described in my opening paragraph to a highly technical workstation delivering print quality that matches the best produced. The quality of gears improved over the years, the line shaft was accurately designed, the number of gears reduced to reduce any visible gear marks, the whole cluster was re-engineered to achieve finesse and facilitate quick change overs, automatic registration controls with cameras or sensors and finally introduction of servo drives. The servo drive eliminated the gears, helped in reduced wastages, achieve better speeds and excellent registration control in both machine and cross direction in automation. The advanced print impression pre-settings, a computer control pad, register pre-settings and job storage data improve the flexo printing experience. This drastically reduced dependence on operators. The anilox placement was redesigned for easy lift off for replacement. The simple ink tray, doctor blade which is an important part of flexo printing process is now replaced in seconds after introduction of Chamber doctor blade which is a recent development in the flexographic inking process. It is an enclosed chamber doctor blade system in which two doctor blades are used along with an enclosed chamber to dispense the ink to the anilox roll. it enables printing with smaller quantity of ink without contamination from atmosphere and faster changeover. The whole ink cartridge system and anilox of printing head can be changed in seconds enabling fast changeover of jobs.

Drying System:


Hot air drying required a long web path and by the time an operator could reach the level of acceptable registration he would end up with over a 100 running meters of wastage impacting the cost. Ever since 2007 when short web path was introduced along with installation of UV lamps to dry and cross link backed with chill drums aided by fully automatic registration control systems with cameras at each station was introduced, the amount of wastages has come down substantially. On the other hand, the development of UV LED flexo inks give faster production speeds compared to traditionally employed UV curing. It also offers longer life of lamps, instant on or off capability, reduced maintenance, and faster changeovers.


Finishing:


Aiding better quality e.g. to eliminate pinholes when a solid ground is to be printed web cleaners are installed to have a cleaner web eliminating micronic dust particles or fibers that may have flown of  the blades during slitting and settled on the web. Corona treaters are now a standard equipment that aid the anchorage of the ink and coatings to the substrates. Inline embellishing and finishing have brought innovation into printing, decorating and converting of labels. These include cold foiling, lamination, hot foiling, turn bar for front/back printing all on movable rails to position at any station. An important part of the finishing in self-adhesive labels is die cutting and waste matrix removal. These could be any printer’s nightmare, especially when producing special shapes. A change of die with a change of magnetic cylinder meant anything between half an hour to one hour using crane to lift and replace the heavy magnetic cylinder. In today’s time when time is money when we consider it as an input in our costing, one cannot imagine such loss of time. Machine design have been modified by press manufacturers such that now one can just slide out and slide in the new cylinder in a matter of seconds. Complex die cut labels result in waste matrix that cannot withstand the rigors of highspeed converting. Most machine manufacturers have redesigned their waste matrix removal innovatively to keep performing efficiently at full machine speeds. Other processes that are added as required include inspection, embossing, debossing, slitting and rewinding all inline in a single process.

Machine design and engineering is an extremely important part of machine building. The precision in developing and creating each moving part such that there is no unwanted vibration or shiver when the machine speed is increased or decreased. Some machines may have all the features that are there in a high-end press, but it runs well until say 70-80 meters per minute while internationally acclaimed label presses run at 200 meters per minute. For price considerations some printers are tempted to opt for the former, not realizing that in the long run the more expensive, high speed and stable machine returns a better Return on Investment (ROI). It is thus advisable to dwell on each aspect of the machine, its setup, consistent quality output, speed and maintenance. Capital Investment is not like buying raw material repeatedly and where you can change your supplier whenever desired but capital equipment is a one-time investment which has a definite impact on your company’s future.

Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi October 2020

Printing magazine are permitted to reproduce the above article by giving due credit to author including the blog address http://harveersahni.blogspot.com  

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Janus International-Pioneers of digital label printing


Sometime during the spring of 2002 while I was camping in Mumbai, a father son duo came to meet me to seek my advice on the way forward in their label printing business. They were making labels for beer and liquor companies by outsourcing printing from sheetfed offset printers and then embellishing them at their factory, Hot foiling, Embossing, Die-cutting, etc. They were at that time deciding to go in for a narrow web label printing press. By the time the meeting ended they were sure that they will invest in a new label press of international brand. The duo was none other than, Joe Annunciation and his younger son Janus, he has another son Denver. They had been considering a Mark Andy press earlier when it was sold by EAC graphics. Meanwhile Heidelberg had acquired EAC and had also invested substantially in Gallus in 2003 due to which it came within the Heidelberg portfolio replacing Mark Andy, the Annunciations were inclined towards Heidelberg as their printing vendors had their equipment and spoke of their unmatched service support in those days. This situation motivated them to finally settle for a Gallus EM280 label press to initiate their journey into narrow web label printing and converting.

Joe Annunciation
Joe Annunciation a B.Sc. in chemistry started his career with Colour Cartons a leading package printing company of that time. Joe had the unique distinction of being the first chemist ever to be employed by a packaging company in India to work in their laboratory. While he was still at Colour Cartons, Joe got an opportunity to work in a Dubai based plastic molding company Cosmoplast which he readily accepted and relocated to UAE. Cosmoplast are manufacturers of Industrial, household moulded plastic items and disposables. Here at Cosmoplast he shifted to marketing. His elder son Denver was born in 1980 while they were in Dubai. As time passed, Joe ventured out on his own. Given his technical knowledge, he started trading in Plastic Bags, travelling, and selling in the entire Gulf region. He envisioned setting up a manufacturing facility of his own someday, so kept remitting his savings back home. In 1985 just before the birth of his younger son Janus, it was time to head home and initiate his own business. Joe and his wife Lourdes, a homemaker, returned to Mumbai and set up the family’s maiden corrugated carton manufacturing unit in partnership with Joe’s brothers. A decade later he parted company with his brothers and in 1996, he set up his present labels printing company, Janus International.

Janus, Joe and Denver
Joe’s elder son Denver Annunciation who now runs Janus International along with his brother Janus, did his earliest schooling in Dubai but on return to Mumbai went to boarding school for further education. Denver attributes the time at the boarding school as the most rewarding in shaping up his career. Post school he completed his B.Com. from SIES College Mumbai. He wanted to study further and become a computer programmer but due to his father’s problem with his eyes, in 2001 he joined the family business working initially in the accounts department besides assisting his father in production. Within 2 years of his joining, the Anunnciations invested in a 5 colour Gallus EM280, since it was a 5 colour flexo press, they impressed upon customers and converted most jobs to suit their equipment. The first label that they printed on their Gallus label press was for Cannon 10000 beer. 5 years after Denver joined business, his brother Janus also joined strengthening the team to expand and grow the company. A challenging time came when their regular customer Shaw Wallace got acquired by Sab Miller. The auditor from the new team at Sab Miller had different parameters to assess the vendors and reduced their business substantially. A persistent Denver took that in his stride, worked harder to grow the business exponentially. From just one press in 2003 they had installed 4 presses by 2008.

With their HP4500 Digital Press
In 2006 Denver while still working joined S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research to complete his MBA and then move to head the marketing and sales operations at Janus international. His brother Janus also followed Denver’s footsteps and pursued further studies to get an MBA degree. While at S P Jain, a professor impressed upon Denver the unique model of Toyota whereby they could produce even one unique car. This had impacted his mind immensely, more so because they were already loaded with bulk manufacturing of beer and liquor labels day after day. Denver found this too monotonous and tiring without much innovation, even after registering a whopping 80% growth rate. He started thinking of the unique Toyota concept that his professor had advocated. Digital appeared to provide him the solution to diversify into an exciting arena of change and unique concept of creativity in short runs and catering to a much larger customer profile. At this time, they took the pioneering step of being the first label printing company in India to invest in an HP Indigo 4500 label press. Denver and Janus decided to visit Drupa in Dusseldorf and finalise the deal for an HP Indigo, but they were worried about the existing business in their absence for the long time that they would have to spend at Drupa. Fondly Denver reminisces that a day before leaving Janus accomplished a gigantic task of proofing 56 jobs in a single day so that things would run smoothly in their absence.  At Drupa they signed the deal to invest in an HP Indigo 4500 Digital Label Printing Press. They had finally the capabilities to print Offset, Flexo and Digital.

As early as 2008, Janus International led the Indian label industry’s move into digital label printing!

With their HP6900 Digital Press

It is normal that when one indulges in a new technology there are many glitches and it becomes continuous learning until you stabilize and settle down to a comfort level. At Janus International it was no different, but Denver is appreciative of Ajay Rao Rane, then working for HP, who helped him through the learning process. They had to test printing on all different materials, learn the primer coatings and other operational nuances. Now the brothers are adept in the digital label printing technology. They are capable of catering to a diverse range of customers offering short runs, immediate deliveries and customized jobs with variable information. 11 years after buying the HP Indigo 4500 they decided to upgrade the machine to HP Indigo 6900. Allowing Janus International to offer customers options such as shrink sleeves, cartons, pouches and in-mould labels. The upgrade has also enhanced Janus’ capabilities to address the requirements of a wider variety of brands, including small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) clients, for fast short-run production and packaging.  With this installation they can print wrap-around labels, pouches, IML, lamitubes, security labels, pressure-sensitive, shrink sleeves as well as folding cartons. Gradually the customer base swelled from 14 customers to reach over 350 customers.

Wilona and Denver




Looking back, Denver feels some of the events that have brought him happiness and success include the decision to join a boarding school, join S P Jain for masters in business administration and his meeting Wilona, his wife and marrying her. Dr. Wilona Annunciation is an MD MBBS, a successful psychiatrist. The couple is blessed with two children, a daughter Allyssah 9 years and Aeyden 7 years. Denver still nurtures his passion for IT and IT related activities, as he grows in business, he wishes to someday become an industry consultant related to IT enabled print services, digital printing being an important part of such services.






Facing the pandemic, lockdown and restarting production, the Annunciation brothers say, “There was no change for us, we have been investing in workflow management and automation for a couple of years now. We could start production in 4 days with just 5 workers”. They had got permission to restart as they were supplying to manufacturers of food and pharmaceuticals which are termed as essential supplies. They have adopted the standard safety procedures as recommended by the government. As regards future growth Denver is not really interested in just growing the topline. It is the bottom line that makes him more indulgent. The company with their efforts, has attained a certain level of inertia and will keep on growing in the normal organic way. Janus International now operate out of a 30000 square foot factory at a single location with 11 presses, 110 people 6 flexo label presses, four sheet offset presses and one HP Indigo 6900 digital label press.

Commenting on the evolution of new label technologies like linerless and direct on product labeling, he is not worried and feels that as the human race grows in numbers and lifestyles change take place, need for labels and packaging will remain an imperative. The new technologies will not take away a growth, this industry will remain vibrant and we intend being there through all the change. Nowhere is anyone saying that a label will cease to exist. Just the technology to produce and deliver the same will change. We will need to evolve with the technology.



Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi August 2020

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Life in Labels-Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow!


A resilient label industry that was reeling under the adverse impact of lockdown due to Covid-19 is now clawing its way back to normalcy despite facing a highly stressful financial situation that has left them staring at a massive gap in cashflow and loss of production. Customer demand is low as regards retail, with malls still not opening to full strength and consumers restricted to their homes, buying only essential items of use. A sudden spurt in requirement of sanitizers and pharma products has given a fillip to the label requirement but one is left wondering how long this will stay and with increasing number of printers offering similar products, the price of labels for this segment will also soon become intensely competitive and non-remunerative with no value addition needed as a necessity. The silver lining is that the industry at large is confident to bounce back to the pre-Covid levels, but this may take a few months to a year or more. Underlying threat of the virus not dying down continues to haunt the industry and it is time to look back evaluate the present and foresee or plan for a consistent future.
The previous pandemic termed as the deadliest in the history of mankind and called “Spanish Flu” lasted a little over two years from 1918 to 1920. It impacted almost 500 million (50 Crore) people across the world, which was around a third of the world’s population. It killed more than 20 million (2 Crore) people around the world, the worst impact appears to have been in India that time when almost 12-13 million (1.2 Crore to 1.3 Crore) people, almost 5% of the population that time, lost their lives to the flu. With no vaccine or antibiotics those days, general preventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings were applied to control the spread.
Label industry in India had been registering a consistent double-digit growth for past many years. It still managed to keep growing while the country went through, demonetization, implementing of GST and economic slowdown. In recent years we have seen printers expand and enhance their capabilities to empower themselves with diverse printing and converting technologies to create innovations so as to remain in the profitable league of business owners. We saw in recent years the number of label printers grow in all segments indicating the robust growth of demand with which growth of labels is directly linked to. It has been an interesting phase when we have seen the likes of Seljegat in South India expand to a 40,000 square feet  factory, Any graphics in North from humble beginnings to building a 250,000 square foot green factory, Sai Packaging with their factories in Faridabad and Bengaluru, Sai Comcode also going multi locations and then our home grown printers Mudrika Labels and Zircon starting initially as only label printers crossing the Rupees 100 crore sales barriers. This was also the time when we saw multinationals move into the country either directly or by mergers and takeovers, these include the likes of Skanem, Signode, Huhtamaki, Brady’s, Printcare, etc.
Populations around the world have grown many fold since the previous pandemic and medical sciences are much advanced yet it is 4 months since Covid-19 has hit the world and there is no sign of it coming to an end, the numbers just go on escalating. However due to the availability of advance medical facilities which too are falling short in view of growing number of affected people, the recovery rate is relatively good. Yet people are suffering and dying in numbers all around, businesses are in a dilemma of lost production due to lockdown, worker migration, reduced demand and total closure for travel and hospitality segment. It will be a long time before the economic recovery takes shape and return to pre-covid levels. I asked several questions to label printers of varying size across India and reproduce some of their relevant responses as below.
1.       How has the lockdown impacted you?
a.       Raveendran Seljegat, Sivakasi South India: We were closed for a week but then because we supply to important pharmaceutical companies, we got permission to initially run with 30 people out of 150 and 10 days later we were allowed to work with 50. Subsequently we got permission to work with 100% but as per Government directive we gave retirement to workers over 50 years with full settlement without any deductions. Now we are working with 140 persons in 2 shifts for social distancing.
b.       G K Deshpande, Geekay Printing and Packaging Bangalore: Our team was shattered, as many workers went home out of fear, we had to manage with few. Our digital printing facility helped us in meeting requirements of customers from pharma and food segment.
c.       Manish Desai Mudrika Labels Mumbai: Due to reduced work force we must work with flexible timings and holidays. We have lost 2 months of production and sales; payment terms have become unviable hampering finances.
d.       Himanshu Kapur J K Fine Prints Mumbai: Monetary wise the impact is huge but will be short lived. I see another 3-4 months of pain, hopefully after that we should be back to pre covid levels.
e.       Mahendra Shah, Manohar Packaging Palghar: The impact is there but it is a boon to manage in getting a more responsible output with 50% work force 
f.        Dilip Modi, Integrated Innovators Ahmedabad: Business down by 25%
g.       Manish Hansoti S Kumar Multi Products Ahmedabad: The impact was there but not as severe since we came under the category of essential supplies. We had to operate with just 25% strength. The bonus was managing life with less and enjoying quality time with family.
h.       Rajendra Gandhi Maharshi Labels Ahmedabad: We had to shut down factory without prior notice, some machines need daily maintenance without which they begin to go faulty. Today, even after 3 months, we are still not at full capacity. Overheads are increasing, sales are not.
i.         Rajesh Nema Pragati Global Indore: Looking at the positive side, “It has brought me closer to my extended family.”
j.         Hari Shankar Modi ModiFlex India Kolkata: Two months of no productions!
k.       Priyata Raghavan Sai Packaging Faridabad: We have lost turnover for 2 months, have absenteeism and many losses piled up. Payment and Inventory cycles have gone off track. We are now fighting to stabilise vis-a-vis earlier when we were fighting for growth. Many major customers have declared Force Majeure leaving convertors like us, in a difficult situation.
l.         Rajeev Chhatwal Kwality Offset New Delhi: Sudden lockdown announced came as a surprise. All production was stopped resulting in nil sales for nearly 2 months. Orders got cancelled, inventories have piled up and severe liquidity problems are being faced.
m.     Anuj Bhargava, Kumar Labels Noida: Negative: Lost one full month’s sale, Positive: Learned to work efficiently with least resources
n.       Luv Shriram, Shriram Veritech Solutions Pvt Limited Noida: Reduced sales resulted in impact on profitability / longer cash cycle and customers are delaying payments
o.       Shakti Jain, Great Eastern IDTech Pvt. Ltd. Gurgaon: Significant decline in business revenue, liquidity (cash flow) crunch, logistics (delivery) issues persist. 
p.       Kapil Chaudhary ZENBI International (P) Limited: Not much impact on business, we got many new orders for sanitizers and FMCG Sector.
q.       Vinay Verma Label India: Our bar code business suffered, and we were not supplying to food or pharma, so had to wait. Fortunately, the sanitizer label demand has helped us back to work in a limited way.
r.        Mukesh Goel, Gopsons Noida: Few of our core sectors are down and expected to resume up to 80% pre-covid levels only by Q1 FY21-22. During lockdown phase, we were operating at minimal strength. We trained our employees to run multiple machines, larger benefits of which we are realising now. With multitasking, we have created a reserve pool of employees to meet any unforeseen situation or another lockdown if it happens.
s.        Ajay Mehta, SMI Coated Products Mumbai: The lockdown has impacted everyone in the world, we are no exception. It is unbelievable that we have mostly been at home for the past 100 days. Personally, it has been a great opportunity to spend time with family, especially my grandson whom we have seen grow from 5 months to 8.5 months. On the business front it has been a challenging and satisfying time to keep all motivated within and outside SMI!
t.     Nirav Shah Letragraphix Ahmedabad: Lockdown has impacted the overall mind-set of people. We were also impacted in the beginning. However, on 4th day of lockdown-1 we received all necessary approvals to start the work with minimum possible capacity. Our staff members also quickly accepted the change because of which we could come back to operations in short time. The adverse situation has taught many lessons. Instead of waiting for post Covid scenario, I wish people accept situation and work towards betterment. 
Almost all the respondents have lost sales, have been impacted adversely for cash flows or profitability and are now working with reduced workforce. They are learning to live and formulate processes to use the adversity as an opportunity to cutdown manpower while retaining same productivity.
2.       To what percentage have you resumed operations?
Surprisingly amongst the 20 respondents only four companies have resumed 100% production. The rest also have resumed but their levels vary between 50% to 80% the industry average can be estimated at 65-70%.
3.        How are you implementing safety and social distancing norms?
Most of the respondents have adopted the standard operating procedures however some have gone the extra mile by implementing more than the SOPs. Raveendran of Seljegat says the factory is sanitized 4 times in a day and toilets twice a day. Workers are required to wash hands with a mixture of Neem and turmeric ground together besides with provided soap and sanitizers before entering and leaving premises. Plus, on state govt. recommendation every employee including owners are required to drink an ayurvedic drink consisting of Ginger, Pepper and other ingredients once a week. SMI has made extensively elaborate arrangements for sanitizing the premises, untouched door operations and spraying repeated as also restricting visitors to a bare necessity. Kumar labels has also made somewhat similar arrangements both these companies have made videos of their endeavors and these are available on youtube. Many companies have staggered the production in to two shifts with same number of workers to achieve social distancing.  This does seem to offer an advantage of getting more production from a reduced workforce. Machines have been relocated wherever possible. Label India, Delhi was operating their unit on 2 floors, they added another 2 floors to attain social distancing. Collective Coffee and lunch breaks are a thing of past. Machines are kept running and workers are given time one by one for coffee, tea or meals to maintain the distancing. Obviously, this is advantageous as down time decreases.
4.       Are your employees back in full strength? If not, what percentage have re-joined?
The answer to this indicates the extent of problems of worker migration, as none of the companies have 100% workers rejoining. 50% to 80% workers have rejoined and as for office staff most companies are asking them to work from home.
5.       When do you think you will reach full production?
Most printers except one or two, all have expressed that it will take some time to come to full production. This may vary from 2 months to 4 months. The infrastructure and capacity to produce is intact with the printers but there are so many other factors that impact the return to full normalcy. Since retail is greatly impacted and lockdown has been imposed across the country, demand is down and will take time to pick up to pre-Covid levels. Added to this, the financial crunch due to the no operations in the lockdown period has hit all the value chain from suppliers to printers to print buyers impacting their cash flows. Increased capacity with reduced demand and a pile up of payables like instalments taxation and other statutory dues may further add to the woes of label printers, it thus appears that return to normalcy will be gradual.
6.       Will you work as you were before or will adopt more workflow automation and reduced workers?
The only positive side emerging from this pandemic is that printers are finding possibility of working with reduced number of workers. The realization has made all respond positively towards the imperative need for automation both in production and workflow management as some of the most expensive inputs are labour, real estate and wastages. Automation will help in reducing these.
7.       Do you think industry at large will implement better housekeeping?
Most people feel that it is a necessity in view of the spreading infection. Enlightened and progressive industrialists feel it was a need of the hour. They all agree that it will be implemented. In words of Priyata Raghavan, “Yes a cultural change is expected to bring this in.”
8.       Do you foresee expansion in this financial year?
There are printers like Mudrika, Prakash Labels and others whose new equipment ordered earlier have been installed or is in way, other than that there appears to be an emphatic no for new investments in capital equipment this financial year. However still, printers like SelJegat, Kumar Label and Mudrika feel that if they must implement workflow automation, investments in allied equipment is an imperative, they will invest wherever and whenever needed. SMI has already made substantial expansion last year. Vivek Kapoor says, “yes we will be replacing equipment with latest technology rather than expanding”. All the same, the underlying sentiment cannot be ignored that if the market dynamics demand expansion, “then why not?”
9.       Will you travel for any industry exhibitions this year?
19 out of 20 respondents said NO to this, evidently the scare of catching this deadly infection, is a big deterrent.
10.   What is your vision on the industry working in the post covid time?
All across, the general feeling is that the industry needs to change and go into introspection. Housekeeping, sanitization, automation, organized workflow and lean manufacturing will not just be words spoken at conferences but will find a new meaning for implementation even in the MSME units. Rajiv Chhatwal of Kwality says, “Post covid industry should mature more. they will invest wisely, look at reducing overheads and improve profit margins, business models will surely change.” Manish Hansoti of S Kumar says we need to learn to save and park funds for a rainy day to face such calamities. Priyata Raghavan and Shakti Jain feel that post covid also it will be digital engagement with customers and suppliers. Personal contact will be limited.  Anuj Bhargava says it will henceforth be “Digital-Digital-Digital!”. There are others, those who feel the changes are temporary. Ajay Mehta of SMI sums it, “here will be some shift in consumer pattern, economic downturns are inevitable due to lockdowns as well as due to huge loss of jobs in different segments. Having said that, lot of new opportunities are opening up. We are confident that our industry will come through very well in comparison. We see possibilities of growth of the market in coming 12 months’ time.”
11.   Will the changes coming about be permanent?
The industry in unison feels there is nothing wrong in adapting these changes that will make workplaces safe. Just one or two respondents feel that some Indians by nature would like to get back to where they started but by and large as Ajay Mehta says, “Only change is permanent.” Constantly the industry needs to bring about more changes to become more efficient leaner, productive, sustainable and safe. The changes will be permanent for all those who understand the right way forward

Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi, India 1st July 2020

Printing magazine are permitted to reproduce the above article by giving due credit to author including the blog address http://harveersahni.blogspot.com