Narrow web adapts to multiple applications

The flexibility of today's narrow web systems gives converters exciting new capabilities.

"Narrow web is where the action is," says Mike Schmidt, director of sales and marketing for Flexo-Accessories/Propheteer. "It's where the most exciting innovations are taking place." Narrow web converting offers several advantages over wide web converting, including the ability to economically process short runs; fast changeover times; ergonomics; and ease of maintenance.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of narrow web converting is its versatility - the ability to perform many different converting processes in-line. The amount of set-up time and material handling that's eliminated is staggering, which is the primary reason the narrow web field is growing so rapidly. "Wide web is great for printing," says Chris Faust, marketing manager for Comco, "but on a narrow web press, in addition to multiple print stations, you can add stations for laminating, hot foil stamping, rotary die-cutting, flatbed die-cutting, sheeting, perforating, or ink jet printing. Practically anything you're looking for can be integrated into a narrow web press."

Kent Wolford, marketing manager for Webtron, notes, "What's driving the narrow web business today is the ability to process all the new and different substrates available, from the thinnest of films to heavier boardstock used for cartons." Precise tension controls allow converters to run thin, unsupported films, while chilling drums keep heat-sensitive materials such as shrink sleeves, adhesives and ultraviolet inks in the proper temperature range for trouble-free converting.

With the proliferation of exotic substrates and water-based inks, surface treating is more important than ever. Augie Ray, marketing manager for Enercon, reports that because of higher surface tensions, substrates must be treated so inks will adhere properly and wet out the surface sufficiently.

"Narrow web customers demand a tremendous amount of flexibility from their systems to keep up with the short runs," adds Patrick Gengler, president of Pillar Technologies. "In the morning they might run foil material, which requires a bare roll treater system or a ceramic electrode with a metal ground roll. In the afternoon they may run a job consisting of the difficult-to-treat plastic substrates, which, because of their inherent inefficiencies vs. the metal electrode, cannot be treated with the ceramic electrode system. To eliminate downtime, you need a system that's versatile and can run in either configuration at the flip of a switch."

Video inspection systems are available today specifically for narrow web systems. Jim Doerr, national sales manager for TruColor, offers vision systems featuring special camera housings built to fit into tight spaces. The good news is that these systems, when compared to wide web versions, are much less expensive. One reason for this is that motors are not required to move the camera back and forth across the web's width - the operator can do this manually. Also, the controls for iris, focus and zoom are on the housing, eliminating the need for remote controls. And, for some stations, narrow widths allow for the use of cantilevered quick-change-out rollers that make maintenance and threading much easier than on their wide web cousins.

"If you're running a web containing two tracks of labels," says Doerr, "the press operator manually moves the camera from one track to the other from time to time to monitor the entire job. For around $6,000 you can get a video inspection system designed to help the operator monitor quality with ease."

The exact definition of narrow web converting in terms of widths is elusive and depends on who you're talking to, although most narrow web converters agree that 6 to 20 in. is the typical range. Another thing they agree on: Whatever printing process you're using, today's narrow web presses pack more features in-line than ever before, giving converters the flexibility to bid on jobs that just a few years ago would have been impossible for them to consider.

The Series 300 is more than a narrow web flexographic press, says the mfr., it's a complete converting system designed from scratch to be the company's most productive model ever. The press is available in 725-in., 10.25-in. and 13.25-in. web widths and can be configured with as many as eight printing stations and four die-cutting stations. Features include 30-in. or 40-in. rewind; high-pressure impinged hot air dryers; modular print stations with quick-change meter rolls; and anilox rolls.


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