When It Comes to Sleeves, Thin Is Not In

As a penny-pinching consumer, I understand that sometimes, such as when buying meat from the grocery store, quality comes first. Let's face it, no amount of meat tenderizer or A1 Steak Sauce can save a $2.50/lb T-bone steak. In the converting plant, think of sleeves like a T-bone steak — you get what you pay for!

“More attention is being paid to sleeve quality. No longer is the lowest-priced sleeve the automatic choice,” says Anthony Foley, national marketing manager for Edward Graphics (egs.com), Niagara Falls, NY. “Key issues are raw materials, the manufacturing process utilized, as well as the sleeves' ability to maintain their structural integrity over time.”

Foley explains the trend of making thinner sleeves to cut costs is a thing of the past. “Traditionally, thin sleeves have been manufactured with cost in mind; inexpensive raw materials would be procured to ensure a low price to the converter. These sleeve products were then machined and cured as quickly as possible and tended to be considered disposable with a relatively short life expectancy,” says Foley. “Advanced compounds and manufacturing techniques are producing sleeves that have a much greater life expectancy and eliminate many of the shortcomings of traditional thin sleeves. These improved sleeve products eliminate costly downtime as inexpensive sleeves often will start to ‘slip’ on the cylinder/mandrel causing register issues.”

The new trend, Foley explains, is in thicker sleeves based on mandrel press configuration. “No longer are sleeves simply allowing the converter to save prepress time by leaving jobs mounted that run on a regular basis. In a mandrel application, they are allowing the converter to increase press production efficiencies as the press can be changed over to the next job considerably quicker.”

Foley says converters are demanding improved quality and increased life expectancy as the investment in thicker sleeves is considerably higher.”

But like most investments, paying more for quality sleeves can pay off in other areas. Harry McKay, sales and marketing manager at Stork Rotaform (stork.com), Charlotte, NC, explains, “In all applications, [sleeves] are used to drive down costs through savings in materials, freight, space, and/or time. One converter may have no available warehouse space, while another needs to increase press downtime to create more capacity. The primary factor for the converter to use sleeves is simple — cost reduction.”

As for the type of sleeve needed for a particular printing operation, McKay explains the task has become less daunting. “Sleeves continue to move throughout the different printing methods. Converters began using sleeves years ago to reduce costs; now, the OEM press manufacturers are building presses designed especially for sleeves in the offset, flexo, gravure, and digital markets.”

Foley says one sleeve design growing in popularity is the continuous design sleeve. “Base sleeves are coated with various compounds that are cured and machined to exacting tolerances. The surface is then imaged using a variety of methods. Imaging sleeves in the round eliminates the distortion issue that has always been a sore spot when running conventional photopolymer plates.”

Regardless of the print operation, McKay says the industry is seeing a variety of sleeve designs that vary in thickness, functionality, and composition.” We have only touched the tip of the iceberg with sleeve designs; the best is yet to come.”

Restrictions of time and space limit the number of companies, products, and trends that we can discuss in these reports. For additional information, see PFFC's features and departments each month, consult the June Buyers Guide, and check pffc-online.com..


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