Digital Magazine

Difficult Jobs? Combo Printing Can Tighten Screwy Requests

For the past few years, I've used a screwdriver instead of this one particular butter knife. With each twist, I can hear my mom (as she watched me rifle through the silverware drawer years ago): “Use the appropriate tool for the appropriate application.” She, the art teacher, amateur carpenter, all-around fix-it guru, taught me this, and it took me only 30 years to get it right.

But the converting industry isn't as thick as I was. The industry is quite aware of appropriate tool usage. From robotics to digital to web inspection technologies, suppliers and converters are committed to proper tool usage and — even more ardently — to getting the most out of that usage.

One such tool is the combination press — a tool that allows you to get “the best of all possible worlds,” says John Little, chairman of the board at Nilpeter Inc., Davie, FL. “Each different printing process has advantages and disadvantages.” But, he adds, by using a combination of the various methodologies, you can deliver a more unique product, which equals more customer value.

According to Gerry Nigg, sales director, north, South America, at Ko-Pack International, Williston, VT, combination equipment began to slip into the mainstream in the early '90s. “The label end-users were pushing the limitations of the ‘normal’ converting press,” he says.

But the combination press concept has been around for several years, reports Eric Short, president, RDP-Marathon Inc., Montreal (Laval), Canada. “As far back as the '70s, some converters were doing this themselves. Then, there was a hands-on approach. Some printers were integrating the technologies themselves. Typically, they had a [knowledgeable] engineering staff and, generally speaking, they could get good results.”

As time went on, says Short, and downtime and waste issues carved more out of profits, the industry experienced an increased reliance on equipment makers. “Much of this changed with PLC technology and a more operator-friendly interface,” he adds.

The PLCs and subsequent process automation have propelled the industry toward honing these cutting-edge tools to an ever-sharper delivery point. Combination and platform press equipment available today can deliver jobs that incorporate flexo, gravure, offset litho, and screen printing, even embossing and hot stamping. Many of them run today's substrates — paper, film, foil, even board — with ease.

On the difference between a combination and platform press, Little says: “A combo press puts two processes together. If I take a flexo press and add a screen unit, that's a combo press. On a platform press, you can put any process into the same unit. You can use screen, flexo, offset, gravure, or hot stamp — all in-line, all together, separately, or mix and match. You can't always do that with a combo press.”

But with both, Little reports, you can offer your customer more value. “By having the flexibility to handle a customer's application in a different way, you can do it at either a lower price — because you can adjust the press to the job — or you can add some value at no extra cost that others can't.”

Of course, combining different, complex processes isn't nearly as simple as fitting the pointy end of a butter knife into the notch on a Phillips' screw head, but RDP-Marathon, Nilpeter, Ko-Pack, and others (including PCMC/Webtron, Gallus, and Chromas) that offer robust and daring combination technology make it seem as if it might be.

And while utilizing combo printing may not be right for your operation, it can't hurt to take a look at what kinds of combination equipment may help you put the screws to your competition.

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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