Digital Magazine

A rather narrow-minded view of wide web printing.

Duralam lowers costs and adds efficiencies to its short runs with a narrow version of a wide web press from PCMC.

In business for nearly 30 years, Duralam Inc., Appleton, WI, prides itself on delivering "Quality...On Time" for short- to medium-size packaging runs. Duralam, a printer and converter specializing in value-added flexible packaging, began to sense a change in customer order patterns in the early 90s as it found itself facing an ever-increasing percentage of short-run production-jobs that sometimes required only 30 to 60 minutes to print.

The move toward smaller order sizes and shrinking production time frames began to put pressure on the company's wide web presses, which were better suited for speed and efficiency on higher-volume jobs. With makeready times of up to one hour per color on the presses, Duralam could feasibly spend seven times more on setting up multicolor jobs than on actual printing.

The Market is Changing

Duralam actually saw several trends developing across all lines of its customer base. First, brand managers are relying more and more on packaging for a variety of marketing tactics. Packaging form and design are changed for seasonal opportunities, line extensions, new formulations, added convenience, or freshness features as well as special tie-ins with sales promotions and sweepstakes. Product development cycles, the time from concept to market, are becoming shorter. To allow up-to-the-minute maneuverability, customers are ordering lower and lower quantities, driving down inventories with just-in-time ordering strategies.

Graphics needs are also changing. Gone are the days of simple line art packaging. Now, the norm is multicolor process packaging with tight registration, color accuracy, and fine screen graphics once thought beyond the range of flexographic printing. The result? Shorter run sizes, increased graphic demands, and compressed lead times. Duralam felt that it was, in a sense, ahead of the game, because it was already handling short to medium runs. However, the company wanted a compact, quick-changeover flexographic press to better manage its short-run print business. The goal was to take costs and time out of the prepress and printing cycles, improve margins and order turnaround, and increase throughput on the wide web presses. Their primary concern was to maintain the highest standards of printing - the foundation of Duralam's reputation for quality.

A new 29-in. flexographic press, developed by Paper Converting Machine Co. (PCMC) and designated the Vision, was the means to achieving those goals. In the past ten years, Duralam had purchased several PCMC wide web presses and was familiar with the quality, service, and support of the PCMC organization. After closely evaluating the available options for a "narrow web" press, the Duralam buying team was confident that the PCMC Vision matched its needs.

Features Meet Needs

According to Paul Schwemin, Duralam's VP of mfg., the press is full of features that are meeting the converter's needs. "The press has eight-color capability and is engineered for job changeovers in as little as an hour. It features a compact, integrated design and can be run by one press operator for conventional printing as well as optional ultraviolet curing. He notes that PCMC's engineers designed lightweight plate and anilox cylinders that can be exchanged in less than one minute per roll. The press runs at 800 fpm and has a 10- to 24-in. repeat length.

Rotating on precision bearings, the cylinders are lifted and cantilevered for ease of access but are secured during operation with special lock-down mechanisms, says Schwemin. These mechanisms - reportedly unique to the Vision press-provide print deck rigidity and allow precision printing at high speeds.

Schwemin adds that a color touchscreen control pivots for ease of viewing and displays press status, diagnostic messages, deck position information, tension and dryer set points, and machine speed. The Vision's computerized management information system stores all critical data on job settings, production, and operation. Instantaneous retrieval and downloading of previously run jobs assures run-to-run consistency.

Print quality is reportedly enhanced by a rigid deck that eliminates plate bounce. The fully electronic CLDP (closed-loop deck positioning), with register/impression recovery and automatic gear mesh, is engineered for precise deck positioning and gear mesh in three minutes or less for fast, accurate racking. Tension is controlled by an integrated AC servo drive system.

The Vision controls deck dynamics by eliminating backlash and lost motion. The result, according to Schwemin, is precise, consistent impression and the ability to hold tight registration tolerances of 0.003 in. Even graphics with tight registration and fine screen counts can run with minimum dot gain and excellent print definition.

Adjustments on press are made in precisely controlled increments. Schwemin says that rotary dial pendants provide operators with a "tactile feel," allowing 0.0002-in. (five micron) plate and anilox adjustments and 0.01-in. (25-micron) register corrections, along with precision micrometer adjustment of plate/anilox impression and side and circumferential registration.

Unwind and rewind features include electronic guides, and closed-loop tension control assures roll quality, Schwemin reports. Unwind and rewind core shafts are cantilevered for easy roll loading. Automatic splicing allows Duralam's operators to change rolls "on the fly" without shutting down the press.

Duralam uses solvent-based inks formulated by Color Converting Industries and Sun Chemical Corp. A Titan 60-in. SR-6 rewinder takes care of slitting jobs at the rate of 1,500 fpm. Adhesive laminating is performed on a 54-in.-wide Faustel laminator, and a Proven Designs Inc. machine handles pouchmaking duties.

An inking system on the press with end-sealed, chambered doctor blades allows increased volatile organic compound capture and improved ink cleanup. This emission control feature is a critical environmental consideration, explains Schwemin, feeding to a VOC control system supplied by ABB Air Preheater Inc. A semi-automatic ink pump/washup system is said to make washup neat and easy and contributes to quick changeover between jobs. Options for future expansion include outboard coating and laminating stations and UV curing.

PCMC offers the Modem Talk option, an on-line diagnostic program that links customers directly to PCMC engineers. The program allows Duralam's operators, technicians, and PCMC engineers to troubleshoot and adjust programming on-line through a modem link.

Getting Started

Duralam received shipment of its PCMC Vision in the summer of 1995. Thanks to a unitized design and simplified electronic connections, the press was quickly installed and ready to operate, Schwemin says.

A thorough training program, hosted for the Duralam press team at nearby PCMC headquarters in Green Bay, readied operators for startup, and the first jobs began to roll off the press. It was time for the Vision to prove itself. Within six months, the results were impacting the bottom lines of both Duralam and its customers.

After installation, Duralam's first priority was to download jobs under 50,000 lineal ft from its wide web presses. As PCMC predicted, Duralam soon verified that an eight-hour wide web setup could be accomplished in one to two hours on the Vision. Today, Duralam consistently runs five to seven jobs per 24-hour period on the new press - a 75% improvement in makeready compared to eight-color wider web presses.

In addition, Duralam finds the repeatability of rerun jobs to be quicker and more easily controlled with the Vision. The MIS job storage and retrieval system has proven its worth, allowing Duralam to maintain tight print specifications and performance to preset, pre-approved customer specifications.

While the fast changeover allows Duralam to increase productivity on short-run jobs, it also provides scheduling flexibility and faster response for customers, with minimal disruption of the printing schedule. The strategy of downloading short-run jobs to the Vision press also paid off in significantly increased throughput on the company's wider web presses.

Press Fulfills Its Promises

"The Vision does everything PCMC promised us and more," states Schwemin. "We expected the fast changeover. We expected the increased throughput on our wide web presses. But the high-resolution graphics, even for difficult process jobs, are actually better than anticipated."

Combining DuPont's Cyrel photopolymer plates with precise computerized micro dot mounting, the Duralam "narrow web" jobs are printed in register, with color-to-color registration of [+ or -]0.0015 in.

According to Schwemin, the Vision has raised the bar on print quality. "We are confident we can provide demanding process printing that rivals rotogravure in quality."

The ability to control all variables is extremely important to the Duralam team. As an ISO-9002-certified organization, the company views a defined and controlled process as critical to end quality.

"Today, we view printing as less of an art and more of a science," explains Jeff Lammers, VP of administration at Duralam. "The ability to set tight parameters, control the variables, work to achieve consistency, and approach the job in a systematic method fits our quality philosophy. And, it also assures our customers a defined process that consistently produces a quality print job."

In the short span of nine months, the new press has proven its worth on a wide range of jobs, says Schwemin. An example is its ability to maintain profitable efficiencies in running more than 400 SKU lines for a manufacturer of personal care products. For a national-brand customer specializing in Italian meats, the Vision allowed for increased flexibility in scheduling and the ability to manage just-in-time shipments of its multi-SKU line. And a confectionary manufacturer has found the Vision's ability to deliver consistently high-resolution graphics an asset in maintaining the quality levels required to safeguard brand equity.

Lammers sums up: "To put it simply, PCMC Vision press helped us efficiently achieve our vision of 'Quality...On Time.'"

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