The platemaking operation of Tennessee-based Interstate Packaging has increased throughput and gained significant cost savings using Esko’s Digital Flexo Suite with a Kongsberg XL24 digital finishing table. The system, with full connectivity to a CDI Spark 4835 imager, in operation at the company for nearly five years, has reduced plate waste, eliminated human error, and brought automated plate traceability to the company’s flexo plate operation.
Established in 1969, Interstate Packaging is a family-owned flexible packaging and label converter that produces packaging, labels, bags, and pouches for consumer good companies. Operating in a 115,000-sq-ft facility on 20 acres in rural White Bluff, TN, the company uses the most advanced production techniques for full-service digital prepress and platemaking and up to 10-color high-quality printing.
Plate waste reduced
Digital Flexo Suite automatically and simultaneously sends optimized plate files to the CDI Spark for imaging and cutting layout data the Kongsberg XL table for precision cutting. The CDI imaging file and the Kongsberg cutting file carry identical names and registration marks that are automatically marked on the flexo plate, for later identification, registration, and cutting.
This automated, cost-effective solution reduces plate cutting waste to an absolute minimum. For Interstate Graphics, that capability is essential. In full production at Interstate Graphics since January 2012, the initial push for Digital Flexo Suite’s implementation, says Jeff Cassell, Graphics Manager, was to reduce overhead. The increased throughput, he acknowledges, was a bonus. “Our highest costs, in order, are substrates, ink, and plate material,” explains Cassell. “We felt that with plate material, there were opportunities to reduce costs.”
Along with some other modifications to the platemaking process, such as barcoding plates, the use of Digital Flexo Suite with the Kongsberg table led to Interstate Graphics saving 30% on the amount of plate material used. The single precision cut around the plates allows them to be moved closer together, “saving us up to 7% in materials,” says Cassell. However, he continues, “the greater percentage of the savings is the result of the plate numbers etched onto the plate.”
The right plate, every time
Prior to the Digital Flexo Suite implementation, numbers were etched onto the plate by hand. The digital code has between five and six numbers, and human error can become a factor when writing it. Not wanting to chance that kind of error, and perhaps lose a customer’s confidence, makes Digital Flexo Suite even more of an asset to Interstate Packaging.
With multicolor jobs, one plate with incorrect labeling can be disastrous. “Now, driven by the Esko workflow and etched by the Kongsberg table, we can assure we are using the right plate for each run,” says Cassell. “We eliminate potential errors.” That’s key when you have families of items (like vitamins) that look similar. There can be 100-200 SKUs with similar look, but they are slightly different.
Another critical element in play, notes Cassell, is the traceability and accountability for each plate. “Each plate has a unique number; that number is logged into a database,” explains Cassell. “The etched number of the plate is placed on the back of the plate. We can go into the database and enter the plate number and find where the plate is in process. Interstate Packaging has over 8,000 active SKUs, averaging 8 colors per SKU. We are talking lots of plates. We now know where each plate should be at all times. Let’s say a plate is left out of an envelope. We can go to the database and see if the plate is active or belongs, conversely, in the recycle bin.”
Adds Cassell, “Thanks to the plate number tattooed on the back of the plates we now have traceability through our MIS system.”
Interstate also makes use of Digital Flexo Suite’s Staggered Cut software option, which is executed with a Kongsberg cutting table, allowing the drafting of a staggered cut line for continuous print.
“If done by hand, it can take between 6-8 hours to create a staggered cut,” reports Cassel. “With Digital Flexo Suite, we can cut a plate in a few seconds and it fits the first time. There’s no double cut; I don’t have to worry that the plates aren’t going to fit. I can determine the gap with Digital Flexo Suite.”
Interstate Packaging uses the Staggered Cut option, reports Cassell, to eliminate bounce on the press and to provide a continuous print without sleeves. Interstate does not provide sleeves in-house.
Interstate Packaging produces a lot of flexible packaging, including a lot of stand-up pouches. “Staggered Cut allows us to reduce the clear area of the sides of the bag (plate gap) in half from 3/16” to 3/32”,” says Cassell. “This is an important visual difference to our marketing clients, but now it doesn’t require a continuous ‘in the round’ plate for backgrounds. Nor, do we incur the extra cost of an in-the-around plate. Having this option has really helped us market to that segment.”
With feedback and adjustments, Interstate hopes to use this more in the future. “It works great and saves plate materials and cuts plates closer than with hand cutting, but because of our own marks and bars we can’t fully utilize it yet,” says Cassell.
Improvements are ongoing at Interstate Packaging, which is currently testing Esko’s HD Flexo high-resolution screening. “We are getting nice, high-quality images on our test runs,” says Cassell, which is what he expects of Esko technology. “Ninety-percent of what has happened in prepress technology in the industry is due to Esko,” says Cassell. “They have moved these functions from an art to a science. Their 3D and plate preparation software are precise and consistent. They produce hardware that lasts. Very seldom is there downtime—there are no issues.”
In fact, concludes Cassell, because everything is always running smoothly, “we have to remind ourselves when maintenance is due, because our Esko equipment always performs.”