The origin of narrow-web flexography is usually placed in the period immediately after WW ll. At that time, Mark andrews Sr. (1904~1980), the founder of Mark Andy, Inc., made his first presses for printing on the then new product, "scotch Tape." Others may have made similar equipment prior to this but, unquestionably, Andrews was the first to begin the sustained manufacture and marketing of narrow-web flexo presses. Flexo then was still called the "aniline" process, named for the aniline dies in the inks. These initial presses were designed to sit on a workbench or table and were used for making labels from self-wound, self-adhesive tapes. Web widths were 2" to 4" (50mm to 100mm).
Andrews also credited with another innovation that has shaped the narrow-web flexo industry: the development of rotary die-cutting and its integration into narrow-web presses. Initially, these rotary dies were used for perforating tapes. As pressure-senstitive roll label markets emerged, the entrepreneurs building that industry recognized the advantage and cost effectiveness of in-line printing and die-cutting on narrow-web flexo equipment. These early innovators forged a bond between pressure-sensitive roll labels, flexographic printing and in-line rotary die-cutting that has facilitated and forced growth and advancement within each of the technologies and built them into world class disciplines.
The explosive growth of pressure-sensitive labels (estimated to have a value of $10 billion in North America by the year 2000) has fueled the growth and development of narrow-web flexography. However, narrow-web presses are used for a vast variety of products in addition to pressure sensitive labels. Many of these products are other forms of product identification or promotion such as tags, in-mold labels selves and cartons. Lottery pieces and tickets for everything from sporting events to transportation and turnpike usage are common narrow-web applications. Medical and pharmaceutical packaging is produced on narrow-web presses, as are foil and paper lids. Increasingly, narrow-web presses are used for manufacturing floding cartons and flexible packaging.
Advantages. Narrow-web flexography has many advantages that make its economics very compelling in a world of higher quality, cost effective productivity, and shorter, more frequent runs. In-line processing reduces the time and costs associated with multiple processing steps, such as those that occur with the sheet-fed offset manufacturing of folding cartons. This advantage is reinforced with the multitude of tasks that can be combined on narrow-web presses. These tasks range from corona treatment to multiple forms of graphic imaging, including variable data, overprint varnishes and laminates. In-line die-cutting, hole punching, perforating, creasing, embossing and folding can also be done on narrow-web flexo presses. Multiple webs can be processed, married together and delivered in roll, sheet or stacked formats. The multiplex character of narrow-web presses gives their users a strong cost advantage on a wide variety of products.
In addition to the time and labor saved by performing multiple operations on a narrow-web flexo press, material waste is also reduced. The spoilage associated with handling and moving ofthe work in process is eliminated, as is the scrap generated by multiple setups in the manufacturing process. Since the material is typically the largest cost element in the finished product, waste reduction can have a tremendous impact on profitability.
Another advantage of narrow-web flexo presses is their ability to be set up and changed-over quickly. Part of this efficiency is due to the nature of flexo printing compared to other technologies, and part is inherent form being smaller than their wide-web counterparts. Narrow-web press manufacturers have also made setup and change-over efficiency a key element of their designs. This concerted effort by press designers has dramatically reduced the time required to set up narrow web presses, even as the complexity and difficulty of the work performed on them has increased. Sophisticated change out and clean up procedures are increasingly utilized by converters to achieve maximum productivity of their equipment. these innovations have led to makeready times of 10 minutes or less for changing from one six color job to another, on state-of-the-art narrow-web presses. This quick changeover includes plate rolls, ink fountains, anilox rolls, metering system, material and die changes.
The final element that gives narrow-web flexo a significant advantage over competing technologies is the quality being produced by narrow-web converters. Advances in prepress, plate, anilox, ink and press technologies have been eagerly embraced by narrow-web converters and combined into a world class printing technology. While each printing process has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses, flexo has made tremendous progress in overcoming its weaknesses and further advancing its strengths. As a consequence, process work of 200 and 225 lpi is now being printed on narrow-web flexo presses, while solids are richer and smoother than ever before.