Basics always matter, including the seemingly minor act of cleaning flexo plates. Often treated as an afterthought, this simple process is critical to achieving reliable, consistent print quality.
Yet it can be easy to ignore or let slide, especially when press operators are expected to produce more jobs per shift as an increasing number of SKUs and fast moving products cause print runs to shrink. What’s more, cleaning plates manually is never a fun task—another reason it’s easy to keep putting it off.
Some converters turn to digital presses for the shorter runs, but for converters with a fleet of flexo presses other steps are needed to ensure repeat jobs can be handled quickly and reliably. Streamlining the plate washing process by taking advantage of the latest and most environmentally friendly plate washing options is one of the most effective ways to keep productivity and print quality high.
However, flexo plates have traditionally been washed using a variety of chemicals and solvents, many of which are flammable, have VOC emissions, and may be classified as hazardous waste. Automated water washing is rising as an attractive option that eliminates many of these concerns. It simplifies the washing process and delivers clean plates that are ready for use. In addition, water washable plates and their associated systems may enhance a converter’s image with regulators, customers and brand owners. In some instances, water washing may reduce the need to acquire costly pollution control equipment.
Clean plates save money
In many shops, it’s not unusual for plates from one job to be set aside while another job goes on press. And before long, plates from several jobs can be awaiting cleaning—maybe at the end of the shift. But trouble is already brewing. Ink can dry rapidly, and ink that has set for just an hour makes a plate harder to clean, increasing labor costs and potentially leading to inconsistencies in ink release when the plate is reused. And it gets much worse if plates are left unwashed until the next time they are needed. Then plates that have not been properly cleaned and dried prior to storage can stick together making them hard to separate without damaging the printing surface. This can reduce the relief in screens, directly effecting print quality. Unwashed plates can also develop surface cracks, requiring aggressive cleaning methods that increase the chance of damage to the plate. In some cases, dried ink deposits that aren’t removed can break free of the plate surface and cause printing problems.
For example, consider a six color job that uses the same color plates for multiple SKUs, changing only the black plate with the SKU number. Cleaning those plates immediately after every job helps ensure print quality and consistency throughout a run, and from run to run, without frequent plate replacement. Very simply, clean plates save money.
Water washing. Automatically.
Water washing begins with plates that are designed for aqueous or UV inks and meant to be washed using water, as opposed to plates intended for use with solvents or chemicals. Washout typically uses plain tap water plus a detergent or cleaning agent that facilitates removal of dried inks. This combination helps reduce or eliminate the need for scrubbing, helping extend plate life. And best of all, plate cleaning can be a largely automated process.
Using a machine such as one of the Ovit Flexo Matic plate washers, you can clean, rinse and dry plates as soon as they come off a press.
When you feed plates into the system they are cleaned and dried automatically, and come out ready for storage, explains Jessica Harkins Harrell, Technologies Manager for Anderson & Vreeland, Inc.
Automating the plate cleaning process provides better control over hard-to-clean reverse areas and screens, and helps provide optimal consistency so plates remain in top condition, time and again.
Beyond extending plate life, there are environmental benefits.
These plate washers also assist in compliance of safety rules for the operator and environment since they automate the process of cleaning and drying flexographic plates. says Harrell.
You don’t have to put off plate cleaning until the end of the shift. Automatic plate cleaning is easy to do and lets press operators remain focused on producing jobs that generate revenue.