Apex and VIV take flexo to the next level: Going digital on a flexo press may sound like a contradiction to many people. Weinand Van Kesteren however has been perfecting his ‘Smart Digital Flexo’ concept for over a year now. And he is convinced it will enable his company VIV to become a leader in producing high quality flexible packaging in short and very short runs: “We like to do things just a little different here.”
VIV in Veenendaal (The Netherlands) is a family-owned business, established in 1953 as a wholesaler in packaging materials – VIV being an abbreviation for Packaging Industry Veenendaal. Over the years, VIV has always been quick to recognize trends and opportunities. When Weinand Van Kesteren and his brother Herman joined the company in the 1980’s and subsequently took over the helm from their father, they witnessed how polypropylene became very popular as a packaging material very rapidly. “So, we decided to expand our business into flexo printing and managed to become the biggest supplier of decorated floral foil in Europe.”
Image: Weinand van Kesteren – Director of VIV in front of the 10-colour Comexi F2 Flexo press, fully equiped according to the Smart Digital Flexo concept
Establish a new future
Flexo printing has been at the heart of VIV ever since: last year, the company installed a brand new 10 color Comexi press, next to their already existing Comexi presses. But the market has changed over the years – and Weinand Van Kesteren changed course with it, early on: “In 2006, it became clear to me that the market for floral wrapping foils was about to transform dramatically: the number of specialized florist shops would be going down and more flowers would be sold through supermarkets. At the same time, we saw a trend that moved away from our colorful foil designs towards a more ‘eco’-look. That left us printing just one color or even supplying just plain foil, and making very little margin. On top of that, the financial crisis hit. We really needed to find ways to establish a new future for our business.”
Gaining an advantage
Van Kesteren found flexible packaging for food to be very promising: “However, entering this market required us to completely overhaul our machine park.” Often described as ‘having a mind of his own’, he decided not to follow the dominant trend at the time of investing in 60 cm wide narrow web flexo presses, but instead have a 120 cm wide press installed: “To me, it’s very simple: you cannot print 120 cm wide on a narrow web press, but you can do 60 cm on a 120 cm wide press. By making cleaver use of this width, for example by combining different designs onto one web, you can gain an interesting advantage over your competitors.”
After a first 8-color Comexi press in 2008, a 10-color Comexi press followed in 2010. As VIV starts to expand its business again – “Switching to a new market requires an enormous amount of effort from your employees, your sales people, and your organization” – Van Kesteren is now ready to take things to a new level.
Digital printing versus Flexo printing
“Everybody seems to be talking about ‘digital printing’ and short runs. So, to find out what this hype is all about, we decided to visit Drupa in 2016 and take a good look at what a certain supplier of Digital press equipment was up to in flexible packaging. And, yes, we were impressed: in less then ten minutes after we arrived at their booth, they started printing our jobs, live, at the show!” Less impressive, however, were the numbers after some serious calculating: “If you are, like us, doing your own repro and platemaking in house, the break-even point between digital printing and flexo comes down to around only 2,600 meters for a print job. Now, our current average for short runs is about 10,000 meters. That is still a huge run length for a modern digital press, running at 20 meters per minute – while we run at 600 meters per minute in flexo. It just does not make sense for us to switch to digital printing, however sexy it may seem to a lot of people. We will stick with flexo.”
Fixed Palette Printing
Still, the Drupa-visit did have an impact. Not only did VIV order an additional 10-color Comexi flexo press, but Van Kesteren also followed up on something that caught his attention at the show: “I was impressed by the Digital concept of a 7-color system. And I knew that such a system of ‘fixed palette printing’ was being developed by a group of flexo industry suppliers (including Apex) and used in the label industry. So I decided to take this idea and find a way to make it work on our new press.” And he came up with a name for it: ‘Smart Digital Flexo’: “Our entire production process is completely digital, right up until the moment the ink is transferred to the substrate.”
Image: Weinand van Kesteren and Jan Bijl (Apex account manager for VIV) hold a GTT anilox sleeve, one of the most important components for achieving the necessary consistency within the Smart Digital Flexo concept.
Smart Digital Flexo
By using a standard series of seven colors (CMYK plus orange, green and violet), Smart Digital Flexo (SDF) is able to achieve some 90 per cent of all Pantone colors. In this way, VIV does not need to mix and match any custom colored inks. Next to saving time, costs and materials, this also enables the smart combination of different jobs onto the web: “In this way, we aim to offer our customers shorter turn around times at sharper prices.” Getting SDF to work as planned has been a steep learning curve for VIV, explains Van Kesteren: “We really have had to find out pretty much everything all by ourselves.
We have been doing many test runs and a lot of measurements to get all elements exactly right: prepress-settings, temperatures, inks, speed. Aniloxes also play a crucial role in the process: you absolutely need a consistent and precisely predictable ink transfer to get SDF to work properly. This is where Apex International and its specially engraved GTT anilox rollers have greatly helped us to achieve a high level of control.”
New range of business opportunities
VIV has started to put SDF to practice, and results look promising. The most important thing now, says Van Kesteren, is convincing more customers of SDF’s capabilities. “They need to be able to trust us to deliver on our promises. The end result needs to always match expectations.”
In future, Van Kesteren would like to see all of VIV’s presses running SDF jobs only. “For sure, there will always be people emphasizing the 10 per cent of Pantone colors still out of reach of this fixed palette. We, however, like to focus on the 90 per cent we can do – and do a lot more efficiently. We are now able to produce 15 jobs on this one press per day, instead of just 5. SDF saves us a huge amount of time in changeovers and set up times. Having this technology in place, and having found the right suppliers and partners – such as Comexi and Apex, who also want to take flexography to a whole new level – to expand our capabilities in this field, even jobs of just 1,000 meters run length will be within our reach. This will open up a whole new range of business opportunities for VIV.”