Interview series 20 years label printing – Part 3 with Omet: “What has happened since 1998?”
A comment by Massimo Bellingardi, marketing coordinator at Omet Srl on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of NarrowWebTech.
In the 1980s the know-how in the field of flexography was in the hands of the American company Mark Andy and spread into Europe thanks to Nilpeter, Comco, Arsoma and Omet. The first step into the future was experiments with substrates which were different from paper and self-adhesive – first of all solvent-printed aluminium for yogurt lids – and the printing width increasing to 330 mm (13”).
The prepress technology, from a technical stand point, is the real architect of the success of flexography. It became reliable and qualitatively interesting thanks to the availability of the first polymeric plates and mounting tapes with different grades of hardness. In the flexo process, where a polymeric plate is used, the cylinder must be able to carry the drops of ink, corresponding to the printed dots, avoiding tearing off, hence the introduction of soft bi-adhesive tapes.
At the beginning of the nineties, the USA company, Arpeco was the first to introduce a typographic / flexo hybrid solution which allowed a great quality step forward for flexographic printing. The new hybrid printing unit has a typographic inkwell and flexo aniloxes and plates, with UV printing.
Mark Andy has continuously developed their 2200 flexo press for labels, and it is the first press which facilitated quick job change thanks to the presence of inking removable cassette. In 1995 Omet presented the first UV flexo machine showing the concept of quick job changeover using the removable cassette with an easy sliding operation. From 1996 onwards, many additional finishing groups on in-line presses were launched: cold-foil, rotary screen printing and hot stamping.
The evolution of label presses, at the end of 1990s, addressed the issue of printing on thin films (as thin as 12 micron) for the flexible packaging market, attracting attention to the quality of flexo printing for complex shades at that time typical of the offset process. While still having mechanical transmission, flexo presses introduced the first independent motor on the infeed group that improves the tension and enables printing on 12-micron PET or 20-25 micron BOPP.
The first press to introduce the possibility of extending printable support from self-adhesive material to plastic film and packaging materials was the Comco Flexopack in the mid-1990s. In 1998, during an Open House in France at a customer site, Omet launched a press for the printing of cardboard which contained a renewed tension control system and the addition of die-cutting and creasing inline.
With the new century we saw the first machines suitable for printing special products: in a configuration which included two unwinders, for example, which means that they can print inline coupons and multilayer labels. In the meantime another Italian company, Gidue, introduced the “flower concept” on a flexo printing unit: Gidue launched the first flexo press which allows easy operation of the flexo printing unit.
The year 2001 marked the launch of, the first mid-web press with servo technology, fully gearless and equipped with sleeves. Since the use of sleeves is common in tissue converting, Omet managed the technology and is the first and only company which has offered it for a couple of years- later other constructors will adopt this solution.
The machine, designed for printing flexible packaging, is equipped with chill drums and is configurable for printing plastic films and cardboard. Rotogravure units or screen printing groups are available in addition to UV flexo, water-or solvent-based flexo in any desired position on the machine or on the upper sliding rail: this is the first combination press in the package printing market.
The first printing platform with flexo and offset printing units was Nilpeter MO in the early of new century, while in the same years Gallus introduces with RCS the first press with automatic pressure adjustment.
Further major novelties were introduced in 2007 by Omet: the short web path with the impression cylinder working as a chill drum for UV printing and the direct-drive motor on the plate, to secure absolute precision of register. Machines are now equipped with register control systems with a register accuracy of less than 5% tolerance.
In the last few years the bigger trends in the printing sector have been the hybrid inkjet digital and flexo press; hybrid offset and flexo with sleeves, the UV-led drying and the electron beam drying system.
All in all, it has been a long road in label printing market in the last 20 years!