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Is flexo the new litho?

Bobst press proves an inspiration

At inspirepac’s Wetherby, UK, plant, a banner over its brand new Bobst Masterflex-L press reads ‘They Said You Couldn’t Get Litho Quality From A Flexo Printer – You Can Now’. This statement sums up the ‘can do’ attitude of a group formed only at the beginning of last year.

Early on in the group’s life, ceo Alan Goodall and managing director Chris Marples pushed their backers to finance a new Bobst Masterflex-L. They believe that, for corrugated packaging, machines like it are now so good that they pose a direct threat to litho, particularly when used with high quality inks, stereos and boards.

As Alan Goodall explains: “Our aim is to create something special here at Wetherby by bringing our creativity together with that of the suppliers and products we rate as the best in the business. The Masterflex-L typifies that.”

Bobst says that the press achieves its high quality of print by ensuring accurate ink delivery and very precise sheet registration while at the same time having “dynamic quality assurance systems”. A direct drive belt feeder and vacuum sheet transfer ensure accurate positioning of each sheet and prevent board edge crush. The inking system maintains viscosity levels even after a change-over and wash-up, and also reduces ink loss and waste water.

Like its stablemate Masterflex-A, the Masterflex-L also benefits from having in–built Bobst Registron QA systems to ensure its print quality.

Registron not only compares each sheet with a stored reference copy, ejecting any that are non-conforming, but it also watches for trends in the way the print changes from sheet to sheet. When a trend is spotted, and usually before the human eye can detect a difference, Registron automatically adjusts the Masterflex-L’s print parameters so that what appears on the sheet matches the reference.

Pushing the envelope

“Even though we’re a new name in corrugated, the team here at Wetherby have bags of experience,” explains Alan Goodall. “Some of them have been expert printers for over 20 years, but they have been running machines that were 15 to 20 years old. Despite this they were producing work of amazing quality. Now with the Masterflex-L they are really going to push the envelope of what you can do with flexo. The machine has only been in the plant for a few weeks but we’ve already seen some superb print come off it.”

Chris Marples says that alongside the benefits to the plant, the investment in the new press will bring considerable benefits to the customers. “As well as the quality of its print, the fast setting and unlimited job memory of the Masterflex-L are starting to help us reduce lead times and to run smaller batches more cost effectively. This means that our customers can order batches of as little as 1,500 or 1,000 sheets and so don’t need to keep as much product in stock.”

The inspirepac group consists of five businesses, four of which made up Mondi Packaging’s Speciality Products Division until early last year. The MBO of these companies, led by Alan Goodall along with Chris Marples and financial director Chris Munroe, integrated these businesses and in January 2008, the group established a fifth – a contract packaging operation based in Runcorn.

Of the four original businesses, two are corrugated plants – at Wetherby and Chesterfield – while a display business at Chesterfield and a cushion plant at Wetherby complete the picture.

With major retailers in the UK such as Tesco having stated their aim to reduce substantially the amount of packaging their goods utilize, Alan Goodall is determined to help his customers start the process before they are forced to by their retailer customers. To this end, the group is recruiting staff so that it can launch a department specifically to assist them.

The team will consist of experienced designers and will be led by an experienced packaging technologist. “It doesn’t matter that only 3 per cent of the UK’s landfill is made up of packaging,” he says. “Once the major retailers have the bit between their teeth there is very little that any of us can do to hold them back.”

He says the team will help inspirepac’s customers get one step ahead, by reviewing their packaging with them before they are forced to; and where necessary they will help redesign it.

“Our aim in pushing the quality of the print we can deliver with flexo is to help our customers keep accounts and improve their profitability. The Masterflex-L is key to us achieving that.”


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