By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Labels, shrink sleeves, and other flexible packaging applications are often printed with flexographic technologies, but as demand rises for shorter runs and increased versioning, it is increasingly clear that there is a need for digital printers to address these requirements.
Sometimes, digital needs a little help, its strengths paired with the advantages of another printing technology, like flexography. A hybrid approach provides the end user with the best of both worlds.
What began in 1865 as a lithographic company at the end of the Civil War today is a powerhouse in label printing and shrink sleeve products. Based in Deer Park, NY, DWS Printing Associates, Inc.’s main focus is food and beverage, with a strong presence in the craft beer market.
In 2016, the company sought to cater to its craft beer customers by finding a printing device that would print shrink sleeve labels for beer cans. “We were looking for a device that would coexist with our new installation of a shrink sleeve application line for beer cans. This was to target the five to 15 pallet craft beer market,” explains John Gulino, COO, DWS.
At the time, UV inkjet’s quality was increasingly getting better but very few presses were able to print directly to shrink sleeve film and even fewer were able to print shrink sleeve white film. Sleeves from Klockner Pentaplast and Multi-Plastics, Inc. are used for most of DWS’ work. Klockner is used generally on products that are sent out to packers, whereas almost all jobs on its own sleeving line is Multi-Plastics for various reasons.
After much testing, DWS found success with Domino Printing Sciences, as the manufacturer of digital printing and product identification solutions had recently reformulated its UV90 ink set. DWS brought its shrink sleeve to Domino, running it through its machine and was pleased with the result.
However, DWS knew it couldn’t print UV inkjet shrink and run it through its separate flexographic press each and every print job—it just wasn’t feasible. But then the idea of using a hybrid of the two was suggested. Domino partners with MPS Systems to create hybrid presses and this is the partnership DWS chose to pursue.
The EF SYMJET press is a hybrid flexographic inkjet solution that gives converters a range of new print potential with the symbiotic combination of conventional and digital printing technologies. The EF SYMJET flexographic press is built with the standard MPS EF platform and an integrated Domino digital N610i inkjet printer. With a Domino digital inkjet unit integrated on the EFS or EFA flexographic platform, the best of both worlds is brought together in a future-proof solution. The established flexographic press and proven digital system can be combined and used, integrated inline or separately to work offline.
The Domino digital unit uses Kyocera printheads to print a resolution of 600×600 dpi, with up to six colors and opaque white. With a 340 millimeter (mm) web width on the Domino printer and wider web width of 430 mm on the MPS press, this allows converters to run more labels across in pure flexographic mode, and at a higher speed.
With the hybrid press in place, DWS easily flips between digital and flexography depending on quantity, label type, and artwork. For example, some graphics lend themselves better to digital print like smooth gradations. Labels requiring a high white opacity on clear film or metallic substrate are also run digital, no matter the run length because of the high-quality UV inkjet white. Labels with variable data or variable versions are also run digitally.
One craft beer customer wanted a different picture of a dog on each label. With the digital side of the hybrid press, DWS was able to cost-effectively print multiple labels in one production run. Another beverage account has five or six flavors, and each flavor has nine different label versions featuring different mottos and sayings. This is an additional example when digital shines.
Shrink Sleeves and Expansion
Beyond labels, DWS leverages the press to print shrink sleeves as it was intended. Today, over 90 percent of all shrink sleeves sleeved on the company’s own line are printed digitally on the EF SYMJET. While there are much longer runs economically suited for flexography, digital shrink sleeves makes up about a third of the company’s overall shrink business.
While the company originally focused its efforts on food and beverage customers, specifically craft beer, its sales teams have ventured into other markets like pets supplies, nutraceuticals, and households. Gulino notes that jobs for these segments are generally produced via flexographic due to the higher shrink percentages.
Fast forward to 2020 and the company has benefited so much from the hybrid device it decided to implement another device at its second location in Austin, TX. The company opened the second location in TX in Fall 2020 to meet the same shrink sleeve market needs.
“We decided to take the model we created in NY and bring it on the road. That road lead us to Austin, TX. In typical DWS fashion we increased the capacity of our hybrid as well as our sleeving line. COVID-19 certainly slowed things down, which gave us time to streamline our process but certainly did not impact us nearly as much as the availability of aluminum cans. This was a much harder hurdle to climb,” admits Gulino.
The second EF SYMJET is not an exact replica of the device in NY. The NY configuration features four flexographic units—cold foil, laminating, die cutting, and sheeting; in Austin four more flexographic stations were added. “We wanted to be able to have the ability to run straight flexographic jobs when needed. This turned out to be a great advantage for us. We now have the ability to move work from NY to TX to give the best turnaround times, shipping costs, and technical offerings possible to our clients,” explains Gulino.
DWS successfully entered a new market and with its expertise quickly recognized demand elsewhere, thus opening its second location in TX in 2020. Despite a global pandemic, the company thrives thanks to its EF SYMJET hybrid device.
Jul2021, DPS Magazine