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In-the-Round Is on a Roll

An early adopter of in-the-round imaging for flexographic printing, Plastic Packaging can respond quickly and efficiently to customer needs.

June 2012 By Jean-Marie Hershey
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Introduced to the market less than a decade ago, continuous photopolymer sleeve technology has shown abundant mettle in enabling flexographic printers and converters to use their presses more efficiently, and produce higher, more consistent quality with less waste and greater accuracy than ever before.

Digital “in-the-round” (ITR) imaging is steadily opening up attractive opportunities for printers, converters, and end users. Digitally imaged flexo sleeves work well with less expensive substrates, such as tissue, napkins, and paper towels, and provide excellent lay-down of solid and metallic inks. Advances in flexo sleeve technology are yielding opportunities in markets traditionally dominated by other processes—paper or foil gift-wrap (rubber flexo or gravure), folding cartons (offset or gravure), and shrink sleeves (gravure).

Horse of a different color

Compared with the imaging of flat printing plates, continuous printing sleeves digitally imaged in-the-round use a digital workflow with platesetter-type precision for a repeatable process with perfect registration. In-the-round imaging differs from standard digital flexo imaging in that the photopolymer plate material is imaged in the same position on a sleeve to be loaded onto the press, preserving perfect registration. Images also can be stored in register, on sleeves, for reuse, with no plate mounting required. The resulting faster makereadies improve response times and promote faster time-to-market.

Based on lower sleeve-making cost, the elimination of plate mounting, and the overall favorable economics long associated with flexography, a printer using ITR technology can deliver a high-quality package at a lower overall cost than gravure. From a quality standpoint, ITR imaging eliminates the dimensional image distortion and color variations associated with fitting a flat plate around a cylinder. With proper care in handling and storage, sleeves have a longer life than flat plates, and can be mounted and de-mounted multiple times. For many flexible packaging applications that carry continuous images, digital flexo sleeves can match the quality, run length, or continuous-print capabilities long associated with gravure.

ITR early adopter

Plastic Packaging, Inc. is a privately held, 40-percent employee-owned flexographic printer headquartered in Hickory, N.C. Established as a supplier to the local textile market more than 50 years ago, the company today boasts a total of 188 associates and more than $46 million in annual sales. Product lines include laminated and non-laminated rollstock for form and fill production, as well as stand-up and side-gussetted pouches, and side-seal bags. Key markets include, but are not limited to, pet and animal care, candy and snack foods, lawn and garden, tobacco, personal care, and consumer products. The company operates a second manufacturing plant in Forest Hills, N.C. Plastic Packaging operates a combined total of eight presses, including three new Fisher & Krecke gearless, servo-driven flexographic sleeve presses installed at the Hickory plant.


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