The flexographic printing sector has existed in various forms since the 15th century, becoming a multi-billion euro (€40.2bn per annum (2017)) industry
The advances in technology responsible for the packaging and label printing we see everyday have been significant, however the challenges to improve print quality, equipment design, process application and reduce print waste continue to be at the forefront of this sector.
Research at Swansea University in the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating (WCPC), led by Professor David Gethin has addressed these challenges, providing significant improvements to flexographic printers on a global scale.
Swansea’s research focussed on improving print quality through improved profiling of the printing surface [R1, R2].
Advances in precise volume measurement of engraved cells, ink release, and modelling of ink flows with filament tracking has improved the capability of flexographic printers by allowing the systems to define printing angle and contact line [R3, R4].
Another advance in image design and process setting improved image transfer for conducting tracks in functional devices. Further, curing time was reduced 100x, reducing drying time dramatically, which allows high-volume printing for the first time [R5, R6].
This research was supported by grants from the Welsh Government (ESF, ERDF), H2020 FP7 Programme, and Innovate UK totalling £1.7M.
Swansea University has worked extensively with the entire supply chain in the flexographic printing industry producing significant impacts on a global scale.
Based on SU research, new metrological tools by Troika Systems were developed, leading to demonstrable production cost savings of £428m per year and a 15% decrease in material waste that resulted in a cost saving of £90m per year. Ink transfer mechanism studies supported new photopolymer plate products for Asahi Photoproducts resulting in a 30% decrease in run time and a 20% increase in their global plate sales. SU research also informed a strategic R&D investment of €20m by leading press makers UTECO. SU produced a best practice guide for the sector, which is endorsed by the Flexographic Technical Association Europe (FTA Europe). By delivering Continual Professional Development (CPD), process quality and competitiveness has increased making flexography the dominant process for printing packaging.
Co-authors: Tim Claypole, Davide Deganello, Chris Phillips