There has been a long historical divide between commercial sheetfed litho printers and those using other processes and applications. But thanks partly to digital technology and partly to the rapid shrinking of the commercial print sector, those barriers are dissolving.
In display printing this has already happened: many commercial printers have invested in large format technology, whether roll fed or flatbed and have found there is a strong synergy between marketing collateral, pop up banners, retail displays and more. This has come despite established display printers warning that sheeted litho printers would not be able to get to grips with the intricacies of finishing PVC, banners and so on. Ultimately it has not mattered. Other commercial printers have pushed tentatively into carton printing, particularly for runs that are too short for established carton printers to be bothered with.
The question now is where is the next opportunity to offer new services and so achieve greater margins. For Mark Andy director Ian Pollock, the answer is labels. Mark Andy made its name in label printing and packaging conversion with its flexo presses and it continues to excel with these as one of the leading suppliers to label converters. The range has expanded to include hybrid machines which combine inkjet printing units, flexo stations, screen printing, inline foiling, die cutting, slitting and so on. These are machines which satisfy the requirement for shorter production runs, short batch production of multiple skus within the same product family: labels for different flavours of jam within the same brand for example. These are all issues that label printers are having to come to grips with.
This type of all inclusive press is not a machine for commercial printers to consider. The Mark Andy DigitalPro, in contrast, is something that commercial printers could and should consider. Mark Andy originally developed the DigitalOne, as it was then, for its flexo press community, enabling them to take advantage of the digital opportunity without compromise on quality. It would enable a traditional Mark Andy user to address a need for very short run, fast turnaround labels that were too disruptive to produce on its standard machines.
It makes use of the print engine Konica Minolta has developed for its AccurioLabel press with a transport, flexo and finishing from Mark Andy’s own resources. It has been a success with more than 40 installed across Europe, with seven so far in the UK. Worldwide, Mark Andy has 140 installations.
The first version was a self contained roll to roll press. Subsequently, Mark Andy has included flexo units to print white and finishing technology, including semi rotary die cutting, and has now increased the print width so that the Digital Pro is a comprehensive short run package for label printing.
There is also a Mark Andy digital workflow with tools for colour management as any commercial printer would expect of a digital press. However, this is new territory for most label printers. The flexo process is not about fine colour adjustment of inking systems. Once the plate is made, it is mounted and the printer has little room to make adjustments. And as the plate is, for the most part, supplied by a trade platemaker, there has been little need to understand digital workflows.
The initial press has been upgraded both in speed and width, leveraging improvements made by Konica Minolta, and in sophistication. What was a four colour digital only press with a varnish is now a machine that can deliver a post print flexo coating, semi rotary die cutting and the ability to run the reel through the press for a second time. A Mark Andy enhancement coming this year will add a flexo unit ahead of the digital print engine to apply an opaque white.
These are changes asked for by customers and prospects and amount to a 70% increase in productivity over the first machine. “It also means a 30% lower cost of print,” says Pollock. It demonstrates too one of the key concepts that Mark Andy has included. Customers have been concerned that investment in a digital platform now will leave them vulnerable to improvements in digital printing, leaving them unable to compete.
With this platform a customer can retain the engineering and mechanical elements and switch out the print engine for the latest version, whether from Konica Minolta or elsewhere.
Such upgrades have already taken place in the US with customers moving on from the first version of the machine. “It’s about providing a future proof the investment. We are going from micro runs to mid range runs because of the profitability the platform offers,” Pollock says.
The Pro3 version is the flagship with the full options on die cutting, foiling, flexo applied spot colours, white, clear and with a price of less than £300,000. That, says Pollock, is within the scope for investment of most commercial printers, and is an investment that offers something more than a me too capacity increase.
Mark Andy originally developed the DigitalPro for its flexo press community, to enable them to take advantage of the digital opportunity without compromise on quality. It makes use of Konica Minolta's print engine that it developed for its AccurioLabel press with a transport, flexo and finishing from Mark Andy’s own resources.