Improving offset printing

June 30, 2004

The flexible packaging market offers sophisticated ways to present a product using plastic films, paper or aluminium, in the food industry, for example.

Currently other printing methods dominate, as offset printing lacks the required flexibility. Now EUREKA project E! 2438 VSOP2 (Variable Sleeve Offset Printing) has set out to open up the flexible packaging markets to offset printing. "To make offset printing attractive we had to meet a number of technical challenges," explains Huib van den Heuvel, R&D manager for the Dutch lead partner, Drent Goebel.

The Dutch, French and German project partners had to reduce the cost of the machine parts needed to print variable sizes as there are no standard sizes in packaging applications. "We managed to design a system that offers variable sizes for one-tenth of the price of the traditional system, by replacing fixed, heavy, steel printing cylinders with new lightweight plastic sleeves made from a very strong type of polyurethane," says van den Heuvel.

They also achieved a dramatic increase in the efficiency of the press because it can respond more quickly to shorter print jobs. "Traditionally, changing a complete press takes about an hour; the new lightweight plastic printing cylinders can be changed in a few minutes. Changing the printing press quickly between one job and the next means less production time lost," explains van den Heuvel.

The quality of offset printing exceeds the standards currently achieved in the flexible packaging markets, and it can now compete in terms of efficiency, flexibility and price. Offset also has environmental benefits, as other print systems use solvent-based inks that result in a large volume of solvent exhaust.

Drent has invested approximately € 2 million in the research phase of this project, but the company is convinced that the return on this investment will make an important contribution to its future.

"In today's world, innovation is no longer an activity of separate firms, but more a collective investment of a number of companies, connected to each other. The international character of EUREKA projects helped to make this possible," says van den Heuvel.

The project is still ongoing, but they have already sold VSOP machines in Germany, France and Turkey. "All the new machines have been bought for flexible packaging and label applications, proving that we have developed the right product at the right time for the right market," says van den Heuvel.

EUREKA is...
A European Network for market-oriented R&D
- strengthening European competitiveness
- promoting innovation in market-oriented collaborative projects
- involving industry, research centres and universities across Europe resulting in innovative products, processes and services.
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EUREKA

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