Flexography Stands Test of Time
The same platen printers that years ago helped a device maker save time and money continue to meet growing printing needs.
Eight years ago, Rudy Milisits, then a packaging engineer with Burron OEM Div. of B. Braun Medical Inc. (Bethlehem, PA), oversaw the operation of three form-fill-seal machines from Multivac (Kansas City, MO). The disposable medical products manufacturer relied solely on preprinted lid stock for the top web and only embossed lot codes onto the film of the bottom web. The firm had to maintain separate inventories of preprinted materials for approximately 60 products.
Milisits, however, knew that there was a more efficient, more cost-effective way of labeling Burron's products, given its number of products and its volume variances. In-house printing could allow operators to run smaller lots and to quickly produce new labeling for new products. That's when Milisits chose to install flexographic platen printers from Adolph Gottscho (Union, NJ). Engineers from Gottscho came in, measured the platforms on the three Multivac form-fill-sealers on which the printers would be mounted, and took care of all the installations. The original printers are still in operation today, and Burron has more than tripled its number of Gottscho printers.
Burron uses nearly a dozen Gottscho Model 812-10 platen printers.
"From the beginning, we used the Gottscho printers to stamp standard logos, text, and graphics onto either coated paper or Tyvek," Milisits explains. His department was able to eliminate its use of preprinted lid stock. "We used to run a random labeling configuration with preprinted stock, where we'd end up with about 1½ times the label on one package." However, "the problem associated with the random configuration was that it limited our available print area," says Milisits.
Burron was also able to handle volume variances with little disruption. "We were able to run smaller lots than the use of preprinted materials allowed. Changing from one product to another involves a simple printing plate change, and in most cases a preprinted lid stock line clearance takes longer than a plate change," Milisits says. "We began seeing time savings in setup labor."
An in-house art department allows Burron to make its own printing plates, which attach to the standard backing plates provided by Gottscho. "There are some plates we have been using for years, and others for only a few months. We've even had a logo change twice," he explains. "From a packaging perspective, it is easy to create new plates. Within a week of getting the new artwork approved we have the new plates. It actually takes longer to approve the artwork than it does to make the plates." Milisits expects the printers to continue to meet Burron's constantly growing product line, which currently includes hundreds of products.
The flexographic printers even allow Burron to change variable information without changing the full printing plate. "There is a rubber-based lock type called Gottscho Go-Type that fits into the backing plate. We can use it to print variable information," Milisits explains.
However, in order to meet ISO requirements for carrying the CE mark on its products, Burron had to begin including even more variable information than the rubber-based type and the bottom-web embossser allowed, so it looked to printing technologies other than flexography. After evaluating both thermal-transfer and ink-jet printing, Bill Leib, the packaging engineer who took over the operation after Milisits left to assume the role of director of medical product engineering, decided in 1999 to adopt ink-jet printers to print lot codes and expiry dates.
The Gottscho printers, however, remain the mainstay of the printing operation. "We rely on the flexographic printers to print all our standard information. Logos and text are still beyond the capabilities of ink jet," Leib says.
Today, Burron currently has nearly a dozen Multivacs running, each with a Gottscho printer. Milisits says that each of the printers paid themselves off in a year, comparing their cost with that of preprinted materials. If Burron installs more Multivacs, more Gottschos will most likely follow. "They are simple. There isn't a lot of maintenance. The printers are so easy to handle that we haven't seen Gottscho's maintenance team in years," Leib says.