Thus ThermoFlexX (with an extra X!) was born, and found its home within Xeikon Prepress – already a producer of CtP devices for lithographic printing.
Being better known for its line of digital presses for label and packaging printing, Xeikon’s foray into the business of producing imagers for flexographic and letterpress printing plates caused a few raised eyebrows. However, as emphasised at the time, by expanding its CtP business into these markets, Xeikon was reinforcing its commitment to the label and packaging markets – and in a way marrying the two printing processes.
Since then, ThermoFlexX hit the headlines again when it came sharply into focus at last year’s Labelexpo Europe.
Recently reminded of this interesting history at a special ‘revelation’ press conference hosted at Xeikon Prepress’s Belgian headquarters at Ypres (or Ieper – the spelling varies) were a dozen or so journalists, chosen from key markets around the globe.
Here we learnt that ThermoFlexX is now taking a leading global position in the field of flexographic imaging technology, and taking on the big boys.
A string of recent partnership agreements, technical breakthroughs and distributor announcements means that the company is able to provide a total prepress solution for the flexo market that rivals anything on the market.
Says Christophe Lievens, director sales and marketing for ThermoFlexX: ‘Since drupa 2012 we’ve pushed the boundaries of what can be achieved in imager technology – to such a degree that our products now incorporate industry-leading features that are unique to ThermoFlexX.’
A recently-announced partnership with Hybrid Software has been augmented with working relationships with Zund (Switzerland) and AV Flexologic (The Netherlands), allowing ThermoFlexX to handle every element of flexo prepress – from design, screening and ripping using Hybrid Software’s groundbreaking PACKZ and Cloudflow suites to exposure on a ThermoFlexX imager, cutting on Zund equipment and mounting using an AV Flexologic system.
Christophe Lievens sums up: ‘At ThermoFlexX we listen carefully to our customers to ensure we provide them with the choices they need. It’s an extremely exciting time to be involved in the flexo industry, which is moving away from traditional analogue processes at an ever-greater pace. Experts estimate that globally nearly 50% of flexo plates will be produced digitally during 2014 and many predict a 4% annual growth over the coming years.’
ThermoFlexX 80 sets new standards
The new ThermoFlexX 80 presented at the ‘revelation’ event is the first completely in-house designed and manufactured model in the company’s imager range since Xeikon acquired FlexoLaser in 2012. It incorporates a level of innovation not previously seen in a flexo imager, and a dual-head imaging feature – available next month – will allow output speeds of 12m2/hour at 2 540dpi, making the ThermoFlexX 80 the fastest flexo imager in the world.
This latest model, equipped with a state-of-the-art imaging concept, consists of three independent modules – motor, laser and optics. The flexible design allows straightforward replacement of any of these modules, simplifying service and future upgrades, while providing for remote optical fine-tuning. The newly-designed optical system has improved imaging quality, while the maximum resolution of 5 080dpi is the highest on the market.
‘Our engineers and development teams have incorporated a high degree of automation into the ThermoFlexX 80, from an automatic calibration system that guarantees jobs are always imaged under optimum conditions, to the ability for the operator to load and unload plates at the touch of a button,’ says Christophe Lievens. ‘We’ve examined how to keep wastage to a minimum and this latest imager is fitted with a sensor that automatically checks that the thickness and size of the plate on the drum is correct for the job about to be exposed.
‘To overcome the need to handle plates manually, one of the main causes of plate damage, we created the Flextray. This mobile table can be adjusted easily to transport and feed plates into the innovative guiding system, which ensures that even plates as thick as 6.35mm can be seamlessly mounted on the drum.’
All ThermoFlexX imagers utilise IPG fibre lasers operating at 1 064nm, which combine low energy consumption with high reliability. The imagers will expose any plate with a LAM layer such as flexo, letterpress and dry offset, as well as Gallus Screeny (digital screen) and ablative film.
High resolution imaging
An interesting issue unravelled by Bart Calis at the press conference was that of hybrid screening and surface screening.
Broadly speaking, hybrid screening optimises the highlights, while surface screening optimises the solids. The result of both is a larger colour space and the technologies can be combined.
‘Hybrid screening,’ Bart explained, ‘is the general name for screening technologies that combine classic AM screening with stochastic FM screening in the shadows and highlights. Using high resolution is ideal to make isolated dots sufficiently stable, so that vignettes and highlights fade out visually to 0%.’
The ThermoFlexX hybrid screen provides stable isolated dots at 5 080dpi and is easy to set up, with print results approaching offset quality.
ThermoFlexX supports all available hybrid screening technologies, including Esko HD Flexo.
With surface screening, best results are achieved in combination with flat top dot technology.
‘We apply this high frequency screening on top of 1-bit TIFFs as a second screening. It’s like roughening the surface of the plate; and that way ink transfer is optimised,’ Bart continued.
This second screening is applied with standalone software that can be integrated into any workflow.
Benefits include solids with high density and perfect smoothness, giving sharp line work without halo effect.
ThermoFlexX is fully compatible with commonly used technologies such as MacDermid Lux, Flint NExT and DuPont Digiflow.
Yes, a ‘revelation’ it certainly was – the whole event was well structured and informative – and there were strong hints of a first order for imminent delivery to South Africa. You can be assured that the PPM team will be alert to that exciting development and you’ll be able to read all about it in the pages of this magazine!