Industry News

Flexografix-Esko Partnership Reaps Financial and Productivity Rewards

Miamisburg, OH – Flexografix (www.flexografix.com), a premedia trade shop based in Wood Dale (Illinois), has installed a CDI 4260 flexo imager with HD Flexo from Esko (www.esko.com), the latest in a long line of successful investments.

In 2003, Ken Pavett acquired Flexografix, and the rest, as the saying goes, “is history". Pavett quickly retooled the company, developing a highly skilled staff of 12, and implementing advanced technology to ensure the company goals of providing stronger value, impeccable quality, and better service could be met. The imperative has worked: since Pavett took over as CEO and President, sales revenues have increased 69%. Esko has been at Pavett’s side almost from the beginning, helping Flexografix realize its mission of delivering prepress solutions that increase customers’ profitability.

“Our customers love that they can put our plates on press, and they consistently work well with less effort. We engineer color separations and plates that are as easy as possible to print and match our proofs, while protecting the designer’s original intent,” says Pavett.

Adds Kelly Cooper, Flexografix’s Technical Sales Professional, “Esko has completely revolutionized our business. They’ve made us more valuable to our customers, and our customers more valuable to the brand owners.”

First foray – platemaking
Flexografix’s first Esko purchase – a CDI Spark 4835 digital platemaker – came in 2002, just before Pavett acquired the business. Driven by FlexRip, it replaced an analog film-based system. “We were one of the first prepress trade shops of our size to invest in a CDI 4835, and one of the first in our area of any size to offer digital platemaking for our customers,” notes Pavett. “The 4835 streamlined our production workflow and significantly improved print quality for our customers – which was even more important to us than its speed.”

Barely a year later, in 2004, Flexografix was looking to further automate the workflow. They implemented Esko Automation Engine workflow server engine for automating prepress administrative tasks, and DeskPack plug-ins for Adobe® Illustrator®, and PackEdge, a robust pre-production editor.

BackStage automates the process of setting up customer templates, complete with color chips, color bars, and auto registration marks. DeskPack’s trapX, a vector-based program, is used to automatically create traps for 85% of the time for Flexografix’s customers; the remaining 15% are manually trapped, for better print reproduction.

“The combination of BackStage and the automatic trapping software brought us a 38% productivity increase,” says Pavett. “We actually tracked the first 200 jobs using the Esko software, and then estimated the time it would take for us to do it manually. Even more importantly, we’re able to give our customers an easier job to print on press. “This is a large part of our value proposition.”

Proofing accuracy advantage
In 2006, needing software to drive their high-end, proprietary halftone-contract color proofing device, Flexografix installed Esko’s device-independent Color Engine. Flexografix also bought an Epson Stylus Pro 7600 for proofing to avoid constantly using their proprietary proofer with its expensive media. This gave Flexografix a “huge competitive advantage over other trade shops,” recalls Pavett. “At that time, nobody knew what Color Engine could do. We were able to offer highly-accurate contract quality proofs for a lot less money.”

Color Engine combines CMYK profiles with patented special color profiles. These special colors are profiled and stored in a database, resulting in superior special color matching for digital proofing. Using Color Engine, Flexografix was profiling the Epson proofer to customer presses. “It was game changing for us,” says Cooper. “We were delivering our customers a proof less expensively, with much better color accuracy, and also much quicker.”

Keen understanding of its customers’ challenges led Flexografix to Esko screening and Imaging Engine in 2007. Imaging Engine lets Flexografix customize and build their own screens, based on our customers’ unique applications. With better highlight screening, users get the benefits of a constant manageable dot size without the “grainy” effect often complained about in other transitional screens. It also eliminated the hard flexo edge, allowing graphics to softly fade to zero while holding onto striking highlight detail.

“Our customers were struggling with designer files that needed to fade to zero,” says Pavett. “We were running a minimum dot — usually 2% — to avoid a hard flexo edge. But, by doing so, we were contaminating colors that were not in the designers’ intent. With Esko screening, we could drop to .5% dots, dropping even to solid white. Vignettes and drop shadows are softer, and there is improved consistency between press runs.”

Flexografix, realizing they were onto something big, created a side-by-side printed package. One used the customized highlights, while the other didn’t. “We took the sample to a certain brand owner, showed the two samples, and asked her which one she liked,” explains Cooper. “The brand owner selected the custom highlights, and we ended up creating packaging of over 400 product SKUs for that customer. Both the customer (converter) and the brand owner were happy with the end result. We were able to avoid the hard flexo edge and produce a soft black to white fade. There were drop shadows everywhere—but it all worked out beautifully.”

In December 2011, Flexografix installed its second CDI, a 4260 with HD Flexo. “Our original CDI is bullet proof. From 2002 to 2011, we imaged over 14,000 sheets of photopolymer with minimal maintenance and negligible downtime,” says Pavett.

Faster and faster
Flexografix’s latest CDI was brought on board to meet customer requirements for faster turnarounds. “Customers need plates fast,” notes Cooper. “By going to a larger format, a bigger size, we increased capacity.“

Nine months into their new CDI, the Flexografix team has been testing HD Flexo, optimizing the best screens for its customers. HD Flexo combines 4000 dpi HD optics with unique screening technologies to achieve sharper and more accurate imaging. The result is excellent print quality and simplified plate production because the high-resolution optics delivers sharper imaging of text and lines and more clearly defined, better shaped screen dots.

The company is also experimenting and building samples using Equinox, Esko’s system for implementing extended color gamut printing.

“We are looking to offer an expanded color gamut as an alternative to Pantone spot colors,” says Cooper. “If we can improve the appearance of a package, reduce customer setup time, and save money – that creates a stronger bond between us and our customers. Using Equinox, the converter doesn’t have to change the inks, and images will look better because you’re enhancing the color gamut with orange, green, and blue.”

“We know what the product will do for our customers,” explains Pavett. “They can get 30-40% more press capacity with extended gamut because they won’t be changing inks, saving set-up time, making them more competitive and increasing their profits. That’s a pursuit in process that we hope, in 2012, will come to fruition.”

“I often tell people that anyone with money can buy equipment, but the people who use it make the difference,” asserts Pavett. “We will push tools from Esko as far as we can figure it out – sometimes we even push it outside the trainer’s knowledgebase. I am often told ‘You cannot do that.’ But we figure out how to do it, and our customers’ businesses are better because of it.”

The combination of Esko’s leading-edge technology with the drive of Flexografix’s employees to produce the highest quality product continues to set the company apart from its competition.

“We have a maniacal approach to quality for our customers,” Pavett explains. “Competitors may own the same equipment, but our customers trust us to deliver the technology that makes their businesses better. That is what makes Flexografix different.”